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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Edited by Andrei Codrescu
ec chair poetick kultur anti-amthropomorphism
gallery zounds the making and unmaking of person
new economics of late capitalism
diaries and memoirs translation and her retinue
working class sweat
the corpse reads classics letters the book of revelations and epiphanies
the making and unmaking of person
Working Class Sweat & The DTs (best band of the oughts)

by Jim Hazard

Except for trying to sleep during the day, which rarely worked out, Midnights was the best shift of all. Some places they called it The Graveyard Shift. At the Inland Steel works, East Chicago, Indiana, we weren't so well spoken--we just called it Midnights or Twelve to Eight. I loved walking the few blocks down Columbus Ave. to, or from, the gate. There were whorehouses, especially one above the Pay Day Tap, which I did not visit but which did make me feel welcome. Especially at night the girls would call out their windows, "Woo-hoo, Gringo," and wiggle their tongues or some other body part at me. I liked to wave to them, walking down Columbus with work clothes rolled under my arm and a lunch bucket. "Don't go there, Pret-ty Boy," they'd call and I'd shrug and wave.
      This was my last night on the shift, and in two weeks I'd be leaving the mill altogether, to go to college. I wanted to go on to college, with classes during the daylight on a campus with trees and its own buildings. My college credits so far had been earned at night, in high school classrooms rented out to Indiana U.
      But I wanted to go to the furnaces too. They were at least as exciting as the girls in their windows were, which is saying a lot. Especially coming in to the furnaces from midnight-on-the -street. Three of them, four storeys tall. Dynamited open every time the melt was done, to spill the hot steel out the back - sparks, fire, smoke, warning sirens, in a building so big railroad trains came in and out to haul the red hot steel ingots. This was the mid 1950s and steelmill work was mostly done by hand and muscle - dangerous, exciting, sweaty, dirty, even deadly. Periodically the brick that lined an open hearth furnace had to be torn out and replaced, or the roof had to be taken off while steel cooked down below. Teams of common laborers did the job. We pulled out--by hand--bricks that were still glowing from the furnace heat.
      I didn't expect college to be as exciting as the mill. I can testify now, it wasn't. I'm not sure I ever fit in either though. One night the job was so hot I sweat completely through my leather work boots. "Look at my boots! What a gasser," I said to the guy next to me. "What are you, some kind of boogie woogie?" he asked suspiciously.
     My last night ever on Midnights I was the sub-basement of Furnace Number Two with a jack hammer, busting out the rotted concrete floor. The noise and dust and breakage of the job got to me, like Rapture of the Deep, a Jackhammer Rapture of the Sub-basement, until I heard this voice above screaming down into the hole. Fucker;college;you;I said;. I stopped the hammer and he went on screaming. You think you're hot shit you little fucker you fuckin little college boy cocksucker and some fuckin day you just walk outa here you cocksucker to go do cornholing home-work or some fuckin pansy ass thing and leave the rest of us here you fuckin fairy college ass muff diver and I'll be some dry ball broken backed ass wipe killin myself for my piss miserable pension.
     That's actually the short version. He yelled down the hole, I looked up at him with my hand on the jack hammer and my dust clouding up into his eyes. If he came down the ladder he probably would have killed me. I thought at the time how right he was in all he said and it would be too bad though if he tried to kill me because I would try to kill him too. A stupid way to fuck up two lives, one of which meant a lot to me. But he just stopped talking, spit into the hole, missed me and disappeared. He didn't work in our area and I never saw him again. My straw boss looked down into the hole. "Well that boy had a hornet lodged in his asshole, I'd say." I didn't say anything, just grinned. Amazing how I kept my big mouth shut that night. The straw boss scratched his arm pit and then his neck and said, real easy, "Well;I guess we can just let this one ride? Get back to work? What you say?" I hit the jackhammer again, thinking This hammer is my art and that knucklehead is a critic, no critic comes between me and my art. I worked hard then, smiling at how damn clever I was. If the shouter came back and looked down into that hole he would have read my mind in an instant and I'd be done for.
      In the morning, after I punched out, I strolled back up Columbus Ave. in the direction of the Michigan St. bus stop with my week's dirty work clothes rolled up under my arm, and I turned into the Pay Day Bar. It was a hot morning, 85 degrees already, but not so hot that I didn't feel relief after being in the furnace sub basement. There were no girls yelling out the upstairs windows at 8:30 am, but there were sure to be some working, what with the midnight shift just getting out. That was reassuring, especially since my notion of what those girls were up to came from reading From Here to Eternity. The bartender was obese and rough looking, but he talked and moved in an exaggerated, feminine manner. He sounded a lot like Talulah Bankhead. He knew I didn't drink alcohol and put up a 7 Up with extra ice in an extra tall glass. He asked me what I was reading and I told him Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March. "I love that book to death," he said and I wasn't surprised to hear that. There were a lot of serious readers in that part of town. A shady druggist up the street, who'd sell you a handful of benzedrine for next to nothing, was reading T.S. Eliot: "Daddy, this cat knows - we are the hollow men. Well, I am. I don't know about you. Maybe your hollow-ness is yet to come."
      One night I found a hillbilly hiding in a boxcar at the mill, reading. I warned him the Super was heading his way and he'd better find another hideout. As he began to scuttle off to safety I asked him what he was reading. It was The Great Gatsby. "My sixth time with this fucker - I cain't get enough of it." I told him how I'd read the book the first time in high school, on my own, and read it at least once a year every year since. He smiled and nodded like a man of the world, a man of the world I wanted to live in. "The poor sum-bitch is right, ain't it? The poor sum-bitch. Take care, brother."
      I told the bartender about the girls yelling out the windows last night. "Well they'd better cool it, there's an election coming up. There's a new kid upstairs, from New Orleans. You'd like her." I shrugged, "It's not - I 'm not;." "That's cool," he said. Not that I wasn't interested in the girls, and like everybody else I wondered how they got into that line of work. It was as great a mystery as any I could mull over at that time of my life. It was no mystery to the bartender. "It's the rule of thirds," he said. "One third are upstairs because they're junkies. One third because someone in their life, usually parents, told them they were no fucking good, so they're here to take their punishment. The junkies I can take - they've got their habit and God bless em. The others, well Jesus, I mean they drive you nuts, always starting trouble, especially with the other girls. They come on like it's some big ass sin or something and we should all feel as shitty as they do. Lots of them just knock themselves off eventually and, well, good riddance. I wish that whole crowd would hurry up and get the job done." I reminded him that he'd covered only two thirds of the population. "And the last third, like the kid from New Orleans, just like the job. The hours, the money, et cetera et cetera. I mean, they bring up the tone of the place if you know what I mean. If a girl's going down on you, you want to feel she's enjoying her line of work. Right?" I was heartened to hear that there were girls who liked that line of work. My Aunt Arlene would declare late in the night at the weekend parties that she was attracted to that line of work herself, to get paid money for doing the Deed was almost too good to be true. This opinion was not for tender young ears, but my young ears were upstairs listening for every clue they could pick up, or deduce, from what was being said downstairs, especially during those all night Saturday night parties during the World War II years. The grownups in that family were young and desperate, abandoned and slaphappy: the sounds of the downstairs made being a grownup up sound scary and desirable as an exotic foreign land - hot music, loud voices, breaking glass, laughter that was almost tears, and tears, contempt for authority, spectacular swearing, and sex sex sex. God I loved that family and hoped I would one day be as abandoned in such a whiskey fragrant and noisy turmoil of people I loved and who loved me.
      Speaking of strong feelings, I told the bartender about the incident in the sub basement. I thought the ranter probably qualified as a member of the second third, the ones who hated themselves and everyone else. The bartender agreed. "Did you hit the bitch?" I told him I didn't and that I kept my mouth shut. The bartender put money in the juke box and played Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan, "Makin' Whoopee" and "Cherry," and The Four Freshmen, "It's a Blue World." I congratulated him on his taste. He congratulated me on keeping my mouth shut in the sub basement. "You know, that poor cocksucker told you the truth, Jimmy Boy. That poor cock-sucker is stuck forever, praying God his body holds up till retirement. You are free as a bird compared to him. Those poor poor mother-fuckers. I wish the girls upstairs could give 'em the works for free." "Do you mean that?" The bartender grinned, dancing a little to Chet Baker, "Not a bit of it, sweets. It's just a manner of speak-ing." He put up another 7 Up that was so clean looking, so cold and fine on the taste I was beginning to feel like the luckiest son of a bitch in the world. The bartender went on with his little half dance, knocked out by the music. And how could you not be? "That little junkie Chet Baker, there's the truth, boy. In the arm and out the horn." "Sad but true," I said. "Don't be so sure, sweets. Don't knock it till you try it." He had a band aid in the crook of his elbow. "Thanks for the 7 Up, nice talkin' to you," I said and left the change on the bar just like my mother taught me. "You keep that little bundle of fun from New Orleans in mind, Mr. Open Hearth." I guaranteed him I would, and that was the truth. I didn't expect I'd ever meet her, but I would surely keep her in mind. I'd read From Here to Eternity and dreamed that Pruitt dream.
      At the door I was half-blinded by sunlight, and a thick-necked, loud silhouette blocked my way. It was laughing a show-offy haw haw haw, absolutely without mirth. I'd heard one version or another of that laugh, from men only, all my life - down in the kitchen on nights when my family had company, coming out of saloons as I walked past, down in the furnace room at school where the janitor and the coaches would smoke. I had promised myself I would never be that kind of man: a raw and hard-hearted laugher, full of contempt..
      "Haw Haw Haw - Hap and Lois's little boy stopping off for a two-buck piece of ass on the way home--" His voice was like those oogah-oogah horns on the old jalopies. I recognized it before I could make out his face. It was Staples, one of those guys who made all the noise in my parents' kitchen on party nights. Like most of those guys, he was married to a bright and good looking woman. Don't ask me how or why. Maybe she came to the conclusion, with men this is a good as it gets and went for him. Her name was Marian. Staples was bricklayer, a work and drinking friend of my uncles. I idolized my uncles but thought their taste in friends stunk. And if that was the best you could do, for friends, it was one hell of an argument for not spending your whole life in the mill.
      "Staples! You off today?"
      "Union business. Nice place you picked to stop off at;"
      "I like the jukebox."
      "Yeah. Right. Your uncles knew you were here, they'd pin your ears back. You'd break your father's heart." Staples idolized my father. His own father was a drunk, wife-beater, suicide. "He thinks you're hot shit - don't ask me why."
      Staples waited. I didn't say anything. Finally he asked me, sneering. "What they have you doing on midnights? Cleaning offices?" That would be women's work in Staples' book - just right for me.
      "I was on the big hammer all night, tearing out the sub-basement in number two furnace. We're taking it down and putting it back up."
      "I heard they were. You say you were on the big hammer?" He sneered.
      "All alone. Eight hours."
      He shook his head, pretending I was lying.
      I smiled, pretending he wasn't a shithead.
      We didn't have a lot to say to each other and the bartender was wary. He didn't want the situation to get any more tense than it was. Neither did I.
      I smiled a Staples and waved to the bartender and left. Staples had no kids of his own, although he was a Catholic, and I was his best example of why a guy should be happy if "he's shooting blanks" (his words). I was a traitor to my class and my hardworking father: a bookworm, classical music snob, pseudo-intellectual, nigger lover, probable atheist, and likely fairy. It was the usual tough-guy contempt package, which he concealed when he was around my father but made clear the few times we were alone. I didn't say a word back to him when he was on that kick, which he took for what it was. Insolence.
      He wanted to hit me, but loyalty to my father and uncles stopped him. It felt to me like he wished he could any time he saw me - Christmas parties, the Fourth, the Bricklayer's Union dance. I knew that if we fought he would really damage me because he was deeply strong from working a hard job with a hangover or any other malaise, plus he would be the one carrying a load of hate. I'd never be able to match his hate. Just the thing that made him hate me so much made me not hate him enough. My gut, my groin, my heart were all elsewhere and finally didn't give a shit about Staples. On the job, with the air hammer, I got good advice, the first time I was breaking concrete. Billie, a young guy from Alabama who'd done a whole lot more work than I had (including six months on a chain gang), told me: "College, you gonna get real tired just liftin that hammer with your arms and thinkin about whatever it is you're thinkin about - pussy, or whatever. You got to get into this deal emotionally. Got it? E-motion-ally. Hate that cocksucker hammer and that motherfucker floor you're bustin out and you gonna love this job." He was right. I could get that hate up with the hammer, that was acting. But not enough with Staples. That was real life. He would beat the bejesus out of me, and I wouldn't give a shit. I knew that for a fact.
      'I'll tell my uncles I saw you, Stape," I smiled and nodded back at the bartender. He said to Staples, "They're waiting for you in the back." There was a room in the back where legendary poker games were played and where certain confidential union business was conducted. "You're lucky your uncles are who they are." Staples was trying to sneer and look threatening at the same time, not doing either very well. The bartender was wagging his forefinger at me, signaling no no no, and flicking his eyes in Staples' direction. I acted cocky but wondered what I was getting myself into, being old enough now to move alone in Staples' world.
      I was avoiding catching my bus home--I had to admit it finally. I could feel myself losing connections. For instance, my uncles. I was nuts about all four of them. They were bricklayers, noisemakers, huggers, cussers, arm punchers, always interested in whatever it was I was doing or reading. But there was point where their path went one way (towards Staples) and mine went another. They enjoyed Staples' company, they actually craved his company. Imagine, enjoying that moron's company.
      In a couple of years Staples would be turning State's Evidence to stay out of the lockup, telling an investigator what that confidential union business was. My uncles always insisted that Staples was framed.
      Well another bus would be along. There's always another bus. I strolled a couple of blocks along the main drag then cut into the rundown neighborhood, part Mexican, part black, mostly still old steel mill white folks who had lived there for decades. There was a small music store with a creaky wooden floor and a front window that did its best to let light in through a thick layer of rusty steel mill soot, more cases of used jazz records than the owner had bothered to count, and a wall of musical instruments. Most were dented and tarnished. A beat up valve trombone caught my eye every time.
      The place was run by two brothers. Well, not exactly. It was run by one brother who kept his brother on the premises. The proprietor brother was a hipster and a reader and a Communist, the brother confined to the premises was a heroin addict and not much else. The brother in charge had blue seersucker trousers, black alligator belt, dark blue knit shit, black loafers with tassels and no socks. "Very nice," I said.
      "My Stan Getz look, don't you think?"
      "I do think," I said. "No reason why a comrade has to look like a farmer."
      He brother came into the store from a backroom. He wore a Hawaiian shirt, sandals, and shorts with big patch pockets, like an English soldier's. "Wow," he said when he half laid eyes on me, as if I were some special event. Then his eyes slid off me and wandered the shop, very slowly. It seemed he liked what he saw. His name was Eugene.
      "Look," said the brother in the Stan Getz garb, "I got to close up now. This is a drag but like I got to get Eugene out of town. Some people have their eye on him and I think he'll be better elsewhere, you dig. But here;" He made me a package with half a dozen back issues of Downbeat from the late forties and a couple of 78s by Brew Moore, a fine tenor saxophonist of the time. "Presents," he said. "Share the wealth."
      Two weeks later, when I'd completed by Four to Twelve shift and my Day shift, I was done at the mill forever, and I stopped by the store. It was empty. An old timer who lived next door was watering his window box full of petunias. "They bugged out, the commie and his hop-head brother;for Frisco I think. Things got hot for them. Gone with the wind." He winked without humor, saying "get it?" with the closing and opening of his right eye. I raised my eyebrows, humorlessly, answering "got it." I never saw them again. We knew each other on a very superficial, but satisfying level. A very vulnerable, a very iffy sort of connection. Well that was how I was connecting to everything in those days, vulnerable, iffy, wondering what would come or go the next time the wind changes.
     I missed another bus and wandered to a Coney Island Red Hots joint where you got this skinny hot dog on a bread soft bun covered with, buried in, chili con carne, onions, and cheese. I ordered three, fries, and a bottle of orange pop. Breakfast on the Midnight shift. "Too hot shit for a old friend, now you work in the Open Hearth?"
      Tiny Rubasch was sitting at the far end of counter. I slid my lunch down to join him. "You playin' at my joint tonight?" Tiny said. I was supposed to sit in on trumpet at a jam session later that night. Strictly speaking the joint wasn't Tiny's, although he had some interest in it and some serious responsibilities to the guys who really owned it. Very serious: years later when I was a school teacher in Connecticut my mother put a P.S. on a letter saying, "Light a candle for your old pal Tiny, they found him in his car this morning with many bullets in him." My mother had a great fondness for Tiny. They went to high school together and her biting him in French Club on two consecutive days became local lore. "Mr. Tiny could get a little too big for his britches," was all she'd ever say about the event.
      This day, Tiny had a plate in front of him piled with five or six Coney Islands. Naturally, he was called Tiny because of his large size. He wore short sleeved shirts that looked ready to explode. Tiny pointed me out to the cook: "This kid use to work for me now he's going by Northwestern University wit' all the Four Hunderds."
      "You working for Tine?" the cook asked.
      "Used to." Actually I didn't even know I was working for him at first. I thought I was hired on as a mail boy and mimeo machine operator in the Standard Oil research labs. But my first day on the mail route I got the word that I had two mail routes, one for the company and one for Tiny. For Tiny, I carried betting slips and money, weekly football cards. No bets on horses or prize fights, just team sports played with a ball.
      I met Tiny in what looked like a janitor's supply room with a small desk. Tiny barely fit behind it, but the desk was deeply, seriously important to him. It made him a man behind a desk and everyone else was a guy on the other side of his desk.
      "You pick up the envelopes for me, got it?"
      "Got it."
      "You give the whole pack to Ronnie in the mail room. You don't fuck wit' nothing that's in them."
      "I mind my own business."
      "That's a beautiful thought. You could become a very important man wit' such a philosophy."
      "Thank you. Do I get paid for this service?"
      "The Standard Oil Company of Indiana pays you to carry mail. This is in the
      mail. Ca-peesh?"
      I shrugged and smiled at the thought of Rockefeller's empire picking up the tab
      for Tiny's private enterprise. Sometimes when I reminisce about my working for Tiny a solid citizen reminds me what I was doing was, is, against the law. I know that. I knew that at the time. But it wasn't much of an issue then, or now. Illegal ain't always immoral, Tiny loved to say. "Remember this about me, I am an honest man. I never stiffed a customer in my life. Can you say that about the Central State Bank or your insurance company or this company we are employed by?"
      I had the sense to forgo an smart-ass exit line and just gave Tiny a smart salute, a permission to come aboard sir salute like WWII navy movies. "Mister Roberts" with Henry Fonda.
      "I think we'll get along just perfect," said my new boss. Which we did.
      Tiny picked up the tab for my Coneys, gave me some bennies when he heard how long I'd been awake because he was worried I wouldn't show up at his joint that night, after a played a dance at the local ballroom. He asked me who I wanted in the big fight next week. Asking me that, Tiny was just confirming I was his boy. He didn't care who I picked. Asking was like putting an arm on your shoulder, to let you know you were his boy and to let the cook (who was also his boy) know that you were his boy. I wanted Bobo Olson in the the fight next week.
      "You gonna play that 'Perdido' tonight? I like that one."
      "You got it, Tines. And thanks for lunch and the goodies."
      He waved away the thanks as if they didn't matter, but they did. "Nuttin'. So tonight, you play pretty for the people." He was showing off for the cook, giving advice to a trumpet player.
      "That's what you pay me for, Tines."
      "I love this kid! College boy, but real people," he told the cook, who was getting pretty sick of hearing about me. "I know 'bout college. I been." He nodded, like he was listening to himself and agreeing. "Illinois. Urbana. Business. T'ree semesters. I quit. College: it takes you one way--round here takes you another. Right, trumpet man?"
      "I wish it wasn't that way, Tines."
      "Don't wish like that. You;you are a good kid. You know how to like it here, you don't turn your back on it. But you'll go wit' Nort'western all the way."
      "I feel like I'm coming loose from myself, Tiny."
      "Yer supposta. Your future lies ahead of you, not behind like a lot of these fuckin no-hopes."
      "That's what this guy in the Open hearth told me last night." I told Tiny about the screamer in the subbasement. He laughed. "The dumb fuck was right. The poor son of a bitch is trapped. He hates you for it--but what do you do? He's getting fucked by circumstance because he bent over. Like in the shower. Life stuck him between the buns because he bent over. Me, you, we figured it better. We ain't bendin' over. I feel for him, but that stupid cocksucker tries anyt'ing on you, hit him in the nose with a shovel and go to college."
      I didn't sleep before the dance. I some parts of Ralph Ellison's book I liked to reread, I knew he was a trumpet player as well as a writer.
      At the dance a very tough boy a few years younger than me decided he was my friend because he loved the way I played slow tunes like "Star Dust," "Tenderly," or "Young Man With a Horn." He said I had it, and he could dance to it. He danced with girls who were sex legends, they were drawn to him because he was truly dangerous I guess. I got to him, he said.
      Because I made so much music for him he wanted to confide in me. I suppose the way a rich man confides in his butler. "X and I go up to Chicago, Saturday nights usually, the Sout' Side. We steal a car, you know how it is." I did know how it was--from the movies. "We go to Nigger Town on one of these slummy dark streets, no stores or nothin'. I slow down, X jumps out when he sees a nigger walking alone. He used to just hit 'em, break their nose or jaw, for laughs. Jump back in the car. You know. Now he kills 'em and I have to drive like hell to get out of there. We dump the car, steal another, dump that one and we're home free."
      "Kill?" I asked. "Dead?" I hoped he was using a figure of speech. He wasn't.
      He nodded. I asked him how many. "Only three or four - two, three--something like that. With this commando knife he got at War Surplus and once with a gun."
      "Jesus Christ," I said. "Don't tell me this, man!"
      "You play sweet trumpet, so I'm telling you. It's that simple. But you don't tell nobody else." He raised his eyebrows like a crook in the movies - eloquent, menacing, friendly. He wasn't a crook in the movies. He was a crook in fact.
      "Jesus Christ," I said again.
      "Don't worry. They're just niggers."
      This will sound like I'm faking it when I tell you this, but I truly did think of Richard Wright, who was just a nigger on Chicago's South Side. "You guys are going to get killed if you keep that shit up" was all I could think to say. I didn't even want to say that much.
      "So?" he said, half smiling. "Maybe that's why we do it. You can understand that, Trumpet Man. Right?"
      "Nick Romano - Live fast, die young, have a beautiful corpse." I was a reader.
      "You're pretty smart for a fairy," he said.
      He figured me like that because I played music in public and talked in public about what I read.
      The break was over and I had to go back on the bandstand for the last set. The killer had a request and I played it. A slow, slow tune, all lovey and melancholy. I played that god damn tune like I never played any tune before. I wasn't playing it for him. I played so damn pretty dancers stopped, let go of each other, and listened, each one feeling lonely and full all at once. Everything was so still when the tune ended it disgusted the drummer. "Fuck this shit," the drummer said. "Let's go, let's change the tempo."
      So we changed the tempo, played some raucous feverish swing band stuff till we'd soaked through our white shirts. When it was done, we were wet and happy. You couldn't see out the frosted windows of the high school gym, but a girl who'd snuck out for a smoke came in and said it was raining out there. She could hear the music outside, she said, and the world looked changed, with the rain making it so clean before the soot got to it again. She'd wanted the moment to last forever, she said, but it didn't--she finished her cig, and now she wished we would play a rain song, just for her.
      I took the requests, so she was telling this all to me. She was wearing a sweater that for aesthetic reasons was a size or two too small. She was one of two or three authentic sex experts at George Rogers Clark school. "Is it as lonely as it sounds--" she asked me, "playing the trumpet?" She was a little drunk, so she could talk this way to a trumpet player who read poetry, at least for the duration of a high school dance. Before I could answer she did: "Everything is lonely, even stuff you do with other people, if you get my drift." She wasn't waiting for my response. She leaned down to me and the light from the music stand caught her lipstick. She was making me a little drunk. "You look like Edna St. Vincent Millay," I told her. The drummer was giving me a dirty, envious look. "Let's go, man. Let's go," he stage whispered. "That's because I burn my candle at both ends," she said against my ear. "I'll bet you thought you were the only one who read that shit." "I used to think that," I told her, "but I know different now." Her lips touched my ear, something between a kiss and an accident. I played the rest of the dance and later sat in at Tiny's after hours joint in Cal City with lipstick on my ear. A combination bar, bowling alley, and bookie joint painted with very "modrun" Paul Klee-ish designs on the wall behind the bandstand. I listened more than I played - the music was too fast that night for how I felt. Calumet City, Illinois, was one of those state line places that the newspapers called Sin City. It wanted a lot of music to accompany its vices. "Hey, man," one hipster and another grinned and asked, "where'd you get the lip-stick on your ear?" "Edna St. Vincent Millay," I said, one or two of the cats thought they might have met the chick, but mostly they didn't recognize the name.
      About three Tiny showed up. The joint had been half empty most of the night, but by the time Tiny arrived it was packed and noisey. "You just sittin around huggin your horn?" I'd been thinking maybe I was through playing the horn. Don't ask me why, don't ask me how I came to be thinking that. I just thought maybe it was goodbye to that too. More and more I felt my previous connections, to everything, were coming undone. Or maybe no sleep was catching up with me.
      "You gonna play 'Perdido'?"
      "Need you ask? I'm going to play 'Perdido'so fucking hard, Tines, I hope I shred this horn in the process."
      "Jesus. You ain't smokin any Boo or anything like that? Your mother would bite my fucking arm off if that was goin on."
      "Seven Up. That's all I've had, Tine. Well, your bennies, and Lucky Strikes, and no sleep. I'm going to play that riff like you never heard it."
      "I heard Roy Eldridge."
      "Well I'm going to be Buck Clayton;plus. Tonight is suddenly it, Tiny. If I was Billy Pierce I'd pitch a no hitter. Tonight is my night." I wondered if I was bragging just to make a fool of myself. I felt like some dopey puppet in the hands of the puppet master Fatigue.
      "What are you, trumpet man? Some kinda goddam Existensialist?"
      "I'll play. You tell me what I am." I was talking like some cinema noir guy with a horn playing for a minor crook and a houseful of hipsters, B girls, drifters, and terminal boozers - all of us somehow pledged not to leave the premises until the sun comes up. Which wasn't that far from the truth. "You know, Tines, if you never slept for the rest of your life you would be higher than Chet Baker and Bix Beiderbecke combined."
      He knew I was talking from no sleep, excitable and full of shit. "If you take care of your self, trumpet man, you will live to be a very old man and get cancer and they will give you morphine at the end and you can be as high as is possible."
      I told him that sounded like a good offer and went onto the stand. The tenor sax man on the stand, a guy about forty who worked in the parimutuel window at Arlington Racetrack during the day said, "I suppose it's 'Perdido.'" "Right," I said. "Solid," he said, with just a taste of irony. He didn't like requests, but he took them from the man.
      I did not shred the horn, although I played half a dozen choruses, at times snapping notes like the horn was a bullwhip - that was how they sounded bouncing back off the far wall. The metal rim of the mouthpiece fit perfectly into that groove on my lip, feeling more like it was part of my body than my teeth. My sound got fatter and nastier with each chorus and I played with my eyes open watching the crowd. The first couple of choruses I was excited at what I was hearing from myself. The people at the bar and tables were excited, I could see that, but the more I played the less excited I got. It was like I was playing my own disappearance but everyone else was feeling more and more there.
      An fortyish woman in an off-the-shoulders gypsy blouse, cigarette stuck in the corner of her mouth and dropping ashes into her blouse, was standing right front and center and yelling over and over "Play it, you little cocksucker" until two big guys in Panama hats dragged her back to a table. I was glad they stopped her, her rhythm was terrible.
      I always dreamed of doing this, I thought while I was playing, and now it's finished. Or maybe it isn't. What the fuck do I care?
      When we finished the tenor man bowed his head slightly and said, "That was very danger-ous, my man. I would not let you drive my car or anywhere near my chick."
      I bowed a little bebopper bow, jazz puppet, hipster Pinocchio, and went back to the table. I realized then that I was about as wet from sweat as I'd been in the Open Hearth, sometime in the recent but remote past. I did not notice that another midnight had come and gone. "You look like a fucking dead man," Tiny said. "I never heard 'Perdido' better and I heard Roy Eldridge but shit, young man, you don't hit the bottle or the needle but you look like a dead man. Go home and get some sleep. At least you'll stop smoking for a few hours."
      "I'm not going to sleep after that one, Tines. That was too good, and too weird."
      "Your ma home?" I was living with my parents then, working and putting away money for college. Tiny said it showed good taste that I would live with them as long as I could. He worried that I hadn't been home in a while. That was no way to treat such classy people - he remarked often how he had seen them at the Blue Note in Chicago, catching Duke Ellington and that was after "they seen a stage play first - Jesus that's class, man."
      I told Tiny, "She and my dad went to Michigan for the week. They won't be home till Sunday."
      "This is Sunday, jazz man. Christ. Here. For sleep. Very fine." He put two yellow capsules in my hand. They looked clean and pretty as only pharmaceuticals can. "Look healthy for your mother. Or she will definitely bite me again."
      "Splendid. Will the pretty pills give me weird dreams?"
      "If they do, you won't know it. Take two"
      "Who was that cheerleader in the gypsy blouse? Very strange."
      "You don't want to know. But I'll tell you this. She owes people some serious dough, a lot of it not hers, and she shouldn't be calling so much attention to herself."
      I'd wanted to talk to him about the guy at the dance who talked about killing black people in Chicago. I couldn't imagine telling anyone besides Tiny, but his warning about the cheerleader told me how he'd react. Killing is too serious for that kind of shit, he'd say. Someone will kill that dumb fucker some day, the way he killed people, for no good reason. I knew he'd say something like that because I'd heard him talk about killing before. There were times I felt Tines had done some of that himself, but I knew he wasn't going to talk about it. There were things like that you just kept to yourself. If you knew what was good for you.
      The sun was already up when we left the club. Tiny was driving me home, although I would have taken a cab and liked it. Cab drivers, especially in those years so close to two wars, WWII and Korea, tended to been veterans who had traveled widely and espoused desperate philosophies gained from experience. "I'm going fishing after I let you off - you wanta fish? No, forget it. I don't want your blood on my hands. Get some sleep before you croak. It's bad for your ticker to go so long without even a nap."
      "Fishing sounds good," I said. "Fishing sounds good." I think I said that twice, or maybe it was just echoing in there with everything else.




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