I walk from my apartment across the street from the all-night hash house, four or five blocks above Ravenna, where Jim and Marge live, their baby blue Caddy convertible parked outside with the top up to keep the rain at bay, the madrona growing wild in the ravine bordering Ravenna Park.
I walk to Eastlake, and when an hour’s gone by I’m sagging from too little sleep. I trudge up the rise that will one day lie in the shadow of the freeway built to be done by the time the World’s Fair opens. I reach the intersection of Stewart and down eight to ten blocks, on the way downtown, is where the Greyhound bus station is located. A half block before the corner, I reach the building with its nondescript APARTMENTS FOR RENT sign above the no-name bar–with its pool tables where Sanchez likes to play afternoons when, as frequently happens, he’s got a gig that night with his combo up the street, at the New Congress Hotel, in the room with the dance floor just beyond the bar where I write poems for the women in their hip-high hose who wait tables and hang around where I occupy a stool with pencil and paper and a pen to recopy what I offer in exchange for the drink. Here, above the bar with its pool tables, are the low-rent apartments that include the one where my father slept before and after playing cards at the ongoing high-stakes game upstairs in the New Congress.
Earlene lives here with her son Roderick. She’s a young black-haired Cajun woman who says she fled her husband in New Orleans and came here to get as far away from him as she could. I know it was because of Roderick, who has a club foot and doesn’t need the aggravation of a deadbeat father if he’s going to do all he will dream of doing and that she works to give him the chance to do. She waits tables at Aggie’s, the restaurant a block down from the university, where professors and students come to eat and drink coffee. Her black hair and dark complexion lit up the room for me the day we first met there. A few weeks later, I took her to dinner at the Viceroy downtown, the restaurant that seems to sink below the street as you enter, and before being seated the maitre’d fits the gentleman for a formal jacket to wear while dining if you didn’t bring one, which I’ve never done though I can count on two hands the times I’ve been there. That night she invited me to stop by her place when I could, and a week or two gone by, here I am. I always call first.
I meet Roderick. He wants to be an engineer. I tell him he will be: Mind your mama and help her all you can, and someday you will be a fine man and make your mama proud. Earlene asks him to play in the other room–he’s four years old going on five–and pours me a cup of coffee. She doesn’t go to work for a couple hours, she’s glad I finally came by. It’s nice, she says, to see me again outside Aggie’s. Since we’ve talked only enough for her to explain her flight from New Orleans, and for me to try to tell her why, when I come into Aggie’s, I always read but mostly write both before and after eating and while drinking a second hoddle of coffee,. This time I tell her I want to make writing my life, she says that sounds wonderful, and pretty soon we’re talking about her journey from the Crescent City to the Emerald City. I say she must have a sister named Dorothy, like the one who found herself in that other Emerald City, Oz, and Earlene replies, That was a girl from Kansas, I was born in Louisiana, in bayou country.
I stay an hour. At the door she kisses me on the cheek and we're looking at each other eye to eye when I kiss her lightly on the lips. She’s a small woman but I can feel her intensity as I give her a big hug before leaving. She thanks me for coming, asks me back, says she’ll see me soon at Aggie’s, and adds, Don’t be a stranger now you know where we live. Outside the building I feel revived from my lack of sleep. I go downtown and on Third I catch the city bus back. I didn’t know why I chose to go there now, but I felt for sure I had been in someone’s home. I knew I would be back.
(25 January 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander