Southern Exposure

Ruminations of a Native Son


Greater Washington. DC., United States
February 06
Compulsive writer (mostly memoirs and sociopolitical rants), musicologist, hermeticst, fiscal conservative, radical centrist, agrarian socialist; Charter member, Factualist Party; born and raised in DC, healthcare professional, retired businessman, civic and political activist on two coasts, civil rights movement veteran. An empiricist's worst nightmare, I believe in everything but I don't believe everything, including many things I believe in. Turned down by US Army in 1966 for medical reasons, thrown out of Col. Hasan's Black Man's Army in 1967 for being "too militant." Scion of a family only Tennessee Williams could have dreamed up. There's more. There's always more.


SEPTEMBER 1, 2011 5:58PM

On the Edge of Seventeen

Rate: 8 Flag

I knew her from work. In fact she always said I'd taken her job, that she wouldn't have all the time on her hands if I hadn't come along and knocked her out of her postion of 20 years. She teased me with this, even though it was, in a way, true.

I've never much bought into not getting involved with people you work with, because I am reckless, foolish, a compulsive gambler, and besides, life is too short to screw around with arbitrary rules.

She was married, though, and that made me hold off, at least til my marriage had totally crumbled and I had resigned so that I could get through that without killing a patient. It was quiet at last, and I was alone.

That's when she called me. Was I ready to go out with her now?

I'd never been big on dating married women. That was a rule of mine I took seriously. But we were good friends, her marriage was a shambles, I hated her husband, and as I said, I was alone. It was a mere formality, my saying Yes.

So forgive me father, for I have sinned. My sin, though, is worse than you might think, Monsignor, because it is that I don't regret what I did. I don't regret things. It doesn't mean I have no conscience. Far from it. I just can't change the past, especially when I choose to do something random and wrong.

My children will disown me, I 'm sure.

So we wound up meeting somewhere I won't divulge, and taking a cab into town (which town is on a body of water, has a harbor, that's all you get), where we went wandering on foot, bar-hopping, goofy, feeling free, she from her gilded cage, and me from my dark, gothic bungalow of Usher.

She was awfully cute. I have no idea what I looked like, but it was much as I do now, twelve years later, and I still have no idea what I look like, but she was with me, it was her idea, and so from those facts I conclude I must have been passable. Maybe I still am. One hopes.

We wandered into a bar on the far side of the harbor where we ran into some friends of hers (obviously they saw this behavior of hers as routine, none of them seeming the least surprised or uncomfortable). We hung out there a while, but the music was too loud and too incompetent. Before we decided to leave, though, I did learn something: the alleged erotic value of sucking on someone's eyeball.

I don't know. Don't ask. I didn't. That's when we both decided to find another bar.

There are plenty of them in that town, especially near the harbor.

It was April. Did I mention that? Balmy evening by the water.

At last we wandered into a place called Armadillo's. It's still there, so if it matters to you at all, you can probably figure this out, and my lazy-ass cryptogram will be cracked.

It's been twelve years. Everybody knows what we did.

Well maybe except for you, dear reader. 

Armadillo's was two floors, the first dedicated to passable food and getting drunk. Upstairs was like someone's attic, but there was a bandstand and tiny dace floor up there. Also a very short bar, and out in front of that short bar another bar, or countertop at least, so there was some place to set one's drink.

That was it.

Well there was something else there. A band. A young guy from Brandon, Florida (near Tampa) about whom I knew nothing, but would soon know all I needed to know. His name was Damon Fowler and the band was...well, it was his group. Fowler and his Group had made a record... okay, a CD...of music, and he was selling them between sets. She wanted one and I bought it for her. I suspect she's still got it, because she's in Orlando now. I found that out, because I never leave anything alone, especially when it's safely in the past and nearly forgotten.

That's how I am.

Well, Fowler's music, a gumbo of classic rock, blues, swamp music and god knows what all, it did things. People behaved strangely, on that little dance floor and off it, in the shadowy corners of the upstairs attic-like room at Armadillo's. Things got weird. I'd consumed a considerable amount of potent potables, but it wasn't that. There were strange things going on to the strains of songs like "I've Got Eyes" and "Money Shot." Things difficult to explain. And Fowler knew it. Like a master of drunken puppets he propelled the crowd (no idea the actual count, it is a small room, but the laws of physics had been suspended) into something like a good-natured frenzy.

This is how Damon Fowler sounds - and works.

I had to pee.

When I came back from the bathroom I didn't see Her. I took up my place at the counter, facing the music, and looked around, figuring she might have deigned to dance with some maniac. It would have been fine if she had. Eventually I felt a tug on my pantsleg. I looked down and there she was, crouched beneath the counter, looking up at me with devil eyes, and said "That frat boy idiot won't stop hitting on me."

I knew who she meant, as he'd been hovering since we got there. She'd already told him she was old enough  to be his  mama, but he obviously didn't believe her or maybe didn't care. I couldn't fault him in either case, but he was a damned nuisance, so I asked to see his driver's license. He looked at me very strangely, his eyes wide, as though his father had shown up in front of him. "I don't have it with me" he said, and I asked "How'd you get in here, son?" Magically, he vanished.

I really am a horrible person.

Eventually, through the haze of swamp music, whiskey, hormones and some really decent weed someone had ignited somewhere, we closed the place and moved on out the door, down the stairs, and to a pay phone, something that still existed back there in the midst of time.

She called the cab company, but her designated driver was missing. She decided we should wait and maybe take a walk.

It had started to rain. It was April. The rain was sweet and warm and steady. It felt wonderful. We'd see a cop and she'd grab my arm and yank me into an alley or a niche between buildings or behind a dumpster and we'd cower for a minute til said cop moved on, then laugh like idiots, because we didn't know why we were hiding.

In our wet wanderings we came across a stout young man who'd run his father's car into the curb and somehow flattened a tire. He was struggling with the tire iron and the lugnuts. We stood there a while, watching. He looked at us like we were crazy. Finally She asked if he was having trouble. He cursed, apologized, then spilled his story. He was an apprentice to the chef of one of the two nice hotels in town, his father had loaned him his car because he'd had a date, the date had gone sour, he'd got drunk and run into the curb, and now we were standing in the rain laughing at him.

She, soaked to the skin but looking all the cuter for it, knelt down, pushed the big guy aside, and did something magical. I don't know what it was, but somehow she broke the last lugnut loose. The young man stood there gaping in astonishment.

"There," she said in that wonderful local accent that sounds almost like northern Alabama but not quite. The guy shook his head in amazement. "I'm embarrassed," he said. She patted his arm. "Can you put the spare on okay?" she asked. He nodded. Then he bummed a cigarette from her. (Yes, she smoked, by god). She took my arm and led me along the sidewalk, the rain still coming down, and said "Could have been my boy." I nodded.

We found another pay phone (try that now) and called again for the cabbie. She said to meet us in front of Armadillo's. We went back there and waited, watching the police watch drunken patrons stagger to their parked cars, then snare them as they started to drive away.

"See?" she said. "That would be us. Me. I like to drink. I don't like getting locked up." I nodded. She shook her head, her shoulder-length almost-black hair swaying wetly. We were both beyond soaked. It's hard to stay drunk when you're in the shower, and it was all shower out there.

The cab finally showed up and we climbed in, laughing, then She froze. 

"That's not my driver!" she fairly shouted. The cabbie looked over his shoulder and winked. "I am now."

"Where is he? Where's _______??"  (I honestly can't remember the "right" driver's name).

As the cab pulled away, She demanded to know things about the strange driver and why he was there instead of "hers." He was strangely knowlegeable about this arrangement and a lot of other things that took me aback. He knew too much. Cabbies do. (Watch the noir classic "Deadline at Dawn" sometime). After some back-and-forth She leaned over the front seat and grabbed the mic. The driver tried to grab it back, but she dropped to the floor where he couldn't reach it, and started yelling at the dispatcher that "We're being kidnapped!" Driver slapped hinself in the forehead. "Sweet Jesus, lady!" 

"Well where are you taking us?"

"To your house."

"How do you know where that is? I haven't told you yet!"

"I know a lot of things. Now gimme back the mic."

She handed it to him and turned to me, her legs folded under her on the seat, laughing, held on to me for balance, and said:

"Don't you feel like you're seventeen?"

I had to admit that's exactly how I felt.

We made it back to her house. By then we'd both made friends with the cabbie and gathered some interesting dirt on some local politicians. We bid him goodnight and went inside. It was like I was seventeen, she was fifteen, and her parents weren't home that weekend.

Except it wasn't her parents who weren't home.

I think I left about 36 hours later. I'm not exactly sure.

I never saw her again. I know where she is, though, and it's a lot closer to Damon Fowler's home base.

I'm goin' to hell. Or maybe just to Florida.

But not right now.

   Here: Let Damon Explain the rest...

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Say ten "Hail Mary's" and look her up again. On second thought, maybe not -- you can't go home again -- especially when it's not your home.
Hail yes, Tom. And she's not home anymore. She finally got out. I'm not much of one to drive forward while looking the the rear-view mirror, but since we barely got started anyway, maybe it's not a bad idea you've thrown out there. (You're not the first, either).
A great read. "(Yes, she smoked, by god)" - the best line.
Thanks, Sandra, and thanks for pointing out that parenthetical comment. Now that I see it separated out like that, I kind of like it too.
"When I was seventeen, it was a very good year.." even if you only felt like it. Very romance noir. Nice.
well, this was fascinating. and funny and sad and a few other things, all good. "It's hard to stay drunk when you're in the shower" is my personal favorite. oh, and many thanks for the damon fowler nudge and tunes. i'm over in iTunes, loading up. as soon as i clicked on that first one you included, i could picture a *whole* lotta things that might have been going on at armadillo's on the second floor. whoa.
Hell...Florida...same. I enjoyed this.
Thanks, Lea. It made up for when I was seventeen, which really rather sucked the first time. :)

Candace Mann: Fascinating, the sentences people are liking here. I don't think I've had that happen before. And hey, I am so glad you're looking up DF! There's some great, spellbinding music. (My personal favorite, I think, is "Cypress and the Pines" FWIW). Thanks!

grif: Same thing occurred to me. I hope it's only a temporary samneness. Thank you!
After reading this, I'm remembering, sort of, what 17 felt like, with its massive peaks and deep, deep valleys. I guess the peaks, like that hinted here, made the valleys worth the price.
Procopius: It's true, at least for me. The peaks in my 17th year were huge, though maybe only because the valleys were so deep - more like near-bottomless pits. Still, the sense of wonder that comes with being - or feeling - seventeen is unlike anything before or after. It was that weekend 12 years ago, for me. It still happens. In every case, and again I can only speak for me, those peaks definitely do make the valleys worth the price.
Perfect. This was the perfect reminisce. Don't know what happened to the last wonderful post, this was great. I felt every little ' oh my'
Thanks for the fun.
Rita, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I know I did, which isn't always the way I feel when I reach back into the past. This was good for me, the writing and remembering as much as the actual time. You're very welcome, and thank you!
You're really a wild one, aren't you? No regrets.
Helvetica: It's strange. I don't think of myself that way at all, but then I read my own words and I think "That guy's nuts!" So yeah, maybe I am a wild one. I don't feel that way, but there it is. And no, no regrets. There's just no way to change the past, and I wouldn't even if I could. Got a touch of the Doc Brown in me too.