Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting Mobbed Up - Part 2

I thought maybe it made more sense to try to get mobbed up via what I’d heard called the numbers game in some movies, and the policy racket in others. I headed down to one of Maine Street’s two most popular soul food restaurants, in front of which a little mob of unemployed middleaged persons of the sort I thought likely suspects could commonly be observed loitering in fanciful headwear and facial hair, smoking cigarettes and affectionately insulting each other in voices that too many cigarettes had made raspy.

I wasn’t sure how I should approach them. The only time in my life I ever addressed a black man as bro, steam fairly came out of his nose he was so furious. He was about my own age. We’d both had our eye on a particular parking place in Golden Gate Park, and I, believing that he’d seen it first, called to him, “It’s yours, bro.” What he seemed to have heard, though, was, “If only there were some way to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation.”

The fellows in front of the soul food restaurant were all right around my old age, or younger, so I didn’t think they’d be able to feel patronized unless they really put their backs into it, but I didn’t feel I should take a chance with bro. On the other hand, if I addressed them collectively as “gentlemen,” I thought they’d either think me a high school PE teacher on the lam, or a dickhead. “Guys” wouldn’t work, and “fellas” felt pretty lame too.

And once I figured out how to address them, what would I do if any of them who wanted to shake hands? If I offered them my own grabber traditionally, with the fingers at a 30-degree angle to the ground and my thumb at 90 degrees, would they think I was from the FBI, or roll their eyes at my lack of cool? If I went instead for the classic fingers-skyward/thumb pointed back at myself soul grasp, would they react as though I’d addressed them as bro? If not, should I curl my fingers to hook their own curled fingers after we’d interlocked thumbs? I felt uncomfortably as though back in high school, trying desperately to figure out a way to make my lust known to a pretty girl in such as way as make her neither snicker at me nor hit me over the head with her looseleaf binder.

In the end, after extensive hesitation, I realized that those who hesitate are lost, took a deep breath, and just bounded into their midst, blurting, “How’s everybody doing this afternoon?”

The one in the bedraggled Mets cap turned away in disgust. The one in the dingy captain’s cap arched his eyebrows at me censoriously, sipped deeply from whatever he had in his brown paper sack, and did the same. The one in the do-rag spat in the general direction of my feet, and then arched his own eyebrows at me, as though to ask, “You got a problem with somebody nearly spitting on your feet, motherfucker?” But the guy in the straw fedora and Find the Cure T-shirt said, “Can’t complain.” His companion, a desiccated-looking old-timer with a space between his teeth through which you could have pushed a mandarin orange, said, “Shit, I sure as hell can,” and laughed the brittle, rattly laugh of someone who didn’t have years of laughter to look forward to.

When I told them I was interested in playing the numbers, the one in the do-rag spat again, closer to my feet this time, and the one with apparent emphysema wheezed incredulously. His pal, in the straw fedora, shook his head and said, “Shit.” Between them, they'd used four syllables to say it twice. “Ain’t nobody played the numbers in this town since before Rodney King, Jack.”

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley), Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. ]

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