Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Breakfast With Epiphanies


One

Jackson George, a
Devoted RTVMP slacker,
Part-time Finley hacker
And Smith Center enthusiast,
Frequented the Red Carpet Dance Club.
And as the song still goes:
He loved the night life
And just had to boogie.

One of those wired nights
Soared, then faded toward
Déjà vu denouement,
When the After Burn Faction, 
A Who’s Who of regional
Substance users & abusers,
Finally let the evening go.

Some of those still standing
Crossed the street and waited
For a light fare drive-thru 
To unleash its cinnamon cheer —
The perfect punctuation mark
For pulling the plug
On what had become
A clogged drain.

But the neon sign never flashed.

A self-appointed soiree scout 
Spotted a message scrawled 
Upon a jagged, yellow sheet
Torn from a legal pad
And taped to 
The service window.
The author had employed
A weathered Sharpie
To announce that 
Dawn thru dusk would not
Occur at Sunrise Biscuits
Until further notice —
Due to family issues.

Hideous howls erupted 
From the throng of
Nocturnal, sharp-toothed creatures
Ready to feed
But shunned at the gate.
Those with vehicles
Motored off into the haze
To locate, then absorb 
Massive amounts
Of grease and carbos.

Carless, Jackson George
Trudged along the sidewalk
Toward the center of town,
And in his vague, yet electric state,
Observed what appeared to be
A mammoth orange sphere
Hugging the tree line.
By the time he’d wandered
Into Morehead Planetarium’s lot.
The day’s first shadows
Had brightened the dial’s 
Peaceful, sleeping face.

Nearby, schools of journalism and
Dramatic art (pre-CDA)
Stood silent, as did Sam,
Perched within spitting
Distance of Franklin Street.

Jackson George ambled
Out of the parking area,
Took a right turn
In front of Graham Memorial,
And veered toward 
Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe
On the north side of
East Franklin.
He pondered which omelet
To consume and
If it would contain
Bacon or sausage. 
Or both.

Drooling ever so
Slightly, he wondered
If he had enough cash
For a side of pancakes,
Perhaps hash browns as well.

When Jackson’s left hand
Reached into the back pocket
Of his silver bell bottoms
To gauge his cash status,
He pulled to a quick halt
Midway across the street.

Jackson, frantic and edgy,
Failed to notice an oncoming
Wine-colored,
Four-door Fiat,
Which dodged him,
Tooted its anemic Euro horn,
And scampered through
The just-turned red traffic light.

The Fiat’s driver,
A dental hygienist,
Headed home to shower
And change into church clothes — 
She’d spent the night in Carrboro
With her new boyfriend, 
A second-year law student at UNC.
She gazed in her rear view
At the long-haired spectacle
In the middle of Franklin Street
Checking and rechecking
Each of the empty compartments
In his grimy, ripped pants
And guessed that 
The hippie’s wallet
Was someplace else.


Two

Sunday mornings meant
Extra syrup and panic
At Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe,
Which opened at 7 a.m., 
And yet that fact 
Never curbed 
A staggering array 
Of vampire somnambulists,
Tweakers and creakers,
Some in shorts,
Others in sneakers,
From forming a pre-dawn line 
That stretched down Franklin Street
Past the post office 
When it was still a post office.

Sundays also dictated
That Lee Ann Harris, 
A recent Shoppe hire,
Summon a spasm of wisdom 
She’d noticed scrawled
On the side of a VW bus,
“Like, lighten up, dude.”

It was widely understood
That Shoppe staff maintain
The balmy side of calm
When the early horde
Thundered inside the cafe,
Crammed into the counter seats
In front of the service window,
And blasted the tiny space
With hurricane strength stench
Of sweat, stale Bud and Merit Gold’s.

One Shoppe regular, 
A poly sci major/part-time wag,
Suggested an outdoor shower 
With a hose,
The kind you’d find 
At a public swimming pool,
Needed to be installed
In front of the restaurant.
While it was not, 
In theory, 
An altogether bad idea,
Shoppe management 
Scoffed at the suggestion
Of forced hygiene. 
Cash was king. 
YOWS existed as a cafe,
Not a holistic therapy center 
Spreading gospel about
Body odor and benefits of
Irish Spring and Right Guard.

In many ways,
Sunday had replaced 
The word ordeal
For the Shoppe crew,
But no one dared
Missing the threat of more tips.
So they took 
The maybe good 
With an almost certain bad.

After a couple of months
Some of those Sunday faces
Featured names, in addition
To unique, repetitive, 
And desperate habits.

One of the deadbeats
Paid only in change.
A real charmer, cause
He was always short 
On the bill, always.
Instead of leaving a tip,
He cost everyone 
Who served him.
And yet this punk 
Had never been banned.
What was up with that?

On the other side 
Of that Sunday coin,
Two women in their 40s
Dressed in black —
Addams Family meets Dracula —
Ordered French toast and herbal tea,
Then read Chinese out loud 
From a leather-bound book
That had to weigh 15 pounds.

Two months is an eight-day week
Of Sundays, and in that span of time,
As she calmed down a bit and
Evolved a bit more to the task,
Lee Ann anticipated seeing
One Sunday regular, in particular,
Jackson something. 
A guy with
Two first names
He’d mumbled
The first time they met,
That weird morning
When a bearded guy with a black lab pup
Pulled a knife out of his boot
And went after
Two frat brothers
Who’d taunted
His four-legged companion.
All sorts of shit happened.
That was a scene.
Hard to let go?
Is that a trick question?

“A lot of those boys
Are still tripping,” 
Ethel Simpson, her trainer,
Had shared 
On her first Shoppe Sunday.
Ethel stared off 
Into the void,
Maybe elsewhere,
From time to time.
So Lee Ann
Figured Ethel knew 
What she was talking about.
Then Ethel got busted 
For selling black beauties
To an undercover cop
At He’s Not Here,
And YOWS promoted
Lee Ann to her station.

Easy come.
Then they go.

Jimbo Tompkins
Arrived during Lee Ann’s
Eighth Sunday at the Shoppe.
He’d been out all night
With his poker buddies,
Or so he said.
Lee Ann suspected Jimbo
Might be working 
More on the “stud” aspect, 
Then the 5- or 7-card.
Good luck with that, chief.

They’d lived together
For a couple of months,
She’d moved in the week
After getting the Shoppe gig,
And, to tell you the truth,
Nothing about it made sense.

Yo, Lee Ann,”
Jimbo said, when
He eased into the café.
And she knew
Right off 
That awkward news
Had found the building. 
Jimbo never
Used both of her names
Unless he was serious.
He called her Lee Baby,
When he needed to borrow money
And Annie when he wanted 
Her to take off her clothes.

“I’m going to Florida,”
Jimbo said, glancing at the menu,
Wondering if Lee Baby
Could score a comped
Scrambled Egg & Bacon Platter
With a side of tomatoes.

Lee Ann poured coffee
Into the cup 
In front of Jimbo, 
Who needed focus,
Listerine,
And BC powder,
In no particular order.

She happened to glance
Out the window
And saw that guy, 
Jackson Something,
Almost get maimed
By a small import.
Might have been a Saab. 
Or a Fix It Again Tony.
Fuck a Fiat was Lee Ann’s mantra.

The vehicle passed from view,
Leaving that guy 
In the middle of Franklin Street,
Standing still in traffic, 
Checking his pockets
Over and over
Like he’d lost something,

“Hey!”

Lee Ann turned 
In the direction of the sound,
Jimbo repeated himself.

“Hey!”
Lee Ann braced for the bullshit,
But before it could start,
Jimbo coughed,
And spat out
Some of the Maxwell House sludge
That’d just burned his tongue.
I’m not coming back. 
Here are my keys.
The place is now yours.”

Just as Lee Ann was about 
To ask about the lease,
Jimbo added that he wouldn’t
Turn down some breakfast.

“I don’t suppose you would,”
Lee Ann said.

Ricardo, the YOWS manager,
Barked from the kitchen,
“Order up, Lee Ann. 
Get your head out
Of your ass!”

Who knows why
We do what we do
At a certain time.
Why sometimes
We let shit slide
And sometimes
We just can’t.

In Lee Ann’s case,
She’d gotten 
Pretty fucking 
Tired of Ricardo,
Who never actually
Said out loud
What he wanted
But it was pretty
Easy to tell. 
Always leering,
Staring at girls
When they walked away.
Rolling his eyes,
Winking for no fucking reason.
Also, Ricardo rubbed shoulders
As he gave pats on the ass,
Like a coach.
But he wasn’t a leader,
He was a perv.
And how old
Was he?
Whatever.

On that Sunday,
With Jimbo flaking out,
Ricardo and his shit
Came ‘round at the wrong time.
Pissed her off.
Big time.
Lee Ann grabbed 
An empty mug
And threw it 
Through the service window;
It smashed into several pieces
When it hit the back wall.

“What the fuck!”
Ricardo hissed.
But before 
He could downgrade
Lee Ann’s employment status to zero,
She thwacked Jimbo 
With a plate of poached eggs and hash browns —
That order that Ricardo had mentioned —
Then, gave them both the finger
As she marched outside 
Into the morning sun.

Three

Jackson George,
Halfway across Franklin Street,
Dodged a burgundy Fiat
At the last possible moment.
He caught a glimpse 
Of the driver,
A cutie with sunglasses
And almost gave her the finger
Before acknowledging
That he’d stood
In the middle
Of the street
Like a nervous statue
In heavy traffic
While searching
For his damn wallet.

Where the fuck
Was it?

He traced 
What steps
He could recall.

It had been a long night.

Ah ha.

His mind’s 
film camera
Zoomed under a couch
In the living room
Of an apartment
At Kings Arms,
Which had hosted
The Red Carpet
“After Party”
As it had done
Many times
That spring.

During the late night soiree,
Jackson had 
Stumbled into the
Company of a legal secretary
From Henderson
Named Dale,
Who gave 
The definition of
Eager and willing
A brand new address.

Things had just
Moved into a promising gear
When Dale’s ride,
A skanky sort
With dirty blonde hair
And a muscle car
Screeched in a nasal
Chalk scratching a blackboard tone
That it was time to go.

“Hang on,”
Jackson muttered,
As the two women
Argued about
Having to go to work
In just a few hours,
Trudging
Out the door.

He shimmied back
Into his bell bottoms
And made it outside
In time
To witness 
A white Camarro
Lurch into
The  mist.

As it happened,
A battered volkswagon
Puttered toward him.
It was Woodie, 
A Red Carpet bartender.

Woody rolled down his window.
“Hungry? 
Got enough
Gas to get to Sunrise.”

Sure enough,
The VW coughed and sputtered
To a stop
About 200 yards short.

Jackon helped
Woody push
The vehicle 
Into the Red Carpet lot,
Which no one would use
Until at least noon.

Jackson had 
Joined the other
Carpet regulars
Outside the biscuit oasis
Before learning
The unexpected
Tantrum-inducing news
That the place
Was closed for a while.

Still in the middle 
Of Franklin Street
All of those
Images
Flashed in his mind
As he waited
For the slowest
Ford truck
On the planet
To pass.

Then,
He crossed
the street and
Aimed 
Toward
Ye Olde Waffle Shop,
When a young woman
Burst through the door
And yelled something
Back into the restaurant
Before allowing
The door to slam.

She glanced
At Jackson
And shook 
Her head.

What the fuck?
Thought Jackson.
What did I do?

Then he realized
It was a Dr.John moment —
Wrong place
At the wrong time.

Jackson took
Almost an hour
To walk back
To Kings Arms.

He had
To bang on the door
A few times
Before someone
He vaguely knew
Opened the door.

“Left my wallet,”
Jackson said,
Indicating
He wanted to
Go inside and retrieve it.

Why did you do that?”

Jackson wondered
What kind of moron
Would ask, but decided
That question could wait.

“Well, I met
Someone. We hit
It off.
We were about
To totally connect
But we were distracted.”

All true, too.

Took a few moments
For Jackson
To actually
Get his hands on the wallet
As it had been shoved
Under the couch,
Perhaps by a passionate
Leg or arm.

He had 8 bucks
All in ones.

It had been
Almost three days
Since he’d been 
Near his rat hole
Of an apartment
On Clark Street.

After three
Scoreboard hot dogs
With chili and onions,
And a tall Schlitz,
Jackson went home
And checked his mailbox.

There was a letter
From the 
Orange County
Draft Board.

This can’t 
Be good.

Bingo.

An invitation
Jackson
Could not 
Refuse:

He was to report
In Hillsborough
At 6:30 a.m.
And then be
Bussed to Raleigh
For his physical and mental evaluation
That would determine
If or when
He was
To serve 
In the army —
In other words
Go to
Vietnam.

He recalled
A Credence Clearwater Revival line:

“And they point the cannon
Right at you.”

Then, Hendrix
Took over.

“Manic depression’s
Touching my soul.
I know what I want.
But I just don’t know
How to go about getting it.”













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