What could he do about it? Shit like this happened and all you could do was deal with it. Who would have thought she’d do him like that. Sometimes you get gotted, got gotted or getted, whatever. What could he do but walk home; rushing wouldn’t change anything, except draw attention, and he was drawing enough attention. As least he had turned off of Crenshaw Blvd, he had sense enough to do that, though that didn’t make up for how he got caught slipping. What could he do now, but keep walking and hope the police wouldn’t roll up. If they did, they’d for sure take him to juvy. Yeah, they’d take him to Juvenile; maybe the psych unit and then his daddy would have to come and get him and do his usual bullshit. “Officer, it’s hard when you got a son like him. He does things and the boy gets into trouble. It’s a strain and chore to keep him on the right path.”
Yes, Daddy had talked him out of lots of trouble. He had yet to do time for stealing hubcaps, breaking windows, and the occasional purse snatch. Seems like the police wanted to believe Daddy. Though Daddy looked crazy, sporting a gray pompadour, but always in his work clothes, people liked him because he was sincere even when he was drunk or lying so obviously that anybody should have been able to tell. People just liked his father; Googie didn’t have that kind of talent, especially with the police. The police straight hated him, and that was on a good day. His feet burned a little on the sidewalk, and when it got bad he’d walk on somebody’s lawn. So far he saw a couple kids playing in the street and they couldn’t believe what they were seeing and just pointed. A couple of cars swerved looking back at him. But mostly it seemed almost normal to be walking down the street butt naked. Maybe it was because it was warm, people thought he was walking around in little trunks, or maybe they just didn’t want to see him. How many more blocks, six? He had already walked twenty. He caught the bus to her house, but he couldn’t catch the bus home with no money … and nothing on, not even drawers.
“You want to swim?” She asked him two hours ago.
It was hot and she was a Catholic school girl. They weren’t the ones who got you into trouble or at least that’s what he thought until about an hour or so ago and he learned otherwise. This one was fine, light-skinned with good hair, a nice shape, talked liked she was raised right. Girls like that weren’t gonna dog you or at least he had been told that… but what she did to him … damn. Shit was scandalous.
“Googie, I want to be with you but I’m shy. Take your clothes off first, please?”
It seemed reasonable. Why should she be lying? Wasn’t he up in her house, smoking out with her, even getting to squeeze a tit here and there, and then she just about purred when he showed her his ounce. It took him washing cars and cutting lawns and running errands for two months to afford that ounce. Figure that if he rolled it up into skinny joints, he’d be able to make a gang of money. And he was sure that if he shared the good weed with her he’d be hitting that good. That was his plan and he chewed it over again as he got undressed in the rec room that overlooked the pool. He followed her outside, with his hands in front of him to hide his erection, not even bothering to notice that she was dressed in that cute-ass Catholic school uniform while he was there standing bare-assed in the middle of the afternoon by the pool, wanting to hop in cause he was starting to feel embarrassed, but he didn’t want to miss watching her undress. He’d been living for that. He should have thought that was something up when her eyes bulged, and she twisted her head about like she didn’t know what direction to look in. Then she stopped and looked at him with horror in her eyes.
“My daddy’s home!” she said, and opened the sliding doors and disappeared into
Googie knew her father by reputation only and he was happy for that. The rumor was that he used to be a Marine back in the day and that he didn’t take any shit and gave it in buckets to anybody stupid enough to get near his daughter. Feeling suicidally stupid he continued to stand there, wondering what to do, wanting his hard earned ounce back more than anything. Finally, she stuck her head out of the sliding doors again.
“What about my ounce, my clothes!”
“Get out of here!” she shouted, and then from behind her a shadow appeared towering above her.
He heard her. “Daddy, there’s a naked boy in the backyard and he won’t leave!”
When her dad didn’t come rush out to beat him Googie figured he was going for his gun. That’s when he ran for his life and kept running and that that was twenty-one blocks ago. Now he was getting close to home, and he hadn’t had any more trouble, just troubling thoughts that she had set him up, had beat him out of his net worth, one ounce of high- grade weed–actually it was rag weed but he didn’t know the difference. Yeah, she set his punk ass up. He smelled something acrid and he looked to the east and he could see white smoke billowing high in the distance. Maybe the police were seeing about the smoke coming from the Eastside. Those fools over there were always messing with the police, setting fires and shit. That’s all he could hope for, getting home without getting busted.
Then he saw the police roll around the corner. That hadn’t yet scoped him so he dropped behind a car. Oh, yeah. Busted, they saw him, no fuckin’ way they wouldn’t have.
The police car roared in reverse and Googie ran to the back yard of the nearest house. The gate was open and he exploded through as he heard car doors slam and the sound of footsteps. When he got truly scared Googie could get his big ass to moving and he was hauling it big time, but he didn’t see the dog, and the dog saw him; a muscular pit bull, sleeping in the shade woke and charged Googie just as he desperately threw himself at a six-foot high cinder block wall.
At that moment Googie thought he could get himself over, but scaling a wall when you’re naked and hanging out all over the place is delicate work. With the dog chomping at him and the police rushing the yard, he got one leg up on the wall and hurt himself in an intimate way that he couldn’t bring himself to think about. All he could do was straddle the wall and moan while the dog barked madly below. The police shouted and Googie turned to look at them but was in so much blinding pain that he lowered his head onto the wall and moaned. He didn’t care if they arrested him or not if they could help him down without causing his nuts to fall off.
The tall white police turned to the shorter one and pointed in Googie’s direction.
“You get off of that wall and bring your ass over here.”
Googie could barely hear them over the pit bull’s manic barking. The dog had yet to see the police but they saw him and neither made a move to step into the yard. The black police started to laugh.
“He’s yours,” he said to his partner.
The white police shook his head.
“You shoot the dog or am I supposed to do it?”
“Call animal control.”
“Yeah, right, we’re off shift in three hours and that’s about the time it’ll take them to get out here.”
They both shrugged and stood there, guns in hand, looking very unsure of what to do next.
“Jesus, I don’t want a fat, naked kid in the backseat funking up the car. You know he’s going to throw up all over it, that’s a given,” the black police said.
Both police shook their heads.
“Let him go. It’s not worth the trouble; not with the rioting on Central; idiots setting fires.”
“Yo, Riles, what are you trying to do, turn over a new leaf?”
“Jesus will do that for you.”
“Seriously, you found religion?”
“Sinners do change.”
The black police grinned, “Yeah, they do, into preachers who drive Benzs.”
The white police looked away from the black one and sighed.
Sudden calm enabled Googie to finally catch his breath. The worst had passed and he realized he could move and that his jewels were firmly in place. The pit bull had stopped leaping at him and the police stood frozen like they were taking a break. He thought about leaping off the wall and running for it. Lifting himself up into a sitting position he considered his options, he thought about running and he thought about getting shot in the back, butt naked and all, and then getting mauled by a crazy pit bull. That’s the kind of shit that would end up on YouTube. He signaled to the police that he was coming down. They waved him off.
“Go! Keep going, go the other way. Don’t let us see you high on the streets running around naked again or we will arrest your fat ass,” the black police said.
Googie didn’t know what to make of it, the police giving him a break without his daddy talking for him. Usually they hated his guts … he looked like he wanted to get arrested, one of them boys who stays in trouble.
“Giving you one chance to get your ass out of here,” the black cop said.
“Listen to him!” The white one said. Googie realized he had no choice. They were serious. He swung his weight around so that his leg could clear the wall and when he did he lost his balance.
He fell forward but twisting like a huge salmon hurling itself upstream, he lurched backward, flipping, legs overhead and hit the ground so hard he bounced. Gasping to get his wind about him, even with his eyes closed he saw stars spinning brightly and pleasantly above him.
Limping around the corner, too sore to do more than put one foot before the other, Googie needed help to make it home. Actually he was around the corner from his house, but if his mother saw him naked and scratched up like he was, she’d probably send him, as she had been promising to do, to live with his uncle in Fresno. He’d rather run away than that, living on some hot ass farm, feeding sheep or whatever he was supposed to do. He didn’t even like his Uncle Neal, the one uncle out of four who didn’t drink or smoke or have cable. He wasn’t gonna live like that.
Jervey would help him; he would give him some clothes, and though Jervey was stout, not as portly as him and he wore a smaller size than he was sporting these days, he had to have something that could fit. Usually Jervey would be sitting on his porch reading comics or some thick ass book; but not today. Nobody was on his porch. Googie positioned himself at the side of house and so that he’d be semi-concealed as he waited for Jervey.
The door opened! Gumbo’s heart leaped and he called for him from his hiding space.
“Hey, man! I need some clothes!”
“What? Is that you, Googie?”
His heart sunk. It was Mrs. Michaels, Jervey’s red-faced mama who was often trying to get her son to do housework.
“Yeah, I was seeing if Jervey was around.”
“Yeah, he is. He’s getting some mirlitons for me. Go help him pick them.”
“I’ll help him, but could you ask him to come out here for a minute?”
Mrs. Michaels didn’t take a step into the house. She just shouted “Jervey!” so long and loud that it hurt Googie’s ears.
Jervey came outside quickly looking angry and confused.
“Don’t you ‘what-me.’ You know I don’t play that.”
Jervey shrugged. “Okay, Mama.”
“Your friend wants you.” She pointed in the direction of the hedges at the side of the yard.
“Where?” Jervey asked.
“He’s your friend, you find him.”
Mrs. Michaels returned to the house.
Jervey stepped off the porch craning his head around.
“Googie? You hiding or something?”
Googie poked his head out from the hedge. Jervey could see that he was shirtless.
“What’s up with you? You’ve been smoking?”
“Naw, man. I don’t have no clothes.”
Jervey laughed, “That’s some shit.”
“I ain’t lying. It’s true.”
“How you lose your clothes?”
“Over some bitch. Could you please get me some clothes before your crazy ass brothers come home?”
“Lying about what?”
“You were sitting in that little wading pool you got. You know you still do that shit.”
“I ain’t lying.”
“Then step out here.”
“Fuck it then,” Googie said, and stepped out from behind the hedge with his hand in front of his crotch. Jervey laughed and pointed at him, but Googie knew that was going to happen and he really didn’t care as long as he got some clothes.
From across the street, the preternaturally nosy Miss Thelma, shouted, “Oh, my God! The Villabino boy is walking around naked.”
Miss Thelma’s earthshaking voice was the loudest of a neighborhood of loud voices; sonic torture; piercing and inescapable. Googie nervously eyed the fire plug-shaped old lady with big hair who lived to shout at kids from her porch.
“What is wrong with you? Are you crazy?” Jervey whispered now that he knew Miss Thelma was watching. She had ultra hearing too.
“I told you!”
“Shit! I’ll get you something.”
Jervey disappeared into the house.
Googie sighed. Soon this shit would be over and he’d be laughing about it and plotting revenge on the Catholic school girl, but that reverie didn’t last … Miss Thelma was heading across the street to him. Stunned to see her so near, and off of the stronghold of her porch, she never left that porch, all he could do was cover himself with his hands and look toward the sunset as though it was beautiful or profound when it was just another half-assed sunset.
“Are you on drugs!”
Googie wouldn’t look at her more out of fear than modesty.
“I’m going to call the police on you! You ain’t gonna be walking around corrupting the neighborhood with your nakedness!”
Googie opened his mouth to say something, but he thought about it and there wasn’t nothing to say, plus, she wasn’t above smacking somebody. That would be some shit, butt naked wrestling with an evil, crazy old lady.
“Don’t think I don’t know it was you and that Michaels’ boy who put that torpedo down my mail slot.”
Googie shook his head. That was years ago when they were little kids, and it wasn’t a torpedo that they put down her mail box: it was a dead alligator, a little one they had found strung from a street light one foggy night. For whatever reason they decided it would be a good idea to put it down the mail slot and ring the bell.
“You know you boys almost killed me. I grabbed my heart and fell over from finding that torpedo in my living room. What you boys being so heartless for?”
Googie sighed. She had told this to them so many times that he could barely stand to listen to it, and being naked while she told him again made it even weirder and he always wanted to say, “It wasn’t a torpedo! It was a dead baby alligator. I don’t even know what a torpedo is!”
“You better be glad I didn’t call the police on you about that torpedo. Your parents don’t know how to raise you boys. You two could have gone to jail, and let me tell you, you don’t want to go to jail.”
At that very moment, with Miss Thelma still yelling at him, he sort of wished the police had taken him to jail. The relief he felt when he heard the door open and Jervey calling for him was so strong that he couldn’t help grinning.
“I got to go,” Googie said, but he meant that it was time for Miss Thelma to go. He wasn’t going anywhere; otherwise Mrs. Michaels might see him naked or somebody else in the neighborhood. He didn’t really care if strangers saw him naked; he just didn’t want people he knew to see him naked, that kind of shit was embarrassing.
Miss Thelma finally turned away and slowly started making her way across the street.
“You watch yourself, Googie, because I’m watching you,” Miss Thelma said, ominously over her shoulder. “Don’t think you gonna be getting away with acting like a pervert. I’ll get you arrested. I swear I will, or I’ll toss hot oil where you don’t want to get hot oil tossed.”
Jervey finally appeared with a handful of clothes.
“What took you so long! You left me with that lunatic, talking all crazy to me.”
“Sorry, man. I saw her out of the window, but you know I can’t be around that woman. She scares the shit out of me.”
“You! What about me? She’s always bringing up the alligator,” Googie said, while examining the clothes Jervey had brought.
“Yeah, it was your idea to put it down her mail slot.”
“You didn’t stop me,” Googie said. “What’s this, a dress?”
“It’s a muumuu. It’s my mama’s.”
Googie looked at Jervey a long time.
“That ain’t all you got?”
Jervey laughed and came out from behind his back with a pair of overalls.
“This ain’t no time for joking. You don’t know what kind of shit I went through today.”
“Who’s the freak who stole your clothes?”
“The Catholic school girl.”
“The Catholic school girl? Damn, I thought she was a virgin.”
“I think she set me up. Got my weed.”
“Your good weed. That Ses?”
“Yeah, and her dad came home just as we were going skinny dip in the pool.”
Jervey snorted, “Not that fool, the Marine?”
“Yeah, that’s why I bailed. It was either naked or dead, so I went naked.”
Googie fastened the buttons of the overalls that were about a size too tight, but he could still fit himself in them, though they strained at the seams.
“So your weed is gone, and your clothes.”
“I’d like to get my beanie back.”
“The rhinestone one?”
“Damn, you got worked.”
Googie stepped to the sidewalk and gave Jervey a bump.
“Thanks for the clothes. I’m gonna go home and eat and plot how I’m gonna get that bitch back. Start some rumors about her ass.”
“Forget that. You supposed to help me get those mirlitons.”
Googie shook his head. “You ain’t gonna hold me to that. Shit, you see how fucked up I am.”
“I gotta get up on the roof. Least you could do is hold the ladder.”
Every now and then Mrs. Michaels craved mirlitons, those pear shaped vegetables that grew on a vine that covered the garage near the end of the alley. It wasn’t something Jervey liked to do; Googie flat out refused to do it, but New Orleans called to their parents and they sooner or later gave in. When the mirlitons got big they developed spikes and when the dried out they were straight dangerous, and for a while they were popular to throw at unsuspecting pootbutts. Really, that shit was devastating, if you got hit flush in the back, you’d bleed like you had been hit by the wrong end of a pin cushion. The mirliton was a vicious, dangerous vegetable, but good to eat, if you knew how to cook them. Mrs. Michaels would boil them until they were soft, then spoon the meat out of the skin and mix it with ham, onions and garlic and then stuff it back into the skin and put bread crumbs on it and bake them. It was rare treat, but nobody liked to be crawling around on a broken down garage roofs, scaring away rats and messing with a thorn-covered vine that you had to wrestle with to get the mirlitons.
Googie helped Jervey carry the ladder down the alley to the garage. The basehead who lived in that part of the alley had finally bailed after someone stole his funky ass shopping cart crammed with all kinds of junk. It was sad about him; he was somebody’s big brother who lost it and turned into somebody who just hung out around trashcans, living like a dog.
“Put it here,” Jervey said. Jervey was pretty cautious, so cautious that he had never gotten arrested or shot at, happy being a pootbutt; he lived to stay out of trouble. Googie, though, thought he needed to give that shit up.
“If you put the ladder there, how you supposed to get the good mirlitons?”
Jervey looked to the where the roof of the garage was sagging most and shook his head. He patted the ladder that was secure against the solid wall of encircling Mr. Jackson’s yard. He really knew how to build a wall.
“So, you want me to put the ladder against the garage where it looks like the whole roof is gonna cave in?”
“Jervey, you got to stop all your tripping. Stop worrying about shit.”
Googie pushed Jervey aside and started up the ladder just where he thought it should be. Googie had grace about him, though he was fat. He swung up onto the roof and laughed at Jervey.
“It’s a great ass view up here!” he said, with his arms akimbo, looking dashing and rotund.
“Just throw the mirlitons down,” Jervey said.
“I’m waiting for the rats to go. I think they like eating this shit.”
Googie expertly walked on the sections of the roof that still had a little structural integrity and reached down and twisted the mirlitons off of the vine. He flung one down and Jervey tried to catch it in the paper bag. Once he got it going he started flinging them and Jervey chased after them like a happy dog chasing tennis balls.
“Hey, they got them dried, deadly ones, the ones with spines.”
Onla, another friend of Jervey’s, appeared from around the corner.
Googie and Onla had some kind of enmity going on from elementary school, something to do with who stole whose bike.
“What you fools doing?”
Onla shrugged. “You like eating that shit?”
“You New Orleans niggas will eat anything.”
“I don’t eat Nutria. I don’t eat head cheese. You eat chitterlings. Why you eat something that stinks like shit?” Jervey said. It wasn’t a new conversation: New Orleans vs. anywhere else in the south.
“You know what you doing?” Onla shouted up to Googie.
“Yeah, I know what I’m doing. Why the fuck you think I don’t know what I’m doing?”
Onla sneered, “You walking around a broken down roof and your fat ass is gonna fall through.”
“Don’t worry about my ass. Worry about your own skinny ass.”
“What I got to worry about, you the one up on the roof.”
“If I hit you upside the head with one of these hard ass mirlitons with spikes coming out of them maybe you’d have something to worry about.”
“Give it a shot, fat boy!”
Of all the things you could call Googie, he didn’t take offense except for fat boy. Fat boy would make him nut up. Googie’s eyes burned and had a good arm and so did Onla. Jervey could see the madness getting ready to start.
“Hey, if you fools are gonna start shit I’m going home.”
“I ain’t started shit. That’s fat boy up there, starting shit.”
A mirliton flashed out of the sky, a green meteorite that struck Onla flush in the back. Onla screamed in pain.
“That’s your ass, fat boy!”
It was only because they had all grown up together and that they had been throwing things at each other heads for years that Onla or Googie didn’t rush home looking for a gun under the bed or in a closet. No, they had always settled shit this old-fashioned way, before old school, with rocks upside the head.
Parents and responsible people would be worried about somebody losing an eye, or getting knocked unconscious; that never happened, but Jervey had seen what did happen on more than a few occasions. Sooner or later one of them would take one to the nuts and that would end the skirmish as the vanquished would lie writhing while the victor sauntered home. In this case it was Onla who got lucky. While dodging lethal vegetables, he found a loquat, not even a big one, and on the run, flung it at Googie. Googie didn’t even bother to duck; he had the high ground and the deadly ammunition. He gloated. The loquat hit Googie square in the nuts and he dropped like a dead man. Onla and Jervey looked at each other.
“You killed him,” Jervey said to Onla with horror and Onla nodded gravely.
“He shouldn’t have been fucking with me,” he said, and with a nod and thump of his fist over his heart, he took off.
His ass is fat, Jervey thought as he scaled the ladder. Maybe he died of a heart attack, but to his relief there was Googie, writhing and moaning.
“You ain’t dying.”
“Nigga, you don’t know.”
“I ain’t your nigga, and you’re not going to die.”
“I’m gonna kill Onla. Hitting me like that, I’m gonna kill his ass.”
“You’re the one who hit him first.”
“He knew. Nobody’s calls me fat boy. I don’t play that shit, not anymore.”
“People used to call you fat boy, and you didn’t nut up.”
“That was then. If you want respect you got to demand it.”
“Where you get that shit?”
“Your mama told me.”
Jervey flashed a look at Googie, and Googie shrugged.
“She told the both of us last week. You don’t remember? After we got jacked on Jefferson, and you lost your bus money, then she said we had to demand respect.”
“Oh, yeah, demand respect and get shot in the head.”
Googie stood up with help from Jervey and he looked around, surveying the scene and the precariousness of the busted up roof.
“Could have been worse, I could have fallen through and broke my neck.”
Jervey nodded as he cautiously picked his way to the ladder.
“Hey, don’t bail. Look at that,” Googie said.
From the roof of the ruined garage they could see a gigantic SUV pull up in front of Mrs. Thelma’s house. Two young women worked their way down from the cab, and one of them, the darker one, held a baby, a big one, a blond baby.
“They look good,” Googie said.
“Yeah, you would never think that Miss Thelma had any relatives who’d actually visit her.”
“Yeah, that bitch stinks.”
“How you know she stinks?”
“You ever smelled her? She stinks.”
“I don’t be sniffing her ass.”
The young women lingered on the porch, waiting for the door to open. Usually, Miss Thelma was at the door, somehow she had cut out.
“Both them freaks be fine,” Googie said.
“Which one you want?”
“The black chick is banging. Look at that body, long legs, high ass pretty face. Shit, I’m sprung.”
“She’s got a white baby.”
“So, what are you saying?”
“Where she’d find herself a white baby? They don’t grow on trees.”
Googie looked Jervey up and down.
“You think that fine ass bitch is a kidnapper?”
Jervey shrugged, “I ain’t saying shit. Maybe she’s a nanny.”
“What’s a nanny?”
“Somebody who watches rich people’s kids.”
“So, you saying?”
“Shit. I ain’t saying shit.”
Jervey cut his eyes at Googie knowing what was going to come next, something Googie-crazy, like sometimes he would do with his hair, big ass purple curlers, or press it out like his daddy, or even jeri-curl it up like nobody be doing.
“We should roll over there and mack to them hoes.”
“I got a girlfriend.”
“Skinny ass Doris?”
“I like them like that.”
“See, you’re going to college so you don’t need to take risks. You deep into the future, but to a nigga like me, I gotta live for the moment.”
Jervey nodded awkwardly, and headed for the ladder.
“What are you gonna do? Go over and there and introduce yourself?”
“Hell, yeah. I don’t even have a choice.”
“I suppose you know what you doing.”
“Know what I’m doing? I don’t care what I’m doing, I’m just gonna do it.”
Jervey nodded. Though he thought he should do better, he admired Googie. No matter how crazy his shit sounded, no matter how messed up he managed to make his own life, he just thought about how he was gonna fuck up. He deliberated, sweated details, even reflected about what his actions might be, even took responsibility for the resulting disaster caused by his actions and still he persisted … in fucking up.
“Don’t you think you might want to wait a minute before you go barging over there? They might have business with that woman. You’re not going to make much of an impression if that’s what you planning on doing.”
Googie grinned, “Today has been fucked. I got beat out of an ounce of ses, I was forced to walk twenty-six blocks butt naked, got chased by a pit bull and the police; got knocked out cold, and got hit in the nuts with a loquat, but I’m not gonna let that stop me from checking out these fine ass freaks in my neighborhood.”
Googie slid his bulk down that ladder, bare foot and shirtless, resembling more than anything a roguish fat hillbilly. Jervey watched him stroll around the corner and approach the door of Aunt Thelma. What the fuck could he say to her? Aunt Thelma hated Googie’s guts; she hated everybody. She was just one hateful bitch, but Googie was at the door, doing what he needed to do. He knocked, and a minute later Mrs. Thelma appeared. The woman shrieked so loud you’d think he’d bail, run for his life. Googie, even with his pathological optimism must have realized it wasn’t a good idea for him to be on her porch; he tried backing away, but not before Aunt Thelma burst out of the house with broom in hand and, with a super kendo move, broke it over his head. Hope and Maria rushed outside and restrained her, and after they calmed Aunt Thelma, Hope, while holding Chauncey to her chest, knelt down to where Googie laid on the lawn, disoriented, blood trickling down his face.
From across the way, on top of the garage, Jervey nodded in admiration. Googie was true to himself, fucking up big time, without a doubt.