When the jazz club shuts her down we come here to let the buzz bleed out from our ears with a pot or two of joe and a club sandwich. At first the place is jumping and the guy behind the counter spins like Rumi’s second cousin trying to serve everyone at once but the atmosphere is still alive and full of the good feeling from Birdland down the street or wherever.
I should point out this is the white place for afters, the colored one is a couple blocks away. That’s where the cats are, of course, they can’t get served in here, but man were they ever hot, those guys. Wailing, and the notes went across the room and swirled in the air like razor wire, slashed up our backs like a bull whip, and then, before we could even catch our breath, it was last call and closed by 3am. Quittin’ time.
I’s the foreman. I’s the one says when it’s quittin’ time.
So now it’s late thirty and the buzz bleeds from behind my eyeballs and the counterman leans forward and says, “Shouldn’t you be moving on?”
And I say, no, man. I need another cup or two before I navigate the road, you know? Big night on the town.
He taps my hand and says, “You’re getting a little dark, my friend. Maybe you should move along.”
But I look the same I’ve always looked and I’m getting a little annoyed. There’s a harsh frown on the counter guy and the couple across the diner stare at me with disapproving scowls.
I’m an American, I tell ‘em. And they shoot me this look.
“Are you?” That’s what their eyes say, plain as day. “Are you?”
The counterman leans in and I can tell he wants to be kind but it bothers him to get too close.
“You aren’t in the club you think you’re in. Not really.”
I look at the couple, and something in their eyes deflates me. Suddenly, I’m not so sure of myself. I’m asking, are you—are you in that club?
The woman nods and the counterman says, “They see more colors than you do. They see the world another way. You just don’t understand. You have to trust them. From out there.” He nods his head at the street.
“We’ll let you come in later,” says the woman. “Maybe. When we need something.”
Sad and a little scared I go to the door. I look back.
I thought I could be like you…
The woman shakes her head. “Never. You could never touch me or sit with me or do anything other than listen to me. I am not for you, not ever. No one you know has ever known me. You think they have, but then, you don’t think very well. Ask yourself, out of all the people you know, and all the people they know, who among all of you has ever touched my hand, has ever kissed my lips? Now go outside and wait until we need you and when you look back this way close your eyes.”
So I am in the street. All the buzz has long since bled from out of my ears. They must still be in there, but I cannot see them through the glass because my eyes are closed.