No Speak Engrish

I’ll just hold my breath if I can’t locate a bunker.

I’ll just hold my breath if I can’t locate a bunker.

I used to know his name — he’s an old timer who always sits in the back, near the prep station. Said he used to work at a bank. A couple years ago I heard him describe the inside of the Meserole theater to a woman who had just moved to the neighborhood.

"There’s this World War II movie with Brando in it that I was thinking about the other day,” he says. “Can’t remember the name of it. He dies in the end. I forget what it’s called.”

On my left, Ed, who will occasionally try to sell you on the cure-all properties of raw cider vinegar, is busy reading W.E.B Griffin’s Blood and Honor. On my right, Angelo, waiting on an egg sandwich, shakes his head.

"I probably seen it but couldn’t tell you the name of it."

Back in my Allstonian days, I would sit at the counter of Twin Donuts on a Saturday and listen to the Old Folks Council of Brighton Ave reminisce about Pearl Harbor. There was one guy on the Council who would go on about the Japs and this and the gooks and that (never mind that a Cambodian family owned the place)…

The retired banker sitting by the prep station is talking about DVD extras: “I make sure to watch them all. Sometimes they got those newsreels from the forties and fifties. I miss that stuff.”

Across from him, another old timer — one I don’t recognize — takes a seat at the counter and orders a small coffee and a plain cruller. He slowly leafs through his copy of the Post.

The banker asks out loud, to all of us within earshot, “How come all the great ones are about the second World War? Never Korea, never Vietnam…”

The man with the cruller looks up from his paper. ”Pork Chop Hill,” he declares, and then he goes back to ignoring us.

Fall tagging season begins.

Fall tagging season begins.

There’s a younger version of myself that might have paid more attention to this subtitle, and made an effort to file away the scene with a bunch of others that could be loosely categorized as Out-of-the-Blue Bluesy Moments in Movies — a hodgepodge that includes the bar scene in Star Trek Into Darkness (Albert King in the background), the Chuck Berry cameo in Alice in the Cities (for some reason Wenders — or maybe it was a post-production hack — flopped the frame and Chuck plays left-handed for a few seconds), the Django toe-shred in Triplets of Belleville, Romain Duris miming bass to Ali Farka Touré’s “Ai Du" in L’Auberge Espagnole, the fifty seconds of stride piano in Follow the Fleet, Atsuki Kimura losing all the R’s on “St. James Infirmary" in Metropolis, and Willie Lomax’s ”Back Rub" turning up in Tully.
But there is a process that goes along with this task of categorizing — it would also mean digging up an old record, listening to it, reading up on the diddley bow she made to record it, and then a few hours of binge-listening and binge-reading. The kind of stuff collectors do.
I’ll let someone else do it.
—A Prophet (2009)Directed by Jacques Audiard

There’s a younger version of myself that might have paid more attention to this subtitle, and made an effort to file away the scene with a bunch of others that could be loosely categorized as Out-of-the-Blue Bluesy Moments in Movies — a hodgepodge that includes the bar scene in Star Trek Into Darkness (Albert King in the background), the Chuck Berry cameo in Alice in the Cities (for some reason Wenders — or maybe it was a post-production hack — flopped the frame and Chuck plays left-handed for a few seconds), the Django toe-shred in Triplets of Belleville, Romain Duris miming bass to Ali Farka Touré’s “Ai Du" in L’Auberge Espagnole, the fifty seconds of stride piano in Follow the Fleet, Atsuki Kimura losing all the R’s on “St. James Infirmary" in Metropolis, and Willie Lomax’s ”Back Rub" turning up in Tully.

But there is a process that goes along with this task of categorizing — it would also mean digging up an old record, listening to it, reading up on the diddley bow she made to record it, and then a few hours of binge-listening and binge-reading. The kind of stuff collectors do.

I’ll let someone else do it.


A Prophet (2009)
Directed by Jacques Audiard

I don’t recognize the area code, but I pick up. A woman introduces herself, and then drops a name.

"I realize it’s been a while since you’ve worked with her," she tells me. "But she listed you as one of her references, and I can’t seem to get hold of the other ones. Would it be okay if we talk about her — just a few minutes or so?"

"Sure. I’d be happy to."

"Are you still in touch with her?"

"Yeah — postcards, mostly.”

In another city and another era, I played this song on a radio show that, over the course of a year, received exactly two phone-call requests (one from a girl who had google-stalked me and “just wanted to reach out”).

This was a pre-YouTube, pre-Wikipedia time, and I was a long way from hearing the 1954 Marvin & Johnny originallet alone the George Carlin version on Arsenio

I’d found the ’Fess album at Planet Records in a bin labeled “Am. Ethnic.” At the time I was much more into the guitar player on the session, Snooks Eaglin, than ’Fess. But the Professor finally got me on “Cherry Pie” — that clanging doo-wop riff with the left hand, the triplets with the right, the unsteady warble of his voice. It might be the most primitive thing he ever recorded. 

I keep it in a crate. Smiley Lewis, Irma Thomas, Sam Cooke, Bobby Patterson, Howard Tate, Z.Z. Hill, Percy Mayfield, Ann Peebles, Junior Parker, Syl Johnson — they’re all in there too.

Occasionally, someone will ask: “What’s in the crate?”

"Cherry pie."


Professor Longhair, “Cherry Pie”
Recorded in Memphis, 1972

The Sunday morning security guard asks me, “How you doin’?”

"I’m tired," I say.

"I know dat feeling."

"How long you been here?"

"Since seven. I get off at three. But today’s my Friday, man. I get off three today, ain’t coming in again ’til Thursday."

"Well, enjoy your weekend."

"Thank you. I would say da same to you but I don’t think you can no more since you standing here.”

Old school activity log

—
Jim Dow, American Studies
(powerHouse, 2011)

Old school activity log


Jim Dow, American Studies
(powerHouse, 2011)

Return to normalcy

Return to normalcy

At the post-game table for seven, Woody asks who would be interested in a trip to Cuba next year.

The driver, who is Ecuadorian, questions motive: “Idaknow about that,” he says. “What’s there to do in Cuba? Everyone’s trying to get the hell outta there and you want to go there?”

Woody raises his glass and says, “I bet the mojitos are better down there.”

Over at the far end of the table, the ringer leans back in his chair before asking a question about a girl I was talking to earlier in the day. 

"She’s from Montreal," I tell him. "I actually suggested that she talk to you. She’s looking at MBA programs."

"Get her number?"

"No. But I’m sure we’ll see her around."

"I overheard that girl talking," Woody adds. "She sounds kinda stuck up. Like S_____, don’t you think?"

"Maybe," I reply. "But weren’t all of us a little stuck up when we were her age?"

In the scene that ensued I did not take a hand, But the floor it was strewed Like leaves on the strand With the cards that Ah Sin had been hiding, In the game “he did not understand.”
— Bret Harte, “Plain Language from Truthful James”Overland Monthly (September 1870)

In the scene that ensued
I did not take a hand,
But the floor it was strewed
Like leaves on the strand
With the cards that Ah Sin had been hiding,
In the game “he did not understand.”


Bret Harte, “Plain Language from Truthful James
Overland Monthly (September 1870)

The B32 is stuck on Franklin. It shouldn’t be at this hour but it is so I get off a stop early and walk across the street where the Hawaiian is finishing up her shift just before happy hour. 

"Okay if I sit at the bar?"

"Of course."

The second stool from the cash register is a seat that did not exist three years ago. Before they remodeled the place, the bar ran parallel to the front windows and then made a quick jag to the right, just enough to fit two seats facing the clock on the wall.

The bus. The bus is why I’m in here. Not poached eggs and hash. It’s the bus.

I used to hate runny eggs. But a couple years ago I pretended not to mind and now I order them sometimes.

The windows facing Franklin Street — if I stare long enough at one of them, I can see a girl drinking a mimosa during brunch. If I listen long enough, I can hear the musician talking about a French-Canadian a couple hours before his next Pete’s Candy Store gig.

Was not expecting the broccoli. Blame the bus.

A few days ago I was talking to a friend of a friend who could not remember where we had first met. (It was Tribeca, four years ago.) But since she couldn’t remember, I decided to pick a different place and a different time. 

"Oh, right," she confirmed. "I knew it was something like that."

I order toast. To sop up these runny eggs, the ones I used to not like.

If the bus had not been stuck on Franklin, I would not be in here with excess parboiled broccoli and the fragments left in this room.

As my plate is bused away, I look at the fingers of my left hand and try to remember how it goes.

Greasy Greens — it’s in G. That sort of makes sense.

G train’s shutting down. Prepare yourself.

— A man from Harlem