J led me into Harvey’s Huge Hamburgers. I stopped behind J. We stood at the back of line next to the door. My olfactory sense was in danger of short circuiting. No food I’ve ever smelled, smelled like this. I was sure it wasn’t lemony roasted broccoli with parmesan. Or, maple ginger roasted vegetables with pecans. And, I was sure Victor wasn’t the chef. If Victor were here he’d thrown himself onto his carving knife. I tapped J on the shoulder, “All I want is baked salmon on a field of wild greens. I eat light at lunch.”
J half turned her head toward me and gave me a ‘say what’ look. It was a look I’d become used to. I’m quick on my my feet and recovered from my cuisine faux pax, “I was only kidding.”
J gave me a pretend smile. It was the first time I paid attention to her beautiful white teeth. I said, “Who did your veneers, great job?”
Three men, obviously workers turned and stared at me. J turned and looked at them, “He’s a filthy rich white boy who needs to eat something real.”
The four of them started laughing and did a set of complicated hand and arm movements. I’m sure J was in a gang when she was younger and these three men were part of the gang. No wonder she knows so much about gangbangers.
I stared at the back of J’s head. My impulse to kiss her neck and nibble on her ear was overridden by the knowledge that everyone in the restaurant but me was black. Was this a movie about some place in Africa? Were they all extras or crew or workers? I tapped J on the shoulder, “Are they filming a story about your people?”
J half turned toward me, “Double M, do not speak unless I give you permission to speak. I feel a responsibility to have you see how the rest of the world lives. This is not a movie or a movie set. These are people who live and work around here. These people are no more my people than all filthy rich people are your people.”
“I’ve never seen so many black people in one place in my life.” I said.
“I am one of them, if you haven’t noticed,” said J.
I stared at J for a moment and said, “No, you are the soft color of coffee and cream. You are a sweet caramel. You are my delicious milk chocolate. Technically, you may be black, but I only see a love aura. Kiss me.”
J interrupted my honey glazed description of her, “Are you nuts? Read the menu, it’s right up there on the wall behind the counter. Don’t act like a fool when it’s your turn to order.”
“What’s a fried pickle? I don’t understand pulled pork, is it meat? Can I ask if they have salmon and arugula?” I asked.
J turned toward me, grasped my right bicep with her left hand. Her touch sent shivers through my entire body. I did not want to become sexually aroused while standing in line. If J started stroking my arm and whispering sweet things to me my libido would head to the front of the line. I avoided looking into her eyes. If I did, there is no telling what effect it would have on my body.
J said, “Double M, let me order for you. If Harvey asks to shake your hand, shake it. Do not look for a napkin or wipe your hands on your pants. Do not open your mouth. Do not ask a question. If you do, I will slam my fist into a place on your body that will make you keel over in intense pain. There will be nothing sexual about what I will do.”
“Are you telling me you will hit me in the nuts?” I said attempting to clarify J’s comment.
Before J could answer, she withdrew her hand from my bicep and turned toward the biggest black or white or brown or yellow or red man I’ve ever seen in my life. His dark chocolate bald head glistened with beads of sweat. He had a dark mustache and wore a gold earring, His white apron looked like it hadn’t been washed in two weeks. Grease spots covered it as if they were dots on a road map. There was an Omega symbol branded into his right bicep. The thought of it quashed my libido and sent shivers down my spine. It must have been a fraternity initiation where he went to college I surmised. Too bad he didn’t join my fraternity where initiation was all about how many beers you could drink before you vomited. I made a mental note to ask J if she’d ever been branded or had any tattoos that I should know about before we spent the night together.
The big bald black man spoke, “My, my if it isn’t the most delicious piece of chocolate pie I’ve seen in a while. How are you my beautiful J?”
An ex, I thought. If he got fresh with J, I wondered if I could take him. I took Karate as a seven year old. I stopped after earning a green belt. It was enough to intimidate my friend Jason who was into reading and a year younger than me. It was a no brainer, J. I didn’t think too long, J was on her own. She’s has a strong grip. I have bruises on my bicep to prove it. I will take a photo of the bruises as proof she loves me.
J spoke, “Harvey, if you weren’t married to Lorraine, I’d have a run at you.”
Wait a minute. What about having a run at me? I’m available. I won’t resist. I give in easily. So, this was Harvey. J probably dumped him when she left the gang. She was hoping I’d turn up in her future. She might have visions others don’t have. Once we’re married, this will be helpful in predicting the ups and downs of the stock market.
“Who’s your friend?” asked Harvey nodding toward me.
J half turned toward me and said, “This is Marty, he’s a colleague. He asked me who makes the best burgers in the city. I said there is only one answer, Harvey.”
Harvey stepped around the counter and thrust his hand toward me. I took it and saw my hand disappear into his palm. Good Lord, he’s strong. I pump iron, not a lot, but enough to keep toned to impress the ladies.
Harvey said, “Good to meet you, Marty. Any friend of J’s is welcome here.”
I didn’t know if I was supposed to say something. I took a chance hoping if I said the right combination of words Harvey would stopped pumping my hand and release it before the bones in my hand gave way. I said, “J said you made the best fried pickles in the world.”
Harvey let go of my hand and glanced toward J, “I’m going to put an extra two fried pickles on both your orders. You should have told me they’re a favorite.”
J started laughing, “You know how you do fried chicken for your special customers but don’t put it on the wall. We want two plates of it along with Harvey’s extra spicy barbecue sauce. The kind you get all over your fingers.”
Harvey gave a wide, gold toothed grin and said, “It’s on the house, J. Nice meeting you, Marlin.”
I smiled nodded. I was about to say, “Nice meeting you, Harold,” when J pulled me away.
She whispered, “I don’t know what you were about to say, but it would not have ended good for you. I hate fried pickles, but you are going to eat four of them. I will not embarrass Harvey. We go way back.”
“Was he a lover?” I asked.
J stopped and looked at me, “What is wrong with you? You are not normal. No normal man stops a woman in a lunch line and says what you said.”
I smiled at J. I took this as a compliment, “Mother would agree. She always said the Sanderstuffs are not like normal people.”
J didn’t answer. She grabbed a thin metal stick with the number 18 on it and carried it to a table. I docilely followed. I wanted to make up for the faux pax I committed and skirted around her to pull out her chair. She turned a bit toward me, “Thank you. Now sit down and when the wait staff comes ask for iced tea or water. The iced tea can be sweetened or unsweetened. Can you handle that?”
I quickly glanced around our table. I was the white chalk dot on the blackboard. I sat down. There was a half empty bottle of ketchup, salt and pepper in small paper containers, a plastic container of French’s Mustard with mustard crusted down the sides. There was can with plastic knifes, forks, and spoons in it. And, there was a container that held paper napkins. Only one side was full. The other side empty. A small wire basket help packets of sugar and artificial sweetener. I looked up into J’s beautiful eyes and said, “It’s too complicated. Will you order for me.”
“Oh for God’s sake. Can’t you do anything on your own?”
“Honestly? No. It’s why I need you to be my lover, my mistress, my wife, the mother of our children.”
I thought J was going to hyperventilate. Fortunately, she got control of herself and said, We’ve got to talk.”