I drove past the risen gate bar and glanced at the fifteen story high rise to my left. It looked like it was built a half century ago and hadn’t had a facelift since. It was past time for a redo or an industrial strength Botox injection. If Botox was the answer, Mother could serve as a consultant. At one time, I imagine it was a clean cream color. I’m only speculating about the color because years of dirt, pollutions, and pigeon poop gave it a spotted grayish hue with the look of impending death.
I drove to a small oval leading up to a large faded green awning in front of automatic glass doors. I pulled under the awning. I glanced up and saw three bats hanging from metal rods supporting the awning. I turned the engine off, took a deep breath, and checked my pants to make sure my zipper was closed. I didn’t want get things off on the wrong foot. I stepped out of the car and walked up a slight incline and waited for the sliding glass doors to open. An black doorman with short gray curly hair and a face with more wrinkles than the bark of a giant Sequoia tree sat behind a U shaped enclosure. An entrance door was off to his left and an exit door off to his right. I intuitively knew the function of each door by signs above each.
The doorman lifted tired droopy eyes and looked briefly at me. I wasn’t sure of protocol in an intercultural environment. Mother always said, ‘Martin, when in Rome do as the Romans.’ It wasn’t Rome, but I hoped her advice applied. I said, “Hello, I watched Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech when I was in eighth grade. I had my mother write a report on the video. I got an A on it.”
The doorman’s jaw dropped open. His head tilted a bit to the left. For a moment, I thought he was having a stroke or heart attack. His chin slumped down to his chest, his eyes closed. I started counting to one hundred. I did this for two reasons, one he might be taking a senior nap. Or two, if he died, someone might show up who knows how to handle this situation. I only got to four when he lifted his head and spoke.
“You a jackass. No, you more than a jackass. You six or seven jackasses. What you doing telling me stuff like that. You don’t even know who Dr. King was or what he did. You had your filthy rich white mother do all your work for you while you was out in the cabana by your Olympic sized pool trying to get the halter top of off one of your filthy white rich girlfriends.”
I’m not one to argue, but I wanted to set the record straight. I said, “Excuse me. I admit I am a filthy rich white guy. I admit Mother is a filthy rich white woman. But I was not in a cabana doing what you said, I was in one of the ten guest bedrooms doing my best to get her halter top off.”
He shook his head, “I don’t have time to waste with you. Who you hear to see?”
“Ms J. Her last name is Johnson.”
“I know her last name. You don’t have to tell me Ms. J’s last name. Do I look stupid? Do I look like I have dementia? I know her name. I know her mother’s name. I know the names of all 235 residents in this rat infested, sewer backup, mold covering the walls like paint apartment building.”
He lowered his eyes and shuffled some papers around. He found what he was looking for then looked up at me, “You Doctor Sandystiff?”
“Doctor, Sanderstuff,” I corrected him.
“Did I say something different? You don’t like the way I talk, is that it? What kind of doctor are you? You don’t look like no doctor I ever seen. Where’s your stethoscope? Something wrong with Ms. Evelyn I don’t know about? If it is, you better tell me because Ms. Evelyn and me been seeing a lot of each other.”
I said, “No, I’m here to see Ms. J.”
“Oh hell, you the filthy rich white boy who’s the proctologist.”
“No, I’m a psychologist,” I said.
The old man started laughing, “No difference. Hell, anybody can be a psycho. Henry over on Delancy, he gives the best advice and he never been to school. What do you think of that? See, he’s black and he’s never been to school, that don’t make him less smarter than you. The other day, I said, “Henry, should I buy me a scratch ticket? I only got one dollar left to pay day tomorrow.” You know what Henry said?”
I said, “No.”
“That goes to show you. Henry is smarter than you. If you was as smart as Henry you would’ve told me what I should do, but you didn’t. This was a test only you didn’t know you was being tested.”
My head was spinning. He might be pushing 80. I’m sure I can take him, tie him up, gag him, and roll him under his desk. Nobody will miss him. How do I stop him from talking? He won’t stop. I can’t get past go. I decided to help him along, “What did Henry say?”
The old man said, “He said, ‘Deter. Deter’s my name my mama give when I was four. Before I was four I was Lotus. Lotus was the name my father give me, but he took up with a younger woman and my mother threw them both out. She changed my name to Deter. Anyway, Henry says, ‘Deter, you only go round once in life, buy a scratch off ticket.’ That’s what I did.”
“Did you win?” I asked.
“Hell no. Nobody wins with a scratch off ticket. Those things fixed so you buy them but you don’t win.”
“Why was Henry’s advice so great?” I asked.
“Because when I was walking out of the convenience store there was a twenty dollar bill on the ground looking up at me. So I spent a dollar and come home with twenty. See, Henry knew this and you didn’t.”
I took a step closer to the front desk. The old man lifted a can of pepper spray. “One more step filthy rich white proctologist and I’m going to spray you with my pepper spray.”
I said, “I mean no offense. I only want to see Ms. J.”
“Why didn’t you say so,” the doorman said. “I’ll let her know you’re here. If she wants to see you, she’ll come down. If she doesn’t I’ll call the police.”
He called and I assumed he spoke with Ms. J. My nightmare would soon be over. He put the phone down. “She be right down. How you get to be filthy rich?”
“I was born to filthy rich parents,” I said.
“Hah!” he slammed his palm down on the front desk. “I was born to filthy poor parents. My momma said, you filthy rich white folks got a surprise coming when you see all us filthy poor people sitting at the banquet table in heaven and you got to wait on us.”
My Sunday school lesson ended when Ms. J opened the exit door. Oh Lord, did she look delicious. She was wearing a black crepe jump suit that wetted my appetite. I said, “J, you look, look, look …”
The old man said, “The filthy white boy never seen a beautiful black woman dressed up like this. He can’t handle it. Maybe I should call an ambulance for him.”
I said, “Marry me tonight. I might die if you don’t.”
J rolled her eyes. She said, “You’re fortunate mama can’t hear too well. You keep quiet about marriage.”
J stepped out from the exit doorway and held the door open. She waited for a moment, then said, “Mama, M is here to take us to dinner.”
Us? What is J talking about Us.
A half moment later a bent over black woman wearing a dress that went to mid calf, and a velvet black hat with a red rose on it sat lopsided on her head. She was bent over pushing a walker.
J beamed a smile and said, “M this is Evelyn, my mama.”