Devil Music goes Mainstream
It's 10 AM in Queens, Henry sitting in front of his IBM electric typewriter, staring blankly at the flaking paint on the wall, pensive and dumb-fucked.
The night before he couldn't sleep, so he macerated a few pills between two spoons, let's see? Some Oxycontin, Nembutal, and Xanax—an exotic and otherworldly mix.
Oddly, the mix of pharmaceuticals didn't help him sleep. Instead, he felt roused and vibrant.
So he stays up all night, lying face-up in his futon on the balcony and gazing into the sky, listening to Mahler and later Ray Charles.
You know how it goes, when you are laying in bed and can't sleep, you think about everything, you try to shut your mind down so you can sleep, then the mind starts up again with the chatter— maybe domestic stuff or profound chatter you remember from books—did I feed the cat? Or, Nietzsche had a hard-on for life, he had constant migraines and didn't have any friends. Sartre was an easygoing sod who talked philosophy in French cafes, smoked too much and drank espresso and brandy.
So Henry is laying in his futon on the balcony listening to Ray Charles and smoking a bowl of hashish—
Thinking about Ray riding in his tour bus with his band in the 50s and 60s. Knowing the tour bus could only stop at hotels and diners that served Negros.
Ray a genius, the Black Moses, constricted by rednecks with yellow teeth who sweat too much, have smelly flat feet, and odd haircuts. Good ole boys scared to the bone that Negro devil music would turn their white teenage daughters into sex-starved zombies with insatiable appetites for ginormous Negro penis.
Ray Charles singing What I Say on the Ed Sullivan Show. A million white folks at home watching and listening to Rays band rock, the music reaches their toes first, then radiates through their legs and up to their arms, as if taken by the Holy Spirit they jump up and start moving to the beat.
This was the night devil music became legit.
James Brown knew it, saying—
My music gets em in the juke joints so the preacher can save em later.
It was 8 PM in Queens, Henry was hungry so he cleaned up and walked to Chaim's Deli.
Sitting in a booth his almost-girlfriend and his regular waitress Ruby comes to his table, Henry asking her,
can you come to my apartment and clean it tomorrow? She says,
I will come in the morning around 9 AM,
oh, that's great doll you're an angel, then asking her,
Ruby, why don't Black folks eat here?
Looking quizzical she says,
Well, Black folks like Popeyes Chicken, beans, sweet yams and all, they have their own food. And, if the truth be told they don't care much for Jews, because Jews and Chinamen own most the shops in Harlem. Of course, Black folks are welcome in Chaim's Deli but I doubt they would like gefilte fish, they would like the rice pudding though.
Henry thanked Ruby, saying
that's my girl, well I'm off doll.
Henry leaves the deli to walk the city streets. It is 10 PM, a spring night, the air is flush with the smell of Gardenias dropped from the clouds by the Gods.
It was sometime between 1970 and 1980.
He lights a joint and puffs on it as he walks, walking by cops, hookers, off-duty folks in suits or overalls, nobody seemed to give a shit, and why should they?
New Yorkers walking the city streets at night with tunnel vision, looking somewhere with unseeing eyes, tuning out the big picture.
He goes to a dive in Lower Manhattan called the Coal Yard. Inside, lots of graffiti and a black and white mural painted on a brick wall of a steam engine.
Henry blinded by the bright colored lights, unable to see the brick walls or much of anything. He walks to the bar carefully, not wanting to trip over a table or a drunk on the floor.
At the bar, he sits on a stool and orders a Budweiser and a shot of Jack Daniels.
After sitting at the bar for awhile he smells Jasmine perfume and feels a hand on his back, then he hears a woman's voice saying,
I can't see a fucking thing in here, my name is Sky I just got off work, I'm beat and I need a drink baby.
Sky orders a Boilermaker, the bartender places a mug of beer on the table with a shot of whiskey on the side. She drops the shot into the mug and takes a thunderous swill.
Henry impressed, feeling that she was a hard-working woman, asking her,
By the way, my name is Henry, what do you do doll?
Sky says I'm what they call an animal curator, I work at the Central Park Zoo, I specialize in Mammals.
Sky let's get out of here the colored lights are blinding and I want to see your face.
Henry, let's go to my warehouse in the Garment District.
Happy to leave the dark cave-like feel of the Coal Yard, the two take a taxi to the Garment District.
Sky's face was angular, like a statue of the Greek goddess Hestia, she was taller than Henry, he could see she had strong hands.
They pay and get out of the taxi in front of Sky's warehouse, walking a few steps to a locked metal door, opening it and then going to a freight elevator and riding it up a few levels.
Her warehouse had black brick walls covered with paintings and photos of animals.
Sky says to Henry,
Relax baby, take off your shoes, sit down, let's have a drink.
He sits on a wrap-around fake leopard skin sofa and puts his feet up on a large red coffee table surrounded by different colored chairs.
Sky sets a tray with shots and beer on the red coffee table. Henry notices a gamey smell and then to his amazement, a baby zebra walks over to him and starts licking his hand. Then a baby lion jumps on his lap, Sky says,
Oh, a couple of perks from the office, whatever you do Henry don't put your fingers in Leo's mouth, you might lose one.
It was 4 AM and Sky says,
Come on Henry let's go to bed I'm dog tired, they walk what seemed to be a long way through a hallway with hay on the floor to Sky's bedroom that had a large round bed in it. The two take a hand-full of Xanax and pass out in each other's arms.
Sky wakes Henry up at noon, the baby zebra and baby lion are laying next to him in the round bed, Sky says to Henry,
What do you want for brunch baby?
Henry says jokingly,
how about a rack of raw caribou meat and a bucket of fresh cut grass to graze on?