by: Frederick Foote
A double offering of short fiction that explores the more vexing aspects of our society, human desire and law enforcement…
Black Christmas Carols
It’s cold in Philly on this Saturday evening in December of 1962. It’s already dark at five-thirty and there’s still dirty snow on the ground where we are up near the projects. Chicago, Houston, and I are in our Air Force dress uniforms headed to a church social, where GIs can meet and mingle with “good Christian girls of high morals and discerning taste.”
I’m hoping for high skirts and low morals and the less discerning the better. “Houston, man, tell me again why it’s a good idea to be up here in the danger zone at this time a night in our dress blues? Shit, its cold as a well digger’s ass out here.”
Houston, spins around, faces me and graces me with his winning smile, white, white teeth upon his handsome coffee-colored face and the light of mischief in his dark eyes.
“California, man, you feeling the cold? You got to suck it up. I’m gonna fix you young bucks up and teach you something you need to know. Just think of this as my Christmas present to you two lames.”
Shit, Houston is six months older than me.
Chicago, all 6’5” of him, leans his curly head in toward Houston. “Last time we were up here those project gangsters chased us out of here. I hope this makes up for that Houston.”
“Look, look you niggers are homeless for the holidays. You got no steady girls….”
Chicago interrupts, “I got a girl. I got Jean. I got….”
“Nigger, please. Your girl is a voice on a long distance telephone line. You gonna spend Christmas eating in the chow hall with the rest of the chumps. If you got no girl here, in your arms, in your bed, you ain’t got no girl. Am I right California? Slap me if I’m wrong.”
I rub my cold nose and nod my assent. “You right. You right. So, how we gonna work this?”
Houston claps his gloved hands in glee, “You Negroes been hunting in the bars and the taverns buying drinks to fatten the frogs to feed the snakes. And the best stuff is free, free right here at church. Shit, they will provide you food and drink, and it won’t cost you a dime – and, and if you listen and follow my battle plan they might throw in the big “P” for you desperate, horny Airmen. All you got to do is listen and follow my instructions.”
I yawn. We’re in for a long boring evening of instructions and homilies.
“Now, here’s the strategy. We looking for the preacher’s daughter.”
I’m shaking my head in disbelief, “Houston, man; that’s an old wives’ tale man. You got us out here on a humbug.”
Chicago is stamping his feet in frustration, “Awww shit, Houston; I thought you knew something, man.”
Houston wasn’t slowed by our protest, “Listen to me or come up with a better plan.”
Houston pauses for a minute. Chicago and I stand frozen mute. “Alright, now, the preacher’s daughter’s usually the queen bee or the rebel. Easy to find, easy to spot. You got to challenge her right off the bat. Walk up to her like you interested and ask, “Who’s the pretty girl across the room?” She will be all indignant and act upset. You done set the hook. Reel her in slow and easy….let her work for it. She likes a challenge. Got it?”
“Shit, man, you make it sound too easy.”
“California, you be a lot more likeable if you didn’t act as if you know everything. You know that?”
“Houston, what if there’s only one preacher’s daughter? What do we do then?”
Chicago is actually swallowing this shit. That boy needs help.
Houston turns his 100 watt smile on Chicago, “The best man wins. That’s usually me. But, there’s another sure thing here, an even better deal.”
I can’t wait to hear the next pearl of wisdom from this Texas sage bush.
“You know when you go in the club and you make the first sweep and you mark all the foxes?”
Chicago and I both nod yes.
“And you know when you see them foxes already been trapped you make a second sweep, and you mark all the good-looking girls that you would be happy to take home to your mama? You know what I’m talking about.”
“Yeah, I know. You wonder how you missed them on the first sweep.”
“You right California. You got it. Now, when they all spoken for. You do a third sweep. This is not the desperate bar closing sweep. No, this is when you find the wall flowers. They ain’t necessarily homely and they sure ain’t ugly….they just lack sparkle and shine. You hear me?”
“Yeah, yeah you talking about Clifornia’s girlfriends.”
I snap back at Chicago, “Better than a voice over the telephone fool.”
Houston puts his arms around our shoulders dragging us in close. “Find the third sweep girls, the more pious the better. Don’t throw them no line, just listen and look them in the eyes. Be your own simple selves. Even you two can handle that. And sometimes toward the end of the social, kiss her. Don’t ask no permission. Don’t apologize. Just look her in the eyes and kiss her. She slap you, she leave you, don’t matter. She’ll find you before we leave here tonight, and you got a holiday girlfriend. You got a home-cooked meal. You got someplace to be on Christmas. And best of all, you’ll give her the best Christmas she done had in a long time.”
I’m stunned. It makes sense. I mean, shit, it just might work. “I apologize, man. You put some thought into this, you done that.”
“Well, thank you Teofilo that means a lot coming from you. But, now there’s a big catch you got to watch out for. These girls will creep up on you, get under your skin and in a month or two they will look like second sweep girls. And when you standing up there saying, “I do” a year from now you will swear they first sweep foxes.”
On that solemn note, we enter the First Baptist Church Recreation Hall.
It doesn’t work exactly like Houston’s battle plan, but it’s pretty dang close.
I shake hands with Reverend Morris at the door. I give my coat to the older woman chaperone and put on my name tag.
I look up, and I see the finest legs I have ever seen. I am not a leg man, but, man, she’s about to turn me into one. Even the over-the-knee dress can’t dim the shape and shine of those legs. Legs comes straight over and grabs me. She pulls me onto the dance floor. Legs is named Carol and she’s got a sweet face full of clever, bad ideas. She’s got quick-step sparkling eyes. She holds onto me at the end of the dance, and we dance the next dance. She won’t let go of me.
The music pauses. She takes me to meet her friends. Her best friend’s a stone fox, Aria, and the other girl, Melody, is her cousin, definitely a second sweep girl.
I bring over Houston and Chicago. Chicago’s in love with Aria at first sight. But, Aria’s hot, hot for Houston. Houston is a real trooper. He passes on lovely Aria and sticks to the game plan.
Carol and I are about to start our third dance when Reverend Morris intervenes. “Airman Jackson, I see you’ve met my daughter. You may have noticed she’s not at home at social functions like these. She’s much more comfortable reading in her room. Aren’t you dear?”
Before Carol can respond, The Reverend asks me to fetch a punch for his daughter because she looks a little flushed.”
When I come back with the punch, The Reverend is gone. Carol tells me my next dance is with Aria and the dance after that is with her cousin. After that I’m to use the Men’s room. When I leave the Men’s room I’m to turn right and walk away from the Rec room toward the Office. That’s it. I have my orders. I follow them to a “T.”
As I past the Office Carol’s long, lovely arm snatches me and pulls me into the office. Those legs that showed so much potential, they deliver and deliver and keep on delivering on that promise.
I only get two more dances with Carol under her father’s watchful eyes.
Man, this is better than any bar. I wonder if there’s a Carol in every church? I sure hope so….
Chicago wastes his time trying to hit on Aria.
Houston works his magic with his third sweep girl, Harmony.
Houston could’ve had Aria easy, but Aria might not have wanted to share her Christmas dinner and her family with all three of us as Harmony does.
Come June, I’m still singing praises for Houston’s Christmas gifts, and I’m still Caroling.
The Home Front
It was 1966. I was just four days out of the Air Force and staying with my cousin, Carolyn, in The District. The high-rise projects she called home were just a few blocks from the Capitol.
It was Monday morning about seven. I was teaching Carolyn to drive my stick-shift sports car. She was trying to back out of the parking slot. I was headed back up to her apartment to be with her boys when they woke up. The project parking lot was deserted except for a few derelict cars.
The black-and-white rolls into the parking lot like some animal on the prowl. I see it stop and the driver stares at the California plates on my car.
I keep moving toward the apartment building, holding my breath. I smell trouble like sulfur seeping out of the black and white. There is a real stink in the air.
“Hey, boy, is that your car?”
I’m twenty four years old. I just did four years in the Air Force. I’m nobody’s boy. I bite my tongue, stop, and turn to face the cop.
“Yes sir, that’s my car.”
I wait there, almost to the lobby doors.
The driver gets out of the car and beckons me toward him. He’s a white man about my age. Looks a little like Kirk Douglas in a bad mood.
I take a deep breath and cross to him.
“You from California? Is that your car?”
I look him in the eyes. “My car and we both from California.”
The other cop gets out and moves around to my side just out of my vision.
The other cop speaks: “You’re parked illegally. You’re on the line there.”
The first cop confirms my error. “You need to move your car.”
“Move it now,” echoes the second cop.”
I have been lucky. Carolyn has not jumped into this. Her temper is firecracker hot and her language will take the paint off a barn at a hundred yards.
I step around the Kirk Douglas looking cop and step to my car. I lean in the car window.
“What the fuck do these shit eaters want? The fat ass mother….“
I cut her off.
“No matter what happens you stay in this car. Understand me on this. The boys are upstairs. Remember that. Back out. Park the car in the back of the building and go in the back door and check on the boys.”
“Fuck you Walter. We have to live with these lard ass, crooked, motherfuckers every day. I’ll back over that ugly motherfucker. I….“
“Shut-up!” I exclaim through clenched teeth. I show her how to find reverse, again. I step back and she slowly starts to back out.
I look up, and both cops are moving angrily toward me.
“Hey, boy I told you to move that fucking car!”
I meet them halfway.
Carolyn stops the car. She steps out and all eyes turn to her. She is twenty-five, light-skinned, cute, with a good figure and long hair.
I hold up my hand and stop her in mid-stride.
I turn to the cops.
“My cousin or I will move the car, whatever you want.”
It’s too late for me. They think I’m showing them up with a fancy California car and a good-looking woman. It’s too much for them to take this early in the morning.
Kirk Douglas has gone all red in the face. The other cop has his night stick out. Better that than his gun.
“Turn around. Put your hands behind your back. Now! Do it now!” Kirk is screaming his orders at me.
I turn to Carolyn, “Please, please go upstairs now.”
I lock eyes with her. I beg her. She starts toward the apartment with her face so tight I think it might break and steps so stiff she is stabbing the ground.
I’m not complying fast enough for the cops. Nightstick cop moves in to bring me to my knees with his baton. Kirk Douglas is calling for backup.
A woman screams out a warning to me from her project window. “Watch out! He coming up behind you. Watch out.”
Carolyn is at the lobby doors when she hears that warning. She spins around and charges Nightstick cop. She is armed with teeth, nails, knees and elbows and incredible rage. She will hurt somebody or die trying.
Spencer, the project security guard, races over and wraps her up. He lifts her off her feet and hauls her back into the lobby. She is calling Spencer and the cops everything but a child of God.
I thank Spencer from the bottom of my heart as they cuff me. Another squad car screams into the parking lot followed by a paddy wagon.
Six cops in all. I step up into the empty paddy wagon.
One cop asks another if they search me. One of them grabs the back of my sweater to pull me out of the paddy wagon.
I lean forward and fall into the paddy wagon face-first.
Someone grabs my leg and is pulling me out of the wagon. I roll over on my back. I see it’s Kirk Douglas pulling me.
With my free foot, I kick him in the face as hard as I can. He falls back flat on his ass.
The rest is all a blur. They beat me there in the parking lot, all of them. They hit each other with their night sticks trying to get to me.
The project women saved my life. They are screaming out the windows at the cops. They call the Capitol Police, the FBI and every other police agency in The District and the Fire Department and the Press.
I get hauled away to a Precinct Station. They toss me in the drunk tank with the cuffs still on and both eyes nearly swollen shut. I can’t walk. I can barely stand.
Within minutes, Spencer and Carolyn are at the station asking for me.
The arresting cops whisk me away to another Precinct Station. The station cops tell her I’m not there.
She calls her ex-boyfriend, a DC cop. He finds me, still cuffed in another Precinct drunk tank.
They get me out within hours. I have no feelings in my hands.
I can’t go back to the projects. Spencer tells Carolyn they will be waiting for me there.
Carolyn’s ex says a hospital in The District is not a safe place for me.
I see our old family doctor in Falls Church.
The next day, five days out of the Air Force, I’m in Virginia buying a Browning automatic pistol. I never carried a gun in the service, but I will on the home front. I will carry it, and I will use it.
Header art by the incredibly talented street artist, Hyuro