The Art of Being Un-Wired: Chapter 19

(Read the other chapters here.)

When I went downstairs that next morning, the coffee was brewed and a platter of scrambled eggs, border by long strips of thick cut bacon, was in the oven set to warm.  I made myself a cup of coffee and was ready to help myself to breakfast, when I heard the voices. Hank and Sherilynn for sure, along with a couple of others I couldn’t quite place, but which still sounded familiar. The front door was wide open, propped by the couple’s backpacks, which were feet away from where the two stood on my stoop, making easy conversation with the “neighbors” as though they were the property’s right and true owners.

“Now, Hank, don’t go bustin’ the speed limit, least not ‘til you clear city limits, the po-po ‘round here are serious – an’ they love stickin’ it to you folks, too.”  The young man saying this, I remembered someone calling Man-man, but I wasn’t sure.

“No, I go the speed limit, the wife’s the one with the heavy foot. I can’t tell you how many tickets she’s got.”

“Yeah, but you’re the one that’s got to pay, right, Hank?”  The men laughed and nodded. Sherilynn stood at Hank’s side, smiling and dutiful.  The tone of the conversation was friendly and cordial. So much so, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see someone passing around a tin of cookies warm from the oven that those gathered munched on between sips from their mugs of coffee. Instead, Man-man handed Hank a dog-eared business card, which Hank took, looked over, and smiled.

“Now, next time you folks visit, hit me up and you can stay with my people. My aunt Luanne stays over in Mt. Vernon. She’s got a big place off Washington Circle. She teaches at Morgan, and always got students, professors, everybody up in that joint. You can stay, too – her crib’s way bigger,” he said, gesturing toward my rowhouse. “Just give me a couple of days notice.”  Standing inside my doorway, I felt small, like a little kid peeking in between stair rails, eavesdropping on grown folks’ talk.

Hanks nodded, extending his fist one last time to meet the younger man’s.  “Well, we sure will.  Everybody’s been very hospitable, practically like home.”

I took this lull in the conversation to stick my head outside the door in time to also see Hank fist bump Lil James.  Someone I knew only as a corner regular, and would not have known this if every time I passed that particular corner, he wasn’t there and someone in a passing car wasn’t beeping and yelling his name.

“Well, I’m sorry to see y’all go, you and Sheri are real good people,” Man-man said.  I couldn’t help but to wonder if this was a not too veiled slam directed at me. “Morning,” I greeted no one in particular.

The gathered men looked me up and down. Only Hank turned and answered my greeting.  “Morning, ma’am, we’re just saying bye to the fellas here, thanking them for being so hospitable to me and Sherilynn.”

I wrinkled my nose the way Benny did back when I refused to stop wearing the faux French perfume Francisco had given me, continuing to dab on the dregs even as it made the noses of everyone who came within three feet of me twitch. Feeling my face contort, I put on a strained smile.  “Oh, sure,” I nodded.  Not one had parted their lips to mumble even, “How, y’all doin’” to me since my arrival. And here they were practically giving these outsiders a going away party on my stoop. Even the bombardier seemed to have fallen under their spell, having stopped all combative action–an unconditional ceasefire–with the Minnesotans’ arrival.

“I know you said you wouldn’t be staying the whole weekend, but I didn’t know you guys would be leaving so early; it’s barely ten.”  I said this trying not to fidget, given that several of the regulars who had appeared so enthralled by the Minnesotans were now gone as though my presence, like the surprise appearance of someone’s parents at a house party, had brought down the room.

“Yeah, but Sherilynn was able to get a lot of researching done, Miss,” he turned, applying a hardy pat to Man-man’s broad back, “Thanks to this young man.”

“Naw, Hank, it wasn’t nothin’ what we got into yesterday. If you had more time, I’d show you more. Westside’s still makin’ noise way louder than we do here on Eastside.”

“But we still handlin’ our business, Man,” Lil James said, his lower lip poked out, barely covering the grill of silver and gold framing his teeth.

“No doubt, man, no doubt – I’m just sayin’–and you know what I’m sayin’–there’s handlin’ business, where there’s civilized interactions, and then there’s Westside’s way of doin’ things.…”  The men still gathered, including Hank, nodded their understanding.  I turned my attention to Sherilynn who was now hoisting their backpacks, handing both to Hank.

“Well, I’m so glad you guys were able to make it down, Sherilynn.  Thank you for doing so much during your short stay – kinda wish you could stay longer,” I said, trying to add some lightness to a conversation that seemed to shift with my arrival.

“Well, it’s been a great experience for us, Miss Estella,” she said, pinning me one last time in her bear hug. “You got a nice place here, real nice.”

I followed her down the stoop to their truck, where one of the few neighborhood “kids” who actually appeared to be a kid had just finished washing their pickup.  Hank handed the boy a few dollars, commenting upon close inspection that he had done a fine job.  I watched the couple as they loaded the truck, adjusted seats, and fidgeted with radio and temperature settings.

“Well, be safe. Oh, if you would, please do a review on TripAdvisor for me?” I said, grinning sheepishly.

“We sure will. I’ll do it the second we get back,” Sherilynn said, waving as Hank started the truck, pulling off faster than I would have thought advisable on a residential street. I turned expecting to see at least a scattering of people still about, but everyone had dispersed.  I had just climbed the top stair of my stoop, when I heard the first of dozens of thuds to follow that day – pumpkin bombs.  It was as if with Sherilynn and Hank’s departure, a switch had been flipped, turning the war officially back on.

to be continued…