Not to be over-self-congratulatory, not to be so much hipper-than-thou, but brothers and sisters, if you ain’t hanging at a proletariat bar at least once in a while, you missing out.
Chico Feo, my personal cannery row, boasts a clientele of regulars that rivals the characters in a Jerry Jeff Walker song.
Last Sunday, for example, I spent a couple of hours conversing with Brandon, an official member of the Lumbee tribe of Robeson, North Carolina. In Summerville, when I was growing up, these Native American offshoots were targets of scorn, denigrated as “half breeds,” “Summerville Indians,” or “brass ankles.”
(If you got the time – or better yet you should make the time – read Jo Humphreys’ Nowhere Else on Earth and learn about the Lumbees and Henry Berry Lowery. We’re talking Robin Hood-meets-Swamp Fox Civil War swashbuckling. Also, vicariously, you experience the trials and tribulations of being that breed back then. It’s historical fiction at his finest.
Anyway, Brandon has the Confederate battle flag tattooed on his left side beneath his shirt somewhere (in honor of his father’s ancestry) and Indian iconography tattooed on right arm and fist (in honor of his mother’s).. He also whipped out his official tribal ID card and explained what the dates signify on the tribal ring he proudly wears. The bad news is that I doubled the couple of All Day IPAs I had planned on and abandoned my essay-grading regimen.
The conversation began with me talking about the ‘60s history course I’m trying to teach, and he told me he was really into Nam, that his two favorite Viet Nam movies are Platoon and Apocalypse Now because Platoon captures the day-to-day grind of warfare and Apocalypse Now the insanity.
He should know. He’s served in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Four days later, I met Brandon’s former roommate Kenny, who a few months ago had his motorcycle rear-ended in the wee hours on Arctic Avenue by some drunk woman supposedly going 70.
It was touch-and-go for a good while, and after months of hospitalization, this was his first appearance back to Chico. The staff essentially abandoned their posts momentarily to shake his hand.
Kenny, too, has Indian tattoos, the word letters I-N-C-A tattooed on the space above his finger joints and knuckles on his left hand. He now lives with his fiancée Miranda just off the island and wears the beatific smile of a survivor. I stupidly told them how lucky they were, told them about losing Judy.
Believe me; they get it.
* * *
Best quotes of the week:
Me: Got this pal in NOLA with a one-room condo, so when you come to visit him, he’ll put you up in a hotel because the money he saves by having a one-bedroom condo saves him so much money he’s happy to foot hotel bills for his guests.
Jason: Got lots of friends living in cars saving all kinds of money, and they won’t even buy me a fuckin’ beer.
John, sitting at the bar, struggling to fetch his cigs from his pants pocket.
Jason: The ladies expect tight pants these days; if you can’t get your cigarettes out of your pants, so be it.
Walking Joel: Guess what my mom got at Harris-Teeter? Grapes, man, and you know what? They taste just like cotton candy! You close your eyes. Put one in your mouth, and I swear, even though it’s a grape, it tastes just like cotton candy.
John (cocking a skeptical eyebrow): So how many pounds of this stuff did she buy?
Walking Joel: Blocks, man. They come in blocks.
One more, Jude, please.
 I’m too lazy to look up to see if “clientele” is considered singular or plural. Calling Catherine Salmon, my very favorite grammar maven!
 And, yes, he is painfully aware of the paradox of the clash.
 Which frankly defies credibility.