It was a beautiful spring day in Richmond. Maria and I were headed to the Baker brothers’ place for a BBQ.
This was before they moved to Oregon Hill.
The thing about Richmond that was great was that people got together for shit like this. Barbecues. Potlucks. Birthdays. Whatever. The bars were sloppy and no one really knew anything about fine dining and no one wanted to spend a whole bunch of money unless it was on the stuff that everyone expected you to spend a whole lot of money on. These get-togethers were perfect, really, for creating a kind of balance. Maybe not a lot of us thought about it. Personally, I thought it had something to do with all the T.V. we watched in the 80’s. It’s a theory I was working on.
I was still in school but it was the last year and I didn’t care too much. OK that wasn’t exactly accurate. I cared. But it had all become, well how do I describe it? Automatic? I showed up. I did the work. School had just become life and work and when you blur those lines it doesn’t really feel like a hassle anymore. That’s a lesson you learn as you grow up. To get out of the chore mentality. That’s what will drag you down. When you get to this level, you just do what you have to do and get on with it. I did the time in the library, I wrapped it up, I grabbed Maria, we hit the bar, and if I didn’t blow it, we had sex when we got home. I was in a flow. And I felt good about it.
Like I said, it was spring and the weather was getting nicer. Maria didn’t waste any time. She had on some jean shorts that rode high, all frayed at the end, and she wore some low cut boots and her legs looked like the curve of a string instrument. She had tattoos on the backs of her calves and they weren’t small. Her hair was short and curly. She was probably the most happiest person I knew about the weather. I liked being around her when she was like this. She would hum to herself, and that set me at ease. It made me feel like all was right with the world.
She called when she was outside and when I came out, I asked if I could drive. There wasn’t really any reason. I just liked driving my girl around with one hand on the wheel and the other on her thigh. It didn’t need to be my car. I had the windows down and anybody I passed on the street I smiled at.
When we got into the grocery store, I picked up a basket. “They’ll have burgers and you can bet Wendell will have his hot dogs.”
“So what then?”
“Beer. Chips. Spicy mustard.”
“Spicy mustard?” Maria laughed.
“I can’t risk the Baker brothers not being up to snuff on the condiments. The mustard makes the difference.”
She laughed some more. I laughed too.
“Babe, I’m telling you, it’s all in the details.”
“My dad hates mustard.”
“Pfft. Yeah right. He probably just doesn’t know about mustard.”
“I think I know my own father.”
“You think you know him.”
She stopped in the middle of the aisle, both hands on her hips. I could see it. Her eyes had that tinge of crazy to them. I had to be sure about where I went here.
“Well, I mean, you said he wouldn’t like me right?”
“I knew you were going to bring this up.”
“What? You didn’t say that?”
“No! I didn’t say he wouldn’t like you. I said that when I was young he didn’t want me dating black guys. Number one that was a long time ago and number two, I knew he’d like you.”
“How’d you know?”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head but couldn’t hold back a slice of a smile as she walked past me. I smiled too, and followed after her.
We stood in front of a glowing row of beer. I grabbed a case of Rolling Rock. Maria punched me in the arm.
“I knew y’all would get along. It’s why I wanted him to meet you.”
“I was pretty nervous, you know. He was taller than I thought he was gonna be. He’s got tattoos older than I am.”
She came up to me with her whole body and kissed me. It was a good kiss. “You knocked it out the park, baby.”
We were standing in line with the basket full of chips and dip and spicy mustard and I held the case of beer by the handle, waiting for our turn. The line was slow going but there wasn’t any need to rush. Behind us, I heard some snickering.
“Pabst Blue Ribbon. Hell yeah,” somebody said.
Maria and I both turned around. It was two guys wearing khaki shorts, holding their own cases of beer. One of them wore a visor. Seriously. They were both grinning like a pair of cartoon donkeys.
Maria had a tattoo of the PBR emblem on one of her calves. She said it was for her dad. It was his favorite beer. This was before Gran Torino came out. It wasn’t a small tattoo and it wasn’t uncommon for her to get a comment on it. Still, I didn’t like these guys the second I laid eyes on them. And just, whatever happened to common courtesy, you know? But we turned around anyway.
“I’m fixing to drink me a bunch of those tonight,” one of them said next.
“I could drink a few every night. Even if they are trash.”
I put the case and the basket down and turned around. “Are you guys fucking serious right now?” I said.
“Levy, come on, it’s our turn,” Maria said.
I looked at her and then to the cashier, who was watching us behind her bifocals. I looked back at the two dudes. They still had those stupid grins on their faces. I wanted to bash their teeth in. I picked up the basket and beer and put it on the belt and let the lady ring it up. I paid and gathered everything up again and Maria and I made to leave.
“Have a great night, y’all,” one of them said to us as we left.
I kicked the car when we came up to it.
“Hey! What the fuck,” Maria said.
“I should go fuck those dudes up.”
“That’s my car, dipshit. And fuck those guys. Who cares?”
“In a fucking grocery store? Goddamn. Don’t motherfuckers have any decency anymore?”
She just shrugged. It was an honest shrug. She really didn’t care. I didn’t get that. We got into the car. I wouldn’t put the keys in the ignition.
“Come on, Levy,” she urged me. “Let’s just go.”
“People think they can just talk however they want,” I said, wringing the steering wheel imagining it was one of their necks. Both of their necks in one. My knuckles went white.
“Fuck them. They’re a pair of losers who aren’t getting any.”
I grunted and finally started the car. We drove out of the parking lot. I went out the front to see if we would run into them again but we didn’t.
We didn’t talk on the way to the Bakers. I was having a hard time trying to shake it. It wasn’t the first time some dude had said some bullshit while I’d been out with Maria. The indisputable fact was that she was gorgeous. So maybe this just came with the territory. I knew I couldn’t just throw down with anyone, at any time, but I was sick of the fact they would just disrespect me, me who was plainly her man, and right to my face. Men were really pigs, I thought. And pigs were meant to be slaughtered.
“I should’ve killed those guys,” I said as we pulled up to the Bakers place, like the conversation hadn’t ever ended.
“Jesus. Listen, if you were going to do something, you should’ve just done it. It’s not a good look to be sitting here after the fact, still bitching,” Maria said.
I sat there with my mouth open, staring at her. She rolled her eyes again. She opened the door and grabbed the bags and the case of beer and got out.
“Get over it. Or don’t. I’m going in.”
I sat there, watching her walk towards the house. I could feel steam coming out of my ears. Then I felt something else. And I didn’t like it. What was it? I wasn’t mature enough to say. I just knew, if I knew anything, it was something I could either let go or if I didn’t, it would make me a bunch more problems. So what was I gonna do?
I got out the car, and I followed Maria to the barbecue.