(Art by spoon+fork.)
When I got off the New Jersey Transit train, Johnson honked twice from his car and popped open the passenger door.
“Where’s the old sedan?” I asked.
“That was a piece of junk,” he said. “I think they sunk it in the harbor to give the fish a new place to play.” He looked me over carefully. “Have you put on weight?”
“I eat more than I used to,” I said. “I have more money than I ever had in my entire life.”
“I hope you’re saving some. This city eats money as fast as you can feed it.”
“You are right about that, man.”
“LaVerne treating you right?”
“Yeah, I can’t complain. It’s the most serious job I ever had. I iron my shirts now!”
“I hope you stay on the straight path from here on out because I like you. I want you to know, Sean, a lot of times I had to pretend to be mean.”
“What’s that you’re reading?”
“Oh, it’s a mystery book. I found it on the train. I can see why they left it.”
“What did you think about the reading program when you were in jail?”
“The reading program? Well, the library was great.”
“Yeah, those library books! Did you hear the news that some communist groups have been filling prison libraries with their propaganda books and they had people on the inside who made sure they were distributed?”
“Was it illegal?”
“No, since the books were being donated, but the Church groups are hopping mad. They’ve filed a lawsuit for equal shelf space.”
“It’s Jersey. It’s standard operating procedure.”
“I don’t miss Jersey bullshit at all,” I said, surprising myself. “Any of it.”
“Naw, guess you don’t, ya city slicker! Hey, you going to write a book? Tell all about the whole drug thing?”
“I had thought about it.”
“Let’s just say I understand why people wait until everybody else is dead before they write what really happened.”
“Yeah, you want to see me drop dead,” said Johnson, nodding his head. “But that’s not going to happen. At least not tonight.”
“Thanks for the invite to stay over, but I have that business trip tomorrow. LaVerne’s taking me to the Los Angeles office.”
“Ah, yeah. First time on a plane for you. I understand. For the first time you’re gonna get high the natural way.”
“What’s it like flying?”
“Stop sounding like a kid. At least, don’t ask none of these guys at the bar. They’ll think you’re a pussy instead of a hero.”
When I walked into JJ’s, shouts went up from everyone in the bar. For the second time, I was the only white person in there, but now everyone wanted to come up and clap me on the back and shake my hand.
“Come on over here, I wanna show you a little something,” he said, walking me back to a spot by the jukebox. There was a framed picture of me from the Asbury Park Press.
“You’re the first white man on the wall!” he said with pride.
It was true. There was room made for me between two ancient pictures of doo-wop groups.
“I didn’t do that much,” I said.
“You stopped that towel-headed, snake-charmer motherfucker from selling more drugs to black kids. That’s plenty,” Curly said.
Johnson cleared his throat.
“Come on,” he said, putting an arm around the bartender, “let’s get this man some drinks.”
Curly took a pewter mug down from the wall and washed it out.
“I’m gonna let you drink out of the John Vandyne Heroes Cup!”
“Who’s John Vandyne?” I asked.