Soaking it in
I was born with an early expiration date; sometimes, I’m just glad to have made it past twenty-one. I never saw myself living past twenty-one. Somewhere along the line, I heard someone say that people can’t see beyond the choices they don’t understand. I was twenty-five, so I counted these moments in life as bonus time. These moments were blessings and opportunities to explore and live life beyond anything that I could have imagined. For one brief shining moment, I became visible again. The conscience of a collective society was in question, and I made that happen. Not knowingly or intentionally, actually, I made it happen through insanity. Temporary insanity, as my lawyer called it. Isn’t it odd that an act of insanity would restore sanity to so many?
A lot had changed in society since my parent’s generation was coming up; they didn’t have the answers they thought they had. Not that I had much guidance from them anyway. My mother passed away when I was younger. I didn’t know my father that well. I just knew he was around town somewhere. But even my other peers who had their parents seemed just as lost as I was in life. We were all kind of just existing, passing the time in life until something came to us, if it ever did. Without a long-term vision, the present became a level of madness where anything is possible at any given moment. Our society became about immediate gratification and efficiency, and we wanted everything, quick fast and in a hurry. The old heads say we are spoiled, but we are products of how they raised us. How hypocritical. But, that spiritual emptiness lends itself to a wide range of impulsive acts to get by in our existence in the present. For those of us who did find that “something,” they rarely stayed here. The spirit moved us on and invested our energy in Bayside, the big city. Just like my little sister, who was only two years younger than me.
I was born and raised in what used to be a large suburban county called Bacon’s Castle. There was a lot of revolutionary history here that affected the whole state. Bacon’s Castle was one of the first places in the state to integrate public schools and accommodations. Things changed economically when two of the biggest job producers outsourced most of the work overseas about fifteen years before I was born. These factories had only been integrated five years after integration. This might have been a coincidence. But the effect was devastating to the economy. I was from College Park—the economically challenged side of town, but it had its jewels; we used to call it Coal City. And the diamonds that made it out became the movers and shakers in the city if they stayed here. In Coal City, many of us had early expiration dates, but I am fresh to death.
For a little while, I was on track to be a star in the night sky. And to some, my light still burns bright, depends on what side of the tracks you are from. The other areas that made up Bacon’s Castle were Jamestown, where all the old money lived, and Green Run. Even though Green Run was where the economic buffer zone was between Jamestown and College Park, Green Run was geographically located to the west side of College Park. The Jamestown and College Park areas were contiguous, only separated by a small bridge and the railroad tracks.
I was on my way home to my small apartment in Green Run. I had a nice car, it wasn’t fancy, but it was fancier than most College Park residents had. I was on my way home, and it was around 8:30pm. I liked to ride in silence so I could be alone with my thoughts after a long day. Besides, music isn’t what it used to be, so I defer my thoughts unless I have company. And, I had company waiting for me right here in my parking lot. Attorney Fullwood. She was a high priced attorney and a local cougar. She wanted me. More accurately stated, she wanted my body. I could see her flashy SUV with dark tint parked in the visitor’s parking area as I turned into the complex. I popped in some chewing gum and turned my phone on silent. Then I parked. I stumbled out of the car and started walking toward the elevator. I had been drinking earlier. After work, I was usually drinking with lawyers or co-workers from the courthouse. It just became the rhythm of my life. As I walked through the outdoor corridors toward the elevator, I opted for the stairs. It gave me more alone time to think, and I hoped to sober up just a little more through some light exercise and get my blood flowing. After I got to the third floor, I could see she was waiting for me at the door.
“Mr. Jones, how do I always beat you back to your apartment when we were just at the same bar?”
She said in a charming and slightly southern tone. She was looking fine as usual. She looked like she even stopped off somewhere and fixed her outfit from a long day at work and had tied her hair in a neat bun. I didn’t recall seeing her at the bar with me, again. Sometimes what is so obvious and out in the open is invisible when you have tunnel vision. She took the key from me and let herself in. She walked across the hardwood floor in her heels, slowly and never breaking eye contact. She sashayed to the couch like she did in the hallways, put her designer bag full of things down, and started walking back towards me. I didn’t answer her question. And as usual, she persisted.
“Mr. Jones, do I need to teach you how to respect your elders? You better answer me when I ask you a question. Do I need to punish you again?”
This was her version of dirty talk. Each step across the floor had made a distinct sound, and I could feel my heartbeat increase the closer she got. When she got next to me, she slapped me on the ass and grabbed.
“Mmmmp, so firm.”
I closed the door and took the key out. She walked in, a designer bag in hand like she was sashaying through the courthouse hallways, and all eyes were on her. She hastily placed her bag down and started taking off her jacket. I took my sports coat off and was in the process of hanging it up when she backed up a couple steps and said in a seductive voice,
“You know I’m not wearing any panties.”
The lawyers I was drinking with at the bar would have experienced that weak emotion I call jealousy ten times over right now. But nobody knew this was the regular practice of Mrs. Fullwood and me.
Some would say I was a ladies’ man. I would prefer to call it a product of good genetics. I was born in Coal City. And had even made it to the big city in Bayside, forty miles away. I played Division I scholarship football, and I although I came back home fallen from glory, I had a swag that most people respected. But my occupation was courtroom clerk. It wasn’t many males in my profession. And Mrs. Fullwood was out to get me from day one. I thought I was smart in school, but she taught me how dumb men can be. Nothing is more intelligent than a woman with a burning desire and a plan. That’s how she booked me, inconspicuously and efficiently.
The mind-bender was how much of this was about business and how much was pleasure. There were only really a dozen lawyers to speak of. After she would pump me for pleasure, she would often try to pump me for information on her competition—especially the Jones brothers, Clayton and Kevin, who were brothers and partners in a law firm. I became closer to them than the other attorney’s from the shared last name, although there was no familial relation.
“So is this about business or pleasure?” I asked.
“What do you think?” she responded.
She slowly undid her shirt as I was being drawn in. I was lost and locked in, staring into her eyes and her sinful smile. She was articulate with her seduction. As she stood over me posing, she asked
“Are you going to come get it? No, I think you like it better when I come take it from you.”
I took my shirt off and started approaching her. Then she shoved me back down on the couch. She held my face and gently licked the side of my neck from the bottom of where my sideburns would come in to the top. Then I heard the sudden metal jiggle of my doorknob turning. She coiled back and tried to cover herself. I turned around quickly and saw the door open. I knew who it was before I saw the face. It was my ace, Corey. He was standing in the doorway, door wide open, trying to get his key out. He looked up and noticed what he was interrupting,
“My bad,” he said meekly as he looked up and assessed the situation. Looking but trying not to look. “I kept calling and texting you, bruh, but it just kept going to voicemail. She kicked me out again,” he added.
I looked at the cougar in waiting, but she just looked perturbed.
“I can come back in a half-hour, though I don’t think you’re gonna need more than five minutes. I’ll give u ten to cuddle and shower; I know you like that with your simpin ass.”
I raised my middle finger and traced my eyebrows as he said this. “Just go bruh!” I responded. He then walked into the kitchen, grabbed two beers out of the fridge and started to walk back out. He waived at Mrs. Fullwood and jokingly said,
“Nice to meet you, mademoiselle” then he began to walk back out.
“Don’t come back,” I replied in a serious but playful manner.
He turned around and stepped back out the door, and before he left, raised one finger and said, “One hour, that’s all. Be right back.”
Mrs. Fullwood looked through me. “Really?” she said. “When did you start letting your lil neighborhood friends pop up at your crib, and on our day.” Today was a Wednesday. She likes hump day, I thought to myself.
“The man is like my brother. He has always had a key since I moved back here. Come’on. Let’s go back to the bedroom and take advantage of this one hour,” I said in my default charismatic, smart ass manner. I tried to reset the mood, kissing her on the neck slowly then slowly working my way up. She moved her head to try to avoid the inevitable. I grabbed her by the back of the head and restarted my campaign of kisses. After a weak struggle, she softly put her hands on my face tracing it and got comfortable. Some brief moments of affectionate exchanges passed. I stood up, extended my hand toward her and invited her to the bedroom. She looked at the front door for a second, then reluctantly complied. She sighed in an ambivalent manner as she grabbed her bag and got up to retreat to my bedroom. I walked her back, grabbing her and teasing her with whispering sweet nothings along the way. Finally, we reached my bed, and I laid her down. We rolled around for a couple of seconds, and I started putting my hand up her legs again. Freshly shaven, I thought. Then that thought was abruptly interrupted. I could hear a loud banging on the door. I dropped my head in disappointment at Corey and yelled, “Go away!”
The knocking continued, louder and more intense, “Stop playing all the damn time, Corey,” I yelled in an aggressive tone. Then I hear the door rudely pushed open.
“Where is he? I saw him come in this apartment,” a young twenty-something female said aggressively.
I walked out of my bedroom to the living room with my shirt still off and could see one of Corey’s many girlfriends frantically approaching me. Which one, I don’t know. I didn’t keep track anymore.
“Where is he!” She demanded.
“First of all, this is my house. I’ma need you to not to let yourself in.” I responded. Now I was irritated in which the sarcasm started to become more venomous.
“I saw him walk in here before I got on the elevator,” she shouted.
“Secondly, I don’t know where he is, but he’s not here! Damn, you are killing me right now!” I responded, fully ignoring her and the angry intoxication came to a climax in my voice.
“Well, when you see him, you let him know I’m in the parking lot waiting for him.”
It was at that point I recognized Corey probably wasn’t coming back. If her car was in the parking lot, he surely would have noticed this on his way out. He was in the lifestyle of paying attention to details, and I would have bet this week’s modest salary that he noticed and probably would roam the streets or find another friend’s place for the night. In either case, his drama rarely ever spilled into my life; this was just an unlucky night, the first domino in a string of many.
I went back to Mrs. Fullwood; she was fully dressed, arms folded and ready to go. “I need you to get your life together.”
She kissed me on the forehead and began going into sanctimonious mode.
“You’ve come too far to get pulled back into that Coal City bullshit.” She was an outsider. But she represented many College Park residents in civil and criminal matters.
“I have been that woman before, and right now, she is thinking to herself she is gonna be out there all night, so you probably want to call your buddy and let him know not to come back. As for me, I’m not going home till late late tonight. But, don’t think for one moment that you bout to get any tonight.”
The mood was ruined. I didn’t need the confirmation, but it was nice to be sure now. I checked my phone to see the missed calls from not long ago and a recent text from Corey. He was at the laundromat, and he wasn’t coming back. The laundromat had a rhythm of life to it. It was a longstanding establishment in College Park. It was nothing special about its architecture other than the fact that this laundromat was connected to a barbershop. A couple of other shops rotated in and out of that shopping center, but the laundromat had barely changed. It was where I spent a lot of time growing up, as did Corey. We both used to work at the barbershop next door when we were kids. We would escape parental and employer supervision to do whatever just by going next door. Now that I was all Hollywood, I had no reason to go there other than hanging out with Corey. He did laundry there, but he did way more important things than laundry there.
I started changing clothes, and I felt more sober now that the pleasant endorphins had been erased by all kinds of frustration. Mrs. Fullwood asked, “And where are you going? You have someplace to be right now?”
“Yep,” I responded.
“You just gonna leave me here alone in your apartment?”
This was more of a statement than a question.
“I’ll be right back,”
This was more parts lie than truth. I didn’t know if I would be right back or not, but it sounded nice. I put on my sweats and a t-shirt. I walked halfway to the door and said,
“I’m forgetting something, aren’t I?”
She just looked at me as if she wanted to say, damn right you and you better not be gone for more than five minutes. I walked back to her, kissed her on the forehead and walked out. On my way out, I exclaimed, “There’s some wine in the fridge.” And I was out the front door.
I didn’t know where Corey’s girlfriend had parked, nor did I know what she drove. But that didn’t matter. All I knew was she wasn’t from around here. I hopped in the car and took off, and even if she did follow me, she wouldn’t go inside the Laundromat. Only a few outsiders dared go near this establishment; it wasn’t necessarily a friendly place. It wasn’t well lit after the barbershop closed at 9pm. The laundromat stayed opened until 3am Saturday nights. It was located in College Park but not far from where I lived in Green Run. Maybe two miles away. They had upgraded some of the machines in the past couple of years. But it was still an old building. They even put a flat-screen television in there, five times. Eventually, somebody made off with it, and nobody saw anything five times.
It was most busy on Friday nights because that’s when everyone got paid, and in the summer, you can get your car detailed while you waited. A lot of folks would popup just to stunt. And that’s when Corey went to work the most at the Laundromat. Occasionally I would kick it with him while he worked and watch his back. You could never be too careful around here. But Corey was the lucky type, he never got robbed at the laundromat, and none of his women ever caught him or harassed him at the laundromat. This place had a rhythm to it. We knew that rhythm. We saw the same people cycle through, week in and week out, almost like clockwork. So we knew what to expect within reason. The whole way there, I wasted time on my phone. I didn’t even bother to see if I was being followed. It was around 9 something when I arrived, and a couple of cars were in the lot. After I hopped out of the car, I could see the usual sullen faces anxious to go home. There actually was a TV installed and bolted in a high corner of the Laundromat, but it wasn’t on. The few people that were there were just staring off in space. A couple was reading magazines, and Corey was in the back as usual on the phone.
As I walked through the aisles of machines, I saw an unfamiliar face. But it wasn’t the unfamiliarity that stood out; it was her beauty. Add to the fact that she wasn’t reading one of these super old decrepit magazines in the laundromat or a random romance novel. She had a college psychology book to her right and some non-fiction book in her face, slightly below nose level. I did the slow double take as I walked by. She never changed her gaze.
As I walked toward a backroom near the bathroom, I could hear Corey on the phone. Sounded like he was talking to some chick. I dapped him up, and he wrapped up the conversation.
“Baby let me call you right back, my boy just showed up. Ima hit you in a second, though.” This obviously wasn’t the same chick that popped up at my crib, or was it?
“Sorry about that, man. I didn’t know she was gonna follow me. I had a suspicion she might, but I didn’t think she would follow me cross town like that, though. My bad.”
I then replied, “How did you know she followed you?”
“First off bruh, you always take the stairs if at all possible. You only live on the third floor. Thank God I was sticking to the script and I missed her coming up the elevator. I saw her car was empty when I made it to the parking lot. So I took off. I made plans to stay with Tia for the night, cuz I already know, she gonna be out there all night waiting for me to come back. Tell your lady I’m sorry for ruining yall, shindig or whatever, but you wasn’t bout to do nothing with that anyway but be done in three strokes, so I did you a favor.” He was referring to Mrs. Fullwood now.
Interesting how they both forecasted that the chick would stay in my parking lot all night because it was based on information or experience that they had used before. They needed to know. I wasn’t as aware because that kind of lifestyle didn’t apply to me. It was of no use to me.
“You still tryna handcuff Tia?” I inquired.
“You been working on that since before high school. Maybe it’s your three strokes you need to be concerned about and not mine bruh.” I joked.
“Man, what you doing with that saditty ass cougar? She is fine though. But why is she with you again?” He responded.
“Man you know it’s all genetics; that’s just how we was raised.” That was our catch-all slogan in our childhood group of four we called DS. Dirty Syndicate. We were some arrogant young boys. And to feign our humility after an impressive accomplishment of whatever we said, “that’s just how we was raised.”
One of our childhood partners in crime went to some university full-ride academic scholarship. We hardly ever saw him again. The other went to the local college, kicked it around town, dropped out and then joined the military. We hardly ever saw him again either. Coming up, our team didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, at least from our perspective. It was ordinary childhood mischief to us. Make a little dough from quasi-legal operations, such as selling candy for organizations that didn’t exist or promoting and organizing any and everything from parties to betting on local neighborhood fights between people who were going to fight anyway and some other things. We liked the local girls and had our pick of them. We liked the outsiders too; their scarcity increased their value. We also had connects that could supply us with drugs and alcohol in small doses and at low prices. This was life to us. This was normal.
“Man don’t worry bout what I’m doing with her, and as far as you know, you ain't ever see her at my crib,” I added.
“Is she still there?” He replied. “You a good one for that. I love you and all bruh, but I wouldn’t have left her alone at my crib with all that goodness for nobody.”
“You know the code.” I retorted and continued. “You need to remember to stick to the script. Oh, I forgot, the same chick you tryna cuff now almost had you stop rolling w/ DS back in the day so you could catch them draws.”
He busts out in nervous laughter. This was a true statement, and he knew he couldn’t live it down. He long ago once said, “Women want a man with morals, principals, values, and a belief system, then they want you to throw all that away for them.” He had almost done this several times for Tia but couldn’t quite keep her as his lady. So he kept other women on deck and plenty of them to pass the time.
“So forget about Tia right now. Why you got chicks kicking in the door at my crib? What kinda weak game you kicking in these streets?” I joked.
“Damn bruh, she came in?” I assumed she would go knock, but I ain't know she was on that. And my bad for not locking the door. I’m really fucking up, huh?” He responded with a temporary moment of reflection. “Man forget her. Let me deal with that. You need to go see what’s good with that egg-head college chick out there and let me do me.” He added.
“I was tryna do that, but you got sloppy, bringing drama to my doorstep and we definitely gotta address that first,” I said.
“And I seen her. I definitely was checking her out. She not from around here, though. So imma go introduce myself in a moment, you stand here and learn something,” I said in closing.
I walked back through the narrow wooden hallway past the bathroom and back into the main area. She had switched books. But otherwise, it appeared as if she hadn’t moved. I posted up and observed her from the corner of where the hallway meets the Laundromat area. I looked back at Corey, and he gave me a goofy thumbs up.
I started walking toward her. She was maybe twelve steps away. As I got around step seven, she said,
“Whatever you are selling, I am not interested.” She sounded annoyed. She didn’t even look up when she said this. Her nose was still deep in the crevice of the book.
“Ma’am, I didn’t come to sell you any dreams, magazines, any Avon products, or magic beans. I actually want to purchase a moment of your time, make you smile a little, and brighten up your day because you’re going to need this after you realized that while you were reading, your clothes were stolen out of the washing machine.”
“What!?” She exclaimed. She simultaneously placed the book in her lap and began looking in a diagonal gaze at a washing machine to my right, which was spinning and full of clothes. Although it wasn’t unusual for clothes to get stolen if left unattended, I just wanted to see her face in full.
“Very funny.” She said, full of disgust. “Can you just leave me alone and go back to your dice game in the back? I have a lot of studying to do.”
Then I retorted, “While that might be true, people make time for what they deem to be a priority in their life. And, while you probably have some irrelevant quiz or paper coming up in psychology, I’m sure you’d rather spend the remainder of your time here trying to understanding Cornel West’s explanation of tragicomic hope and Socratic questioning and why they are essential to our so-called democracy. But I did want to introduce myself, though, in the event that I never got to see you again, because tomorrow is not promised. My name is Levon. Levon Jones.” She looked at me and acknowledged me but said nothing.
“As a friendly reminder, you can’t have tunnel vision and live in College Park. Happy studying and I will leave you be.”
I walked away with the swagger of a proud African lion towards the back room where Corey was. I wasn’t dressed up in my finest attire, but neither was she. However, my whole air and movement weren’t confined to my clothing selection; it was innate from surviving in every environment I ever stepped in. I never looked back, but something told me she was watching me walk away. I kept a normal walking pace and kept waiting for her to say “Wait!” or somehow stop me. However, I made it all the way back to the back room uninterrupted. Corey was back on the phone, but he didn’t even acknowledge my entry into the room, so I figured he was actually talking business now. I checked my phone. Ms. Fullwood had called twice. I forgot my phone was on silent. I thought to myself, oh well, tonight can’t get any worse.
Corey turned to me for a brief moment; it appeared he was on hold or halfway listening. He gave me the thumbs up in an inquisitive manner. I shook my head. He held in a laugh and gave me the ‘L’ for loser sign. I motioned that I was on my way out. We exchanged “dirty dap,” which was our childhood created overly complicated handshake, and I made my way out into the laundromat area.
Normally I would have liked to walk away from my failed exploit, but something told me to walk by her again. Or, maybe it was the fact that it was faster to just walk by her again. I thought, ‘whatever’ and as I got two steps past her, she asked,
“What is it that you and your friend are up to back there?”
The other occupants of the laundromat minded their own business. I’m confident that few, if any of them, observed me and this woman’s interactions. And as often as we were in the Laundromat, hardly anyone inside the Laundromat, especially non-acquaintances ever asked this.
“I don’t think the answer you seek would fall in line with your current priorities. Remember, democracy matters, not local smart asses.” I replied.
“Well, you forgot that Mr. West also talks about prophetic witness. It would be an injustice if I didn’t introduce myself as well. Levon. My name is Nicole.”
The book was face down in her lap. I looked into her eyes and extended my hand for a handshake. She then told me
“That was all the time I had for you today Mr. Jones, until next time.”
She picked the book up off her lap. She once again began reading just like before. I looked around with my hand still extended. I’m pretty sure there was a stupid look on my face as I slowly dropped my hand to my side. I proceeded to walk out of the laundromat. All of the stride in my step was gone.
I got in my car and put my seatbelt on. I texted Ms. Fullwood that I was on my way back. I started the car. I stared into the Laundromat for a couple of seconds. I just thought to myself, it could be worse. It’s not like you’re going to be sleeping alone tonight, even though I’m sure she would be on the opposite side of the bed. Then I pulled out of the parking lot and started on my way home. I had driven a mile maybe and had less than one left to go before I reached my apartment. I thought about work tomorrow and looked down at the time. As I drove past Church Street, an unmarked squad car pulled up behind me. It didn’t appear to be pursuing me; this was probably a coincidence. Church Street was the last street in the College Park area before it switched to Green Run. The cop followed me, keeping his distance. As I turned on my right turn signal, the cop then activated his lights. As there was really no shoulder or turning lane to pull over, I tapped the brakes and drove slowly on. I then turned into my apartment complex parking lot.
As I waited in the car, I put on some music. I did not want to be alone with my thoughts. I looked at the clock as a whole song played. The officer still hadn’t approached the car yet. I looked in the mirror to see what the holdup was, only to see two more squad cars had arrived on the scene parked behind the original officer. I became impatient. Another song and a half played on the radio. It was now 10:00pm. Finally, the officer walked up to my window and asked me was this my car. I told him it was, and then he asked for a license and registration. I recognized him immediately; it was Officer Brown. Nobody I knew liked this guy, but somehow he stayed on and even was promoted a couple of times. Somebody liked him, but he was so awful that even most prosecutors offered generous pleas if he was on the case. I handed him the paperwork. He looked at me funny. Like he recognized me but couldn’t place me. He walked back to his car without saying any additional words. He appeared to be talking with the other officers. The lights from the squad car were so bright I couldn’t see everything, but it was obvious they were talking about me. He walked back after a couple of minutes. He had a piece of paper in hand,
“I’m just going to give you a warning this time. Next time, don’t drive without wearing your seatbelt.”
“What?” I asked. He explained in a more irritated voice.
“I said, I’m only going to give you a warning this time, DO NOT DRIVE without wearing your seatbelt.”
I looked down at my seatbelt, which was still on. I slowly looked back at my rear windows. Then I thought about my window tint that was legal but dark. I knew what this was; I didn’t need to address it. I just wanted to go home and get cursed out by the cougar. He started walking away. “Okay, Officer Brown,” I said. He paused his walk for a second, then kept walking. All of the officers pulled off and went back in the direction of College Park.
I stepped out of the car after a long delay. I had to reflect on what had just happened. Then I leaned up against the side of my car and put my head down. Suddenly I heard a timid voice. “Everything alright?” I jumped up and frantically searched for where the voice was coming from. I looked behind my car, and diagonally from it was a lone female who was halfway in her parked car and halfway out of her car. It was Corey’s girl. I just shook my head and remained silent. She got out of the car and walked up toward me.
“Rough night?” She asked.
“It is what it is,” I responded. I couldn’t believe this chick was still waiting outside for Corey. “You should probably go home,” I told her.
“Why, so your boy can sneak back in?”
“How do you know he’s not at your house right now?” I don’t know why I asked this; maybe it’s the cynicism that life gave me. Sarcasm helps release the anger.
“Why would I trust anything you say right now? You only trying to cover for him.” She responded.
“True. But, I’m still human. While I respect your enthusiasm, optimism, and hope, you should probably get back to your side of town and go home. He’s not coming back tonight.”
This was said with genuine sincerity, but hope is desperation.
“You really think so?” She asked. “Where is he?” She added.
“Don’t ask questions you don’t sincerely want the answer to,” I responded. As I turned away from her, she looked as if she were still waiting for me to answer her. I began walking away and told her “goodnight,” as I made my way toward my apartment unit.
I looked at the stairs and reflected on what Corey said. Then I opted for the elevator. I was tired and had nothing to hide. While I waited, I thought about how interesting it was that it took so long for Officer Brown to recognize me when I’m in court every day. I was not wearing my usual sports coat, suit, or tie, though. It’s funny how much stock we place in small superficial things. The elevator arrived, and I began to think about what I would say to the cougar. I got on, rode the elevator up and got off and came up with nothing. I knew this was not the best plan of action to come back in without any explanation, story, or defense after ignoring calls and coming back an hour later. I kind of didn’t care. I opened the door slowly. I peeked my head around the corner as I removed the key and heard loud silence in my apartment. I walked in and checked my bedroom. Nothing. I walked back into the kitchen, looked into the refrigerator, and noticed that my only bottle of wine was gone. She was probably trying to teach me some lesson I would ignore. I poured myself a glass of water, brushed my teeth, then set my alarm clock and retired to bed for the night.
The next day at work, I spoke to Judge Wilkinson about what happened the night before. He was from College Park and had made it. When I fell from grace for violating the rules of amateur college sports and returned home, he got me this job. This was not much to brag about, but it was legit. I told him how Officer Brown followed me, and upon telling him, he began to make excuses for him. “Oh you know Brown, he’s just an old fashioned cowboy.”
When I was in high school, I was nice on the football field. Wilkinson had come to a couple of games I was in as he was an alumnus of the same school. He knew who my sperm donor was through child support court because my father never paid it. However, my mother never pressed the issue. Ironically I was now working in the same courtroom I sat in the back of as a youth with my little sister. We were too young to be at home alone, and my mother didn’t have a babysitter. Most of our extended family lived a couple hours away.
As I sat in the Judge’s chambers, we talked about sports and local events in the news before we prepared for court. My job was simple. Read the calendar, update what happened to the cases on the calendar as the events transpired, and observe everything. Well, the observation part wasn’t in the job description but not much changed around here, and I would know or soon get to know just about everybody who came through his courtroom. Most of the time, nothing eventful happened. Just pleas, continuances, lectures from the judge, and the exposure of everyone’s business because once the police got involved or charges were filed, it was public record. The courtrooms were more entertaining than television. It was live, unscripted television but in a two-ring circus kind of way.
While working in another judge’s court, I almost got tazed. Judge Rudner had just activated a woman’s suspended sentence and revoked her probation. However, she had brought her small kids to court in an attempt to get mercy from the judge. She also brought her institutionalized brother, who was a little slow to court. After the judge ordered the bailiff to take her into custody, she became desperate, still clinging to the hope that alluding to her being her kid’s sole care provider and having nowhere to place them while she did her sixty days in jail would give her a pass. She screamed at the officer to not take her away, begging and commanding the judge at the same time. But to no avail.
Judge Rudner told her, “you knew you were going to jail today; this comes as no surprise. Why would you even try to use your kids as leverage?” Rudner was a fair but controversial judge. “Do you have anyone here that you can leave them with?” the woman replied that her brother could but that he was not all there. After a dramatic court struggle, the bailiff took her back to process her before putting her in the holding cell, and her brother followed with the kids. Someone from her neighborhood asked to approach the bench. They said they knew her from the neighborhood, and they can take care of her kids for the moment. The judge sent me to the back to go tell them this. By the time I arrived, the brother was face to face with the bailiff shouting “I’m a man” repeatedly. The little brother, who looked to be in his thirties, was at least six foot three with a jail built body. The bailiff was a solid five nine and a little round and out of shape. The next thing I know, they are wrestling on the floor with the bailiff on the bottom struggling. The woman is screaming, “get off of him,” but I didn’t know who she was talking to. I grab the little kids who were too close to the melee. My back is now to the rumble. Apparently, the bailiff pulled his stun gun and takes a stab at the brother, but the brother smacked his hand and grabbed his wrist. I can now feel the bailiff’s hand on my hip and see the stun gun he is holding in his hand and the electricity running from end to end, inches away from my thigh. Then another deputy comes in and restrains the brother with a chokehold, and they began to subdue him. All the while, the sister is shrieking and crying, and even though the little kids can hear all of this, I am trying to do my best to make sure they see nothing.
Was this type of event normal? No. But growing up here, I knew that things could go from 0-100 in an instant. Every once in a while, a hot coal started a wildfire because of the inequity of the living conditions. The courtroom was often a thermometer of how close we were to another spark starting a flame.
I watched everything and got to know all the local attorneys professionally in the courtroom and personally afterward. The courthouse was also its own social scene. But I usually kept a mystery about me and stayed out of most gossip and drama in this scene. Or so I thought. Apparently, the mystery and stand-offishness created a special intrigue and appeal. Being that I was the only male clerk out of around twenty plus clerks, people made up stories based on fragments of information to fill in the blanks about who and what they thought I was. It happens all the time in society; we look from afar at the appearance of something and quickly categorize it for convenience. We never really examine the subject until we need to. But, in the meantime, decisions and interactions are made on incomplete information with regularity. And when you let misinformation spread and linger around long enough, the truth eventually becomes irrelevant. We don’t even take the time to appreciate and value meaningful interaction anymore. And Judge Wilkinson used to get this.
Today was a little different, we had a pre-trial hearing scheduled, and Wilkinson wanted to pick my brain. “Have you ever noticed when officer Cantrell is lying, he always scratches his ear?”
“Naw, that’s your job to discern that. I just know from around the way he dirty, so I don’t believe anything he says,” I responded.
“You know not all officers are liars; they put their life on the line every day to serve and protect the public,” he added.
“Protect them how? I just don’t get it. How is busting a taxpayer or resident for possessing marijuana doing the community a service? A lot of people use drugs to escape from something, granted some of them are illegal. If a lot of them had money to change their situation or go on a real vacation to temporarily escape their problems, do you think it is possible they wouldn’t use?” I retorted. “How about we fix what they are trying to escape from instead of warehousing them for being without resources to deal with their harsh realities?”
“I hear you, but you have a lot to learn. The law is the law, and we have to fight and uphold it and its integrity. If you want to use this substance or that substance, why not go through legal means? Why not lobby and call congressman to change the law? We, as judges can’t pick and choose who gets a free pass for violating the law.”
I nodded my head although not genuinely agreeing with him as his soliloquy continued. But in his courtroom, while free passes were not given out, money and who your lawyer went a long way in getting a free pass in this town. Not to mention, the police didn’t bring much variation of caseloads in; most of the charges were all the same in this small enclave. But as far as the remark to go through the legislative means to form a lobby, support a politician, give money and run a campaign to do something that was still somewhat unpopular to openly accept, I thought about the ludicrous nature of what he proposed. Nobody in College Park who would speak up for this purpose would campaign or convince city councilmen, let alone state representatives, to legalize certain drugs. Politically it would be suicide right now. Especially since the sheriff’s office and the county jail employ a lot of people. I was young but smart enough to know that the political process is intentionally slow. One could spend their whole life campaigning to create that change and still fail. Medical argument aside, nobody in the political elite would pick up that cause because they live on the side of town where if the cops do kick in their door, they can afford representation and be treated fair enough to beat the charge. But the cops weren’t kicking in their doors. Whereas if you were from Coal City Park, where the cops are always on patrol, and everyone is a suspect, you already know what I’m thinking. When he started into his “the law is the law” speeches, I usually tuned him out and returned later when he was done. I was smart enough to feign approval. After all, he did get me this job. And you’re not supposed to bite the hand that feeds you. But what if his hands aren’t clean, I thought? He was finishing up his soapbox speech, “…So go ahead and go in and call the roll, I’m ready for court to start.”
He had finished his speech, and I had to get back to work, but I continued the argument in my head. Another part of the problem as I saw it was that some of the cops came from Green Run or Jamestown, but a lot more were from elsewhere. But, they all patrolled in College Park. They don’t know or care about the community they police. We had few cops or anything else that were born, raised, and stayed in College Park. So who are they protecting and serving? But I’ll come back to my thoughts later.
Today in court, nothing of note took place. I was scheduled in traffic court with Wilkinson. While Wilkinson wrote Officer Brown’s actions off as him being a cowboy, Rudner would have called him a cowboy, but society not being the wild wild west where one can be an outlaw. There were rules and guidelines for a reason. She didn’t politic with either side; she just did her job. It was public knowledge, though, that the Sheriff’s association endorsed Wilkinson every campaign he had.
Officer Marks and Officer Wendell were in court today. They were brothers who had only been on the force for two and a half years. They were semi-home grown cops. We all went to high school together. Their mother was from College Park, but their father was from the other side of the tracks in Jamestown, and he had plenty of money. So much that the word was, it was his pull that got them through the academy and on the force. He had so much money that it was beneath him for the longest time to even claim or acknowledge their mother. They were horrible officers. Many other cops disliked them because they were part of the select group of officers that brought down the overall image of the police department in the first place. They knew me, and I knew of them. I might have even taken a girlfriend or two from them in high school, but I wasn’t keeping track of such a thing at the time. But for them being douchebags, I would genuinely feel bad for them knowing their family situation. Today’s episode was no different than usual. They had quite a few cases where someone was stopped for turning without signaling, window tint violations, and driving without a license. Still, somehow all of these charges would be supplemented with resisting public officer, assault on an officer and drug possession charges. The Jones brothers would always challenge their traffic stops and win. However, they would usually continue their cases when Wilks was sitting as the judge. Ironically enough, it was Attorney Fullwood who was before the court today who learned why.
Given our dirty little secret, I always wondered if I affected her performance on the rare occasions in which she had a trial with me sitting right there—especially given the madness of last night. But it wasn’t her lack of focus or technical skill that resulted in her losing her case. She masterfully pointed out that the stop was baseless. Marks’ reasoning was that it was late, 9:00pm, the car was in a high crime neighborhood, and it was idling in front of the house for three minutes. Finally, a female later came out and got in the car, and they drove off, which was suspicious behavior. By that definition, anybody waiting to pick up a female for a date is suspicious, especially in College Park. Further, Marks said he smelled the odor of marijuana coming from the car. However, Attorney Fullwood elicited that there was nothing burning, no ashes in the tray, and a small baggie of marijuana was found inside of a clutch, inside of a purse that was sitting on the floor of the car. And this was the very same purse that the woman had just brought with her from out of the house she left. He had to have been part canine to sniff those drugs out. The prosecutor was fairly new and was just happy to get a win. Some of the other more experienced prosecutors wouldn’t have even taken this to trial given his reputation and the marginal facts.
It was hard not to stare at Attorney Fullwood as she worked, especially given last night’s events. Maybe Wilkinson was distracted too and wasn’t listening to a word the officer was saying. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt. After the verdict was rendered, she gave me this evil look that I think nobody caught, like somehow it was my fault she lost. Then she spoke with her client for a moment and called me out,
“I would like for the court to note and for MR. LEVON JONES to record that we are giving notice of appeal.” I knew I was going to hear it later. She never called my government name like that, she would just say the clerk. Subtle yes, or maybe I was overthinking things. In any event, I looked at the judge who looked at me, like, “You gonna write that down son.”
I got back to work entering the disposition and updating the record, and from my peripheral, I could see Attorney Fullwood was exchanging heated words with Officer Wendell. Wendell didn’t testify or anything; he was just always there where Marks was. She was visibly aggravated, and Wendell was visibly enjoying being a jerk. I tended to my work and shortly after that entered the judges’ chambers to recap with Wilks, which was somewhat routine after a trial. I asked him if he really believed that Marks could smell any marijuana in a bag, within a bag, within another bag nowhere near the window that had been in the car for less than five minutes. He rattled off some legalese justification, which equated to an end, justifying the means rationale. “But what about...” I caught myself and refrained. I was gonna ask, what about procedure and the law, because even though I wasn’t a judge, I had watched enough trials, hearings, etcetera, etcetera to have seen the same facts go a different way numerous times, but my faith in his judgment was dwindling. His outlook was don’t doubt the system.
After clocking out, I ran into the Jones brothers, Kevin and Clayton, in the hallway. They asked me, and I told them about what happened during the trial in court that afternoon. Clayton shook his head after the conclusion of the story and said,
“See, I told you that man done changed,” to which Kevin replied,
“Well, his jurisprudence definitely has, but that doesn’t mean he’s not the same person.”
“Can you really say that and mean that?” The brotherly quibble continued as I kind of zoned out, then suddenly
“I heard you got some special attention from Attorney Fullwood today though, what was that about?” Clayton inquired in a juvenile manner. I briefly panicked on the inside and felt transparent, like they could see me, and before I turned back around, I wondered if my face was showing the shock that was running through me at the time.
“You know that’s way out of your league, but man, if you ever came upon that, woooh! They laughed. I relaxed.
“Now we know you were probably a big man on campus, but a woman like that, you got to be on a whole new level of class to get that,” Kevin added while looking off into the distance like he was visualizing this as he spoke. At that moment, the elevator door opens, and who made a cameo in the nick of time. Nobody other than Attorney Fullwood. All three of us got silent. That awkward silence which lets everybody know that they were just being talked about before they came on the scene, yeah, that silence. She greeted the group, sashayed by, and kept going. All three of us almost burst our insides, trying to restrain the building laughter that was trying to escape. As she turned the corner, we exchanged glances and heartily laughed out loud. We closed out the conversation, and I walked to my car and went home.
On the days where I went straight home, I didn’t do much. Watched a couple of television shows to unwind, ate dinner, occasionally did a pushup or sit up, but mostly sat on the couch and wondered where the time went. Miss Fullwood was an off and on actor in my life who set the schedule for her cameos on her own terms. Normally, I wouldn’t hear anything from her the day after hump day, but I didn’t know if I’d hear from her today, given the sanctity of the cycle being broken.
I came through my apartment's front door only to see two people chilling and running up my electric bill. “Sup bruh,” he said comfortably as he was sunken deep on my couch. The young lady he was with was also comfortably leaning on him too as if they had been in the position for a while, and my entry had changed nothing. As I walked in, I looked more carefully at the girl and realized it was the same from the parking lot last night. I decided that I did not want to know how or why. But apparently, they had made up. He offered me some Chinese he had ordered for me in addition to what he had ordered for them, which I accepted. The girl introduced herself as Shanelle and apologized for busting into my house yesterday. The evening flew by with meaningless conversation and commentary on the various sitcoms and reality shows we watched until I was ready to retire. When Shanelle went to the bathroom, Corey and I had a quick exchange in loud whispers.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Man, you act like this is my fault? I was chillin here during the day, and she just popped up! I can’t go back to my crib with her and let Tia pop up and see her. Especially after last night. But yo me and shawty, we just made up and been chillin ever since.”
I knew what “made up” meant. Arguing and then makeup sex. So I looked at him like, “did you…on my bed!? C’mon, bruh, that’s just disrespectful!
“I know better than that. But you are gonna have to take that blanket to the Laundromat just as a precaution.” I looked at him like, what the hell? “He continued, “I ain't give you all this shit when I walked in on you with that college girl stretched out over my bathroom sink. Toothbrush and floss all knocked on the floor. Or what about that time when you spent the night at my crib after the club, and I walked in on you getting domed up, ass out against my refrigerator. I eat there! That was just nasty!” He shook his head in disgust. I was stuck. We heard the toilet flush, and both got silent. I just busted out laughing and dapped him up. As she was walking out, I started walking toward the bathroom and asked if she lit a match.
“Ha ha,” she replied sarcastically.
He then yelled, “I gotchu! Tomorrow! We got work to discuss, anyway.”
As I walked toward the bathroom, I looked at my bookshelf, which was filled with more DVDs than books. I used to love reading. But mandatory reading isn’t the same as leisure reading. Most of the books I had now were textbooks from college. I also had a couple autobiographies and novels from high school but nothing recent other than two Cornel West books I had bought while still in college. I grabbed a DVD and retreated to my room after acknowledging the odd couple. I started getting ready for the next day and fell asleep watching a classic I had fallen asleep to hundreds of times before. Despite all of the negative energy the hot-headed protagonist was surrounded by and put out into the world running the streets with his partner in crime, he still eventually was given the choice of redemption. Not that this movie cast mostly by rappers with varying acting skills was that deep, or maybe it was. In either event, it just filled the silence of the night air and occasionally assisted my sleep patterns.
Fridays are always special. To society in general, because of the transitional nature of the end of the workweek, but in College Park, especially near the first and fifteenth, I woke up a little more upbeat than usual. Prepared to go to work, and it was a fairly routine morning other than passing by two houseguests on my couch on the way out. On the way to work, I wondered, “What does she do with her life?” I thought, “Who just pops up at people’s cribs at any given moment, day time or night? Doesn’t she have a job to go to?” Although I was thinking and judging her employment status, I had to reflect on my own life. “What am I doing with my life? I have a job, but what is my purpose in life?” It was normal for me to wax philosophical to and from work, but the last scene I recalled before passing out was the conversation in the car where the main characters were trying to figure out the meaning of life. Other than go to school, get a job, go to work, then get a family, what else was there?
The moment I was leaving college involuntarily was the same moment my sister was arriving at college involuntarily. She never came back, and I didn’t want her to. It was nothing here for her to come back to. I wanted something better for her, given all that we made it through coming up. And she found it a long way from home as I knew she would. She was my purpose pursuant to a promise I made my mother before she passed. And after that was fulfilled, and she was in school, what was next for me?
I had used my celebrity as a football player to improve our living situation until she finished high school and could enroll at the same college I was at. One of my best friends, Devon, let her stay at his off-campus apartment my freshmen year. He was a junior on the team, and he was also from College Park. We knew of each other but didn’t know each other initially. We later became close friends as he knew my story as a College Park Alum and was just looking out. After a great freshmen year on the field, the coach and I had an understanding. So did some of the boosters. Eventually, after a series of these understandings were found out about, the National University Athletic Association didn’t look so kindly on these things.
I had a nice apartment for myself and my sister to live in, but no job. Scholarships didn’t really cover all of the necessary living expenses. And, the star athlete’s job is to be a star athlete. And even though we lived low-key off the field, I was making too much noise on the field. I made the all-freshman team as a punt returner and put up impressive stats as a wide receiver my sophomore year. Did I think I could go pro? It was possible with a lot more work and some minor miracles, but I never made it to a third season, though. My sister had earned an academic scholarship there and was taken care of while I had the option to fall back on others' charity or go home and hit the reset button. I spent a couple of months waiting for my appeal to be heard. Then returned home and been lost in the wilderness ever since.
Some people would spend their whole lives waiting for that ‘something’ to happen that didn’t happen. Unless that something was negative. I had been out of school for four years now and have been working the same job for three, and in the absence of meaning, life was just a strangely loyal cycle of a marginally selfish casual existence. Work would fly by today, and I’d be at the laundromat chilling with Corey as per usual. I was tired of the alternating fast-food value meals and frozen food meals every other day. Tired of the occasional bar food mixed in between drinks on Wednesdays and Fridays. I hadn’t been to church since I left college. Six out of the seven watches I owned didn't have a working battery. I couldn’t wear the one watch that worked because it was too flashy. I occasionally spoke with Devon, my sister, and even my main ex-girlfriend from college. I told them I would come back and finish school, but I wasn’t and haven’t felt motivated yet. Now I was waiting for that something to happen, just like everyone else in College Park and half of Green Run waiting on the first and fifteenth. But, I have a feeling this Friday would be different; at least, I would be getting the backstory on what is going on with Shanelle.