3WW CCLI, "A Sure Thing"

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are banter, fumble and glance.

A Sure Thing

We’re the whitest people in here and I say so, out loud, enough to get punched in the arm from my date, Grace, a woman with very pale skin and long, fine blond hair, the color of which reminds me of fall wheat fields.

Bobbie’s Black is in Harlem, tucked down a mostly residential block off Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. The club is sandwiched between two brownstones, one painted the color of caramels, the other sandstone.

The front of Black is painted black of course, oily-fresh, petroleum-based paint with a brazenly-red door.

Markus, the owner (he tells us so), shows us to a four-top, two small, high bar tables pushed together and surrounded by four high-back wooden lounge chairs the color of espresso. Grace slides in first, I follow. We both want a view of the room, so even though it’s a first date, we’re doomed to siting on the same side. Grace immediately wants to change seats.

“The AC is blowing right on top of me,” she says. “If you don’t want me shivering and blue, we’ve got to change. Besides, you’ll love the cool air.”

The banter has gone about that well all night.

While walking from the train station, she was engrossed in a story about her two cats, something about how they have health problems and must eat two different foods, but that they end up eating each-other’s food and I’ve gone blank, staring straight ahead at a tall black woman wearing one of the shortest skirts I’ve seen this hot, muggy summer. I am first mesmerized, then hypnotized, by the rise and fall of her butt as she walks.

“Do you have any pets,” Grace says, tugging on the sleeve of my jacket to snap me back to attention.

“I’ve got a fish, his name’s Finn,” I say. “We’re not very close.”

At that, she swats my arm, laughs.

“We’re the whitest people in here.”

She punches me in the arm. This is how it begins.

I motion for Markus. I want a drink. Hell, I need a drink.

“Whiskey, neat,” I say.

“Brand?”

“Something in a Beam, Black if you’ve got it.”

“We’re not eating? I thought we were eating?” Grace’s high-pitch whine makes Markus wince. “I’m told the shrimp and grits is to-die-for.”

“I figured we’d get the drinks out of the way, then study the menu,” I say.

“Oh, in that case, I’ll have a white wine, with seltzer.”

Markus looks at me.

“Like a spritzer, just pump a little soda water into the wine.”

“We don’t have a gun,” he says, motioning his hand like he’s holding a beverage weapon. “It’ll be out of a bottle.”

“No worries.”

Markus drops the order at the bar. Grace turns to me and repeats what she’s told me three times before.

“My friend from work, LaToya, suggested this place. She lives around the corner. She’s black. She may join us, I told her that was OK. It’s OK, right?”

It bothers me that Grace has to tell me - four times now - her friend is black. We’re in Harlem. Her name is LaToya. I assume. I also dream LaToya is a much better conversationalist. And tall. And somewhat heavy-chested.

“Totally cool by me.”

Markus drops by with drinks and Grace immediately whines. The “spritzer” contains no bubbles whatsoever.

“I can’t drink this. Really, it’s just water and wine.”

“This is why I drink whiskey,” I say. “Hard to mess that up. Maybe you should just stick to wine.”

I motion for Markus, tell him to bring Grace a Pinot Grigio, sans soda.

“I just couldn’t drink that,” Grace says, wounded.

“No, you couldn’t at that,” I say, glancing across the room as the words leave my mouth.

Bobbie’s Black is tiny, by chain or any other restaurant standard. One long thin room, four-stool bar as you enter, green-painted door to the kitchen to the left of the bar. Banks of tables, 10 in all, with regular-height tables toward a small stage, with taller, bar-style tables toward the back. Unisex bathroom all the way back, the door tucked behind a black-lacquered wood partition. The stage looks as if it is the remnants of a brick fire place that’s been dismantled. the distressed brick goes well with the distressed wooden floors.

The bar is full and there’s 13 other people - all black people - besides us, the whitest people in the place. We’ve arrived at a lull in the action. A Rihanna video is playing without sound on a TV screen over what I assume is the DJ on the miniature stage.

Come to find out that it’s karaoke night at Bobbie’s Black. And whatever you know, or seen, of white-people karaoke doesn’t exactly transfer to Harlem.

A great black woman wearing an orange dress and matching orange hat waddles up to the stage, takes the microphone from the stand and waits for the opening beats of a Pointer Sister standard from the early 80s. She doesn’t look at the screen; she’s in perfect pitch and rhythm with the blue-screen lyrics that have replaced the Rihanna video. The crowd swings with the sound of her voice.

I lean in toward Grace.

“This is why white people have no business singing karaoke.”

She’s fumbling with her purse, but takes a hand away and swats me across the arm. Again.

“Don’t say that,” she says, laughing. “That’s so bad.”

I don’t really hear her. I’m watching as an older gentleman, seersucker suit, white linen shirt, straw fedora, walks in. With one of the most extraordinary-looking black women I’ve ever seen. Lithe, lean, tall. She’s wearing a blue skirt dress that bells at the hips. the bodice is tight across her chest and her breasts are perfect mounds of mocha-colored flesh above the satan-ribbon-blue of the dress. She’s wearing sheer white hose. Her hair is a cascade of dark curls, a lion’s mane of hair. Her almond-shaped eyes are dusted with what I’d describe as ocher eye shadow and brings out the warm side of her hazel-colored eyes.

The entire room stops to watch as the couple take their places in the first and second chairs in the first row of tables. The gentleman takes off his hat, smooths his white, close-cropped hair, drops the hat crown-down on the table as he pulls out the chair for his remarkable date. They settle in and Markus is quick to bring them their drinks - a gin & juice for the gentleman and a mango martini for his, what? Niece? Date?

Two women sitting behind us cluck their tongues, whisper wildly in each-other’s ear.

“I never..”

“She’s young enough to be his grand-baby...”

“Sinful...”

“Reverend Wallace is going to get a piece of my tongue, I tell you that. He’s go no right being here with that, him being an elder and all...”

“Making such a spectacle...”

All I know is that this beautiful woman has both hands in the gentleman’s crotch - and he’s practically beaming.

I find that I’m jealous.

Grace follows my gaze and huffs.

“What do you suppose is up with that? He seems quite a bit older than she is.”

“I’m betting she’s an escort.”

“A what?”

“Escort. Paid companion. Prostitute.”

“No, really?”

“Really.”

The gentleman offers his hand to help the woman rise, and she folds a slip of paper as she strides to the stage. The DJ smiles, starts tapping on the keyboard of the laptop computer at the heart of his system.

I smile as the first strains of trumpet and piano begin to play and the blue TV screen announces the first line of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child.”

It’s as if Lady Day has been released from death. The woman swings her hips with the cadence of the rhythm, a finger pressed to her ear as her haunting voice recreates Holiday’s every cadence.

Not one person in the room speaks until everyone bursts into applause as the woman holds a long and lasting note on the last line of the song, “Cause he’s got his own.”

“Well, that was very good,” Grace says, standing to go to the restroom. “Get me another spritzer?”

I don’t hear Grace. The woman bypasses the man, her table, and is walking toward me with a swish that speaks of sinister delights. My lips curl into a sly smile. She checks her lips with a finger, drops her eyes for an instant, curls her perfectly-tweezed eyebrow and winks. Her right hand comes up and taps the top of my right hand. I lift it to shake her hand and she slides a card under my palm and doesn’t break stride to the restroom.

“You should see the bathroom,” Grace says as she sits down. “Oh. My. God. All the pictures are of naked black people. In black frames. I think people are having sex in some of them.”

I’ve pocketed the card.

“Hey, excuse me for a minute? I should check out the restroom. I mean, while we’re here and all.”

I get to the door just as the woman walks out. She doesn’t make eye contact.

I shut the door, admire the artwork. Sepia-toned nudes. Men and women. Finely defined muscles, dark nipples, supple hips. The nudes above the toilet are all women, three 8-by-10 frames in a row. Each photo is signed to Bobbie’s Black in looping, women’s script.

I wash my hands, dry them with paper towels. I pat down the beads of sweat that have appeared on my brow. My heart thumps in my chest.

I pull out the card. Again. Thick, creamy card stock. Three lines of type.

A Sure Thing
Jasmine
212-555-3825

3WW CLL "Skin"

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are early, jiggle and quality.

Skin
She tapped a fuchsia-lacquered nail on bleached-white teeth, wary that the diamonds embedded into the finish would pop loose and ruin a perfectly good $49.95 manicure.

Whether the chips were diamonds or not – for $49.95 she though not – it didn’t matter. The tiny Asian lady who did them was a fucking genus craftsman and the quality was superior to any and all previous manicures she’d ever paid for. Who cared that all those tiny ladies jabbered in their exotic language, probably talking the whole time about the men’s ribbed tank top she wore, braless so her full C-cup breasts had a freedom of movement that was probably was a little too provocative for the glass storefront shop in the mall. So fucking what. Bras leave welts on the skin.

Tap, tap, tap. Sigh. Tap, tap, tap. Sigh. Hours yet to go.

It was early. She sat at her tiny kitchenette and contemplated a strong cup of coffee, but downed the bitter-tasting energy shot instead. Coffee stains the teeth and her dentist wasn’t about to give her another bleaching kit. Not after she talked him out of the last one while wearing a very revealing black front-buttoned dress that accentuated her breasts.

Swathed in a terrycloth robe, she ran a hand between her thighs and checked to see if there was any stubble. None. Skin so smooth and supple, coated with enough expensive lotion that it looked glossy. Waxing was an expense, but at least it lasted. Shaving meant red bumps, ingrown hairs. Gross.

She worried that she had gotten way too much sun – tanning beds and sprays were to her a stupid expense – so she had been carefully timing her trips outside to 15 minutes on each side, from noon to 12:30 p.m. daily. While face-up on the chase lounge yesterday, she had dozed and went a good 10 minutes past her time limit.  Her nipples looked a little red, so she took a cold, exfoliating shower, then pampered her skin with a layer of aloe, then a coating of lotion. She had even pulled the drapes and walked around her flat naked, taking care to sit on a sheer silk scarf, so as not to mark up her skin any further.

Nothing ruins a photograph more, she thought, than atrocious, uneven skin tones. Or indents left by undergarments or rough textiles.

Oh, and razor stubble. Nasty.

This was to be her fourth photo shoot. A few full-frontal nudes, just to see her body as a whole canvas. Boudoir, mostly. Mens crisp white shirts, ties. Thigh-high stockings, black heels. Expensive underwear in a rainbow of colors and styles.

Enlisting friends with high-end camera gear, she’d been captured nearly nude in more than 1,200 photographs thus far, hair and makeup done by other friends who doted on her free-of-charge, since playing dress-up was – and had always been – in their DNA.

Losing 80 pounds, well that was the impetus behind the first photo shoot. Seeing herself naked, skin taut and glistening rather than saggy and jiggling, had been a trigger, a drug. A sweet-and-salty taste. Being naughty and nice all at once as the blood coursed through her veins and beat out a rhythm that raced her heart.

The next two sessions, well, she tried in vain to recapture that initial feeling. Oh, seeing herself on a computer screen, bronze skin and white panties stretched tight across her smooth mons pubis, stirred such intense feelings inside, but nothing quite as juicy and delicious as the first. No amount of eyeliner, waxing, silk was getting her any closer to that first session, the exhilaration, the high. 

This one would be different. It would bring back that first flood of emotions, seeing herself lustrous and thin, rather than chunky and plain. A stand-out, the sex kitten feel. Just a few more hours.

She’d enlisted a professional photographer with all the expensive gear, the lights, a studio, even his own hair and makeup team. He quoted her a price of $1,000, a deep discount he said. He also told her no cheap lingerie, nothing tawdry. He’d have full veto power on her outfits, he was in control.

She’d gotten used to the idea, gotten over the power he held over her. And once she gave herself over did she relax.

Paying for the shoot, well, that had been a problem. She thought about selling plasma, but at $25 a donation, it would take a good 10 months to come up with enough cash. She certainly couldn’t wait that long. And what about needle marks? Fuck. No.

Borrowing was out, too. She’d called in every favor, hit up every family member. A $20 here, a $20 there. And all of that had gone toward outfits, waxing and bleaching for the previous three shoots.

He said it over iced tea in sweaty glasses, sitting outside of a café on Main Street, under the protection of a giant umbrella.

“Get your friends together, get into bikinis and have a car wash,” he said. “At $40 a wash, that’s like 25 cars – and maybe a Saturday afternoon of your time. Besides, the rednecks will love you for it.”

“Do you need a permit for something like that?”

“You’re not serious, right? I’m kidding. It’s not like you’re sending kids to band camp or raising money to feed Ethiopian orphans. You want your tits photographed.”

“Fuck the joke – it’s brilliant. I’m so going to do this.”

She flipped on her mobile and looked at his last text.

“You’re addicted. A nude photo addict. And yes, I so want to see the results.”

She reached a hand inside the robe, felt again for stubble. Nothing. She marveled at the sheer smoothness of her flesh, the even skin tones.

And tapped a fuchsia-lacquered nail on the nearest stack of twenties, $6,800 worth of cash that neatly lined her kitchenette, smiling as she did so.

3WW CCXLIX "Looker"

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are indecision, option and fate. This is the latest I’ve ever contributed, but things are afoot. I was traveling last week to my hometown and then to Wyoming to check out a job. These words were selected on my second day of the interview.

I took the job.

Something short and sweet, since I’ve not missed a #3WW since my first – Jan. 10, 2008.

Looker
The look on her face was one of indecision, but she pretended it was indifference. She wasn’t fooling anyone.

The bar was crowded for a Wednesday, and the lurkers, those non-players, were already lined along the bar, sipping slowly on overpriced beers, hoping to make them last before the bartenders got wise and sent over the bouncers to exude a bit of “drinking pressure” on the fucking posers.

The real action was in the darkened corners, where deals were getting done, actions set in motion. The darkness seemed to breath in those corners, like a body taking massive gulps of air as if prompted by excitement. Or fear.

She smiled a toothy grin that glowed in the harsh black light of the club and the indecision fell away from her face like cleansing teardrops.

“Shit,” she whispered, “the options are endless in a dive like this.”

She headed for the darkness like a moth heads to light, gaining such kinetic speed at whatever cost.

He stepped into her path, set his shoulders, took a sip of his drink, through the little cocktail straw.

She sized him up, calculated the pros and the cons, waited for his opening line to decide.

“What brings such a hottie out to a dive like this?” he said, running his hand across her black-leather-clad ass.

She licked her lips, full and pouty – painted scarlet and lined in black – cocked an eyebrow and smiled.

“So soon,” she thought.

“Fate,” she said.

3WW CCXLVIII "And Shock Collars Are For Dogs"

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are cease, heat and nasty.

And Shock Collars are for Dogs
Being a man, and thereby drawn visually to things, he had the added foible (that’s what she called it – a foible) of becoming distracted in open settings and watched the action rapt, when she thought he should be listening to her, and only her.

At first, she put up with it. Then she called him on it. Often using the word “cease” as something of a safe word for him.

And for as much as he tried, he couldn’t help himself when she left on another dry discourse to begin scanning the room as life coursed and blossomed around him.

“Have you heard anything I’ve said?” she’d snap and he’d recite back to her the last set of sentences, like a court stenographer. “Cease.”

Dark thoughts began to form in her mind. Maybe he wasn’t the man for her, their shared future. Lord knows she had tried to shape him more toward her image, choosing his clothing and then his (well, her) friends. But really his distractions were just too much.

She plotted her escape from the relationship, contemplated the sorrow and heartache it would bring. The division of things, arguments over CDs. Being alone again.

Until late one night while he snored away, she lay on the couch with the TV sound turned down and flipped through channels aimlessly; with her feet tucked under her anxious, she chewed at the skin around her fingernails until nasty little pinpoints of blood appeared.

The infomercial stopped her fingers from manipulating the remote.

“With these amazing little servants, turn any man into the dedicated, attentive lover you’ve dreamed about – all for three easy payments of $89.95.”

Without a thought, she dialed, ordered and put the charges, plus postage and handling, on her debit card that she kept secret and hidden from their joint account.

And waited four-to-six weeks for the answer to his condition.

His foible.

They came in a plain brown padded envelope. He nearly had tossed it into the recycling, thinking it was a pack of coupons they never clipped, or another offer to refinance the home they didn’t own. Until he fingered the envelope, felt the faint ridges and curves.

“This came for you,” he said as he slapped the envelope down on the counter, like he was discarding a poker hand.

Immediately she knew what it was; she felt the heat generated in her cheeks, but gave off an air of feigned indifference.

“How was your day?” she asked. “Steaks for dinner? I thought we could open that last bottle of pinot we’ve been hording.”

Ears perked, he read her body language and slipped his hands around her waist and buried his head in her auburn hair that smelled faintly of basil and grapefruit.

“And maybe later, we can…” and let his fingers curve between her inner thighs, finishing the thought.

In the harsh light of the bathroom in the aftermath of their rather quick and vanilla lovemaking (he already had drifted off, like he does, she registered angrily), she fingered the tiny vial, inspected the forms and shapes that danced inside. Like Sea Monkeys, but much more man-made, as if these tiny life forms were the product of an illicit Industrial Revolution tryst between robots . And this vial held a tiny bit of the milt of the indiscretion.

And with a determined sigh, she shook the vial per instruction, broke the seal and walked silently to the bedroom and dumped the contents into his ear canal.

“Let’s go out tonight, you and me,” she said over a quick breakfast of muffins and sliced fruit. “Get a drink and maybe some dinner at Pathos.”

“You hate Pathos, you said it was way too noisy.”

“It is, but I know you love it there – and we haven’t had Pastitsio in ages.”

The place was packed when she got there; he had thought ahead, reserved his favorite table near the back, away from the bar. He was already there, and had settled into his preferred seat that put his back to the wall – and gave a theater view to the entire room.

They kissed and she launched into a long dialogue of her day, a detailed list of battles won, battles lost, scorecards kept.

His eyes drifted…

And his entire body shudder slightly in spasm, like what happens when you conjure a creepy thought, and his eyes bulged ever so slightly.

“I’m sorry, what were saying?” he asked. “Whew, is it hot in here or what?”

Little spittle bubbles frothed at his lips. His eyes looked watery, a little sad.

She talked of shoes and friends and office gossip between players he'd never met. He scanned the room, or tried.

Each attempt to drift was met with tiny tremors, scant bits of seizure. His eyes always returned to her. He wore a weary smile.

Soon, spittle bubbles turned to drool. His eyes went from watery to red-rimmed and puffy.

When his nose and gums began to bleed, she asked for the check, declined to-go boxes and led him by the elbow to her car. He made a gurgling sound as his head hit the passenger-side glass.

Hot terror coursed through her; blood droplets made teardrop patterns on his crisp white Oxford shirt and clashed obscene with the azure and yellow stripes of his silk tie. He had passed out, total lights out, as if he was dead-drunk.

Frantic, she dialed the 800-number on her mobile. The number of the company from the infomercial, from the embossed card she kept in her purse, the very one that said to call if there were complications, various side-effects.

And in a disconnected, metallic voice, the recording announced the number was no longer in service.