Two things happened when I was young that keep my head turning well into my current set of years. Others have tried and failed to point this out to me over time in various ways and with obvious examples. However, it seems to have registered when a friend left a parting note on my beside table that read: Call me when you stop being STUCK ON PRETTY.
When I was fourteen, after the divorce, we moved to an apartment complex on Avenue B in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. It was in the immediate reflection of the newly built revolving ball of Reunion Tower and the shadowy life among a thousand instantly encountered neighbors. Suddenly, the long, curvy legs of girls were everywhere and not just Mickey’s sister three houses away or Chilli-Wayne’s sister from across the street. Before Avenue B girls were glimpsed coming out of Stafford’s Grocery, getting off the City Bus or emerging from cars in the Church parking lot on Sundays. Now, the world was full of them, smiling and shined up like new pennies with hairstyles and laughter and eyes looking you over like a menu item. Even now I cannot list the excellent dangers that I was warned waited for me in the recesses and fenced corners of apartment life.
Even so, among all of these shiny pennies, there was Ruth. She ran the register for the Mr. Cut Price grocery store at the end of the street, down the hill and across Corinth. Never once had anybody called her a girl. Ol’ Rufus used to say about women walking past the Barber Shop window, “Damn, she so pretty…I almost cussed!” Everybody, boy-to-full grown man, cussed when they talked about Ruth down at Cut Price’s. To most women she was a “yella-Whore” with envied, long, black, wavy hair that laced her face and frame in a way that made young boys believe what they read in the long stories from English class and Sepia Magazine: Mermaid. Siren. Dorothy Dandridge. Yes.
By that first apartment Winter, all the shiny legs and smiling glances were gone to ground and I was stunned into adolescent wondering. Going to Cut Price’s for some lunchmeat and sandwich spread, wrapped warmly against the biting wind in a wool cap to shield my huge ears, I entered the empty store and quickly gathered it all before heading to the counter. I had not considered the magic of Ruth’s full attention in that empty space. So, when she did not ring me up right away I looked up to see her bounty in the full on look into my face. Even now, all these years gone by, I can only type out: “My Lord”.
Ruth smiled with every part of her being. She poured herself out like it was the only other gift you’d ever receive, beyond the salvation of Christ. She stared at me for a few seconds, maybe it was a few minutes…maybe she’s still staring at me– then tilted her head and reached for my face over the counter. I thought a thousand things and said not a one of them. Touching my face Ruth said, “You got the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen on a boy. You’re gonna kill ’em wit that smile, too, Baby.” Then, she pulled my face forward and kissed my forehead. I’m sure that I eventually made it back to the apartment, but I didn’t wake up from that moment for at least a full year.
There was another year when Sanger Harris, In Time Fashion and Flagg Brothers Shoes were still in business. You got to these stores via a pass-thru street where the Oyster Bar was located. That same year blue jeans were bell-bottomed with cuffs and variations of design adorned the back pockets. My pair were the new, pre-washed style and had multi-colored strips of leather in a cross hatch pattern on the pockets. It helped that my butt was not wider than my shoulders and that my stomach was secondary to my waistline. Hard to imagine now, but just keep thinking six pack. My shirt was a dulled, white nylon with a thick collar and folded back cuffs. My shoes were platform style with a two-toned, slanted heel and I had a new haircut, freshly sprayed with Afro-Sheen and Bay Rum.
It was Saturday morning in Downtown Dallas and I was feeling no pain standing on that corner waiting for the crosswalk light to change. That is when a lady emerged from The Oyster Bar and swayed over to me smiling her “Hello”. I looked down at her from my platformed stance and smiled back. In response, she raised her hand and asked me to help her step down off the high curb and across the short street. After lifting her up the steps on the other curb I turned toward Sanger Harris but she didn’t let go of my hand. When I turned back to her she looked up, smiling again, and said, “Baby, you look so good that I’m going home to throw rocks at my husband!”, then she winked and sashayed on her way.
Who wouldn’t want to know those two random moments in a lifetime? Who wouldn’t want to know that such lightening strikes could be immediately possible again and again…and again? Who wouldn’t keep a wool cap at the ready on a cold day or be ready to help a smiling woman off the two-step curb on a busy Downtown morning? Who wouldn’t want their face touched by the prettiest woman in the world…again? And who, tell me, who, wouldn’t keep one eye always on the lookout for her?
Stuck on Pretty is excepted and/or rewritten for the 3daysinthecity blog from the short story collection, That Boy, There, by Jas. Mardis