RIP: FATS AND ME
Tuesday, October 24, 2017, Fats Domino died. The following morning, the news of it slogged through my fractured consciousness as in sludgy brogans, while the tiny remainder of mind left me cowered in the margin, distantly, dimly, consumed by my own body’s clock just then trying to prepare me for its final unwind.
Looking at this now, a month later, on Thanksgiving morning, it is so tempting to whip this all up into a grand metaphor, and not because the vaulted language of death and dying lends itself to hyperbole. No, it is because my memory of that Wednesday morning, the snapshot of it I am trying to share with you, as honestly as I’m able, is tangled inextricably with the dark gravity of what would be unfolding some twelve hours later in the emergency room of San Joaquin Hospital.
Refraining, then, from the temptation to embroider, allow me this in way of description: That Wednesday morning, I slumped over the keyboard of my computer, exhausted and mentally loopy, even though I’d already been awake for two hours at the time of the newscast, and should have been alert.
I regretted my too-hasty decision to let my daughter take me clothes shopping later in the day. Amanda loves to shop, and she wanted to dude-up her Daddy in celebration of his nearly fifty pound weight loss over the last eight months.
Her Daddy only wanted to sleep.
I hadn’t slept well for over ten days, and had almost gone to Kaiser Permanente’s emergency room on the previous week-end. During my waking, walking, sitting hours, the discomfort was tolerable, but the moment I lay down, a tight band swept across my upper back, locking in place. I could only take in shallow, fish-gulps of air; I expelled anything deeper through fits of dry hacking. Lying on my right side was only a marginal and temporary solution. To sleep at all, I had to stuff a large, sturdy decorative pillow under my own, and that propped me to a near-sitting position.
So that Wednesday morning, fragments of my brain struggled to follow the newscaster. Fats Domino, yesterday. Died in his city. N’orlens. City of his birth. Family and friends bedside. Eighty-nine. The newsman went on to other news, but my mind hung back to grasp for those three scraps among the many. Fats Domino. Dead. Eighty-nine. Was that right? I muddled through the math. Eighty-nine. Eighty-nine minus my own seventy-eight. How could that be right? He was only twenty-five back then? The scraps whirled up and away, like dry, Autumnal leaves, and my job, my only job, was to gather them in. Let them settle–what? What? Communion? Add that to the three? Fats Domino. Dead. Eighty-nine. And now … communion. Rake the four of them in. Let them settle and pile around the altar, in the courtyard, where sat the silver tray of torn bread. And the flask. Back then.
My eyes flew open. I pulled my chin away from the drool glistening on the space-bar.
Standing, I gripped the edge of the table to keep it from sliding away from me. Two, three hours sleep. I’d set the alarm. I’d be fine. Then, I’d call Amanda. What’s keeping you, sweetheart? First, just three more.
To this tow-headed fourteen-year-old high school sophomore who waited for his best friend to arrive, the concert was the place to be. Jim’s mother drove us the twenty-five miles up the coast to Pismo Beach, and we chattered like magpies in the back seat. Once there, she deposited us at the door of the Pavilion while she traipsed off, book-in-hand, to a late-night cafe where she would drink coffee and read until the concert ended.
To a couple of fourteen-year-olds, there is no sweeter freedom than stolen freedom, especially when flavored with a tincture of illicitness. In just two hours and fifteen minutes, Jim’s “old lady” would morph back to Mama (to me, Mrs. Appadoka), while my language, stripped of its new-won and rather desperate ardor, would be once again charming, and I would resume being the shy policeman’s boy she was proud her son chose to chum with.
“You sniffed out any squirrels, yet?” Squirrels … my coinage, barely a week old; tested by way of casual droppage to another not-quite-er, like myself (albeit, slightly higher up the popularity food chain), in seventh-period study-hall. Eugene’s mouth tasted the word, his eyes darted about, he sought a targeted occupant, a senior near the door, and then slipped into the aisle to go share his gold.
By the next day, there were no longer girls on campus; no dames, no broads–not a chick in the henhouse. They were all squirrels, now, and I secretly reveled, being the god of their invention, though Eugene undoubtedly got the kudos.
I used sniffed out for the first time tonight, though, and glanced for Jim’s reaction.
“Naw, it’s too noisy. Can’t sniff out anything in this shit.” Then he smiled at his unintended cleverness.
He was right though. The noise-level had increased with the passing minutes since those heavy curtains parted in the middle and a silver-headed black man teased the audience with, “Now don’t Fret. The Fat Man be right back, soon he catch his breath.” He withdrew, and the sea of blue velvet swallowed his absence.
END OF PART I