April 3, Poem 3 - Chuck takes Golden Gate (another poem/memoir/short fiction mash-up)
Chuck Takes Golden Gate
When Chuck leaned forward and bit the woman on the shoulder, I knew we had a problem on our hands. We were all a little drunk on pints of Jack Daniels, and he’d already been hollering at every pretty woman who passed by, but this was an upping of the ante if you will. This was taking it up the proverbial notch. And the woman didn’t seem very concerned as she waved him off, but I’d already realized that I was playing caretaker. But I wasn’t ready for my friend to be on some biting type ish. And now, here comes her husband; all 5ft 5ins, blonde, nappy dreadlocks, cast on his leg, four-post-walker-crip-leaning, up to Chuck, and he’s angry…
Look, lemme back up. We’re in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for a reggae fest; me, Chuck, his childhood best friend Al and a comedian named Kevin - Al’s partner, whom Chuck and I were meeting for the first time – four black men from different parts of the country converged on San Francisco, and now we’re biting honeys.
Lemme take it a little further back. This is only the third time I’m hanging out with Chuck. I’d met him a year before in Austin, Texas; a 6ft, 250lb, ex-football player, ex-marine, New Orleans native, Chicago residing, poet who likes to drink and fight. At a National Poetry Slam we’d had a couple beers together one day and a couple days later, during the after-party, our team’s captain had said some smart-ass shit to Chuck and Chuck wasn’t having it and Chuck thought he should re-arrange our captain’s teeth a little. So he’s trying to push past folks to cuff Keith in the mouth, but Keith is my coach, so I can’t just let him get punched in the mouth, right? So I get in between and I say, Chuck, Chuck, I can’t let you wail on him man. This is my squad and then I’ma have to have his back and then me and you gonna have to fight and I don’t like how that looks for either of us. And Chuck says to Keith. You lucky I like your boy here. You lucky today old man, and instantly me and Chuck are close close friends, right, cuz that’s how men do when we recognize the willingness to get into some blood. That’s the kind of love we know, right, the kind that can only be uttered in fuck yous, sweat and blood. Truth is, I’d had my share of fights in my time, but I was not relishing the possibility of having to take a punch from Chuck. I was glad we were becoming friends.
So the following year, we meet again at the next Nationals, and by now we’re boys, right, and we hoist some beverages during the week and then on the last night, I win the Individuals and we hoist some more beverages, because it’s 1999 and for all we know, we have about 4 more months before everything turns to shit, so that’s our excuse to drink and besides we’re elated. And that night, as a result of my win I get invited to do a show in San Francisco in November, and it sounds like a great idea, so Chuck says, I might be there around that time, lemme give you a shout. Let’s hang out in San Francisco.
So now we’re here, we’ve met in Frisco. And they tell me don’t call it Frisco to anyone here, but at this point I still don’t know anything much about Frisco except from movies so it’s still Frisco like people call it in Dirty Harry movies and we get some lunch and decide we’ll just hang out all the way until it’s time to perform that night and Chuck’s boy Al and his dude have joined us from Los Angeles and we hear there’s a reggae fest in Golden Gate park and if we hurry we can still hear Eek-a-Mouse play, so we buy flasks of whiskey and we get in and we get to drinking and eating BBQ and spending more time staring at the women than listening to the music, and there seems to be an over saturation of beautiful women, so I can understand Chuck’s enthusiasm. But this is his ploy - Chuck is stopping them and telling them – drunkenly – that he’s hanging out with the world’s greatest performance poet. Roger Bonair-Agard, except he’s slurring and pronouncing my name in French and fucking up the order of the hyphen, so he says to these bewildered women;Come meet my friend Rojay Ahgarrrrd-Bonehhhh and every five minutes or so I see him accosting one of these poor women so I have to run over to where he is and say Chuuuuck, leave her alone and Hi, my name is Roger. I’m so sorry. Please forgive my friend. he’s a little drunk, while I pry his hand from around their wrists and let them on their way. But I can’t supervise Chuck the whole time and so I turn around in time to see him bite a woman – gently – on the shoulder.
When your friend bites a woman, don’t ask why. It’s too late for that. Start walking briskly in their direction and as you do so, survey the landscape. Look for other people coming from any direction. Look for her man, her brothers, people generally concerned and understand you might be running interference from several directions if said bite happens in the middle of a large savannah. But here comes, from only one direction, a little, injured white man, comically perched on a four-post walker, and cussing like Ike Turner, What the fuck?! What the fuck?! Man what the fuck is wrong with you?! That’s my fucking wife man?! as he thrusts the walker at Chuck’s shin, as Chuck backs up drunkenly, looks down and says Ayyyyyyeeeee, take it easy fellllaaah.
When your friend bites a woman and her husband objects; when said husband is – diminutive, try to validate his anger without condescending. Size never tells the whole story and as I diffuse the situation and apologize on Chuck’s behalf, and try to excuse it on his incorrigible drunkness, I’m having the strangest feeling that this is not the last we’re to hear of this debacle, so I seek out Kevin, who still seems halfway rational – because Al is not – and we’re looking for somewhere to pee and I’m saying to him, So how about me and you get these guys out of here, cuz if a guy with a four-post walker is willing to start shit with a dude Chuck’s size, it means he has boys around and he’s on his way to get them right now, and the word now barely exits my mouth when we hear a commotion behind us and six dudes walking abreast are coming at Chuck, the crip-walking-gangsta-leaning-four-post-signifying white boy leading the way, and Chuck is leaned back, beckoning them forward and bellowing at the posse, Comme Onnnn!!!
When your friend picks a fight with six guys, you have to consider several things. You’ve got to figure out whether or not you want to back this play. To get to the bottom of this question, part of what you want to recap quickly in your own mind is what brought you here. What key turned the ignition to get this train rolling this quickly downhill? Consider what you have time for, your evening’s plans, the possibility of arrest, the possibility of a sound beating, maiming or worse. ask yourself important things about your purpose for that moment. As I would explain to Chuck later, we were in a lose-lose situation. I had a gig for big money about to begin in an hour. We were four black men all with out of state ID about to potentially beat on a crippled white man. There was one of that man’s guys walking around concealing or pretending to conceal some sort of weapon in his waistband. There was a 6ft 7in, easily 300lb black man who looked like he couldn’t wait to hit something. There was the simple truth, that this fight had come out of our own efforts.
I placed myself at an angle between crip dude and Chuck. I was right next to the big grape-ape looking black man. The way I saw it we had to be ready for anything, so I kept one hand in my pocket around a pen which I figured to jam into the kidney of the big dude if he so much as flinched. All the while I was running this game; Sir; look, my friend bit your wife and that’s fucked up. That’s mad disrespectful, but here’s the thing: he’s drunk and I have too much to do tonight and I’d rather not have this beef. How about we take my apology on all our parts tonight. We’re just about leaving anyway, blah blah blah. And the kid doesn’t really want to let the beef go, but I’ve got one hand on Chuck’s chest and one hand in my pocket and I’m looking him direct in the eye and talking to him real soft and real steady and I can almost stand outside myself and hear myself become myself; hear myself spin the lovely bullshit that restores what that man thinks he lost of his humanity when a man bit his wife. And truth be told, I’m not sure he really bought the whole thing, but he bought it for long enough, that we could get out of Golden Gate Park, and it doesn’t matter so much that Chuck was mad at us as we’re leaving because Chuck was working through his own evening and I was propping up my own manhood with explanations of why getting into that fight was a bad idea, and when i tell folks this story later, i'll have to explain to them that no, i love Chuck. he's my dude, and they'll be loathe to believe me when i say Chuck is smart and sensitive and bright and will give you the shirt off his back. And Chuck is one of the most rational, compassionate guys i've ever had a debate with but right now, Chuck is cussing us out, and he’s loud and slurring: Al! Al! Remember when that lil motherfucker was whuppin your ass that one time?! Who whupped that nigga for you Al?! Who whupped that nigga for you Al?! and Al’s real quiet and surprises us all when he doesn’t say anything because earlier he was trying to convince crip guy that Chuck didn’t actually bite his wife, which was absurd because the dude saw Chuck bite his wife and I said as much to Al and the dude, but now Al is quiet, and if I didn’t know better I’d say he was a little ashamed but Chuck didn’t let us dwell on that long. He turned on me. Rog! Rog! Fuck you Rog! Fuck you Rog! I thought you was my nigggahhhh man! I thought you was my nigggah!
And we all walked quietly out of the park.