James Robison


You could see in the dark room some­body mov­ing. The door to the room was open and some­one was inside pac­ing and moaning.

Max said, “Lookit, Sidney, let’s blow before the cops come.” We heard sirens tear­ing up Broadway.

Back upstairs on the radio was the Jack Benny Show and Don Wilson talked to Jack and Rochester.

Heavy rain bub­bled on the win­dows above Times Square. Mary said, “That was sure some­thing, wasn’t it? Did you ever think?”

Shows to go you what a woman can do,” I said.

Shot her lover man dead,” said Max, and act­ed unfazed.

Mary was wash­ing dish­es. We were wait­ing for a dark man named Adrian Cream from Evangeline, Louisianna, to bring some smack and Mabel Lilly. It wasn’t good the girl shot her boy down­stairs therefore.

I’ll tell you what, you her­maph­ro­d­icks, if you can sit here with no balls and not get­ting any­place in the world, I don’t know what,” said Norm Latham. Norm had his shirt­sleeves turned up and bit on a nick­el cig­ar and wiped dish­es. He booked gigs for us now and then.

I could hear bright red sirens. I could hear peo­ple down­stairs. A woman screamed and anoth­er cried out, “Oh Oh Oh.”

Norm said, “I go out on a limb for you, and you’re lacey pant queers as far as I can see.”

Aw, lay off, Norm,” Mary said.

Shut up, Mary, you’re just a hole in the mat­tress as far as I can see.”

Aw, lay off,” Mary said.

Now Harry and Tito’s got a band and man oh man they swing,” Norm said. He had a bull­dog mouth with the sto­gie and a dishrag over his shoul­der like some­thing dead. “They’re men who when they play, they get dough for it. Imagine!”

He was sore because he got us a two-set on Rivington and we didn’t get paid. Had I my 32/20, I would have shot Norm in his knee.

I shook out a Lucky and Max was right there with a match, quick as sin.

Thanks, Flash,” I said. Max was fast. He was chew­ing gum, comb­ing his hair. The teeth of the comb slid right through his shiny hair.

Gee but I wish I had his curls,” Mary said.

Max had dark brown hair and cof­fee brown eyes. He was real sharp, the way drum­mers are in a pen­cil striped suit. We might go fluff­ing, and Max would do some­thing quaint to bring the band back with those drums and put us back in time. He was a sol­id four–four drum­mer. He had some licks but was tech­ni­cal­ly not the best but he was the fastest drum­mer you ever saw, broth­er. He could have been the fastest drum­mer in the world.

I was get­ting on fire and itchy but there was the knock at last and in came Adrian Cream, a Negro man, with Mabel Lilly.

Holy cow, Sidney!” she said to me. “You nev­er said the place would be crawl­ing with police. I had to drag Adrian up here.”

No, every­thing is Jake,” Max said, panicky.

We all start­ed cool­ing down Adrian Cream. “It’s noth­ing to do with us,” I said.

Sure, it’s all right, see?” Max said.

Norm Latham said, “Just relax, pal, you want some cof­fee, pal?”

Lotsa’ sug­ar, sure, thanks,” said he, the thin Negro in a wet rain­coat and almost-Chinaman eyes.

Sure thing. We’re on the ups all right,” Norm Latham said, “Say, did you bring the jazz?”

Mary want­ed to know that too. “Did you, man?”

I thought some­body men­tioned hot cof­fee?” he said and shiv­ered in his wet hat and hugged his sides. Norm didn’t like to be played this way. Me and Max and Mary were plen­ty used to it. Your deal­er can play you around and what can you do about it?

Is some­body else in here?” Adrian Cream asked. He heard the crack­ing ding­ing type­writer from the back room. I said, “Pay that no mind, that’s just Mabel Lily’s husband.”

That’s nobody, just my hus­band, Mr. Lily, typ­ing his mag­a­zine stories.”

He writes sto­ries, huh? And you cats have a band?” Adrian Cream asked.

Your deal­er always want­ed to jaw with the clients. I nev­er under­stood it. He would always do it, like string you out. Play you out. As if you were friends and this was not busi­ness and you had to pre­tend you were inter­est­ed in any­thing he said. Because he could always not have it or have it where you would nev­er find it so you had to be a cunt for him.

Mary sat and crossed her gams and showed him these which were long. In my mind, I was shoot­ing his head with my gun.

That’s me for you.

But we got our shit and paid and said goodbye.

We got the rigs and spikes and tied off and shot up and we were drift­ing in a world of heav­en­ly love­li­ness. The city night was dream­land. I melt­ed out­wards from the center.

The big win­dows were dot­ted with drops and some drops were bright with the reflec­tions of elec­tric lights from 43rd street and Broadway.

We went down to the lob­by using the ele­va­tor and got into Norm’s Hudson Hornet sedan.

What’s Tito’s band like?” Mary asked Norm.

They swing,” he slurred. “But lis­ten, baby, they are not as good as you boys. They are not as good.”

We for­got Mr. Lily,” said Mabel Lily.

I said, “He’ll be all right. He’ll be cool. It’s cool. He can write a sto­ry about it.”

Through the wind­shield, the lights were liq­ue­fied by rain and then they got smeared with big sweeps of the wiper blades. The Aragon Theater was show­ing that movie with Harry James play­ing in the back­ground and Honolulu Lulu on the bill. The Paramount had Palm Beach Something and New York Trunk Mystery. The RKO had noth­ing and three sailors talk­ing to a whore in front, also that red­head­ed guy who sold peanuts from his cart.

We stopped at Luigi’s Pawn on Eighth and I went in to get my axe. Luigi was a fairy and he said, “Sidney you look like hell.”

Lay off that stuff and get my musi­cal instrument.”

Why, you’re noth­ing but a big hophead!”

That’s as may be, but give me my horn so’s I can make some mon­ey and I’ll pay you then.”

Well, didn’t you get paid when you played at the Café Roma? I heard you on the radio. Is that Max and Mary com­ing in? Yoo-hoo! Hello!”

You nev­er heard us on no radio,” I said. I snapped a match and remem­bered when Fred Astaire who had a turkey ranch out in San Diego once said to me, “Come and get a bird, Sidney, gratis, for Thanksgiving.” That’s what a big shot I was once.

I also knew Dick Powell and June Allison and Frenchie La Beck and I had been to bed with a girl who was in a movie called The Gay Prisoner, and in anoth­er played the girl­friend of Dennis O’Keefe. So I got sore.

What’s that, a gun?” Luigi said.

It’s a gun.” I had brought my 32/20.

You nev­er heard of the Sullivan Act? Now you’re in hot water, Sidney.”

I said I would kill him if he didn’t get me my horn and he did.

On the dri­ve down­town to The Blue Diamond, Max was snif­fling and putting his hands on Mary’s bosoms. Mary was look­ing google-eyed at him.

She was a knock­out and see­ing such a nice look­ing broad get felt up and lik­ing it made me sad and I cried wet­ly and plen­ti­ful­ly. That was just the junk, although.

Norm turned on Houston to the Bowery and it had a dead­beat who looked like a blis­ter, black blue and red. Over on Avenue D, we got a view of the Williamsburg Bridge and then on down Cherry Street, where the club was, a base­ment lev­el joint with a low ceil­ing so Max had to duck up on the stand to get behind his kit.

It was rain­ing in sheets so we weren’t look­ing for crowds. Abe Goldbarth was the own­er and he was yelling at his bartender.

You’re giv­ing him the busi­ness, Abraham,” Norm said.

Dat may be the only biness we get tonight!” Abe said.

We had nev­er even rehearsed with the reed man, who was a Jewish kid like Max and we didn’t know what the hell was going on and Chico Barnes was going to play piano with us.

We win­tered togeth­er once in Saginaw at a farm Chico owned, me and him. We could get the Windsor Hotel on a Detroit Station, the Starlight Room, and Chico had a crys­tal set for a hob­by. Jesus, it was cold but we ate flap­jacks and bacon and cut lum­ber and drank cof­fee and whiskey. He had a piano in his cab­in and we played some togeth­er and we got jived and far far out.

I hadn’t seen him in a while and then I did.

H’lo, Chico,” I said.

Goddamn it, Sidney,” is all he said.

Well, if he didn’t like it that I did a hit of smack, he could eat it raw, was what I thought.

Mabel Lily had the alto. When we got start­ed she fol­lowed Chico’s intro with Mood Indigo. We always start­ed with Mood Indigo with a strange line up. That was because every­body knew it so well and you could just set it up with Max on snares. Additionally, the audi­ences loved it. They heard you were play­ing Mood Indigo they were happy.

Mary sang some num­bers and her voice was sweet­er than sug­ar and she sang the one where we real­ly blew. Max was drag­gy from the shots but he perked up for that one, called Hurricane. We blew down the place.

Fuck me, daddy‑O,” Max said, and wiped sweat off his brow.

Square Johns and idiots and broads with nice legs filled the place after mid­night and we broke and I went out­side into the frosty night where there were snowflakes on the wind. I went over to the riv­er and thought how every­thing had to be faster, faster, like the speed of thought.