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.