photo: Marian Denise Moore
That’s New Orleans, y’all. We probably get more rain than any other major city in the country. We’re in a bowl, below sea level, surrounded by water. Located in a big bend of the Mississippi River, with a major lake to our north, and marshlands only a few miles away.
Our soul queen, Irma Thomas, has a famous song with lyrics like “it’s raining so hard/look like it’s going to be raining all night”. But whether or not we got a boat, New Orleans native just keep on trucking.
Even though it rained all day Saturday (20 July 2019), our Nommo writing workshop was mob deep up in Community Book Center. And those who, for various reasons, couldn’t make it, had already sent, wired, emailed, phone called, or whatever, their well wishes.
I don’t want to start calling names for fear of forgetting somebody, but this is just a little ta-ta to say, a grand and glorious time was had by one and all. Below is a piece I read. It’s a short excerpt from a novel I’ve written titled: Walking Blues–The Life And Legend Of Robert Johnson.
* * * * * * *
SYNOPSIS: While walking through Louisiana, searching for the two-headed people, famous blues musician Robert Johnson reflects on a conversation in a Mississippi juke joint.
What’s In The Box
-A Robert Johnson Tale-
By Kalamu ya Salaam
It’s funny how when he walking along sometimes Robert get his mind stuck on one thing and no matter what else he try to think on, he come back to the same one thing he stuck on. Robert recognize that it be different things but most of them different things come back to womens and music, maybe that’s why most of them songs be about women, and most of the songs the women sing be about men.
Like that Bessie Smith, Lord that woman could sing. All them platters she had. Robert was going to make him some platters, they most likely would not sell like Bessie Smith platters or Leroy Carr’s, but they would be his platters none the less. Which bring up the issue of what it would be like to fuck Bessie Smith. Robert done heard musicianeers jawboning over that. Possum Crayton come right out and admit he would be scared to fuck Bessie Smith, said Bessie was too much woman for him.
“See I’m just a average feller when it come to fucking, I ain’t got no dick like Long Dick Ned.”
“Who dat you talking about?”
“You know Long Dick over to Crystal Springs?”
“Possum, don’t nobody know who you talking about. Tommy, you from over Crystal Springs way, you ever hear tell of some Long Dick Ned?”
“Naw, but I can’t say as I know everybody.”
“I know he going to tell us anyway, but I’m going to ask Possum this question, so as he can pass this lie out the front part of his mouth: why they call him Long Dick?”
“Now you ain’t even much got to ask that question. The man name advertise his specialty. In fact his specialty so special even the white folks refers to him that way. They say he can even much fuck a mare and make a mule.”
The gentlemen sitting around the stove all roar with laughter. Slapping their thighs, calloused hands against work-worn denim overalls. One or two of them even pausing to feel on themselves, and most of them not so secretly wishing they had what it took to be called Long Dick.
“So, Possum, you were saying hows you was just average in the dick department.”
“Yeah, I’m like most mens is. I couldn’t handle no Bessie Smith. Besides they tell me she go with women.”
“Ain’t no such.”
“Sho there is. There is women what go with women.”
“Ain’t such. Can’t be.”
“Why it can’t be?”
“What a woman going to do with a woman? Stick her finger in it?”
“Well, I’m going lay it out like I plows, which is straight down the middle. Ain’t going to lie. I done used my hand and I done done it with women, and the hand loose out to nookie every time. Every time.”
“Yeah. Yeah. I believe Joe right about that.”
Feeling like he had backup from Joe, Possum started getting loud, “Besides all that, yall knows once a woman done had some of this here good wood I got, her finger wouldn’t be nothing but a toothpick compared to this tree I got down here.”
“Well, I know many a man be talking,” Robert looked dead up in Possum face as he drawled out a quiet rebuke, “you know, talking about they cigar and all but they don’t never much even have a cigarette.”
The men laugh at Robert’s quiet rebuke. From time to time, they all brag, but ninety-nine out a hundred of them feel somewhat lacking when it come to measuring length and all, at least lacking when measured long side of how long they would like to be.
Just like scared men whistle through a cemetery, the average man lie, brag and laugh when it come to talking about his thing. It’s the same thing. Robert just smile because this is something he been figuring on for a long time.
Possum didn’t take kindly to young Robert contradict. “Boy, what you know? You so green you still squirting water.”
“I knows there is women what likes women, and they be satisfied with each other.”
“Ain’t such. Might be some what says that just ‘cause they don’t want to give you none. But just like they ain’t no man I desires, I don’t believe they got no women what desire a woman.”
Which is when Tommy spoke up on the subject. Tommy had been around some, had made platters and all, traveled a ways, probably had more experience than most all of them put together. “Yall done all heard that song Kokomo sing ‘bout if the Lord can’t send him no woman, then at least send him a sissy man?”
“That ain’t natural.”
“But it happen, don’t it? Happen all the time up to Parchman, don’t it? What’s the matter? Yall was all loud talking a minute ago? What you got to say now?”
“Tommy, you know good and well, when you all locked up and everything, you got to make do. I’m just saying if you had the option, some nookie or some asshole, the average man would go for the nookie every time. Every time.”
“Well, Possum, ain’t said nothing about every woman likes women, he said he heard Bessie likes women.”
“What difference do it make what she do?”
“The difference is it ain’t right.”
“So, who say what right is?”
Robert peeped where this conversation was headed, “next thing some one of yall going to be quoting the bible and all.” Robert looked around at each of the men, they choose not to lock horns with him and instead look off to the side or out the open doorway. Robert continues, raising his voice slightly for emphasis but not loud or shouting. “The fact that the bible say don’t do it must mean that somebody was doing it, even way back then.” Robert pause both to let his words sink in and to give space in case somebody want to contradict. Nobody say nothing, so Robert, he continue. “So it would seem to me if it weren’t natural, it would of been died out by now, but the fact that it still going on and that it been going on since before the flood back in the bible and all, that fact alone tell me that not only is it natural but it’s something God is allowing to exist ‘cause if he didn’t want it to exist, he wouldn’t never of made it.”
Tommy stare over at young Robert in amazement, the boy not only could play, he coud think. How-so-ever, Possum, for his part, remain unconvinced.
“All that sound good, but I knows womens on womens don’t work.”
Here it was a big old Saturday evening, they weren’t even drunk yet, just sitting around jaw jacking and such, waiting for the crowd to congregate up, and already they were philosophying like they was white men up in one of them big school buildings like to over at Oxford. Normally, Robert didn’t arrive until late so he would not be involved in such conversating, but he was early on that particular evening on account of he had not been home to Callie for two days, rather than walk four more miles coming and going, he had decided to head straight on over to the juke right off the road. Robert remembered it clear as clear could be and now here he was walking this Louisiana road and thinking back on that Tommy Johnson discussion.
Tommy had challenged Possum when Possum said how he knowed a woman couldn’t satisfy a woman.
“Possum, how you know that. You ain’t no woman.”
“I ain’t got to be no woman to know what a woman got and ain’t got.” And one thing I know for sure, a woman ain’t got no dick.”
Which is when Tommy quietly said, “They got women in New Orleans that got dicks.”
“Yes sir, Possum. I’m telling you what I knows, not what I heard. You said you heard something about Bessie, well, I’m telling you something I know.”
“How you know? If a woman had a dick that would make her a man.”
“I know ‘cause I was friendly up with a woman down there and she showed me.”
“Tommy, you saying a woman fucked you with a dick?” Possum say laughing at the same time and making a motion like he humping the air in front of him.
Some of them snickered, but it was a nervous laughter that died down quickly, like trying to light green wood where the flame go out no sooner you pick the stick up out the fire. They was all waiting to hear Tommy’s response. Tommy was generally respected and so if he said he seen it, well, it must have been so.
“No, Possum. I’m saying she told me about it and showed it to me.”
“Yeah, she keep it in a box inside a drawer in this chest of drawers she had. Tell the truth, she had two boxes. One of them was white and one of them was black.”
“What color she was. I know she weren’t no white woman. Wouldn’t no white woman show you her dick.”
“Well, it’s hard to say, what color she was ‘cause she was mixed up colored and white. You know they got what they call that creole thing down there. They be colored but they look like they white.”
The men whistle and get all big-eyed quiet like the first time they watch a stallion mount a mare. They all hanging on every word Tommy Johnson got to say.
In fact, the fact that Tommy Johnson was going to be there was a main reason for Robert to make it back to the juke. Robert liked playing with Tommy and his brother Ledell, ‘cause Tommy had some ways of singing way up high, higher than most men could reach, and he could do it with such ease, so relaxed like he was talking about the weather, but hitting notes like a hawk circling up in the sky, far, far above the ground. Tommy’s singing was not quite a yodel, had a quiver that get to you, make you want to try to woo-hoo like he do but it ain’t so easy as he make it sound. Robert liked that and, of course, it didn’t take Robert but a couple of listenings before he had caught on to Tommy and then went on further down the road and take it different places ‘cause Robert put more chords up in the music, make the falsetto be more pronounced not ‘cause he singing higher but because he putting it on different places, not just at the end of a phrase, and ‘cause he put it on top of different notes from the simple chords that Tommy use.
Of course, another reason Tommy interest Robert is behind Tommy having the last name of Johnson, just like Robert daddy name (by now, we all knows Robert ain’t got but one sure name and that’s Robert, everything else depend on who telling the tale and when, and even some time Robert don’t even use Robert), but anyway Tommy could a been kin to Robert through Noah, Robert asked Tommy one time he know of Noah, but Tommy said, no, he don’t know of no Noah Johnson, but still in all, it may be so, seeing as how Crystal Springs ain’t so far from Hazelhurst.
Robert particularly liked to second Tommy when Tommy would take to singing “Cool Drink of Water.” When Robert would play behind Tommy, Robert could shadow him with the slide, make the guitar yodel just like Tommy do, especially when Robert playing with steel strings on his box and use a driving rod (or sometimes even his pocket knife) for a slide instead of a glass bottleneck, something about that metal slide scrapping on steel strings that whine like a haint in the holler at midnight. It gets so quiet up in the juke when they do that song you could hear every note ringing clear and hear the steady flapping of Robert foot beating tme. Robert always woud go out his way to hear a musicaneer he felt he could learn something from.
So anyway, Tommy he was standing up next to the stove, had his hands stretched out and was rubbing them together whilst he was relating about this woman friend he had.
“See, she likeded me by my playing and one night we was up in one of them joints they got down there and she got into a fight with this feller, said he was trying to short her or whatever and they got to cussing each other and all, and before you know it he done jumped her like she was a man. Deedee, that were her name, Deedee she roll and tumble with him and probably would a whipped him hands down but he was twice her size, well she must a bite him or something. He jumped up with blood all down the side his face, which is when he come up with a knife and said he was going to cut her so ugly not even a murderer would be able to stand to look at her. Which is when me and my friend, brother Colt intervene and suggest if he gon fight her, fight her fair. Either give her a knife or put his away. ‘Course by now he so mad he don’t pay me no mind and he slash at her, cut her arm good, that’s when I plug him in the foot. I grabs Deedee and we high tail it out there, which all is how me and Deedee got to be friendly like. Never did lay down with her or nothing ‘cause I was liking on another girl at the time, went by the name of Sandy, and it turn out Sandy and Deedee was cousins and all. I must of stayed down there a good six or seven weeks. Probably would still be there but Sandy she got killed up behind some guy she was tricking. Both of them was tricking at the time, I means Sandy and Deedee.”
Just like all the others, by then, Robert was listening and sort of envious of Tommy who had done gone down to New Orleans and took up with them New Orleans womens and everybody knowed them womens traffic in all kinds of hoodoo, say they could give you a drink of sweet tea and make you change you mind. Get you in bed and make you forget everything you knowed. So they all was waiting for the part where the woman had a dick.
“So one day it was raining and I was over to Deedee, this was right when I was fixing to make my getaway. We had done buried Sandy the day before and I was saying my goodbyes and all, would have left then but it was raining. It always be raining in New Orleans, I don’t know how them people can stand all that rain down there. So I was telling Deedee maybe she should pack her leaving trunk on account it weren’t healthy in her profession and she say she know but she was used to it and all. So we got to drinking and talking about Sandy and I don’t know how but we start into talking about tricking and stuff and Deedee she ask me if I ever see a dee-doe. I says, naw, I ain’t knowed nothing about no dee-doe. Any yall ever seed a dee-doo?”
There was a general murmuring as the mens tried the new word in their mouths: dee-doe. Robert was the first one to speak up to Tommy, “is dee-doe some kind of fancy name for a dick?”
“Well, yeah and no. It’s look like a full on hard on.”
“So you laid your eyes on it?”
“Yes, sir. Sure as I’m looking at you, I was looking at it.”
“What she do with it? I mean, she told you how she use it, how it go and all?”
“Yeah, she showed me. She had this strap she wrap round her waist and tie the dee-doe to it, and she be standing there with that thing just a sticking out and everything.”
When Tommy had said that, everything got quiet, quiet, quiet. None of the five men assembled in that room could imagine themselves being fucked by a woman with a dick strapped on her. Hell, it made them uncomfortable just to think on such a thing. Again, it was Robert what was the first and only one to speak up.
“Tommy, I don’t rightly know how to put this, so I don’t mean no offense or nothing, but she show you or, I mean, she told you how that thing go? I mean, she say they be some mens who wants her to put that dee-doe, or what-so-ever you call it, to put that thing up in ‘em, I mean stick it in they butt or what-so-ever? Huh?”
“Man, I don’t know all that. When she strapped it on and I looked upon that, I couldn’t think to say nothing. That shit was scary, and yall knows I ain’t no scary man, but brother, let me tell you, when you see a woman with a hard on dick strapped to her, it’ll scare the shit out of you.”
“What it made of?” Robert had asked, still curious as all get out.
“She told me I could touch it if I wanted to but I ain’t wanted to. From what I could see, it looked like bullwhip leather, at least the black one did. I don’t know what the white one was, ‘cause by then I was fully sobered up and was anxious to get out there. I ain’t cut out for all that crazy stuff they do down there.”
All the fellers were thinking the exact same thing: get out of there. Get far away as you can.
Far away as you can, Robert repeated the phrase in his mind. Louisiana was another world compared to Mississippi. And now here Robert was walking through Louisiana where the womens got dicks.