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Maybe you think that's a crude way to begin. But I can tell you that in all of my saintly, uncrude life, I've never seen anything totally crude, except for some of those photo-op delicacies Chef Timothy or Chef Bernard likes to put on your plate--at $50 an organic baby carrot.
Dine out often, you get to see your share of those carved-up deals. I've seen a melon swan, no bullshit. A tomato looking like a rose. I've even seen a mashed potato ocean, this big splat making little waves all around my meat.
Actually, I guess I have seen a few other crude things. A fumble on first down is as close to crude as you want to be. And a good many of those end-zone celebrations can be fairly crude, particularly when they dance all the way to Mozambique and back.
Then there are those tricks the fun-loving zebras like to play on you. Call holding whenever it strikes their fancy. Ground can't cause a fumble. Hands in the face. Pushing off. Defensive holding. Call "inadvertent" something or other. That kind of crude shit.
Life was simpler when me and Shake Tiller and T.J. played. The quarterback didn't wear an evening gown and a string of pearls. Passinterference was when you broke a guy's ribs. Today it's excessive frowning. Shake got so many ribs cracked on crossing patterns, he'd have a right to be a full-time painkiller dope fiend today.
We were sitting at the bar on a late April afternoon in T.J.'s new favorite hideout. A cozy tavern called He's Not Here.
I'd taken a flight out of La Guardia, landed at D/FW around two in the afternoon, and rented my Cadillac-Buick. A Cadillac-Buick was what my Uncle Kenneth used to call any car that cost more than the one he could afford to drive.
For me a Cadillac-Buick was something big enough to climb in and out of without getting a clubfoot or a withered arm.
Giving me directions to He's Not Here, T.J. had said, "Go out Camp Bowie past that freeway fork where you have to get killed, but not as far out as where women go to buy things." Which meant Neiman's. I'd eventually found the joint in an old shopping strip, snuggled in there with Ewell Dewell, chiropractor, Idella's Fashions, and Little Slim's Barber Shop.
The weather was an in-betweener. I was wearing my standard-issue khakis, brown loafers, white button-down shirt, and the dark blue windbreaker that advertised Mondo Bimbo, one of Shake Tiller's more deeply philosophical films.
I was also wearing my plaid golf cap, not as a disguise but to keep the Texas wind from making my thinning brown hair look like the last, tattered flag above the Alamo.
As I might have expected, He's Not Here was one of those establishments where you were likely to find a few more whipdog salesmen than you would polo players. Splotchy gray industrial carpet with tales to tell. A few tables from the oilcloth family. Dark booths along two walls. A filling station clock. A cigarette machine, a small parquet floor in a corner for the Freds and Gingers, and an L-shaped bar with swivel stools and Naugahyde padding for the elbows of customers who needed to think it over awhile longer before they went home to the cuss fight.
A jukebox and Fritos joint. Dining and dancing.
The tunes on the jukebox indicated that music began with Hank Williams and ended with Patsy Cline, but today's anthem, being played constantly, was Gary P. Nunn singing, "If You Don't Believe I Love You, Honey, Just Ask My Wife."
Much of what you needed to know about the ambience of He's Not Here could be found in the black lettering on the white sweatshirt worn by the convivial lady behind the bar. I didn't normally take the time to contemplate the messages on T-shirts and sweatshirts, but this one asked to be studied more closely. In black lettering, the message smartly said:
GO FUCK YOURSELF, IN CASE I FORGOT TO MENTION IT EARLIER
I asked the bartender what her name was. She said she'd like for it to be Michelle Pfeiffer, but she'd had to settle for Kelly Sue Woodley.
Her snug jeans suggested good legs. She had creamy skin, a sharp little nose, shrewd eyes of swimming-pool blue, and America hair. Amber waves of grain.
Good-looking stove. Lady somewhere in her forties. One who'd seen two husbands run off with go-go dancers, a mobile home burn down, and a Honda Civic wash away in a flood. But all that was purely a guess on my part. It had to do with the so-what expression on her face.
After T.J. made that romantic remark about the shapely adorable, I rattled the ice in my Junior and water and said I was glad to know he still read Keats and Shelley. Thought I was being funny.
"Shirt-lifters." The coach smirked.
"Look under an old boy's shirttail, see if he's got a mule dick."
"Shirt-lifters," I said again. "Keats and Shelley?"
"All them poets."
Not all of them, I said. I was pretty sure I remembered from college that old Percy Shelley tried to drop the hammer on every woman in Europe except the madonnas in the picture frames.
"Vast majority will lift your shirt," he said. "And you better not call 'em fags anymore, Billy Clyde. A bunch of sensitive sumbitches might run a parade through your livin' room."
I said I didn't need to be told that. I'd been to Broadway shows. I read newspapers. I watched television. I'd listened to acceptance speeches on Oscar night. I was aware the PC brigade even wanted to rewrite the Bible. One of these days I'd look up and God wouldn't be Our Father. God would be Our Ellen or Our Gavin, hallowed be thy sexual orientation.
"We get our share of PC crap around school," T.J. said. "Seems like every professor on campus can find something he wants to fuck with."
"I never did trust a man who carried sonnets in his pocket."
"Save the Hispanials. Salute the gender women. Support your local shirt-lifters. Teach more Africranium literature. I told our chancellor the other day his professors better not bring any of that do-good bullshit around my football players."
"It's good to have a chancellor you can talk to."
"He's a realist, you know that. Likes to win, get him another wing on the library. Get him one of those buildings where the beards and smocks jack around with test tubes . . . collect insects."
"I suppose shirt-lifter is better than fag," I said casually. "Sounds almost jovial."
"Shirt-lifters . . . greyhounds . . . Fifis . . ."
"They like their bus stations."
"I should have studied the poets closer."
"All I remember is some of the junk they tried to get you to read. If they were good poets, it rhymed. A bad poet didn't make any sense at all, except to other bad poets. I did notice the shirt-lifters wrote more about daffodils than they did pussy."
"Not easy to rhyme pussy," I said. "I guess Shakespeare found that out soon enough."
"I didn't have much luck with Shakespeare."
"Made people talk backwards is what I remember."
"Forsooth," T.J. said, his lip curled up on his pink face.