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St. Louis, Missouri, placed right smack in the heart of America and left of the Mississippi River that flows from north to south and through the midwestern region like a major artery, was sizzling hot in the month of May 1999. So hot was the city of St. Louis in the springtime that younger women were already wearing suffocating shorts with pockets so tight you could barely stick a dime in them. They wore thigh-high skirts and stomach-length shirts with those look-at-me-right-now colors: bright greens, luscious oranges, cool blues, bleached whites, bumblebee yellows, and whatnot. And these young women were showing far too much skin for the guys in St. Louis to handle, too much, in fact, for young men anywhere! Especially in the springtime when the hormones jumped Double Dutch on the brain. Maybe it was the heat of those outfits that drove the young guys insane. Then again, they were not supposed to notice, I guess. Or maybe not acknowledge that they noticed. At least not with their immature whistling, X-ray-vision stares, verbal expressions of rawness, and plenty of other things they felt so desperate to scream from their slow-moving cars, or from the well-worn corners that they loved to stand on from sunup to sundown.
"Haaay, sweet lady! Whoooweee!" some of the men shouted as the midday sun forced them to routinely check the sweat on the back of their roasting necks.
Ant and Tone fit right in with that overzealous crowd. Both young, shiny brown, and male, they were just as eager to peel off those two layers of clothing and get naked with the young brown women who walked the hot, springtime streets of St. Louis as the much older men admitted to. But at ages twenty-seven and twenty-eight, respectively, a separation of philosophy was apparent. Ant, while letting Tone drive his 1979 cranberry-colored Chevy, was becoming more creative in his approach to the mating game. In his field of work as an auto mechanic, he had enough thinking time on his hands to come up with a few new lines. Lines that would stop a curious woman in her tracks. Or at least he hoped that they would. So he practiced them. Sometimes to his partner Tone, but mainly to himself, to figure out a perfect rhythm of entrapment, like a young lion in training, leaping through the high grasses of Africa, over and over again.
"Man, I love the springtime!" Tone expressed to his partner, watching everything as they cruised the forever busy Kingshighway Boulevard with the windows rolled down. It was lunch hour, and shapely women were everywhere! Tone was in heaven as he drove, decked out in a bright red St. Louis Cardinals baseball jersey.
Ant, still in his work clothes, a short sleeved denim jumpsuit, didn't allow Tone to drive his car every day. He wanted to make certain he wouldn't look back on the experience as a big mistake.
"Yeah, well, just make sure you pay attention to the road," he warned, protective of his car.
Tone said, "Look, man, your car is in good hands. Aw'ight? Damn! You act like this ride is alive or something."
Ant looked at Tone's dark brown hands on his wood-and-chrome steering wheel and smiled. "She is alive. And her name is Bernadette."
Tone chuckled. "Yeah, that sounds like an old-ass name for her, too. She about twenty years old. That might as well be sixty in human years."
"She in good shape though," Ant countered. "That's why everybody be ridin' me to get in."
"You spent about a million dollars on her," Tone said. "She done had a face lift, lippo-suction, and every damn thing."
Tone grinned and considered his friend crazy, while catching something interesting on the sidewalk to his right.
"Go 'head, Ant. Say that line you been workin' on to this one?"
Tone was smiling for miles. But he just didn't get it. Ant didn't want to waste his choice words and creativity on just any two legs walking by. He had big plans for his new material. The way he looked at it, it was like having one bullet left inside a six-shooter with a murderer in hot pursuit of his warm body.
Ant was shaking his head before he even looked at the woman.
"Naw, man, you just don't say it to anybody."
Then he looked her over, as she walked down the sidewalk to his right. She was just as shiny brown as he was, and tall. Ant never liked tall women. It was something about the way they walked, almost as if they were falling over; uncoordinated. On the other hand, if they walked tall and straight, they seemed like giants to him, like those Russian and German women in the Olympics of the seventies and eighties that he had watched with his older brothers and uncles. Those extra-long superwomen. Yet, this brown sister walking down Kingshighway was nowhere near that tall! Ant just didn't want to use any of his lines on her. She wasn't climactic enough on the Johnson scale. He didn't feel it for her down low. Or not as strong as he wanted to.
"She too tall anyway," he complained to his partner.
Ant was only five ten, and Tone was even shorter at five nine. But Tone loved tall women! It was all in the long brown legs, feeding his freaky visions of tree climbing.
"Man, go 'head and say it, and stop making excuses. She right there. Look at her," he challenged.
Ant took another peek at her. She was right there; he could probably reach out and touch her arm with his right hand, which rested atop his passenger-side door. She was even close to their age, a young working woman. They could see it in her face and in her outfit: a conservative blue knee-high dress with soft leather shoes and flesh-tone stockings. Even her hairstyle was conservative, straightened and curled at the edges with no artificial coloring. She had class and full maturity. However, she was walking as if she had a schedule to hold but was trying her best to ignore it. In fact, her pace was too calculated, almost as if she was expecting someone to stop her. That was the only thing that made Ant want to talk to her. She seemed ripe for practice.
Before he realized it, he opened his mouth in her direction while his Chevy eased alongside her with his friend Tone, full of expectations, at the wheel.
"Hey, miss?" Ant waited to catch her eyes, like a fish to the worm. Only then would he finish his precious line. "You wanna make a trade with me?"
That's when his heart rate increased. He had done his part, and now she had to do hers, while Tone prepared to burst in half from all of the tension involved.
First she looked at the car, which had a brand-new paint job and shiny chrome rims. She just knew he wasn't referring to trading that car for something. It looked as if they had put a lot of work into it. Yet, she was curious. Game bait.
"A trade? Trade for what?" she asked him.
"A piece of me for a piece of you."
The world just stopped and stood still for a second, like a dancer on freeze. Then she smiled, shook her head, and decided that it was time to cross the street.
Tone looked into Ant's dejected face and burst into laughter.
"I told you that shit wasn't gon' work!"
"Aw, man, first you said it was genius."
"Genius? I don't even use that word. So you know I didn't say that. You told yourself that shit."
Ant was disappointed. It was the wrong woman for his line. But at least he got her attention long enough to say it. And she smiled. What did that mean? Was she at least impressed, or simply amused? Nevertheless, she had walked away, and his originality was wasted.
"Take me back to work," he pouted. "I'll drop you off on Grand."
Tone continued to laugh and went on to tease him. "Awww, the little girl mad now 'cause his line didn't work."
Ant shook his head, denying it. "Whatever, man. I gotta get back to work. Make a left on Delmar." Then he added with a smile, "I got way more girls than you anyway," just for ego purposes.
Tone studied his friend's smooth brown face and low-cut hair for a second. He always wished that his own face could be so smooth, or that his own hair could look so neat. Even Ant's trimmed mustache was right on the money. Tone realized there was nothing he could say about his friend's comment, because it was true. Ant had more numerous and, more importantly, willing companions.
Ever since they first met in Jennings, Missouri, just outside of northern St. Louis, they had competed for the opposite sex, athletic bragging rights, and even for the use of their name. With the same birth name of Anthony, Anthony Wallace, a year older, quickly secured the more desirable title of "Tone," while for a short period of time, the younger, Anthony Poole, was known as "Little Tone." The younger Anthony was never able to swallow that humble piece of pie, so he informed everyone to call him "Ant" instead. And ever since the girls began to notice and to pass out home phone numbers on small pieces of paper, they almost unanimously preferred to give them to "Ant" rather than to "Tone." Then the younger Anthony went on to outgrow his older friend anyway, physically as well as mentally.
Tone contemplated it all, and came up with the only weak response that he could offer. "Yeah, well, you didn't get that girl." Then he began to smile, realizing full well that Ant's ego had always gotten the best of him. He just had to have everything his way.
Ant said, "Man, that girl wasn't all that. I got plenty of girls who look better than her."
"You don't have her though."
"I don't need that girl! I only talked to her 'cause you kept ridin' me about it."
"Yeah, 'cause you thought your line was all that. I told you it wasn't gon' work."
Tone was loving it! Egging Ant on was how he managed to keep their friendship in equilibrium. And if his partner was such a greater man, Tone figured he would have moved on to higher ground a long time ago.
"Look, man, I don't need no line to get that girl!"
"You wanna ride back there and talk to her again?"
If Ant were ever a violent guy like Tone could be, it was times like these where he would have punched Tone in his sometimes-gold-tooth-wearing mouth.
He shook his head instead, planning on ignoring it all. "Look, man, just pull over on Grand Boulevard so I can get back to work."
Tone nodded, knowing his fun had come to an end. Ant was still a good partner to him, and one of the few trusted friends that he still had from the old neighborhood who hadn't moved on, moved away, gotten married, been locked up for a number of years, or been killed in the street life.
Ant had always managed to keep his nose clean with a lifelong passion for cars that he had acquired from his well-schooled family of uncles and older brothers. They had all loved, repaired, and remodeled cars. His second brother even did time in jail for proving that he could steal them. Ant thought that was rather ridiculous. Sure, he loved cars like the rest of the men in his family, but he damn sure wasn't willing to go to jail for one!
Tone, on the other hand, had a long record of petty everything: theft, assault, drug selling, and even a few sex charges that he was fortunate to escape doing any hard time for. He seemed to know just when to stop to avoid a real prison bid. He had never dedicated himself one way or the other, negative or positive. He couldn't keep a job or a hustle long enough to make progress. In a word, he was a slacker, one who lacked the desire and dedication to become all that he could be.
But the two of them were partners, through thick and thin, long and short, high and low, and rough and smooth.
"So, what's up for later on, man?" Tone asked, holding on to the wheel as if he owned it. "You wanna head down to the casinos and see who down there?" As usual, Tone didn't have much of anything on his schedule, so driving around during Ant's lunch hour only served as a tease.
Ant shook his head. He was getting rather tired of doing the same things day in, day out for what seemed like twenty years. "Naw, man, it ain't nothin' new going on down there. I get tired of them places."
"What do you want to do then, go to East Boogie tonight, and see what's going on over there?"
Ant frowned. "East St. Louis looks plain depressing, man. Last time I was over there, I almost got in a shoot-out. That city needs a real makeover."
Tone looked surprised as he pulled over on Grand Boulevard to return the wheel to its owner.
"You was almost in a shoot-out? When?"
"Two weeks ago."
Tone still looked surprised. "You got a gun now?"
"Naw, man, I was with my cousin. He had his gun."
Tone started to laugh again as he climbed out of the car. "Yeah, I ain't think ya' ass had no gun."
Ant slid over into the driver's seat. "I don't need no gun. The only gun I need is right here," he bragged, grabbing his crotch under the wheel.
"Yeah, well, you better stay away from all these microwaves while you out here chasing miniskirts. Or that gun'll be burnin' ya' ass up."
"Naw, boy, that's your style, not mine. I deal with only clean toasters. And you need to stay your behind out of them rusty parks."
Tone grinned and said, "Yeah, whatever, dawg. Just get wit' me later on."
"Aw'ight, I'll see what I can do."
Tone stopped and looked back at the car, knowing better. "You not gon' front on me tonight, are you?"
Ant didn't want to promise him anything. "I told you, I'll see what I can do, man."
Tone stood frozen and began to doubt. "Look, man, if you wanna go solo tonight and drive around, wandering the streets like a damn cat, then let me know, and I won't bother you. 'Cause you be actin' like a damn girl when you get in them moods."
"Or, I might just have plans to get with one tonight," Ant responded, grinning.
"Not with that line you used earlier," his friend started up again. "'Hey, girl, you wanna make a trade wit' me?'"
Ant turned his head, disgusted, and drove off. Tone continued to laugh from the sidewalk, heading straight for the open parks of St. Louis, and to his favorite benches under the shade of tall trees. And once he got there, he planned to shoot the breeze and possibly share some good weed with whoever was out and willing.
While driving south on Grand Boulevard, Ant headed back to Paul's Fix It Shop on Gravois Avenue, the far south side of St. Louis, where he worked from Monday through Saturday. As he drove, he thought deeply about all of the seemingly wasted moments of his life. What was it all for? What was he heading toward? And where did he really want to be? It damn sure wasn't hanging out on the streets every night with Tone. There had to be more to life than that!
Then he thought about the tall brown sister on Kingshighway, and exactly what her smile meant. Maybe she was interested. Then again, maybe not. After all, she did shake her head and cross the street. How interested could she be?
"If I offered her a million dollars, she wouldn't have crossed the street," he fretted to himself. "Then again, I ain't got a million dollars to offer her."
Then he wondered if she would tell all of her girlfriends, cousins, and her mother about his line. Women would always run their mouths about a good line. He had been with enough of them to know. They almost seemed to brag about the lines that different guys used. That's how he knew, for sure, that creativity, delivery, and timing were all-important necessities in picking up a woman. A well-executed line and a truckload of money seemed to go a long way.
"Yeah, she gon' tell people," he convinced himself. "And once she tells about five people, and they run their mouths to about five more, my damn line'll be ruined forever."
The more he thought about it, the more annoyed he became.
"Shit! I knew I shouldn't have listened to Tone. He don't know the first thing about women. He just made me waste a damn good line for nothing. That girl wasn't even all that good lookin'."
So Ant headed on back to work with plenty on his mind, in search of some kind of fulfillment and the real meaning of life, something that Tone didn't seem to give two shits about. In the meantime, they were both just counting the days as they slipped on by. However, for Tone, those days seemed filled with any and every thing. But for Ant, they were more like a glass jar of emptiness.
Copyright © 1999 by Omar Tyree