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Rondell
Departure Point Portland: 12/7/21
It does not feel like a fortunate lot when you’re bed ridden one in three days, your ears ring like fire alarms and an eye flames like the flash-point of pain itself. But this ivory-backed hoodrat counts himself lucky.
I am warned by a text from the editor, before I amble on down to the bar some two miles hence:
“Portland PD just tweeted ‘Due to critical incidents happening today and PPB’s staffing shortage, officers are responding to priority 1 and priority 2 calls only right now and response times may be delayed for certain calls.”
Confident that “scrawny old paleface failing to kneel to his ebony master at 79th and Foster” is not above a priority 3, I look forward to having a few cold ones with the oldsters at the non-hipster bar. I’ll make sure I’m armed and plan on taking shoelaces as trophies rather than actual scalps…
My host tells me that “houseless” tweakers are actually taking over family homes and the police are doing nothing, which thrills this old kook. Any man who permits another man to come in and take over his house deserves no help from the goons in blew.
As I walk in the misty fall of night, towards Mount Hood, I note that the Shanteefa posters against the PPB, crooning about how the police are so corrupt in this town that the DOJ is investigating them, are being vandalized and taken down. Shanteefa is losing ground as the cops punish their supporters by declining to demonstrate a sense of urgency.
At the bar though, I feel kind of bad. For the old folks down there, people still working hard in their 50s and 60s, Asians, Indians and palefaces are worried about the crime and even afraid to describe the men who have robbed their neighbors, carjacked their neighbors and generally terrorized non-combatants. I listen and tell a story of my sparring-partner and co-manager getting run over by a Buick during a robbery some 17 years ago.
A cute native doll offers to buy me a beer and I say, “Please, don’t. I don’t want people thinking I’m taking advantage of you—they know I’m a hobo.”
She smiles, “Maybe I’m taking advantage of you!”
“Eesh,” so Manny would say, as I accept the Coors Light pint with a, “Thank you.”
Old Sarge comes shuffling in with yellow rain coat and flash light and the Chinese barmaid, all dolled up behind the counter, hisses at him, “Look at me, stupid me, all dressed up for you, Sarge, you cheater! Where you been! You late for me! You buy beer from some udda bitch—you a cheat on me!”
Sarge looks at me and grins, happy that he was missed
The front door is locked. Mister Lee wants to be able to filter folks coming in. The area is getting more dangerous by the day.
In walk two disciples of Floyd Christ, a regular Mutt and Jeff of post-civic melinated martyrdom: a 5-foot tall, caramel negro, who would have been getting picked on by dark-skinned blacks back in Baltimore, and a large dark-skinned fellow in urban camo pants and Seattle Sea Hawks athletic attire, who would have been “thrown under the bus” by his black coworkers back in Baltimore.
The patrons were somewhat nervous.
The tiny twerp was known to the barmaids. They said hello, and invited them to stay, but noting the staggering gait of the large man, offered him water and said they would not serve him alcohol. The little guy said they just wanted to play the slot machines and that he was helping his friend sober up before the journey home. They seemed nice fellows.
The native chick next to me was plainly nervous when the little guy started soliciting Black Lives Matter pledges from the people to her left. The old boomer man left. The off duty barmaid began arguing that “all lives mattered” to the pleading twerp, who avoided this old cook like the plague.
However, I noted that the little Indian lady was noting that the big staggering buck was eyeing me with interest, and seemed afraid of some alternation. He was standing and half staggering three paces to my left, the twerp to her right, she to mine. I spun my bar chair and leaned back, looking directly up at him and said, “Hey, man.”
“Coach,” he said, pointing to my eye, “what happened?”
He stepped close and I shook his hand and said, “Used to box.”
“I did too,” he grinned boyishly.
I pointed at his shoulders and said, “205, and you still look to be fight weight at 35, good on you.”
He smiled wide, “You seen me fight! I knew it—too good to be true! Please tell me its you, Carl.”
“Name’s James,” as we bumped fists and declared, “I’m Rondell, 36 years old like you almos’ guessed en still 205!”
“You look good. Most fighters at your age are all bloated up.”
“I was born in Washington State. Wasn’t no one dat looked like me nowhere around. I had no daddy. Ma Mamma, she nowhere ta be found. So Carl Johnson, Mister Carl Johnson, loogs exactly like you, he were ma daddy—a good man! I played basketball, run track, football en boxed.”
Noting that there was something the matter neurologically, that it was not just alcohol, I asked, “How are you doin’ now?”
“Well, I got me a tra-mat-ic brain injury—got shot in da head right here! [Points to left side of the head above the ear.]
“I was ova en out. Dey had ta go in down hea’ ta ged to my brain fo da srgery.” [Pulls open hooded sweatshirt and shows a surgical scar that looks like it was from a breathing tube, between his Adam’s apple and his breast bone.]
“So, sir, can’t box no more—but I doin’ okay. Thanks for askin’.”
[Bumps fist.]
“How ‘bout you, how’s your eye?”
“Oh, its there, my good eye actually. I just can’t stand the lights at night, will set it off like a firecracker.”
“I get it. But you doin’ okay, right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Good, good—let me buy you a beer, Sir.”
“Thank you Rondell, but this nice lady here already bought me one and I think it will have to be the last. If I drink too much my eye blows up.”
Rondell then stops, looks over me down at the tiny Indian woman and grins, “Oh, I got cha, Sir. I got cha! Hi Miss. My name is Rondell and this man here, he the very image of the only father I ever did have!”
The Black Lives Matter [more] whining of the tiny caramel twerp abated as Rondell engulfed me in a big bear-like hug and drawled, “Carl Johnson, the best man I ever knowed—you his very image!”
I hugged him back and said, “Well, the best man I ever knew is named Johnson, so that fits.”
“Oh, heck, Sir, you might be a Johnson and not know...and for all I know I might be a You!”
The tiny twerp seemed uncomfortable with the knucklehead man-love and motioned his fellow that it was time to depart.
After another two hugs, three fist bumps and a come back to shake hands between Rondell and me, the little Indian girl looked up at me with eyes wide and asked, “Where are you from, again?”
I grinned and salted my left palm, took a lick, and as I raised my beer glass grinned, “A dark place, darlin’...a dark and sordid place.”
The beer was cold and the night air outside was so thick we could hardly see out the windows into the dripping night where War’s slave Discord dreamed its fever dreams of division.
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Mike_CMar 21, 2022

Thank you for this oddly beautiful story.

Small moments of Grace, and flashes of the possibility of redemption, are everywhere, if only we are open to noticing them.
Jules SmithMar 23, 2022

That was a great read and beautifully written.
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