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‘This Stays Here’
Late Lunch with an Operator: Timonium, MD: 6/22/2022
© 2022 James LaFond
I received a text from a man I used to coach with knives, sticks and fists at Jimmy Frederick’s Kempo. He usually trained alone, had a key to the school and did forty minutes of hard shadow work in the dressing room while we were on the floor. He would come and go while we were sparring, stop, watch, salute on the way in, and do the same by the door on the way out.
On some occasions we would be gearing up or down in the dressing room, which was an accommodating space, and The Operator would talk to us, ask us questions about what we did. I discovered that Jimmy gave him privates and had suggested he train with me also. Jimmy told us both that it would be so, and since I trained for free at his school, I gave The Operator’s fees to Jimmy. When The Operator found this out, he would overpay me, pay me double, and say, “That $50 is for you, My Friend.”
The Operator has always worn a suit and jacket, slacks, hard dress shoes. Whatever work he does is out of his car, as his passenger seat in the unassuming sedan is cluttered just like those of retail food sales reps and accountants that I have known, a side desk for a man who does business at multiple locations.
He texted me that we would meet for a late lunch at The Nautilus Diner on York Road. That was this time last week. It is Tuesday. Last week we met on Wednesday.
His hair has grown long. He is pure Irish from Boston and still carries that accent. He talks with his hands in a shaping way, not like some jocular Med thug, or flamboyant Latino, but like a thinking man of wicked hand using his dexterous tools to compress and impose his will upon his words. His hands do not rest and occasionally usher an overture statement or punctuate it, like a more considered western man.
He often opens both hands and grins as he is trying to make himself clear on details of discussion, usually related to exactly how you stab, beat, bludgeon, shoot, kick, stomp, run over, outwit or slash a foe. He does not like how he frames these things and extends both hands to me with an open ready smile form his narrow likely face and I complete his thought, always seemingly in a manner that he is more pleased with than what was trying to emerge from his mind.
“Brutha, that is why I come to you—that is why we are here. You are a reflection on the real deal. You’ve done the work in the gym, fought the fights and survived out there, in my element. You translate me for me! I’m a little squib—I’ll never be heavier than 160 and don’t wanna be and, brutha, even though you are a lot stronger than me, it is a fact that we are little dudes living in the land of giants—these fuckers are big out here! I need my edge and you—even though we only worked maybe a dozen times—have done more for that than anybody. Look at you, you’re fit and you’re the man with the blade. There is something about the blade that binds us—Now this stays here:
[redacted, about an hour of violent stories and training sessions with various instructors we both know]
And so went the concord of two, discussing knife carry, use, training, etc.
“Brutha, we have to train. My business is, well, it is what it is. I am so sorry for being late and I want to make it up to you to drive you to your next spot. It has always amazed me that you were a guy on foot, that you even dealt with that situation around those—excuse me—fucking savages, for a month, a year, let alone a life time. I’m glad you’re in a better place, you look fit...we’ll train in my office unless I fuck that up—which, well, that’s a coin toss!”
He was a charming dynamo with the waitresses, even demanding the two cutest girls in the place attend us and tipping them both $20. Before we leave, after he has watched in amazement as I eat butter and drink coffee rather than let him buy me a steak, he hits on the subject that we always discussed at least once when we trained: women, or rather the sea of available women we swim in as we avoid the terminal attentions of Leviathan.
“Okay, as you may have guessed, I’m still with the ball and chain…” [plucks suit jacket color in disdain] “...although you might not have guessed it by the state of the threads: collar not starched, a stain on the slacks—what the fuck?”
“It’s an open relationship. She’s convenient, not bad looking, rent is cheap. I have the basement apartment, come and go as I please. I can care less who else she sees so long as that shit is not coming my way, right, am I right?”
“Yes, absolutely,” I agree.
“I mostly eat out. I don’t bring any of the young girls home—see them at their place, know, I like what I like—brutha this stripper I was dating until last week was to die for—well, until she was ta die for if you catch my drift. I had to break that off. The thing is, the ball and chain is just as heavy as it ever was and not as shinny. So, I have a talk with her daughter, who I get along with, and I tell her, ‘Look, your mom is slipping up here. Maybe you can break it to her easier then me. The food is good, things are quiet enough when I get in, but the threads, they’re suffering. My stuff has to be tight, collars starched, clothes folded along the military line—this is my uniform, got me. Point is, I need a reason to stay! I need to want to stay. Maybe you can get that through to Mom somewhat nicer then how I’m putting—the location is great...don’t get me wrong, we gotta good thing here…’
“The point is, Mister James, you have a lighter touch with the ladies than I do. So was I off base?”
“Oh, no, based on your diplomatic skill set I think that was the way to go.”
“Let’s go, Mister James, I got some business—you sure you don’t want anything to go?”
On the back lot he opens his car and says, “This is embarrassing. I can’t have you sitting in this, Mister James. Is there anybody looking?”
“No, clear.”
The trash is raked out off the passenger side seat and mat onto the parking lot.
“That didn’t happen!”
I wait for him to get in and start the car and then I sit down and he points at me, “You are the only one that does that! I love that—you respect that this world is out to kill us, and you give the enemy it’s proper due. No one else I know realizes that this is where you get killed, where the bullet sinks into your brain, right when you get in your car.”
The Operator drops me off at The Esoteric Cafe and we go over some training protocols, and shake hands. Later that night he asks me by text for a mailing address.
Last night, I received an envelop with a hand printed missive:
“MR. James,
“Never know how schedules will go, but, as usual, I learned from our lunch/meeting. Glad you’re feeling better. Thanks for the info./motivation session.”
[name redacted]
Within the folded paper was a check for $300.
Wow, thank you, Sir.
‘This Fuggin’ Goldenskin Homeboy’
guerilla masculinity
The Eaters Bark
the combat space
song of the secret gardener
within leviathan’s craw
broken dance
let the world fend for itself
winter of a fighting life
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