Picking up the Tab

I was at this red-hot “in” club back when Big D was hot and heavy and you had to say the exact term at the very right time or you were done. As the first air conditioning signs used to tout, ”It’s cool inside!” The waiter was miffed with this handsome Lothario, but he was severely rebuked. This lady of distinction who reminded me of Aunt Pittypat in Gone with the Wind picked up the tab. Many of you have seen Richard Gere in American Gigolo and this cat could par the Masters if you carded your score by laying it on thick. “Evelyn, tonight I shall make you my passionate prisoner of love!” No harm done. “Third rate romance, low rent rendezvous” — I just hoped she didn’t “get taken to the cleaners!” As the old song states, “The fundamental things apply as time goes by.” This action is the same for old men. I knew this World War II vet who served in Italy and had the hots for young Latin men. He was always coming by this halfway house where I worked looking for a young man to “save”. He made some good donations and the staff went for his pitch, so being a general flunky, I stayed out of the way, but he was such a nice guy I tried to drop a tidbit and not set him straight. You don’t set people straight to begin with. He wanted to give the lad special attention, and so arrangements were made so Roberto could live with the elderly gentleman. The kid was hardcore gang and talked like a sailor until chapel time when he mugged for the minister who ran our unit. They say the devil can appear as a ray of light and this guy was the Ray Charles of light. Pure jazz, baby. The old man began to giggle as Roberto slid into the seat of this really nice pickup, and off they went to the races. A month later Mr. Calhoun (not his real name) sneaked back up to our halfway house and buttonholed me. “You look like one of the world?” he inquired. I said, “If we are talking about planet Earth, game on!” “How do I file a police report?” “Well, you play ball with the cops, you always clue the cops in on the sweet part of what came down your alley!” “There are things, things I can’t bear to…” “Well, all you have to do is tell them he stole off of you and they will figure out the right jargon and start the slap sheet, no problem.” “There was something in him, deep down, the indefinable…” “In philosophy, the ineffable.” “A real spiritual quality!” Mr. Calhoun had not come clean with the Hispanic version of Warren Beatty. I will hand it to that kid — you get the mark to feed you. At first Mr. Calhoun showed the lad a little of his stash, but he had the crown jewels, and the kid was going to sniff it out like a mongoose would do with a cobra den. My favorite Kipling story is “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and this was it. Sure he went to the cops, but our south-of-the-border Zorro had left the big “Z” and doing the Johnny Rodriguez thing of “ridin’ my thumb to Mexico”. The old man was heartbroken. A lot of folks gave up on Rudyard Kipling because he came from the British Empire, and some say he is “racist”, but you have to take the good with the bad and read through to get the kernel of truth he is trying to get to in an ageless way. We are so cold and impersonal today and would not walk across the street; no one did try to set Mr. Calhoun straight. It is not cool. I knew I was a moral coward. We had a lot of good guys from all races trying to kick drugs and crime, and Mr. Calhoun centered on this guy who was a real king cobra. A mongoose taking on a cobra is not a pretty thing. I had a friend who was an officer and a military advisor to Thailand, and in their really nice restaurants they have pits where they stage mongoose and cobra fights. “That is a fifty-fifty proposition. Sometimes the mongoose wins and sometimes the cobra. You know what?” “What is that, soldier?” “The people cheer no matter who wins!” “Human nature?” “You bet!” Soldier on.

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