|If Black Beard enameled his nails, |
he would've colored them black.
I have an aura about me that draws the freaks of nature out of the woodwork to confront, confuse, and sometimes amuse me whenever I wait more than fifteen minutes at a train or bus station.
I know, they say it's safer and flying is more convenient, and faster, and crying babies need be tolerated for far less time, but perception-warps sponsored by the likes of Black-Jack Fingernails, rarely happen at airline terminals.
I had my carry-on bag, laptop, and Mom’s guitar case with me twelve hours before my train’s ETD in the early morning. Sitting on the hard-wooden bench, I made myself as comfortable as I could and opened a Tana French novel to pass the time when I saw him come in the door.
This was how I met Black-Jack Fingernails. He was wearing sweats, I later saw that his hoodie had CCC Firefighter printed on the back. He had a red windbreaker tied at his waist over a studded leather belt over his sweats. He looked the part of a regular Black-Jack Sparrow… but not at all as fem as Johnny Depp. Though he could pass for any sub-tropical ethnic with mocha complexion and brown eyes, I call him Black-Jack because his fingernails were enameled black. The enamel flashed when he tossed back his hoodie to expose his head of wild hair in beaded braids and dreds that sprung out around a bald pate at the top too messy to be real notty-dreds... not quite Rasta. And his black beard was accented by whited streaks down the middle of his chin that gave off the appearance of a rabid dog foaming at the mouth and his dark eyes darted about as though seeking out prey.
I knew he would soon zone in on me soon after my 15 minutes of allotted nut-cases immunity at the train station. Not that he’s a nut case, I’m not one to judge, or to diagnose, his mental state. But he approached as a whirl of erratic motions. I felt that crazy vibe about him that could be violent and went inside to samadhi-land where shelter’s balance can find its head in the sand. At least that’s what I thought originally. No, he was looking for a friendly face… that’s all I think.
He opened a conversation with a set of questions, “I’m Jack. What time does your bus leave?”
I grunted, “I’m taking the train.”
Excited, he exclaimed, “Oh, me too, do you know what time? I need to get to Redding?”
My thought was, oh shit, he wants to be buddies. I didn’t want to tell him I was going on that same train but to be polite I did my duty to civilized behavior on the behalf of this wild-man and said, “That train leaves at 02:45 in the morning.”
"Oh, military time. Me too. You in Nam?"
Maybe so he'd think we had nothing in common, I attempted to distance myself, and said, "Not combat. Navy. Off-shore, never touched dirt there."
"So, makes no diff, you were there. So was I, Screamin' Eagle, Hamburger Hill."
I wasn't so sure he was old enough but anything's possible, so I acted impressed, "Hat's off to you."
He wasn't done with me because I'd opened my mouth. Now we were as good as brothers and he continued as though I'd said nothing, “I axed the bus lady and she said they have a bus going before then… I don’t remember when, but sooner than that. But I think the train’s cheaper.”
Hoping to ward off his enthusiasm to be best pals, I said, “I don’t know about that. It’s been my experience that the train costs more.”
As though it was established we were buddies for the next twelve hours, he either didn't here me, or it was bound to be a one-way conversation. After discussing of and on several times the difference between bus fares and train fares, he dove into his tale, “Say, you know, a bit ago I was hungry, you know.”
Oh hell, he had a story he was aching to tell someone, and I was it. I played with the pages of my book to signal that I’m already engrossed in a story and said, “Yeah?”
He wasn't at all going to allow me to hide in the pages and began, if it is true, a mildly shocking diatribe, saying, “And I went out to the parking lot where I meet this guy that says a taco stand comes by every day. So, we walk out there around the corner to where he says it parks. I says, I’m from California, I can smell a taco truck a mile away, you know? He says I can’t smell it cause it’s not here yet.”
Black-Jack had me hooked with "smelling a taco truck," and I was listening to him now. He gave me no time to answer anything more than an, "Uh huh," because his delivery was not to be interrupted.
He continued his narrative, “Well, there’s no taco truck and I’m thinkin’ okay, what now? The guy says, I know where there’s a hot-dog stand down the street. Right then and there a light came on you know a red-flag thing… when he starts goin’ on ’bout Mexicans bein’ here and no respect for the way things go. Bing-bing-bing and another red-flag pops up in here!” he slaps the side of his head with his palm flashing black fingernails and says, “Duh, I’m thinkin’, the guy’s a racist or sumpin and wonder what he’s up to about that fuckin’ hotdog stand down the street talking racist shit when bing, bing, bam... another red-flag goes off. What do I look white, like Donald Trump, to him? Then we pass an alley. He says, hey let’s take that shortcut. I start to walk in with him, you know, only a few feet, you know just outa sight from anyone, you know. Bing, bing, bing, bing, all the dashlights in my head are lit. I’m sayin’, Naw, an’ I says, I ain’t goin’ no further down no alley. The guy grabs my arm, right here at the shoulder, you know and says, the alleys here are safe. Naw, I jerk my arm loose and say, an alley’s an alley. What do you mean this alley is safe you fucker? But he just repeats himself and then I think fuck him, and I plant a round-house on the side of his head… man my wrist hurts like I broke it.”
When Black-Jack said, "a round house," amused, I thought, I hadn’t heard that term since Archie Moore’s day. But now Black-Jack Fingernails has my full attention and I check to make sure my walking stick is kung-fu near-by.
Fingernails kept talking, gesturing with both hands swearing, “I ain’t into violence, you know. So, the mother-fucker hits the ground and is layin’ there like he’s dead. So, I goes through his clothes. He don’t move the whole time, and all I find’s a twenty. Well fuck him. I take the twenty and then I have to piss so I yank my prick out and piss on his head. He still didn’t move but I gots his twenty, and so I went to that convenience store and bought this.” He dangled his prize; a styro-foam sandwich box in a plastic bag and laughed a hearty pirate, “Har-dee-har! Made the fucker buy me lunch sorta and then I pissed on his face!”
Black-Jack Fingernail's story, while mildly amusing at first, had gone darker than night and all I wanted to do was run, but I stayed steady inside my head where there’s no fear… exhale, breathe… calm… steady… inhale, steady, calm, breathe.
The Amtrak ticket window wasn't open until ten pm because ours is one of two trains takes passengers out of Spokane and that's one eastbound at 01:30 and another southbound at 02:55. Black-Jack Fingernails was in and out of the station several times until then. Plopping down on the bench in front of me he rubbed is forearm with one hand and moaned, “Shit, I think I broke my wrist. So, you think the train costs more? I don’t think so man. I don't care, I’m gonna get a ticket.”
He came back from getting his ticket and when he saw my Mom’s guitar case he asked, “Shit, it did cost more. Too late for the bus though. You play guitar? So do I! Hope I still can with this wrist, you know. What is it, a Martin?”
I answered, “Yamaha, it’s a Japanese guitar. But it's a damned good one."
He got more excited and shouted, "Kinda like tellin' a Harley rider that my bike’s a Honda. Hey, you ride? I can tell. You ride, huh. A biker don’t give a shit what the fuck what anyone on two wheels rides and git-players don't either. From the looks of that case, I bet you been playin' it a lot. You been around too... must be good, eh?"
I agree but I’m more concerned that he might want me to play. Mom’s guitar is in a cheap, beat-to-shit, case and that makes it look like an equally beat-up old fart my age ought to be the best damned guitar player on the planet after years of playing it around campfires. I was ready to admit that appearances are deceiving at times and that I’d never played a lick on it or any other guitar. I’d merely promised my Mom I’d try to learn at her memorial and took it home with me. My inheritance.
My anxiety was relieved when he babbled on, “I’m good… played with the Ramones. Joey Ramone gave me this guitar-strap. Worth some money… see,”
He reached under his shirt and pulled a studded black leather guitar strap from the layers of sweats and I see it has a KISS belt buckle. He tries to cover it with the hand adorned with black enameled fingernails but sees that I’m looking at it and before I can say anything, he asked, “Do you smoke?”
I’m thinking that it’s a threatening gesture… the belt with studs is a perfect weapon to whack the fuck out of someone and that someone could be me.
He asks again, “Do you smoke pot?”
“Naw, quit, can’t afford it.”
“I wish I could find someone that can sell me some.”
“There’s pot shops on damned near every corner around here.”
“Really, where? Can you show me. I gots money to buy?”
I was waiting for an invitation to leave the station out of view from the public where he could use my face as his private urinal.
Declining the offer, “Just check it out, man. I gotta stay here with my stuff.” and he got-up off the bench.
"I gotta get some pot, I'll be back, ha, like Arnold, you know. I'll be back, get it?" then he left out the door and came back several times to bounce his stories off the walls and other folks... of Rock Stardom and giving-up fortune and fame to take care of his kids and baby-mama. He was full of shit, maybe some of it was true... and maybe he played with Kiss, or the Ramones, or thought they were the Ramones... Maybe he didn't knock out the taco guy, or piss on him, and maybe he did, and Most likely, the CCC Firefighters Hoodie came from a thrift-store. But I have a feeling he was at Hamburger Hill because he never spoke of it, and it turned out that he was a sweet guy who told a good story.
Later on, while in line to check in our baggage he saw me and, like a child greeting a long-lost friend, he hollered, “Say, I met you before... when I first came in, remember?”
Innocent, see what I mean?
Every time he saw me on that train ride from Spokane to Redding his eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “Hey, remember me, we met in Spokane.”
“How could I forget, of course I remember you.”
So that’s how I met Black-Jack Fingernails and that's why I like waiting at train and bus stations. You just never know when someone is going to become an adventure.