'Do you see this glass? I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. But when the wind blows and the glass falls off the shelf and breaks or if my elbow hits it and it falls to the ground I say of course. But when I know that the glass is already broken every minute with it is precious.'
~~ Ajahn Chah
I was in nursing school. Going through a rebellious period – one of many, many. I’d been in the hospital for colitis and my roommate Becky and I became buddies. I started hanging at her apartment after we were discharged. She lived in a sketchy housing project, so violent the local police were loath to even make drive-by cruises.
Becky’s boyfriend/man, Greg, was black, and he and her two sons from previous relationships all lived together. Greg was a nice guy, good-hearted. He had something not-quite-right about him that was just obvious enough to keep him from getting a decent job. Becky was more than likely a prostitute, although I was fairly naïve and it didn’t occur to me how she earned a living until I sat down to write this. I knew she sold drugs. I didn’t have any problems with that.
Becky and I were about the only whites in the general area. Greg put the word out that my car was to be left alone, and I felt no concern when I visited, which was about every day, until one or two in the morning.
Men queued up to meet me under the guise of checking to see what Becky had for sale. They’d posture in a very ghetto sort of way, which was totally new to me. It didn’t impress me nor did it amuse me. I had an appreciation for their appreciation for me, but I recognized that I represented an accomplishment, an object, an asset they wanted to possess. So I remained aloof, but pleasant.
One day, Greg’s older brother Tommy showed up. He was very different from the other men. Handsome, every hair carefully combed in place, sparkling white teeth, beaming smile, nice trimmed mustache, tall, athletic. He wore jeans with ironed creases, a white t-shirt, blue jean jacket, white Converse Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. He had long muscular legs and a nice ass, broad shoulders. Pretty much my physical ideal at the time, except he was black and I didn’t go out with black guys.
He commanded a lot of respect, almost reverence. The men deferred to him and the other females made over him, flirted, stroked his arm, batted their eyelashes, rubbed up on him. He had a sense of humility and confidence, sexuality without being blatant, that I liked. He projected very much like a panther. I liked the way he handled himself. He treated each person with respect but definitely controlled the interactions.
At some point, he puffed up and made his move on me. This was the way it worked back then; it was expected – or at least I expected it. We exchanged C.V.s: I told him I was in nursing school, which obviously impressed him. He told me he was a lineman for the phone company. It was a very good job for a young black man at that time and place, and I recognized that although I was used to men his age holding that caliber of employment.
Becky picked up that I was not duly impressed, and made a big deal out of it. “Tommy’s a photographer,” she said reverently as if in addition to being handsome and a hunk, he was also Pope.
“You have lovely bone structure,” he purred. “I’d like to photograph you. Have you done any modeling?”
“Yes,” I answered. “I’ve done a good little bit. I’m really not interested in modeling; it’s boring.”
He was a bit taken aback. I don’t think he’d ever been turned down before – at least, that’s the sense I got.
We smoked some weed, the entire apartment full of people passed joints around and we all got mellow. Becky and I drank wine over ice, T.J. Swann’s Easy Nights, out of huge plastic mugs. A bunch of us played Spades for several hours, more wine, more weed, lots of conversation and joking. People drifted off – upstairs to do other drugs, outside to talk to others. Some went home.
I enjoyed Tommy’s company and he made it clear that he was interested in me. He was curious what a white girl from up on the hill was doing down in Orchard Manor. We talked, and I liked his personality. He brought up the photography aspect again, and urged me to come up to his house so he could take some shots of me. I declined. “I have enough pictures of myself, but thanks anyway.”
He’d told me he had purchased his house and was remodeling it. He spoke with great passion about what all he’d done so far and what his plans were. He told me I should come up sometime and see his place and tell me what I thought of it. I felt he was sincere. It didn’t feel like a line.
I told him I’d love to see his house sometime. He had mellowed a bit by that point, between the beer he had consumed and the pot he’d smoked. “What about tomorrow?” he asked. “Why not come over tomorrow afternoon?”
“What is there to do?” I wanted to know. “What will we do besides you showing me your kingdom? I’m not driving all the way up there just to see your house.”
“I’ll be working on my Javelin,” he said. “I have to change the brake shoes and work on the timing.”
I perked up. Cars, I knew. Cars, I liked. We chatted about cars for a few minutes and I asked him if he’d ever had a girl help him work on his car before.
“No,” he said, and laughed. “Never.”
“Then I’ll come on condition I can help you work on your car,” I said.
And that’s how it all began. Thirty-four years ago today. Rest in peace, Tommy.