I Need 27 Whole Dollars!
© copyright 2014 by Sara Jacobelli
Sunday, May 9, 1982
You’re probably wondering where in the world am I going to get the money to get Papa’s duffle bag back from the Greyhound Bus Station. Believe me, Nonna, my head has been spinning with ideas. I stay up late at night, laying in bed thinking about it. And when I’m supposed to be fixing the Little Kids a snack or helping them with their homework, all I’m doing is thinking about that money. Mama keeps saying I’m getting Spacey because I’m turning into a Teenager. Plus I’m so worried that Mr. Sandy’ll keep the bag if I don’t get back there soon. He seems to like me, but still. . .
After school Monday I walked all the way over to Banks Street in Mid-City to where Tootsie and Dakota are staying with Hacksaw. I had already given Gino strict instructions to walk home from school with Antonietta, and not to let Mama know where I was. I figured Maybe Dakota had some of that money left that we found in the coffee can. I banged and banged on their door. The building is pretty run down, and every time I banged, dogs barked and babies cried. It’s noisier than our place, and we live upstairs from a 24 hour bar!
Dakota answered the door. She’d been sleeping in her clothes, on the couch. The TV was turned onto some dumb soap opera. The place was a mess, like someone’s been fighting and throwing things. Empty beer bottles, overflowing ash trays, candy wrappers and empty cigarette packs strewn everywhere. Broken glass. Tipped over furniture. Piles of crusty smelly laundry. Half full coffee cups with coffee turning green and moldy. Dirty dishes stacked high in the sink being stalked by a silent army of determined Roaches.
“What’s up girl? Where’ve you been? Skippin school without me?”
Dakota lit a cigarette. She’s been smoking lately and looks like she’s been crying. I look at her and envy her long eyelashes, the shiny blackness of her hair, the smooth dark good looks emerging, almost like a preview of the beautiful woman she will soon be.
“Life’s fucked up,” she mumbles, sinking back into the couch, wrapping blankets around herself. “Just fucked up.” I noticed a Purple Stuffed Bear sitting next to her, forlornly, a sad piece of childhood, not quite forgotten. I almost teased her about the Bear. Almost. Something stopped me.
“Dakota, I don’t know what’s up with you, brah, but I need some a that money. I need twenty seven bucks. I was gonna bring you with me to the bus station, but you never came to school last week.” I plopped onto the couch next to her.
“I don’t have it, Kid. Don’t have it.”
“Why you callin me a Kid? I’m only one year younger than you. Bitch. ” I punched her on the arm.
“Ouch.” She pushed me. “Sorry, Dani. I’m sorry. Uh, it’s just fucked up. And all that money’s gone. My Mom got into it.”
“I can’t stand soap operas, they’re so slow and boring.” I changed the channel to the Three O’clock Money Movie. They were playing Angels with Dirty Faces, one of me and Mama’s favorites. Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.
“She spent the money getting high.”
“You mean she’s doing Coke again?”
“Nah, I wish. I could handle that. She’s back into the smack.”
“Heroin, girlfriend. Tootsie’s been clean for two years, at least from that shit. So, she got into my money, my share of the coffee can money, and she got all fucked up. Hacksaw’s screamin pissed. They had a Big Fight, look at this place.”
“You got anything to eat?” I opened the fridge, figuring to rummage inside. There was nothing. Well, one beer, and I was sure that was Hacksaw’s. But not one ounce of anything else. I knew Mama would hate to see that. She always says there’s nothing Sadder and Lonelier than the sight of an empty fridge.
“So where’s your Mom now?”
“Ole Tootsie ain’t been home in days. Who the fuck knows? And who the fuck cares? Hacksaw said he hates Needles, he don’t want no damned Junkie Woman, so he’s kickin us out. Our asses be out on the street soon, Girlfriend.
“You shouldn’t be callin her “Tootise”—and you shouldn’t say you Don’t Care. She’s your Mama.”
“She sure as shit ain’t acting like one.” Dakota looked older. Older, serious and angry.
“Hey, wasn’t yesterday your Birthday? I’m sorry, I forgot. I guess we all forgot.”
“That’s OK. Tootsie forgot too.”
“I can’t believe you’re fourteen. Wow. Whyncha come stay with us for a few days? Me and Mama can make you a birthday cake, we just need to getta box of mix, some eggs and milk. Some candles.”
“OK.” She stuffed some clothes and a toothbrush into a little pink travel bag decorated with dainty looking ballerinas. She grabbed her cigarettes, lighter, and keys, picked up the Purple Stuffed Bear. “Can I bring Henry the Bear?”
“Sure. Why not? I bet he doesn’t eat much.”
“Nah. ” She laughed and locked the door. “Not too much. Maybe some chips and dip.”
“I bet he likes Hubig’s Pies.”
“Sure he does.”
We walked down the stairs and out onto the crumbling sidewalk.
“So, why d’ya need money so bad?”
“It’s kind of a Long Story, but the Main Thing is, I need twenty seven dollars. And I need it right away. It’s important. VERY important.”
Dakota stopped and looked directly into my eyes. “I’ll help you. We’ll get that Money.”
We walked all the way back to the Quarter, Dakota carrying her little pink bag and me carrying the silly Purple Bear. We held the Bear up and made funny voices for him, stuck our tongues out at anyone who looked at us. We made fun of all the people we walked by, and giggled so much when we saw cute guys that they practically ran away.
When we got to the Bastille, I forgot about keeping my mouth shut and just dragged Dakota in the door.
“Mama, can she stay with us? It’s messed up at her house.”
“Dakota!” Mama came out from behind the bar and gave her a big hug. “Lookit you, Bella. Carina.” She smooched Dakota on the cheek and Dakota turned beet read.
“You Never Even Call Me by My Name” by David Allen Coe came on the jukebox, and everyone in the bar stood up, as if on cue, and started singing it. “Well, I was drunk, the day my Mama, got out of Prison. . .” We all put our arms around each other while we sang, and when we got to the last line, everyone screamed, “You never even call me by my FUCKING name!!!”
I whispered to Mama, “It was her birthday yesterday,” but it was so noisy she couldn’t hear me. Everyone in the bar was yelling, “Jagermeister!”
“Lookit that there hot JailBait.” Danger nodded in our direction. He looked like Fred Flintstone covered in Jailhouse Tattoos.
“Now, upstairs you two, before I get arrested for having minors in the bar,”
Dakota shook her head.”Don’t worry. Won’t happen. Mr. Carlo has Connections.”
“And no more Skipping School, Young Lady!” Mama yelled at me as we headed up the stairs. I ignored her.
“What da’ ya mean, Connections?”
“I don’t know, I heard people say it, is all.”
We got up to the apartment. The Little Kids were lying on the floor eating chocolate chip cookies and watching cartoons. I walked out to the balcony and looked out over Bourbon and Toulouse. I loved these moments in the Quarter, when it just turns dark, and the neon lights come alive. When it’s springtime, and the air feels good. When you know summer thunderstorms with their electricity charging through you will come soon. I felt a little bit sad that Dakota and I weren’t Kids anymore. That part of Life was Over. But we were still Young, there was still so much more to come. And Mama was beautiful. And Tootsie was a mess, and Papa was still in Jail. But Mama was beautiful and hugged us and yelled at us and made the best Red Gravy ever and the Little Kids were cute, with their shiny dark curly hair, even though they were brats.
Dakota joined me on the balcony. We waved to the clueless out-of-towners on the hotel balcony across the street. We watched the dumb tourists hit Bourbon Street, and the Hustlers watch their every move. We knew most every pimp, hooker, tranny, hustler, biker, gangster, street kid, tap dancer/shoe shiner, barker, dancer, bartender, cocktail waitress, drug dealer, crazy person and Quarter Character. Ruthie the Duck Lady. The Lucky Bead Lady. Chicken Man. Tinkerbell. Tiny. Bourbon Street Red. Bourbon Street Bob. Little Joe. Gonzo. Crazy Dave. Loose Dave. Hot Dog Dave. Mormon Dave. Danger. A guy called Slut. Long haired Mike. Joe Howard. Little Al Demarco. Larry Fontaine. Curly the Lucky Dog Vendor. Speed the Pimp. Goodwill George. Mr. Carlo. Rocky. John the Pollack. Blue, who tried to convince college girls that he was Willie Nelson. Nick the Greek. Nick the Wop. Joe Nunzio. Raymond the Mouse, his brothers Crazy Peter and Little Paulie and Jimmy the Accountant. Beachball Benny. Jesse the Hombre. Buffalo. Heineken Earl. Rockmore the Artist. George the Artist. Tuba Fats. Pops the Tap Dancer, and his woman Big Mama who collected and counted his earnings every evening and called him her Mule. David, who claimed to be related to some famous artist named Day-gah, and barely had time to wait tables because he rode his old red bicycle from party to party. The Lady with the Cross. The Two Homeless Ladies who slept in doorways and were always together.The Cascio Brothers. The Riccio Cousins. We pointed at people we knew, yelled their names. Some of them looked up, laughed and made faces and waved back.
“Hey, Dakota, What’s that song?”
“The one my Mama and your Mom like so much? About summer? Summer is Easy? You’re good lookin? Somethin like that?”
“Oh, I think I know. Summer-time, and the living is ea-sy. You’re Daddy’s rich, and your Mama’s good lookin. . ” Dakota has a clear sweet high pretty voice, when she was a little girl she sang all the time. “That’s all the words I know.”
“That’s OK.” I can’t carry a tune at all, but I joined in. Summer was coming. . and that meant barbecues, drive-in nights, the rides at Lake Pontchartrain. If only we knew someone who would take us Camping. . .
Dakota and I leaned out over the balcony, looked at the sky, the stars, which you could hardly make out with all the city lights, but we knew they were there. We felt the spring air on our bare arms. I shivered. This was a moment that I would long remember. I wanted to hold onto it, but you can’t do that. You just can’t. All you can do is take a deep breath, look around you, and live it. I wanted to scream, “It’s almost Summer and I’m almost Thirteen and I’m Here I’m Here I’m Here.
“Summer-time. Summer-time. Summer-time. . . and the living is easy. . . ”
Photo Credit: “Dollar Sign in Space-Illustration,” by DonkeyHotey. CC License Attribution Only. Flickr.