© Copyright 2014 by Sara Jacobelli
We Get News about Tootsie!
Sunday, May 23, 1982
Well, yesterday was my first day helping Melvin the Porter at the Bastille. I swept the floor, helped take out the trash, and went to the A & P to get orange juice and other stuff. I love the French Quarter A & P, especially pushing the little miniature shopping carts around. Mr. Bushy waves from his way-up–high window office, he always cashes checks for Mama. He loves Mama, he says she looks “like a combination of Sofia Loren and Gina Lolla-bridge-ada.” (Sorry, Nonna, not sure how to spell Ms. Gina’s last name. I’m going to ask my teacher).
I really like Mr. Melvin. He’s medium height, skinny, usually wears a white T-shirt and jeans and a cap. He’s always dressed neatly and is quiet and soft spoken. His eyes are dark brown and sleepy. Mama says he has Robert Mitchum eyes. He always tells me about the Blues. He plays Leadbelly on the jukebox, and BB King and Robert Johnson. I wouldn’t know about any of this stuff if it wasn’t for Mr. Melvin. Plus he tells me old timey black slang that the young kids don’t know nowadays.
He hopped onto the bar and patted the space next to him. I climbed up. He adjusted his cap. “This here, this on my head, know what they call this?”
“A hat, what else? That’s easy.” I sipped my cherry Coke and crunched on the cherries one by one.
“No, no, sugar. This here’s called my sky. My sky.”
“Really? Never heard that before.”
“And my woman. My woman is called my squeeze.”
“Your squeeze? That’s funny. Like squeezing orange juice?” I giggled. Melvin slapped his thighs and chuckled. Then Mr. Carlo walked in.
“So you two look like you’re working hard.” Mr. Carlo winked at me. Melvin sighed.
“You know I been workin hard, I always work hard.” He jumped down off the bar and went behind the bar to pour Mr. Carlo his plain ginger ale. The bar was open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, but Mr. Carlo decided to shut down on Saturday mornings for two hours so Melvin could clean up.
Melvin took a clean white towel from his back pocket and wiped his face. “Sweat. See this here Sweat. That’s Work Sweat, Mr. Carlo.”
Mr. Carlo smiled. “I got some news about Our Girl Tootsie. She got busted—went to Central Lockup—ended up eatin baloney sandwiches.”
“Oh no, is she alright?”
“She’s alright Dani. I gotta call from Downtown. She mentioned my name, somebody called me. I got her out.”
“Shoot.” Melvin said. “I’m surprised. I know you don’t truck with no Junkies.”
“Yeah, but. It’s Tootsie. Tootsie. I don’t want her workin for me no more, but can’t stand the thought of her in that place. If she cleans up her act, I can getter a gig dancing again, coupla fellas owe me some favors.”
“I can’t wait to tell Mama and Dakota!”
“Yeah, well. Dakota needs to keep stayin with you all, but I don’t think Tootsie should stay there. You kids don’t need to be around Drugs. She’s says she quit, but you can’t believe a hop head. I put her up in a Motel for a few nights. We’ll see what happens.”
A car pulled up out front, and one of those serious looking men who were always looking for Mr. Carlo came in. They shook hands. Then a few more guys came in, and Cricket, a new young skinny blonde bartender, came rushing in to open up.
“Sorry I’m so late, Mr. Carlo, but me an JJ got inna fight, it’s a long story.”
Mr. Carlo waved her off and took me by the arm. “Quick walk, Kiddo.”
“What’s up?” We walked a block down Toulouse Street. Porters were hosing down the sidewalks in front of the bars and restaurants, washing away last night’s smell of beer, wine, Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes and puke.
“I been thinkin, you don’t need to wait three weeks til you can get your Money.”
“We can go in the Back Office and open it now, just keep your Mouth shut about whatever’s innit, OK?”
“OK. I know.”
“Not even Dakota. Cuz with her Mom being strung out, man, if Tootsie gets ahold a that dough, it’s gone. She’d shoot it up in a heartbeat, ya hear me?”
“I hear ya, Mr. Carlo. I won’t say nothing.”
“How long’s your Mama got before she can make that Deal with the Lawyer, Mr. Beauregard?”
“Alright. Well, if there’s any Money in there, you’ll have to decide whether to use if for your Papa’s Lawyer. Or, what else wouldjou do with it?” He looked at me with very sincere blue eyes. “Would you let your own ole man Rot in Angola?”
“No, not rot in Prison. Not like that. I just want to do what’s best. For Mama and Gino and Antonietta.”
“You’re smart, Sport. Too Smart. You remind me so much of that little girl in that movie, the Gregory Peck Movie.” He ruffled my hair. “Scout. That’s you, you look just like Scout.”
“Yeah, Mama says that too.” We walked back to the Bar.
Half a dozen older men were sitting at the bar drinking coffee. During racing season, they would always have the newspaper or racing forms out, carefully circling horse’s names and scribbling indecipherable notes. It was their Morning Ritual. Since the track is closed in the summer, they all had the sports pages spread out. I felt bad for them, I think they miss the Horses. At least they have Football season to look forward to.
Mr. Carlo unlocked the tiny office door and gestured for me to come in. We were finally going to open Papa’s Duffel Bag. I could feel and hear my heart thumping loudly in my chest.
Photo Credit: “Jukebox,” by AJ Wms. License CC NonCommercial. Flickr.