Saturday, May 7, 2011


I tiptoed out of the house at two o’clock in the morning, wearing nothing more than my raincoat and a whisper of my mama’s Chanel No. 5. I dashed down the deserted street, my bare feet sloshing through the warm summer rain, and prayed that Officer Titus, my best friend’s father, would not cruise by on patrol and stop to question why I was not at home in bed at such an hour. I have always been the good girl, the daughter who obeys her mama, the honor student who earns straight A’s, the Bible-toting Baptist who attends church every Sunday. Yet there I was running down the street in the middle of a rainy summer night, naked as a jay bird under my raincoat, on my way to a rendezvous with Angelo.


“Nadine, you stay away from that pool hall, y’hear? It’s no place for a young lady. Nothing can be found in there but smoking and profanity and men with but one thing on their minds.”

It may be the 1960s, but society still views young ladies who patronize such establishments as exercising loose morals. Wally’s Pool Hall was where Satan himself obviously held sway.

“Your mama is so old fashioned,” said my best friend, Loretta.

“Have you ever been inside Wally’s?”

“Almost. I knocked on the window once to tell Bubba Lee that Daddy was lookin’ for him.”

We were sitting in the window booth at The Soda Shoppe cooling off with root beer floats and listening to “Stagger Lee” on the Wurlitzer while watching Wally’s across the street. And that’s when he walked out of the pool hall, leaned back against the building and pressed his right foot up against the wall behind him. He ran his left hand through his dark, wavy hair and then lit a Lucky Strike from a pack he kept rolled up in the sleeve of his t-shirt.

“Oh my Gawd!” Loretta gasped. “What an absolute dreamboat! My daddy would surely take the switch to me good if he ever caught me with the likes of him.” Then she sighed and said, “Y’know, leaning against Wally’s like that, he kinda looks like James Dean. Just like James Dean but with dark hair.”

My own hormones were on a collision course with my common sense. I had been looking for someone whose primed animal instincts were all wrapped up in a fine pair of faded Levi’s, someone with a sweet talkin’ smile, someone whom mothers feared and sweet young thangs dream about, at a time when the local high school boys suddenly seemed gawky and crude. So the moment I saw him I knew in that heart-thudding second that he was the one.

“Where are you off to, Nadine?”

“Just out, Mama.”

She looked me over good. I must have passed muster because she said, “Well then, young lady, you be home by a decent hour.” Some people rule with an iron fist; Mama rules with iron expectations.

There are two places where guys congregate in the evenings. Wally’s was their first stop. I lingered across the street and saw he was playing pool with Loretta’s big brother, Bubba Lee Titus. Before long, they left Wally’s and walked to the other favorite spot, Maybelle’s honky-tonk, located in a section of town forbidden to me. I sat in the shadows across the street and enjoyed the music until the decent hour began closing in on me.

I spent my evenings tailing him from Wally’s to Maybelle’s. He had a casual perfection about him. His lean body moved with the fluid, hypnotic grace of a jungle cat, which fueled my nightly aerobic dreams. One night I ventured into the alleyway next to Maybelle’s. I had crouched down to tie my sneakers when the door opened and he walked out.

“Let me help you up.”

He smiled and extended his right hand. In one swift maneuver, he scooped my body up close to his and danced me around the alley to “Mountain Of Love.”

“I’m Angelo,” he said.

I lived for our brief encounters in the alley. We danced to “Kansas City” and “Shotgun.” “Crazy” was my favorite, giving me a solid two minutes of hip to hip with him. Sometimes we’d sit in a doorway and talk while he’d drape his arm around my shoulders, his hand dangling so close to my breast that I wondered if I should chance inhaling. Not once did he try to take advantage of me, much to my dismay.

One night, instead of heading for Maybelle’s, he took off in the opposite direction, ending up two blocks from my home. He walked in the front door of a large Victorian rooming house, and a few moments later a light went on in a third floor window. Angelo stood at the open window smoking a cigarette, his bare chest glistening from the sultry evening. I watched until it began to gently rain, and then I headed for home.


I stood in the dimly lit hallway in front of his door clutching my raincoat about me. The house was hushed except for a raspy radio inside his room. I was summoning up the courage to knock on his door when I heard footsteps approaching from within his room. I panicked and started for the stairs until I heard someone coming up. Finding nowhere else to go, I slipped deep within the shadows at the end of the hall. I needn’t have worried, however, about being discovered as it became painfully obvious that Angelo’s mind was preoccupied with someone else.

He opened his door, walked to the stairwell and peered over the banister. My heart sank as he smiled in a way that even I knew could only be meant for someone who was more than just a friend. He reached out his hand, just as he had done for me that night in the alley, and welcomed Bubba Lee Titus into his room and closed the door.