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Two Blind Men and a Fool

by Sherman Smith

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Two Blind Men and a Fool: synopsis

Earl Crier wakes screaming from nightmares in which his ship sinks in the Arctic in World War II. He has survived but is now blind. He takes refuge in music and in the kindness of Stella. Meanwhile, other veterans return, and their most serious wounds are not always visible.

Chapter 49: Where Girls Will Be Boys

When Earl first walked in the door to Mona’s 440 Club, he sensed the place was different. For obvious reasons, he had not seen the marquee on the facade of the building that proclaimed, “Where Girls Will Be Boys.” He hadn’t a clue as to the club’s reputation, but what he discovered soon enough was that here he could be outrageous.

At the time, he had a part-time gig at a quiet piano bar off Union Square. The place did not encourage audience participation; he was told what to sing, and how to sing it, with no improvisations. His pay just barely covered his single room at a run-down hotel three blocks away.

The walk to work was a bitch, the traffic unforgiving of a blind man. The worst was having to share a filthy bathroom with six other down-and-outs on the same floor. He was bored to an extreme. There was no piano in his flop house, and the dark dragon had caught scent of him again.

The neighborhood had been eclectic since the Barbary Coast days. It wasn’t very long ago that lesbian bars had been illegal, but Mona, a progressive bohemian, allowed people of all persuasions into her club, where her lesbian waitresses dressed as men, and the nightly entertainment drew tourists from far and wide.

Earl got the job and was now the only true male employee. There was Big Mike, but Earl could only imagine, with a laugh, what she actually looked like. Big Mike sometimes sat in for a duet.

Earl had been hired as the happy-hour act. He had two hours a day, seven days a week, where he could do anything he damn well pleased. He loved it and was beginning to attract an audience of his own. His girls loved him, and he rose to their affection by bringing his talent to a new level.

He cleared his throat as he was about to step out from behind the big curtain that hung behind the piano stage. He wore a blue smoking jacket embroidered with silver beads and a white dress shirt with fluffed cuffs, topped with a cloud-white Mozart wig with a ponytail. His walking cane was bright gold, and its handle was a carved goddess head with full bust. Mona had suggested he wear lipstick, but he had drawn the line there. He was straight, after all, which made him a novelty act at Mona’s 440 Club.

It was time.

He whipped open the curtain, stepped forward, raised his cane high, pretended to look first left, then right, then shouted to the room, “Ladies, you need a man in your life.” The hoots and boos finished with applause as he sat at the grand piano and began to sing a Ma Rainey tune, his usual opening number.

Went out last night with a crowd of my friends.
They must have been women, ’cause I don’t like no men.
Wear my clothes like a man. Talk to gals just like any old man.

Two of the waitresses, dressed as men, surrounded him, their fingers caressing his shoulders, as they finished the song in chorus.

’Cause they say I do it, ain’t nobody caught me.
Sure got to prove it on me.

The crowd, mostly women, not all, roared, as Earl’s fingers danced across the keyboard as he moved into some blues...

Got the barrel house blues,
feeling awfully dry.
Got the barrel house blues,
feeling awfully dry.
I can’t drink moonshine,
’cause I’m afraid I’d die.

Happy hour at Mona’s, and Earl knew how to move the drinks. He tended bar, just a little. They wouldn’t give him a free hand here; the place was too busy. He had a room with a bath next door, three square meals when he was hungry, and plenty of girlfriends. Girlfriends, ain’t that a hoot? Earl laughed to himself, almost on a daily basis.

One song he refused to play was Stella By Starlight. He missed her more than he knew and felt her slip away as each happy hour passed.

Proceed to Chapter 50...

Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith

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