Shaft in the Suburbs: Groove Time in Potomac, Maryland

(Originally appeared on The Freedonian, March 29 2000)

Shaft is up early this morning, with a headache that is roaring through his head like a leafblower on full throttle. Goddamn leafblowers, like they own the place . . .

Walking into his newly renovated kitchen, Shaft is like a jumpy and unsure jungle cat. Shaft scratches his huge, distended belly and reaches toward the coffee machine, flicks on POWER, then takes a seat in his special chair: Let’s Go Redskins! sticker on the back, #1 Dad on the front.

Shaft grabs hold of his reading glasses, the pair strung around his neck, slips them farther up his nose. He grabs the paper, grabs it hard. The sports pages first . . . missing?

“Baby . . . baby, you see them sports pages—” asks Shaft. He reaches over for a slice Entenmann’s apple-crumb coffee cake (sinfully delicious).

“Have to leave,” says Cokey, the woman of the household. “Getting my pants altered. Then over to the day spa. Cokey is gonna pamper Cokey.”

Shaft slams his fist down onto the table. Smash! And again . . . smash! And now . . . his coffee mug (Public Television, 25 Years!) leaps high into the air, the coffee spilling onto the table, onto his pajamas, onto his slippers. And Shaft is repeating himself, this time louder, with the urgency of a Tribal Chief, to be feared, respected, honored.

“I said, woman, did you see them sports pages?”

Cokey laughs. “Got no time for your nonsense, Shaft.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, baby,” Shaft says. “You got a lot of time for my nonsense.”

“Now why is that?” asks Cokey. “Now why should that be?”

“Because I got payoffs to make,” says Shaft. “People to meet, taking care of business. Back in the weave.”

“Sounds good, real good,” Cokey says. “Just remember: Zach finishes lacrosse practice in four hours. With you picking him up.”

“Now just a minute, baby,” says Shaft, licking the crumbs off his thick, powerful fingers. “Hold on for just one damn minute. You didn’t tell me nothin’ about picking him up today. What you said was tomorrow. Pick him up tomorrow, is what you said.”

“Baby shit,” Cokey replies, laughing, slipping on the nylon Prada Carefree coat, $450 at the Montgomery Mall Nordstrom’s, shiny as all get out, primavera green, for both summer and spring, versatile, durable, waterproof. “A retired man like yourself, still playing the game. You got your four hours.”

“Woman—” Shaft begins, following her.

“—shut the shit up,” Cokey continues.

“Yes, my love,” Shaft finishes, gently.

**********

Shaft flicks on the radio. Shaft is in the mood to hear the slow jams. Not too hard, not too soft, that’ll do just fine. Shaft sings along to the songs, mouth moving beautifully in time. Shaft beats his fingers down on the steering wheel. Shaft checks himself out in the mirror and adjusts his Is It Friday Yet? baseball cap.

“Lookin’ fine,” he mumbles to himself. “Damn fine.”

Shaft stares out the driver-side window of the minivan. But what’s this? Could it be?

“Honky!” Shaft screams.

25 . . . 30 . . . 35 . . . 40 mph . . .

“Pull over!” screams Shaft, motioning for the side of the road. “Honky, now!”

40 . . . 45 . . . 50 . . . 55 mph . . .

Shaft is directly behind Honky now, not letting him escape. Honky increases his speed, and Shaft, too, picks up speed. Both are up to 60 mph now, keeping solid pace with the rest of the highway traffic.

Beads of sweat form on Shaft’s forehead and then drip onto his crisp khaki slacks. Shaft makes a mental note to have the pair dry-cleaned . . . and only one week since he last had them cleaned . . .

Shaft again motions for Honky to pull the hell over and to pull over right the hell now! Honky rolls his eyes and does as he is asked. Shaft follows Honky, braking to a quick, hard stop and then flicking on his blinking hazards. And then, in a flash, Shaft is exiting the mini-van and sidling up to Honky’s car.

“Roll down the window,” barks Shaft, scratching his belly. “Roll down that damn window!”

“Let me guess,” says Honky, sighing. “You want to borrow the gas-generated weed whacker. Again.”

“Goddamn right I do,” says Shaft, striking a karate pose and then grimacing.

“Not a problem,” says Honky. “How about in a few weeks?”

“Kind of need it now,” says Shaft, rubbing his bad knee. “Lawn’s not looking so good.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” says Honky, starting the engine. “See what we can do.”

“Now just a minute, friend,” says Shaft, taking off his cap. “The in-laws are stopping by next week. Kind of need it now.”

“Give me a call,” says Honky, pulling away. “Give me a ring and we’ll chat.”

“Now just a —” Shaft begins, attempting to run after him.

“— we’ll chat,” Honky shouts, pulling away.

“Sounds good,” Shaft finishes, coming to a slow and painful stop with both hands on arthritic knees. “Sounds real good, Honky.”

**********

Shaft is back in the thick of it again. Shaft has work to do now, and he is anxious, like a jaguar on the prowl. Shaft is making his way through this new badass landscape, three hours to take care of business, doing it his way, no one else’s . . .

The hardware store, the stamps, the bag of mulch for the rose bushes, back onto Falls Road, at the height of the midday traffic, to the lacrosse fields and Zach, back onto Falls Road, a quick stop at the stationary store, maybe, time permitting, there’s only so much a man can do alone, with three hours to do it, not much time at all.

He thinks: There is so much to do . . . so much to accomplish . . .

Without having to wait in a goddamn grocery line.

“What in the world is the tie-up?” asks Shaft loudly, pushing the cart back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. “Ten items or less, right? C’mon, takin’ care of business!”

Shaft takes a great big slurp from his raspberry smoothie, complete with a dash of extra calcium. Keepin’ it extra healthy. Shaft glances at his Timex watch, then looks towards the front of the line.

“Let’s go!” Shaft screams to the woman at the register. “Got errands! Think about it!”

“My Lord,” says the teenager. “What now?”

“Errands,” says Shaft, softer now.

“You will wait,” declares the teenager, annoyed. “You will wait just like anyone else.”

“And so I shall,” declares Shaft, even more softly. “And so I shall.”

Shaft ignores the pointed looks. Ignores the heated stares. Shaft takes a tiny lick from the spilled smoothie that runs across his thick and powerful fingers. And then to himself, mumbling: “Like a dangerous wild animal.”

And then another lick. “Calcium, gotta have it.”

And then to the woman behind him, softly: “Your earrings, they’re darling. Nordstram’s?”

NEXT . . . Chapter 2: “Cuttin’ and Prunin’ and Weedin’ His Own Goddamn Way