You wouldn’t be able to write “Love” on her arms… there isn’t any space. Two thick jagged lines streak from the bottom of her wrist to her the end of her forearm. The other arm has inch-long slices going the opposite direction, not as big, but too many to count- tiger striped almost. Last I glanced at the cuts on her arm, she was turning for the bar to buy me a drink… it’s been several hours since then and I haven’t looked at them since. If she were to catch me, it’d easily spark a conversation in the wrong direction- not worth anyone’s time at the moment. It’s one of those one-night rendezvous you have with people while on the road- strike a quick eye-to-eye-same-page gesture and any two people can link like they’ve known each other since 5th grade. It’s tough, you just gotta be open to it.
Hmm, how’d I wind up with the woman scars on her arms… Let’s start here:
Tesch, his girlfriend Beth, and myself had just left the Ben Harper concert at SummerFest. Hiked it all the way back Brady St. Tesch and Beth shared a few under-the-breath words while we made it back to their apartment. Their exchange consisted most of guttural gesture than actual words. Trust, any good relationship will comprise itself skillful communication. Blah blah blah, everyone says communication is key. To that I ask if you’ve ever watched a couple drunkenly duke it out with consonant and vowel over a which glass they pour the water into. Let me add, when I say “drunken”, I don’t just mean alcohol, I’m inviting the generality of “incensement” into the big picture. Drunk with frustration, manhood, estrogen, daddy-issues, PRIDE- you call it. Communication works…when it’s not used over a megaphone and list of 21 Questions: starting with “What the fuck have you done for me lately”. Luckily, and beautifully, what comes with aged and seasoned human beings in the trade of love & war is in their phrasing. The couple finishes their dialogue, Tesch turns to me “Alright, let’s hit Brady”.
“Let’s go to Jo Cats- never been there!” I geeked out to Tesch. “Meh, I guess. Imagine all the women you knew from college that couldn’t handle their liquor and lashed out dramatically after their 3rd drink… that’s Jo Cats.” Tesch informed. We pull up the SummerFest-crazed streets of East Milwaukee… and who would’ve guessed, the diviest of all dives is packed to the brim with a bouncer outside letting one-in with every one-out. You can see Jo Cat’s ceiling lit with cheap string-dorm-room-ish lighting- gah it’s beautiful… to me, at least… but not tonight. I’ve never seen such a shitty bar packed with so many people… not since our last tour to Cleveland.
Tesch and I shoulder shrug it in-sync and trot it to Club Brady. “Yeah, never been here either, man! Let’s get it!” again with the tourist natured attitude, wide-eyed like Brady St. had just turned into Vegas.
Looking at the two of us, there’s no hiding the canyon-divide between Tesch and I. Tesch: devoted student to the very fiber of scientific detail, soon to become a doctor and beholder of a daunting PhD and resume that’d make your supervisor look like a errand boy; Me: neighborhood enabler, musician and actor on the run from old-dead-white-men plays and stubborn enough to write my own; Together: a simple common gene and life-philosophy in how to take it easy. I’ve seen Tesch under the gun & blade next to academic tests that’ll make or break his fiscal, academic, and professional existence… grab a PBR and call it a night. The man has New Orleans in his blood. Don’t know how it got there, but it’s there. The book “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff” jus t might’ve been originally written by Tesch… in a day... while sipping Chiant, and watching a Brewers game at the same time.
Enter Club Brady. The light’s not dim enough to be a shoot from Sin City 2, but not bright enough to serve coffee and get a paper done. I have money, it’s been awhile, but I have it. I corner it to the bar and grab us two drinks- a man slaps me on the back- hard. Must be someone I know, or someone I don’t know that wants to say tell me something by slapping me on the back. I turn to see that it’s Tesch’s good buddie, Tony. Built like a brick shit house, and easily unbeknownst to his own strength against a simple 180lb frame such as mine, Tony and I shake hands. I turn to order him a drink as well. These are good people, folks that’ve put me up on the couch while touring thru, had it in them to make it to several shows within a year, and always meet & greet like a reunion. Flipping for beverages is the best I can do under the circumstances of dim bars and bass-heavy sound systems. When we’re older, I’ll double as a nanny or something more useful than a beer to express my gratitude. Tony and I unclasp, and the view opens up to at least several friends in the damn bar. Christ, how did Milwaukee become so familiar? Give it a tour or two, the right way, and it’ll begin to look like home… or something between that and a comfortable broken home- y’know the ones where everyone’s cool with the divorce, we all know the parameters of how fucked up relationships can be, the capabilities of everyone’s drama, but we still have the graciousness to kick it while we’re still above ground… yeah, that’s my fam.
Turn, turn, pirouette, twist sideways through two large white men, find a table, bam- we can finally sit. Several hours at SummerFest and a walk down Brady will bring back the niceties of pulling up a chair. I feel another touch, this time it’s faint. “Hey, are you Toussaint?” asks a shorter white gal with both hands holding a PBR. “Absolutely not” I answer, “My name is James”. Sidenote: I use the name James at any restaurant while taking reservations, or in line to wait. It’s easier, people fuck up Toussaint to the point it sets back their business, and I’ve never heard someone screw up James. Is just came out, I don’t know why. At midnight, after several hours of taking in live music, humid weather, and large crowds, you might be susceptible to giving out the wrong name from time to time… like me. She believes me. “Hi, I’m Toussaint- umm, how the hell do you know my name?”.
“You’re TJ’s friend, right… from The Blend”. Wow, the legacy of TJ rides far beyond his heydays at White Water, WI. TJ spotted our first show at the Mifflin St. Block Party several years ago… meh, more like over 5 years ago. Is 5+ equal “several”… who cares. We’re long time buds, and he’s potentially one of the coolest people Milwaukee has to offer, which leaves the bar high (pun intended?). We greet, we talk, we commiserate- “Hey, what’re you drinkin?” questions a direct voice from my close left.
She’s short. 5 foot somethin’, but has the demeanor of a pimp/general manager, the type that lets you get by with the small stuff at work, but still sticks to the program. On top of it all, she’s strikingly beautiful. “Striking” in the sense that I must’ve stood there a bit stricken by her quick intro for a few extra seconds, but was able to play it off, “Oberon- yeah, that’s what I’m drinking”. “Cool, I’ll be right back”, she points to my new friend, who’s clearly her long-time friend, and marches off to the bar. My new friend keeps talking to me, but all I can think is, “Who the hell is that damn resilient black woman that just headed off to buy my drink?”
To be continued…