Tzvi's Trees: Stories About Weed
#05 Brass Horned Cannabis
by Tzvi Peckar the Third, 2015
I’ve always found the clink of glasses filled with rocks & liquor, the drops of spillage and laughter, accompanied with the billowing tobacco clouds created the dancehalls additional percussion section of the big band. Back in my studio apartment, she’s a rusty needle on a phonograph caught up with lint accompanied by the street’s sirens, far and wide, overheated by bitter wives screaming from their windows in the heart of Hells Kitchen, “Turn it down!” — “Turn it off!”— Up in Harlem, in this dancehall, this hidden watering hole in the dirt, the bar sounds fulfill the role of the big band’s mistress. The patrons bustling about seem as rehearsed as one might expect of a studio picture from Hollyweird. “Another round sugar?” the pitch-black waitress asks. With a slight tilt to my derby, and a roll of a silver dollar, I impress her with my Lower East side Hebrew smile, and she leans in and whispers in my ear, “You another record producer?” To that I answer, “No, baby, I’m a card shark from Chicago.”
“Um, well you’re a terrible liar,” she responds, and with that I wrap my arm around my darling Elayah’s tail, a colored waitress from the Caribbean, and slip her onto my lap. She never saw it coming. I cock the Derby to reveal my eye, my one good eye, the other pure glass. She has unique eyes for a colored girl, green, sometimes blue when I see her outside in the morning sun. We’ve been doing the night covers for quite some time now, since July, now we’re bearing this Indian Summer, and if you ask me, there’s something fishy going down with her lately and I’m not here for the music tonight, I’m here to kill my baby with spite.
No kiss on the cheek as Elayah slides off my knee. My chocolate caramel’s already gone, fixing me another drink I suppose, but the fog’s too deep to see so far. My glass eye’s got the itch. The smoke’s too much, dries me out. Usually, I carry a case, but my powder’s as slim as the moisture in the air. Today I was in a hustle to get uptown. We were down a good $25 on the square. Shlomo had us serving three-card monte to the secular Jews. Trust is tribal, but I was off my game the whole evening, dropping cards off the box, spying every colored girl that walks by, thinking I’m bound to spot Elayah out here, making her way to another suitor. “I need a smoke,” I said to my partner, and took a walk to the Park, sparked my ace, tried to forget about it all for a moment. Shlomo is not a user of the marijuana. I started in Chicago. Some Indians brought it in, got to my pals somehow, and we made a habit of that. New York Jews don’t seem so open to the stuff, ‘cept for us that stroll up to Harlem. I take Shlomo up with me every month or so, but usually I’m riding the rail with my South Delancy boys. They seem to catch some of the stuff when it rolls into the docks from Jamaica, Florida first, probably the Key West, then up the coast to the Island. I don’t move grass here in New York, here I just smoke it.
“Empty, amigo?” asks a zoot suited Latino with dark skin, dark green, yellow button up, no tie, his chest puffed, an emerald necklace, an emerald pinky ring to match. He’s got his polished green leather shoe on the padded chair beside me and even his looped gold key chain link doesn’t impress me. “I don’t know you, friend,” I say as I slip my lefty into my pocket, fingering the trigger I gotta pull if I gotta pull.
“I know your Elayah,” he says putting an eye out into the fog, “That’s enough for a drink,” and he sits without the final invite, mine. I can kill him now, or I can hear him through. “She’s a pretty girl,” I say, and he says, “Prettiest thing on the Upper West Side.” Harlem’s a far cry from the Upper West Side, but I assume he’s on a dare from his own heart, smitten by the prettiest girl on the Upper West Side. He pulls a cigarette case, tin, with a green tint, from his breast and removes a paper tube of refer, smiles at me, sets the end on fire, puff, puff, puff, the fog thickens, and he takes the first drag, passing the pain to me. “Use to sell the marijuana Chicago side,” I say as I hand the sucker his tube back.
“Cannabis,” he corrects me, taking his drag.
“Marijuana, cat,” I say, “I know my product.”
“You have a problem with cannabis? Even here, you think you not, but you a bigot calling it that,” he threatens me, and for no good reason, nothing about our lover’s quarrel, not even a spilt bottle of milk, but some name, some Mexican sounding gibberish I ain’t never heard. “Elayah!” I holler over to my gal through the dissipating killer, jive smoke.
Elayah approaches my table, but she is not alone; Elayah is accompanied by an hour glass, tanned over her lighter Spanish skin, slightly indigenous features, not an Indian, but not a Mexican either, probably Cuban like this cat, and Elayah seems to take her place on this zooted Latino’s lap, while the Carribean Princess spins by my side and takes her place upon my lap. “Charo,” Elayah says to me from across the table, “She is yours now, not me.”
I have to take a moment to look at this sexualized woman upon my seat. She seems in love, with me so soon, her brown eyes have a shine from the table lamp, and those peepers won’t let me go, I’ve seen them before, I’ve known this woman in the past, but I’ve never laid a kiss on her as of yet. But that’s not why I’m here, I’m here to confront my Elayah about this Latino I suspected was taking a trick down Elayah’s lane, and I was just waiting for her to slip, for him to show up, for me to know exactly who I might be dealing with. “I’m not for sale, darling,” I address Elayah as I kindly help Charo off my lap so I may stand. I’m barely aware of my arm instinctually wrapped around Charo. She is quite comfortable, and though I’m standing my ground, I may just take what is being offered, though I am unsure why and how.
“You don’t belong here no more, baby,” Elayah directs me with her arms around her new boy, her hand slipping down his open shirt. The suit just looks me in the eye, knives in my pupils, he wants blood, he wants my girl; he has my girl. “Call it cannabis, hombre,” he says. Charo turns to me and simply says, “You need Jewish woman, not Harlem woman,” seducing me as she presses closer into me, her large breasts like cushions between us, and I never loved Elayah as I should have, and she never played the victim, but I sense I made a mistake coming for her tonight, that she already knew I knew all about the Latin suit, that maybe she’d take an upper-hand and spite me to death first.
“Don’t get us wrong here, Hebrew. No one saying you don’t belong here; we’re just saying you belong with your kind,” says the suit.
“You have a name?” I question him as Charo toys with my curls hanging from the side rim of the Derby.
“Pico,” he says, “Now why don’t you show your woman a dance.”
Charo likes the idea, pulling on my arm, “Dance with me,” she says, and I’m still stuck with my one good eye on my original baby, and she seems sad, yearning for me to take the dance, yearning for me to set her free. “Please, Benny, dance with her,” and she bats her eyes, “For me.” And with that, I was done, I was beaten, I was traded off for my kind, so Elayah could be with her kind, something surprising to me, something so status quo. And I spun and twirled this light Latina Charo onto the wood paneled dance floor with the big band bouncing the air around the room with their brass, and the wild woes of the great band leader, singing for the Upper West Side, the Harlem Tides, and out of the corner of my eye, I see Pico offer the leader a toke and the lyrics have gone the way of the smoke, and I’m hearing words like, Cannabis, and hot, words about the weather, and the fire inside for some sweet grass in the heated city, and I’m guessing Pico ain’t so bad, and clearly Charo is a mate for me if I’d like, so I take Pico aside and say the name, “Cannabis, Brass Horned Cannabis,” and he takes my hand and pulls me in for a hug, and before he can say, “We might all be pals,” the joint is Keystone Kopped in a hurry. The oval helmet coppers are babbling fools with pistols and hand clubs, and they’re pushing and pulling on people, they’re breaking the bottles, setting fire to the bar, arresting coloreds left and right, letting the few Jews out unscathed and warned. Pico and I know we have to get a hold of our girls and get out the back before the black boys start pulling out unregistered tommy guns and defend their waterhole—POP! POP! POP! and I’ve gotten a hold of Charo’s hand and we’re rushing through the crowd of flappers tumbling out of their high heels, dropping hats, while the boys flip round tables, taking cover as they distribute their Tommies and as soon as I’ve thrown Charo through the backstage door, I turn back and see Pico go down in a fury full of lead and the last words from Elayah will forever ring terror through my years, “Run, love.” They were only a whisper, two soft words for me to hear through the RAT-TAT-TAT-POW and death scowls of Harlem’s youth. A tip of my derby, my love had saved me, my love is dead on the floor, two bullets to the back, and I leave, rushing Charo down the hall off backstage, out the side door into the alley, confronted by waiting Manhattan Keystones, but neither her nor I are the color of night, and waved off into the streets to watch the coloreds being shackled once again for drinking bourbon, smoking the tree, and singing tunes. And there on the street, under the dark of the night, on the muddied sidewalks, Charo with the passion of despair tells me her name, “Means beautiful flowers. Take me to Hawaii.”