“Maybe? What kind of answer is that? How about a yes or no?”
“Well, that’s something you’ve got to discuss with Mister Wright,” Bakman said, grinning. Enjoying having all this information I hadn’t gotten around to yet. And knowing that if a brother I knew was hitting on her I’d lower my sight. “You can hang your dog collar back in the closet, my man. Besides, Allison’s eyes were on you like a Saks Fifth Avenue clerk’s on a sister at the costume jewelry counter. There was no way you were going to make that move undetected or unharmed.”
“I’m hip,” I smiled, not knowing how pivotal Raejean Corliss would be to me before it was all over. “Oh, well, I guess I’ll stray back to walking the straight and narrow.”
“Good Rinty. Nice Rinty,” Bakman said, patting me on my head. “Naw, I take that back. I don’t want to give Rin Tin Tin a bad name.”
Allison peeked around at us. “What are you two up to? No good, I’m sure.”
“Oh ye of little faith,” I said, winking at Bakman. “My partner and I were just discussing how well we thought the meeting went. You did a great job, babe. You set the tone. Established the order. We can’t wait until the next one at Rudolph’s crib.”
Allison got serious. It had gone well, hadn’t it? These brothers and sisters were in earnest. Maybe Black journalists in this town would really be able to organize. Get some things done. Educate some white folk. Bakman and I fell into the amen corner. Nodding. Agreeing. Encouraging her line of reasoning. We were at least half committed. We believed in the cause if not in the mission. We thought an organization was important but we weren’t sure it would make a difference. Whitey would be whitey. And that meant that he wasn’t about to give Blacks anything but a hard way to go. I began cleaning up. Collecting dirty glasses and ashtrays.
“Check this out,” Bakman said, pulling out a tape he’d brought back from vacation. I slipped it in my cassette deck, hit the on switch and turned up the volume.
“What’s that sound?”
“It’s Reggae. It’s Jamaican, mahn.”
“Brother’s name is Bob Marley. I met him in Kingston while I was on vacation. I got to hang with him in this sleepy little fishing village called Negril. It’s isolated. It’s not a tourist trap like Montego Bay. Mostly there’s a bunch of hippies in paradise. Clear, warm water. Blue, reflecting sky. Soothing sea breeze. Golden glow topping off the Palm trees. Miles of fine, sandy beaches. Bargain-basement, mellow grass. Beautiful Black people in charge of everything. Man, I did not want to bring my black ass back here. Negril is where I was meant to be.”
We stopped talking. Laid back. Listened to the tape, sipped wine. Half way through one of the tunes, I found myself singing along, “I Shot the Sheriff.”
Bakman nodded, while joining in, “But I did not shoot the deputy. Oh, no.”
We both laughed, and then gave each other a high five. “Negril,” Bakman said.
Bakman had gone to Jamaica for a week’s vacation and stayed for six. His mama had to send his big brother, Chuck, to get him. He found Stan lying on the beach, smoking ganja with two bare-breasted, bikini-bottomed flower children from Duesseldorf. One natural brunette. The other blond. Feeling very Irie. Bakman had just learned Friday that he was going to be let off with a warning and probation. He’d be allowed to keep his job. He was that good.
“Want a spliff?” Bakman asked, pulling out a hand-rolled joint the size of a Phillip Morris cig with pinched tips.
I replied with our standard refrain, “Can Aretha sang?” while I opened the fridge to cop some more Paul Masson blush. Before I could refill our three glasses, the sweet smell of ganj came drifting through. I took a long drag, exhaling while moving my head to the beat of Get Up, Stand Up. Allison headed for the kitchen. She knew the chips and dips we’d had during the meeting weren’t going to hold. The munchies were calling. She poured us a bowl of puffed cheese curls then began frying some chicken and heating up some frozen corn and black-eyed peas.
Thirty-five minutes later, we ate. Then Allison had her weekly, Sunday night, long distance telephone conversation with her parents. I put on a reel-to-reel tape I’d made from my record collection that started off with Coltrane’s Black Pearls. For the next two hours, Bakman and I grooved on the music and smoked and drank some more while conversing in free association. Allison drifted in and out.
When one of the jams, War kicked in, Bakman got all sentimental and teary-eyed. He sang along enthusiastically, in tune and in tempo, with Edwin Starr, “What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” But then he got all choked up when the line “friend only to the undertaker” followed. I knew where he was coming from and where he was going.
“This song always makes me think of the Nam,” Bakman said, his eyes watering. “I had big fun in the Nam. Big fun.”