I wait for my porterhouse.
I also "be wait’n for that there wall to be come’n on down," as stipulated by a rollicking, hip-hog voice. A voice whose Southern accent was so drenched in Dixie gravy you could smell grits frying whenever it tried to string words together.
But the voice had no face.
Charlene, my waitress, windmills a second order of steak onto my table as if it were a filleted bowling ball straight out of a rock fire. Most of the other diners have already left Doe’s Eat Place and my digital Multicam Palmcorder is pointed above the empty bank of tables over against the opposite wall. In fact, it’s been pointed that way all afternoon, tilted slightly upward courtesy of a Doe’s matchbook and positioned on my table inconspicuously between a lidless Heinz 57 catsup bottle and a mildewed salt shaker.
I continue to record.
Unfortunately, the phone line had gone dead before the hip-hog voice informed me how the whole thing was going to play out.
A pointy-hooded gang with sledgehammers?
A kamikaze Cessna?
A pipe bomb?
They did manage to say it would happen during lunch…
"…Just y’all go to Doe’s, a coupl’a blocks east of the capitol build’n, and sit ya’self against that wall near the entrance to the kitchen. That’s where y’all be safest."
"Safest?" I exasperated. "Exactly how safe?"
I heard a chorus of moonshine laughter in the background. The hip-hog voice began to hoot along with the laughter, "Exactly safe ‘nuff to ‘scape ya’self some fatal injuries. You in for some serious fireworks, boy. So just you be wait’n there…be wait’n for that there wall to be come’n on down. You’ll all know what ta does when ya see the--"
Lunch is Basically Over
All the other diners are gone. Doe’s gold-toothed chef has turned off the grills and is nipping cheap whiskey straight from a pint bottle as she leans against a stainless steel prep counter with a meat-stained apron slung over her shoulder.
I poke the beef around my plate wondering if it’s worth it to bide for anymore time. I was supposed to be in Little Rock covering some high-profile, fundraising event at the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library site and somehow I swallowed a hook cast out to me by an anonymous caller who claimed to be contacting me on behalf of a militant group of white supremacy yokels known as the Neo-Confederate Purification Brotherhood. He informed me they were planning to destroy the Bill Clinton Wall of Infamy at the ex-governor’s old haunt, Doe’s:
"Why Doe’s?" I asked. "Wouldn’t the library site be a more dramatic hit?"
"That there library’s too obvious a target," cooed the hip-hog voice. "But when that wall and them pictures at Doe’s comes down, yaw’de haw ha, people will git the point and git it right fast. They’ll finally know ‘ow us righteous boys here in Arkansas really feel about that Bastard Child."
"Hold on..." I started rummaging for words, "Are you…you’re talking about…talking about bringing down the pictures?…or the whole side of the building?"
"Just y’all go to Doe’s, a coupl’a blocks east of the capitol build’n, and sit ya’self against that wall near the entrance to the kitchen. That’s where y’all be safest."
"Safest?" I exasperated…
Retroactive Déjà vu
Charlene is waiting for me to answer her question. She strokes several lengths of dirty blonde hair that have fallen out of her floral print Doo Rag and adds, "If ya does want someth’n else, now’s the time to sing because we’ll be locking up here in a few shakes of whatever tail you choose."
My eyes latch onto the yellow and white polka dotted frills that trim the bottom of her short-cut waitress dress. She flicks the frills up at my face and nearly whips my eye. I lurch back and she raises her eyebrows and throws her head back as proudly as a grade-school brat who has just won a national spelling bee.
"Oh…yeah…right." I reflexively semi-contradict myself by adding with a shrug, "Just one more Samuel Adam’s ale, if you would?"
"Yoo-hoo, George, Mr. Doodle Dandy over here wants one more of them Yankee beers before I swat his fanny out of here." Her voice has such a splashy snap to it I can’t tell if it comes off as charm or catty sarcasm.
Without lifting his head from the pile of waitress tickets and cash register tape its buried in, the middle-aged man behind the bar responds to Charlene by plunging his hand into the cooler, jerking out a beer, ripping the lid off the bottle and sliding it onto the counter with just enough backspin to prevent it from slipping over the edge.
Charlene struts over to the counter like a saucy katydid and decides to tally my check before fetching me the beer.
It’s a tedious concept that can be as foul as keeping your head dunked in a bucket of spoiled creamed corn.
Even though it probably makes the situation far less bearable, I look over at the other wall, the Bill Clinton Wall, with exhausted anticipation. I go from autographed picture of Will-C to autograph picture of him. Each shot an instant of a stepping stone he used to get from the governor’s mansion to the White House. Each shot framed. Each frame bordered by the wall’s archaic gray paint--paint that is cracked and crinkled and that would have flaked off long ago if it weren’t for the layers of wandering frialator steam that have rested upon it, that have gummed this triumphant political collage within re-congealed lard.
Charlene slaps my check down in front of me and plunks the beer on top of it. "Guzzle it if ya can, Dandy-man, I’ve got git myself home and out of these sweaty polka dots y’all were so captivated by before ya turned your eyes to lover boy."
"Who? Clinton?" I babble, embarrassingly, without taking my eyes off of the smattering of deep-fried history he’s sealed within.
"Who’d y’all think I was talking about?" she laughs tauntingly and points above my head. "That little fella’ right there?" She snaps off her Doo Rag, shakes loose her shoulder length hair and twirls the skullcap on her pinkie finger.
I look up at the wall directly above my table and see a framed poster of Elián González. He is standing against a sour-lavender backdrop, wearing an absinthe-green shirt and raising his hand to his stupefied mug as if his thumb was one of the bona fide tits of the Virgin Mary. Throbbing red letters beneath him spell out: "Liberen A Elián."
"He’s a little bit out of place in this Clinton shrine, isn’t he?" I ask Charlene, wondering why I hadn’t noticed the poster until now.
She doesn’t answer.
I turn to face her and ask again, but she’s already sitting at the bar, kicking off her shoes and stretching out her Doo Rag with such excruciating senselessness that she looks like she’s having a giddy tug-of-war with herself. As this image superimposes onto the searing colors from the Elián poster, which have saturated my retinas, I realize that today is the two-year anniversary of "The Taking of Elián" siege in Miami…
--Little Rock, AR / April 2002