Sil Worthy Studies Dharma, Part 4
To recap: Sil Worthy is traveling across Chandeleur County to Port Sulphur on the Greyhound Bus and has fallen into a fugue state and is plagued by memories of his youth and the immanent arrival of Allgood, an old crony from his days in the underground resistance to the War.
For previous parts of Sil’s story, go to the Assumption Street page for links and other related material.
Ah, the old Red Rosa Days of his youth
when the inside was outside
and when on the outside
they danced to
Champion Jack Dupree’s
“Gravier Street Rag”
Sil remembered the very night that he and his Red Rosa Faction pals cooked up the scheme to hold up the head cashier at the Hibernia Bank on Gravier Street and score enough cash to pay for their bus tickets and expenses to travel to New York for a march against the War. The leader of the Faction was a poli-sci student at Tulane by the name of Minnie Bloom. Her family was wealthy—the city’s number one funeral home for generations—but she was in rebellion and rejected their bourgeois values and money.
It was in the winter of 1971 and the group had often thought about taking some kind of action that would pay off in more than one way. They wanted money, that was obvious. But they also wanted attention, which was just as obvious. Money and attention were the the golden pair you might say. Sil wondered if there was such a thing as a trifecta of desire. What would it be? “Money and attention and freedom to act.” That’s what Minnie said, so it had to be true.
They sat a table at Fun’s Chinese eating moo goo gai pan and drinking lapsang souchong while outside on Decatur Street flowed the night parade of prostitutes and sailors up and down and the tourists and the last of the tourist carriages pulled by sweaty horses—or mules, who could say? The lights on the Jax brewery gave a pretty good if pale illumination. Horns and steam whistles sounded a ragged rhythm from the river.
Billy Hargrove stood up and waved his hands pretending to be Lenin addressing the crowds at the Helsinki train station or some such, but nobody paid him any attention. There was tension in the air but he wasn’t getting it. Billy never got it. In fact Billy was a real drag on the whole operation and everybody knew it. His girlfriend, Carla Meachum, shook her long-stringy red hair and told him to shut up and sit down, but he didn’t.
“I will not,” he said. And everybody got a good laugh out of it because this is the way it always went until somebody would finally push the plate of rice across the table until it nearly fell off and somebody else would say, “Why are we doing this if all we’re gonna do is sit here and listen to Billy and Carla fight with each other. Some revolutionaries we are. The best we can think of to do is watch the night parade on Decatur Street—wow, wow, my dog’s barking—we all might as well be dogs barking. Beagles barking for all the good it does.”
Minnie said nothing in response for a long time. Her silence filled the room and shamed everyone. She sipped her tea and carried herself so firmly aloof that nothing else in Fun’s made any difference and we all knew it. Even her frizz-curly black hair was aloof. She held us in her hand and we waited for her to move her fingers and bring us to life. That’s how callow we were. It was not a waste, it was a loss of time. Time we’d never get back or even remember all that well.
“It’s out there,” she said. “It’s out there and we just let it roll by.” She wore a black turtleneck sweater even though the night was hot and humid for February. Some said she thought it was the proper uniform for her rôle in life. If you were Red Rosa you wore a black sweater. She was called Red Rosa because when their group had affiliated with the Weather Underground, they had chosen to call themselves the Red Rosa Faction—after “Red Rosa” Luxemburg, the radical agitator assassinated by the Berlin police during the early days of the German Revolution at the end of World War One—and to code-name Minnie Bloom, their leader, Red Rosa.
Sil knew Minnie was not dressing to fit a revolutionary dress code. She wore the sweater because it was the only one she had. Her mother would’ve bought her another one if she’d only asked for it but Minnie refused. She wouldn’t take any more from the family, she said, as long as they supported a system that was so oppressive and mean spirited. Some considered this a pissy attitude but Sil didn’t. To him, she never had a pissy attitude about anything. He was blind in that respect or so people told him. Sil, you’ve got a blind spot when it comes to Minnie being pissy about things, you know. But he shrugged it off like he shrugged off so much that was obviously troubling about Minnie.
Anyway, the evening went on that way, the way such meetings often did. Around midnight somebody went to the Rock-Ola and punched in an old Bobby Marchan record and everyone wept.
I think that you don’t care,
And it’s more than I can bear,
I don’t know baby,
Maybe it’s all in my mind,
all in my mind.
That’s right, they wept for loss (everybody had read Look Homeward, Angel and declared it the greatest), but for the loss of what they didn’t know. When the song finished almost everybody left Fun’s and went out into the night and misplaced themselves somewhere.
Sil and Minnie stayed at Fun’s and talked. Around two, they decided that somebody should walk down to the Hibernia Bank first thing in the morning and watch the people come and go. Sil volunteered.
“What am I looking for?”
“How many people would you estimate are standing in any particular line waiting for a cashier?”
“That’s a good place to start. If we know about how many people on average are in line then we can decide something.”
“Yeah, like if the lines are too long we may have to wait put this off for another time, think it through, my right?”
“You’re right. We’re not really, you know, what you might call adept at this.”
“Maybe we should get someone who’s got more experience.”
“I know somebody,” said Sil. “Name’s Shim Laster. Lives in Carrollton, in a little house behind the streetcar barn. He’s got a pistol but he leaves it home whenever he goes out to rob. What he does is he pretends. He knows how to walk into a place like the grocery store on the corner of Laurel and Camp and pretend that he has a pistol but he doesn’t.”
“I would never carry a pistol into a grocery or anywhere for that matter.”
“Well, Minnie, that’s Shim’s talent, he’s good at illusions and he can say, without having to use the words, You really need to hand over your money. He can do it with a threat in his voice, a menace in his voice that is persuasive without being overtly aggressive. People give him the money. Believe it or not, he hasn’t worked a day in years.”
“Well,” said Minnie, “maybe we should just get this Shim to do this, if he’s so good at it.”
“I doubt if he would. He has his standards so he says. Won’t steal for a political cause, only sustenance.”
“But do you think he would teach us teach one of us how to do this?”
“Maybe he would if we paid him.”
“Would he do it for a plate of moo goo gai pan?”
“He might,” Sil shrugged.
“Call and ask him.”
And so the evenings would go very much in this vein.
To be continued
Drawing by R Young.
“All in My Mind,” recorded by Bobby Marchan, was written by Maxine Brown.