Tag Archives: Atlanta

The Self-fulfilling Prophet (Part five)

If you’re just joining us, you may want to start with part one to put this post in context. Those of you who have read up to this point, what do you think so far? If it needs more volcanoes erupting or anything, let me know!

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part five

She kept her eyes cast down on her hands for a few seconds, fiddling in her lap. I thought she might just ignore the question and try to change the subject. Instead she looked up at my face with an embarrassed expression.

“That was my boyfriend, Karl. And he was mad because I just told him I was pregnant.”

I pulled the car over to the curb and stared into her face.

“Jesus! I’m taking you to the hospital. There is no way you or I can tell how much harm he might have done to the baby. That should have been the first thing you told me, not…”

“I’m not pregnant. I just told him that to see what he would do. Obviously, I didn’t expect that.”

I regained control of my breath, which had somehow gotten caught in my throat at her initial revelation. I pulled the car back out into the street.

“Well, it seems like that was a pretty bad idea.”

We drove in silence the rest of the way home. I led her up the stairs into my apartment. I sat her on a chair in the dining area while I went to fetch my first aid kit from the bathroom. She took out the hydrogen peroxide solution, some cotton swabs and a Band-Aid.

“Do you have a mirror?”

The only mirror in my apartment was the one attached to the wall in my bathroom, so instead I brought her a butcher’s knife from my kitchen. It had a shiny enough surface that she could fix up her brow if I held it in front of her face.

“Isn’t this funny? Using a knife to help fix a cut?” I asked as lightheartedly as I could muster.

“I’ll let you know once this hydrogen peroxide stops stinging.”

She finished cleaning the gash and covered it up with the Band-Aid. She inspected her handiwork in the knife’s reflective surface before nodding her approval, then seemed to get lost in thought. I put the knife and the first aid kit back in their respective spots, then returned to the dining area and sat in a chair diagonally opposite from…

“I never got your name.”

She snapped back to the present. “I’m sorry, yes. My name is Max.” She noticed my poorly-concealed quizzical look. “It’s short for Maxine. I just find the full thing a bit dated. What about you?”

“No, I think Maxine is a fine name.” She scowled slightly. “Oh, you’re asking my name. Johnson. Johnson Jones. Feel free to call me whatever combination or abbreviation thereof that you can imagine.”

“So I’m a girl with a boy’s name and your first name is a surname?”

“Aren’t we quite the pair?”

She seemed to be warming up to the conversation. Now that I got a chance to look at her properly, I realized that she was probably even younger than I had guessed in the car. Her eyes gave it away; they were still filled with such hope and wonder that I was sure that I was sure life hadn’t yet had a chance to chew her up and spit her back out.

“So, what’s your story, Max? Are you just a regular heart-breaker? Or some special kind?”

She half-snorted. “A heart-breaker, huh? That’s a good one! The only heart I seem to be good at breaking is my own.” She stood up and walked into the kitchen. After a few cupboards had banged open and shut, I heard the tap sputter into life and run for a second, then Max walked back in with a glass of water.

“What about you?” she asked. “What is it that you do for a living, that you live in such a shitty apartment?”

“Matter of fact, I’m unemployed.” She gave a knowing nod, as if this was all in line with her assumptions. It irked me, so I continued. “But only as of yesterday. Before that I made quite a tidy salary as a web developer for Home Depot. This ‘shitty apartment’ is what I like to call frugal. More than sufficient for my needs.”

“Yeah, I guess you don’t bring a lot of women here,” she chuckled. “I suppose I should be flattered.”

I knew I should give her a little leeway, considering her earlier ordeal. But she was rubbing me the wrong way — particularly considering I’d gone out on a limb to help her. I shot back:

“Don’t be. I wouldn’t want to end up being the next Karl: lied to in a parking lot. Why did you tell him you were pregnant when you really aren’t? I won’t condone his reaction, but I would hardly say it was unprovoked.”

She looked stung for a moment, then righteous indignation flooded her face. She looked as if she was going to either respond with something equally insensitive or bite my head off. Instead her manner changed again to something almost apologetic.

“I’m just unlucky in love. I’ve been burned before; I wanted to make sure that what I had with Karl was real. I know it was stupid, but I wanted him to tell me he loved me even after something as ground shaking as an unplanned pregnancy. Instead he…”

I nodded. We sat in an embarrassed silence. I really shouldn’t have lost my cool. After a little while, I was the one to extend the olive branch.

“I think you dodged a bullet with that guy, frankly. But maybe in the future, you just need to trust that your boyfriend means it if he says he loves you. Without trust, your relationship isn’t going to go very far.” I thought of the night before, and chuckled. “Don’t prove that self-fulfilling prophet son of a bitch right.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing. Just a crazy thing I heard from a guy yesterday. He said that when we set our selves up to fail, we’re playing right into the hands of this guy who calls himself the self-fulfilling prophet.” She stared at me skeptically. “Funnily enough, I was so upset last night over losing my job—and maybe I’d had a few beers—but I was just about ready to hop in my car and go to confront that bastard.”

Her face broke out with mirth. “And just where did you think you would find this guy? He doesn’t seem like your everyday Atlanta kind of prophet.”

“I don’t know. New Orleans? Doesn’t that sound like some voodoo shit?”

I laughed, but she didn’t join in. Instead her eyes opened wide. She turned to face me full on, and a smile played at the corners of her mouth.

“So you don’t have a job, right?”

I stiffened. I wasn’t sure I liked where this was going. “Right.”

“And you must have a ton of cash saved up, since you live in this… exceedingly adequate apartment. Am I right?”

“Right.”

The smile was now consuming the entirety of her face.

“Let’s do it. Let’s go to New Orleans and see if we can find this guy. I think I’d like to have a word with him myself!”

end of part five

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The Self-fulfilling Prophet (Part three)

Here’s the second half of the scene from yesterday. I you haven’t read the story from the beginning, you should start with part one. Thanks for reading!

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part three

When he’d finished the song, he held onto the last note a little longer than normal, then cut off with a sharp nod of his head. He grinned at me. Even though he hadn’t hit all of the notes, I had to give him credit for the performance.

“What’s your name, my man?” he asked me. “I’m Mitch. Mich Green from New Orlean’!”

I smiled. “Johnson. Johnson Jones. From Denver, Colorado.”

“J. J., huh? Wait a minute — ‘J. J.’ and ‘Johnson’. Like that old jazz ‘bone player, J. J. Johnson! You play any jazz, yourself?”

“No sir… uh, Mitch. Matter of fact, I played a little trumpet when I was a kid, but I quit before I ever really got good.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet it was a real little trumpet if you was just a kid!” He laughed. “Now hold on a second, though. You said your name is Jones? From Denver? And you named after that old trombone player? I bet you Rick Jones’s kid!”

It took a second for his unexpected conclusion to process in my brain. Then I answered, with genuine surprise: “Yeah, I am. How did you know my father?”

“Well now, I wouldn’t say I knew him. More I knew of him.”

“I never knew he really made that much of an impact in the jazz world, to be honest.” I pondered this for a second. Had my dad really been so well known in the prime of his jazz life that this street performer in Atlanta had heard of him, and still remembered his name all these decades after he had settled into his life of mediocrity and teaching?

As if reading my mind, Mitch elaborated: “I used to play up in Denver for a while myself, back in the day. I saw your daddy on several occasions, wailing out solos. Sooth, that cat could blow!”

So not quite the national sensation I had imagined a moment earlier, but still. The name had stuck with this guy, as the years and the miles brought him further and further from the old Denver jazz scene.

“Why do you keep saying ‘sooth’?” I asked him. “Isn’t that more of a Shakespeare thing than a jazz thing?”

“I say ‘sooth’ because it means ‘truth’! That’s what I’m out here spreading to the people who come by: the truth. You see all these other guys always asking for money and expecting to get something for nothing. Sure, maybe they’ve got some cute story about how they need money to buy their psych meds; or how they ain’t eaten in three days, and if you knew how they felt you’d give them the money no questions asked; or how the homeless shelter charges a cover fee and they’re only five bucks short. All these little lies, little fictions. Yet they try to sell it as the truth. I’m here blowing on my horn and bringing to people the real truth of music. And I never ask nobody for money; my case is here just in case anybody is feeling especially appreciative.”

Throughout this diatribe, he’d gotten increasingly more impassioned. But now that he’d reached the end, he’d calmed down significantly. He raised his hands resignedly. “And that’s the best thing anybody can search for in this world. The truth. Yet it’s so hard to come by the real deal. That’s why I play my music; I ain’t pretending nothing, just spreading the joy.”

I felt compelled to fill the silence that followed this statement. “Well, thank you. Your song meant a lot to me just now. I suppose I’m searching for a few truths of my own right now. Like what I’m going to do now that I lost my job.” I mean to say something else to turn the topic away from this particular subject that had wormed its way to the surface out of my own mouth, but I couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say.

After over a minute of standing there silently, Mitch broke the quiet. “That’s going to take some searching all right. But that’s not the truth you’re really after. You just remember that. No matter what happens in these next few days, you just keep on looking for what that real truth is that you’re after. Find your truth.”

I turned this over in my mind for a second, and was just about to ask him to clarify, when I heard a string of notes come pouring out of the end of his trumpet. A group of people had just rounded to corner at the other end of the block, and he was hoping to earn some more cash. Or spread his truth, whatever that meant.

I nodded my head to him to thank him for the distraction, dropped a second dollar bill in his case and continued walking home. As I crossed the street at the end of the block, I felt a breeze ruffling my hair.

“Now just you wait a minute, Mr. Washington,” I heard behind me. “I’m an entertainer…”

I got home and fell face first on my bed. I hadn’t had dinner yet, but I wasn’t really hungry. As I drifted into a deep and troubled sleep, the jazz man’s words echoed through my brain.

“Find your truth.”

end of part three

(to part four)

The Self-fulfilling Prophet (Part two)

This second part was a bit of a long time coming, but I’ve now got a plan for where this story is going. I meant for this segment to go a bit longer, but decided to break it up for readability. Expect more in the very near future. If you haven’t done so yet, you may want to start by reading part one. Thanks!

***

part two

I strode over to my car as purposefully as I could manage with the few drinks under my belt and performed the key test. That’s the test that I use to determine whether I’m sober enough to drive or not. Basically, if I can get the key into the keyhole in the first try without missing and jamming it on the outside of the lock, then I’m OK to drive. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever got one of those cars that doesn’t come with the keyholes anymore, and instead just has a keypad on the outside of the car. I suppose it would become more of a memory test at that point.

The key missed its slot by about a needle’s-width. Not too far off, but I really shouldn’t drive. I didn’t actually need to either, because I was only about a half-hour’s walk from my apartment. I just had the car with me because I’d come straight to the bar from work. Screw it, I thought. I’ll come back for it in the morning. Besides, I could use the walk.

It wasn’t dark yet dark, and the Atlanta sun soon brought beads of sweat up on my brow. I stopped walking and removed my suit jacket. It’s not like I needed it right now anyway, being freshly unemployed. I slung it over my shoulder in a way that I hoped would make me look carefree and started moving again. But I knew I wasn’t really fooling anyone. The knowledge that the last six years of my life had just been nullified in one afternoon was a considerable weight on my mind, and it felt like the brunt of that weight had somehow been transferred into the pockets of the jacket. I panicked and let it slip off of my fingers, plummeting to the ground behind me with a thud. I stood there looking at it for a second then picked it up, dusted it off and draped it over my arm.

In order to get my mind off of the day’s tragedies, I thought of my biggest inspiration: my dad. Rick Jones had been a jazz trombonist in the Glenn Miller Orchestra in his youth, but by the time I got to the scene he was a washed-up trombone instructor giving weekly lessons at a few of the colleges around Denver, where I grew up. He may never have reached any real level of notoriety in the jazz world, but the one thing I couldn’t help but notice about him was that he was always happy when he played his horn. What would he have thought of me right now?

I had been happy too, when I first learned computer programming. Back in college, before it was a nine-to-five job, I even spent a lot of my free time elaborating on the exercises that we did in class and creating games that I forced my friends to play with me. Even for those first few months out in the corporate world, I was doing what I loved, and I enjoyed it. But then I got under someone’s thumb, and he crushed the enjoyment right out of me. My up-until-very-recently boss. What a dickhead.

My dad never let that happen to him. Though he’d been gone now for a couple of years, I still had very vivid memories of him up on stage in the jazz clubs with his buddies, making the music they’d all loved. He’d convinced me to start playing the trumpet when I was ten years old, but I’d given it up during a rebellious stage in my mid-teens. I think his dream was that someday he and I would play together on one of those stages: him on the bone, and me on the trumpet…

The trumpet. I snapped out of my reverie and noticed there was a man at the end of the block blowing into a trumpet next to an open case. He wore a pork pie hat, like the jazz men of old, along with a dark set of shades and a grizzled goatee. Always one to support the arts, I separated a dollar from my wallet and dropped it into his case when I got close enough. I stopped walking and looked on as he played a string of notes from a tune that I didn’t recognize, until a slight breeze picked up and upset the dollar that I’d put in his case.

“Now just you wait a minute, Mr. Washington,” he said, addressing the piece of paper. “I’m an entertainer, not an Olympic runner. Don’t you be running off on me!” His voice was exactly what I’d expect from a 1950s jazz man: gravelly and smoky, with a whole lot of soul. He weighted down the dollar with a little bottle of valve oil that was in the case, then looked up at me: “Sooth! You know, when I get these fellows home I need to teach them not to fly. You know how I do that?”

I shook my head. Normally I might have excused myself at this point, but I had nowhere to be.

“I sit ’em all on a chair, then turn on a fan. The ones that try to fly away, I take ’em and spend ’em. That shows the other little Georges what not to do!” He grinned. “So what would you like me to play for you?”

Being the son of a jazz musician, there were a dozen songs that sprung to my head. But instead, I deferred to his judgement: “What is your favorite song to play?”

“You know, one of the best jazz players I never had the privilege to meet was Duke Ellington. Another great one, a bit later, was Stevie Wonder. Of course, he and I never saw each other neither.” He smiled a little bit and let his joke sink in. “But here’s a song that Stevie wrote as a tribute to Duke: it’s called Sir Duke.”

And he launched into the tune that I knew very well, having heard my father play it a hundred times with his group.

end of part two

(to part three)