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Hank and Keith reach an understanding

By the time dinner was done with, everybody was feeling pretty nice. Which is when Mari decided to turn dinner into pool party. “Keith, darling? You didn’t happen to pack a pair of swimming trunks?”

“So happens I did not.”

“Henry?”

“I got it.” Mari and Lesli strolled out to the front lawn, chatting like school girls. Hank handed Keith an apron, strapped on one himself. They commenced to clean up and chew the rag. “Have t’ watch you.”

“Watch me?”

“Yeah. You have and hold the singular distinction of being the first man to catch our daughter’s eye since myself who her mother didn’t cut off at the knees.” He looked Keith up and down with clear favor. “You charm snakes, too?” They both got a laugh out of that. “So,” Hank continued, lowering his voice, “this Helen St. James. She all she’s cracked up to be?”

“I don’t know what-all she’s cracked up to be, Hank.” Keith finished his drink, started a fresh one. Continue Reading →

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The diners hold forth

Hank snatched up a cloth and began wiping the glass table down. “Would you start putting those burgers on the platter while they’re still edible?”

“Sure thing.”

“So, what’s my daughter got against Helen St. James? I saw the woman on a TV interview. Seems like a nice lady. Kind of on the sassy side, but still nice.”

“Oh, Helen’s fine. To tell the truth, Lesli doesn’t know her real well. Hasn’t taken the time. She… Well, she doesn’t like the fact that I like her. I mean, as a friend and all, but, well, Helen’s a special kind of gal.”

“Ah,” Hank said and tossed the cloth under the grill. “The green-eyed devil raising his head.”

“Yeah, you could say.”

“I wouldn’t let that throw you, son. Her mother was the same way. She’ll get over it.”

Keith winced. “You sure?”

Hank chuckled. “Just hang in there. Continue Reading →

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Keith survives round one

With Lesli’s mother Mari eyeballing him, Keith somehow summoned the nerve to stare right back. She pressed, “Aren’t you going to tell me how much you love her?” She took a tiny sip of her bourbon. “How much she means to you?”
Keith knew no matter what he said he’d be wrong. Figured what the hell, might as well go with the truth. “No. I’m not going to say any of that.”
She crossed her shapely legs, settled back on her hips. Reminding him again how closely she resembled her daughter. Her daughter resembled her. Vice versa, whatever. Mari pushed: “Why not?”
“Because, Ms. Hall, I can’t begin to say how much I love Lesli. Or explain what she means to me. Continue Reading →

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Keith gets grilled by Hurricane Mari

Keith was in the backyard with Leslie getting acquainted with her father when they heard, “God damn it!” come from the kitchen. “Son of a —!” Lesli went in to see what was wrong. Hank said to Keith, conspiratorially, “Vocabulary like that, you’d never know she’s an English professor, would y’?”

“No comment.”

“Smart man.”

“What do you do, sir?”

“Okay, I can tell you’re doing your best to be polite and put a good foot forward. That’s also smart. But, no ‘Mr.’ and no ‘sir’ please.”

“Just Hank.”

“Now, y’ got it.” He walked up on the patio, waving Keith along. “Come on, treat yourself to a taste. Time you get done meetin’ my wife, you’ll need it.”

He crossed to the rolling bar, took two glasses, put them on the umbrellaed table along with an ice bucket. Reached for a bottle of Dewars. “Pick your poison. See anything you like?”

“Yes s—.” He caught himself. “Uh, yeah. Some of that jug of Jack Daniel’s’ll do just fine.” A jug it was. Bigger than the others by far, a half-gallon of Tennessee sippin’ whiskey. Otherwise known as bourbon. Hank seemed to make a mental note. Dropping rocks in their glasses, pouring, he picked back up, “Me, I quit teachin’ college. At the same place. That’s where we met — hear tell you and my little girl met under some interestin’ circumstance.”

Keith kind of squirmed. With another warm, easy smile, Hank continued: “Stony Brook University. Not that I didn’t like it — did you know Louis Peterson once taught there?”

“Uh…no.”

“Wrote Take A Giant Step. Damned good play. First Black dramatist on Broadway.” He interrupted himself to hand Keith his drink and hoist his own glass. “To yours and Lesli’s happiness.”

“Thank you, sir.” And caught himself again. Hank winked. They sipped. “Anyway. I used to teach directing. To students who, most of them, figured they already knew all there was to learn. Between you and me, all but the best of ’em, I wondered how they managed to walk from one end of a stage to the other without falling off.”

Keith laughed. “After enough of that,” Hank continued, “I chaired the department a few years, then said, ’Nah.’ Had written a book that did well enough. Continue Reading →

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Keith meets Hank and Mari

Everybody laughed. The session went swimmingly. The only thing Helen had to say when they were done was, “We should’ve recorded that.” Then she snatched Keith by the collar. “Boy, come here. I wanna talk t’ you.”

They went back out to the lobby and Helen said, “Okay, whatever it is I’m paying you, you get a raise.”

“Works for me.” He pressed his luck. “Y’know what’s a good idea?”

“No, what?”

“You and the brat singing some Sam and Dave. I could pull out some of my best Steve Cropper riffs.”

Helen nodded. “Yeah, that is a good idea. Damned good. I knew I had the right man for this job. Okay, I’m outta here.” She turned and walked off, Keith watching her wear the hell out of those sweat pants every step of the way. Continue Reading →

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Helen raises hell

Helen St. James didn’t understand the maxim “If it’s working, don’t fix it.” They got started and before long he’d had to throw her out, banish the star from her from own session. Everybody loved Helen — was crazy about the woman — which was why everyone was happy as hell to sign on for this quick jaunt out to the middle of nowhere. But they also resigned themselves to her arduous method of rehearsing. Pausing to needlessly pick over every little thing. And have you play one line three different times, three different ways. Each. Continue Reading →

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Keith decides things could be worse

Right now, Lesli had raised something else to deal with. “Would you like,” he asked, “to tell me about this your-mother’s-not-going-to-like-me business?”

Turned out this was not something to which Lesli had looked forward. Since Mari, her mom, deliberately found something about all her boyfriends to intently dislike. You could count on it. Hence, she simply stopped introducing them to her. There wasn’t any two ways around this, though. Because she’d never been this sold on a guy. And knew there was no point delaying the inevitable. Knew it from the day she’d basically badgered Keith into proposing. That she’d finally landed that ever-elusive great catch, even if it took two years and change to reel him in. “So,” she said, “guess we better bite the bullet, hunh?’

“Well.” Keith sipped at his drink. “What about your dad?”

She shrugged. “Good old easygoing Hank Hall? He tends to stay out of it. Not that he’s whipped or anything. He just doesn’t want to hear her mouth if he doesn’t have to. Let’s say he picks his spots.”

Keith nodded. Sounds like a smart man. It might not hurt to take a page from his book. Continue Reading →

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Dinner goes sour

Lesli guardedly watched him as Keith coughed on a mouthful of fries, spitting out bits of short-rib. Managed to wash it down, wiping sauce from his face. He looked in his whiskey glass at specks of meat. What good mood he’d held onto since leaving the show, waiting for this shoe to drop, was gone. He sipped water and summoned the waitstaff, beckoning for the first person handy. Thinking, wasn’t this the greatest news? On this enjoyable evening? “Lesli,” he declared, taking the napkin from his lap, dabbing at the tablecloth, “long as I’ve known you, baby, girl, you full of surprises.” She sensed that was not quite meant as a compliment. Continue Reading →

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Meeting the in-laws grows complicated

That evening they stepped out on the town. They’d gone to see that revival of No Place to Be Somebody at the Apollo.  Leafing through the playbill, he’d idly suggested that it was time he met his in-laws-to-be. She had simply nodded, seriously reading hers. Going over the bios. The production was powerful. Greatly deserved the standing ovation it got. After, filing out with the crowd, they’d strolled the block or so over to Sylvia’s to have themselves a good soul food dinner. She laced her arm through his, leaning in, and said, “Honey?”

He never like it when she said that word quite that way. “What is it?”

“Now, baby, don’t be like that.”

Another dead giveaway that he wasn’t going to like whatever it was she’d eventually get around to saying. It was a good thing he was crazy about her. Continue Reading →

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Lesli joins the two-percent club

“I’ll grab something more to eat after I get there,” Lesli said as she prepared to leave for work. “Hit the commissary, then tackle that damned letter to the board. They have got to approve the plan to add a fourth floor. It’s expensive as hell, but baby, it makes sense. Even a big-shot operation like that has to keep up with the times and keep improving. Keep tourism here instead of losing it to other cities.”

She had a point. And he’d seen some of this woman’s well-written letters. The board would side with her on the expansion or have to come up with a damned good reason why. Funders knew about this beautiful, brassy exec with a mind like a steel trap. The director had seen to it. Yeah, that new floor likely was as good as done. “Know what I feel like eating?” she asked. Idly, more to herself than to him.”

“Nope.” He had clicked on the remote and was watching the news with a lapful of Bruno, Butch and Sundance. For once the kittens were leaving the old guy in peace, hanging out, watching the news with Keith. “Not ’til you tell me, no.”

“A banana split. With the works. Different kinds of nuts, rich whipped cream, lots of syrup, the whole nine.”

“Mm-hm, sounds good.”

“And a bowl of tomato soup.”

Keith lowered the volume on the television. “What was that? Did you just say—”

“Yeah. Continue Reading →

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