A toast to changing spots


There was no convincing the kid that watching the great Helen St. James work had been mostly boring. “Oh, no it wasn’t,” she said with a smile.

“Trust me.”

“Come on.”

“Smitty, listen…”

“What did you just call me?”

For some reason, it seemed to fit. “Smitty, you’ll find out, believe me.  Ain’t none of this nearly as exciting as it looks from the outside. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell. Even today. How many people have a profession where even when it’s not interesting, it still is? Just because of what you’re getting paid.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Trust me. It will. This time next year, it’ll make perfect sense.”

She stubbornly was unconvinced, but let it go. Their drinks arrived. Sam had Southern Comfort, straight up with a beer chaser. He had his usual. They shared a plate of barbecued buffalo wings. And talked shop.

“So,” he said, “you doin’ some Jackson Browne, now. When I tried to get you to sing a cover, you—”

Sam flushed nearly crimson, cutting him off with a wave of her hand. “I know what I did, you don’t have to remind me. I acted like a total jerk.”

Yes, she had. But, since she copped to it, that would be bad manners, cruel even, for him to say so. “You acted…” he allowed, “young.”

Turned out, singing backup for and hanging out with Helen had done her some lasting good. Since all Helen did was covers. And tunes by songwriters nobody’d heard of. Lately, of course, established tunesmiths had started having their agents pitch her material.

Sam let him know she wasn’t crazy about how often he, Helen, and the rest of them referred to her age. She definitely didn’t like being called a kid, which happened on a fairly regular basis. Accordingly, she dismissed his reference to her age, saying, “Even a leopard can change its spots.”

He raised his glass. “Here’s to changing spots.”

She raised hers. “Here’s to it.” Adding, “And to Mr. Keith Jackson.” Then, gave him a dazed, dreamy grin with those gorgeous green eyes. He got ready to field and fend off an illicit innuendo. She surprised him with a perfectly innocent, “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”


“I wouldn’t. I’d be one of I don’t know how many music school graduates trying to beat each other out for a job they don’t even want in some dry old orchestra.” He cracked up.

She had to smile, too, continuing, “If there’s ever any way I can properly thank you…” She winked. It was an innocent, friendly wink. “Just let me know. Really.” Then she leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thank you, Keith.”

“Y’ welcome.”

“And it’s okay if you call me Smitty. I don’t think I ever had a nickname.” They went on having a very pleasant conversation and getting seriously oiled. Once in a while, they got up and danced. Mostly, they sat talking until she looked at him kind of cross-eyed and said, “Well, are we gonna catch a cab back to the hotel?” At which point, he realized she clearly had had at least one or two too many.

He called Taraji’s twin over, signed for the tab, and reminded Sam, “We’re at the hotel, girl.”

“Oh, that’s right,” she giggled. He saw her to her room and then found his way to his.

 Next week: Mensah’s out, Yohannes in.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.