GRANDMA AND MOKE
Eventually I did meet Calvin’s grandmother in her own home. It was late in the evening, several months
later, and I don’t recall how we ended up there but there I was face to face with his grandmother in her living
room. She was short and bulky in a floral print dress with a long white lace apron. She had grey hair and
glasses and a fixed faux smile. It was a little weird with her standing there the entire time with her hands on
her hips smiling at me and talking out the side of her mouth to Calvin.
“Have you lost your mind, Calvin? What on God’s green earth has possessed you bringing a white boy, and
a hippie no less, into this house?”
“It’s alright, Gram…”
“No it ain’t! It ain’t alright. It may be alright for you, but I LIVE in this here neighborhood.”
“Do NOT stand there, Calvin, and Gram me. Now, take your friend downstairs and do NOT leave until the
sun has gone well down.”
Downstairs we found Calvin’s roommate slouched in a big chair with his feet up on a huge wooden coffee
table. There was beer and dope on the table and when Calvin went out of the room to go to the bathroom
his roommate addressed me.
“How’s it feel being the only white face for miles in any direction?”
“It is, huh? So, you give no credence to the theory that a white person who finds hisself in the middle of the
nigger district in the middle of the damned night might be endangered?”
“Calvin’s my friend. I think he…”
“I ain’t your damn friend!” he snapped. “You ever hear the phrase, niggers with knives?”
“Well, it’s true,” he said and he produced a big bowie knife from out of nowhere and drove it, point first, into
the table top. He leaned back into his chair, grinning, and said, “Niggers with knives. That has GOT TO BE
your worse nightmare.”
While I was trying to figure out what to say to that, Calvin returned and saw the knife, stuck deep into the
table top. It was still quivering from the impact. He eyed his friend suspiciously and they both burst into
laughter as they shook hands, employing a complicated 42 step process, reserved only for the very closest
Calvin said to me, “Moke been messin’ with you?”
“Well…” I looked at the knife and hesitated.
“Moke, say you’re sorry to Edward. He’s a friend of mine.”
“Nah. He knew I was playin’ with him all along,” said Moke, “didn’t you, Edward?” He leaned forward and
extended his hand. “Call me Moke.”
“Moke,” I repeated and shook his hand in a single stroke. “Moke.”
“Moke, as in ‘What you been ‘mokin’ ?” said Moke, and laughed.
“I KNOW what you been ‘mokin’,” said Calvin. They both laughed. “Where is the moke, Moke?”
Moke and Calvin and me ‘moked a little weed together, then we sat up all night jabbering about what they
called just a bunch of crazy-ass shit.
I left, by myself, just about dawn. When I was rounding the corner, turning toward home, heading toward the
redneck part of town, there was an old black man, a homeowner, watering his perfectly maintained lawn,
behind a short, freshly painted, pure white picket fence. He simply could not believe his eyes when he saw a
long-haired white kid just strolling by his little house. It may very well have been something he’d never seen
before. He looked at me cautiously with huge eyes and froze in place. He said not a word, but he was
keeping his eye on me, so I nodded and said, “Good morning.”
“Mornin’, Suh,” he said still dumbfounded by my presence on his block. I don’t know why I felt so comfortable
there, but it really was a very nice little neighborhood. I always felt comfortable in Richmond at 5 a.m.
At 5 a.m. I owned that town.
A TAILOR OF GREAT SADNESS
The suit was a beautiful thing, a nice soft grey fabric with white chalk stripes—like gangsters and high-class
lawyers wore in previous times. And it was my size. I mean, the jacket fit me perfectly, I assumed the pants
would. And it was $3 I think. I don’t know what I was doing in Goodwill, but there I was and there it was and if
the gods had put a bullhorn directly to my ear the message couldn’t have been clearer; this suit was meant
for me. I had no use for a suit of course--no use whatsoever--but, you know, for three bucks I could wear it
to paint in. Jeans cost $6 in those days, good jeans were almost $10.
So, I bought the thing and brought it up to my little loft and hung it somewhere so I could look at it once in a
while and dream of the day I would wear it.
One day, inspired by I don’t know what, I decided that I’d better try on the pants. And, though they were long
enough you could have put two of me in there at the waist. I spent a bit of time mulling over that; wondering
about the shape of the guy who had originally owned the thing. (my first guess…potato…) But, I resigned
myself to the fact that I’d just bought a suit coat, and that that was kinda cool in itself. (…pinstriped…)
Weeks later, while on my way downtown to a place with painted windows I passed by a tailor’s shop. Just out
of curiosity I decided to go in. There were two ancient (you know, relatively speaking) men in there, each in
white shirt and tie with rolled up sleeves, and they were talking quietly. The one behind the counter
stopped, needle in mid stitch, and took off his wire-rimmed glasses when I walked in. The one on my side of
the counter swung around slowly on his stool and looked at me inquiringly. What on earth could this kid in
jeans, with long hair, want?
“You’re a tailor?”
“May I ask you a question?”
“Well, you see, I bought this suit, you know, at Goodwill. And though the jacket fits perfectly, the pants are
kinda big and…well, is there anything you could do about that?”
“That is possible.”
“How much would it cost to…I mean how much do you think it might cost to take in the waist…of the pants?”
“Take in is no problem. To let out; that’s another matter. But, take in…” He shrugged. He said something to
his friend in a language I’d never heard before. His friend sputtered a bit and shrugged and said something
back in one or two words.
“Bring me in these pants and I will see.”
“But, I need to know…well, you know, I need to know about how much. I need to know…if I can afford it. I’m
The two old gentlemen both laughed at that. “Who is?” They both nodded at the wisdom in that simple
statement. “You bring to me the pants and I will tell you how much.”
“Would it be more than $10?”
“You bring in these pants. OK, for $10 I will do this for you, could be maybe less.”
I RAN about thirty blocks. Fourteen blocks to my place—don’t forget three flights of stairs up, don’t forget
three flights of stairs rapidly down, carrying pants—and sixteen blocks back, to the tailor’s shop. When I
arrived he was in the midst of pulling down the shade in the front door, closing up.
“Come in, come in,” he said bowing.
“I’m glad I made it,” I huffed.
I noticed that the tailor’s friend had left as I walked ahead and placed the pants on the counter. “These are
the pants I told you about,” I said, still huffing. He came around the counter and, put on his glasses,
lifted the pants toward a light.
“This,” he said, “is a nice wool; a good wool. This is a very good wool.”
“Can you take them in?...You said it would only cost like $10.”
“Yes. How much do they need taken in…” he mulled out loud.
I knew it was more of a question for himself, but I wanted to be a part of the social arrangement. I answered
cleverly, “About a hundred miles I guess.”
He took off his glasses and look up at me. “The funny business...?” he said sharply. (He pronounced it Piz-
nez) “You come here to make the funny business?!”
I could see that he was furious. I didn’t know what I had done to upset him, but I wanted to apologize.
“You!” he shouted, “You always coming again with the funny business.”
He took my pants in a clump and thrust them toward me. “You will please leave my shop.” I took the pants.
“You will be kind to leave my shop,” he said, walking over to the door and holding it open for me.
I had no idea what I had done; whatever it was, I was deeply deeply sorry that I had done it. And, even now—
I guess it’s been more than 40 years now—I ache with the desire to apologize to that man, explain myself,
fix that mess. I dropped the pants in a garbage can on the way home, never wore the suit coat. I think,
eventually, I gave it back to Goodwill.