Monday, September 13, 2010

So Long Sloppy Joe!

The rooms were surprisingly bright...Very colorful.....There was fresh flowers everywhere and the smell of incense burning at the end of the hallway.....If I didn't know I was in a hospice... I would have sworn I was in a , well a nursery! "88", the keyboardist in my band walked a few steps behind Downtown Rob Brown and myself...Reed Nelson....I play Trumpet.

Rob Brown looked like he was seeing ghosts....I'm sure there were ghosts to be seen...This was after all, a place where people came to die.. This was where they sent you when the doctors could do no more...Where they say they tried to make you as comfortable as possible until of course...the inevitable .........

"You don't like it here do ya youngin?" I said to Downtown Rob Brown.

"Nah...I try to think about life..not death." he said. "88' looked at him and suppressed a slight smile. I paid his comment no mind at all.

"You about to meet a living legend youngin....You being a pure jazzman and all...I thought you'd like to meet Joseph W. Forks!" I said. His eyes got wide....He opened his mouth and didn't say anything at first...then he spoke-

"Forks? Joseph Forks?? SLOPPY JOE FORKS??? Are you serious?? I thought he died years ago." said Rob.

"Nope...He went to France....Lived there in seclusion for ten years...and then returned to Philly....He 's uh got stage five, colon cancer.....There's not really anything the Doctors can do for him." I said and lowered my head.

"Okay Reed, you can write my life story after I'm dead and you know what??...I give you permission to play me in the movie if you like..." came a voice from the room we were standing outside of.

I smiled ...It was Sloppy Joe Forks...He was dressed in pajamas and sitting on the side of his bed.

He certainly didn't look like a man who only had a few days to live.

"Teacher...How are you doing?" I said.

"Teacher?? Reed, you studied under this guy?" asked Downtown Rob Brown.

"Yup, studied at his feet." I said with a smile.

"Yeah and then went and re-invented the wheel right before my eyes...or at least he think so." laughed the old man as he hugged me...I could feel his bones...He was a shadow of the big vibrant man I had once knew...A man who had been my father's friend back in Patterson and Newark and who had took me under his wing and taught me the nuances of playing the trumpet and practically everything I know about music and jazz in particular.

"Joe...This is "88" , the keyboardist in my band....and this young fella here is "Downtown " Rob Brown...another trumpet player and a purist." I said. Rob and "88" stood in awe......

"Hahahahaha...That's what I like about jazz musicians...We always have the coolest nicknames."
He said with a laugh.

"I would ask you how you're holding up Joe...but you aint the sentimental type." I said.

"Nah, I aint....Listen...I called you here Reed because I need a favor." he said.

"Sure..anything you want...You need me to bring you somethin?" I said as I sat on the bed next to him.

"Nah....I'm bustin outta this joint....Tonight....I need you to bring your car up here...To the back."
he said... He wasn't finished talking....but the three of us, Downtown Rob Brown, "88" and myself busted out laughing...We were sure he was joking. He wasn't....There wasn't even a hint of a smile on the old man's face.

"Reed...I'm serious man....I need one night...just one last night on the last night before .. well you know...I got enough strength to get dressed and get out of here.....Please...grant a ....a......guy that's know....that's runnin out of tomorrows one last wish...Please Reed..

I miss the nightlife." he said.

I realized then that he was completely serious......I held my head down...For the first time, I really felt sorry for him..

"Man, you serious? What if we get caught?" I said.

"You won't....I'm gonna shave and shower ...I got some clothes stashed away....and this night watchman..He's in on it too.....I just had to supply you and a car...Look...we'll check out a club or two and you can bring me back...Nobody here will even know I'm gone. My inside man, Sonny...He'll come out back and signal you....I want to drink some gin, see a fine young woman and hear some music before I go.....Gus still got Josies?" he asked.

"Yeah...All of us play there from time to time...but you know...the nightlife has changed since you were around...Drinkin Gin alone may kill you." I said.

"There's a lot worse ways to go sonny boy." he said and smiled... How could I refuse him?

"Alright man...I'll be here at 11:00 sharp...I'm going to wait until it...I don't see You or Sonny...I'm gone, understand?" I said....tears running down my face.....He and I both knew that I'd wait as long as it would take.

"Good Enough Reed..I'll be ready." he said.

That night at 11:00 pm sharp....I drove up to the back of the building....88 and Rob sat in the back of the car.....Sloppy Joe was standing there....Sharp as a tack as my dad would have said...Joe had on a tailored suit that was kind of hanging off of him.....He'd lost a lot of weight due to his illness. He had on a fashionable cologne and had a fresh shave...He almost looked good.

His guy, Sonny and Rob Brown helped him into the car...Sonny waved as we pulled off! We took Joe to Josies....Symphony Sam and his band were sharing the bill with a group from out of town called Bruno and The Heaters....It wasn't the best night for music...but Sloppy Joe didn't complain. I sure wished that we were playing or Downtown Rob Brown, Ingrid Rhodes or Brooke Taylor...

Gus ,the bartender and owner of Josies walked over to our booth....He was stunned....

"Joe!!! Sloppy Joe Folks.....You old hound....I heard you was sick...What are you doin out?" he asked.

"Colorado...How long has it been?" said Joe, ignoring Gus's question and smiling as if nothing was the matter with him.

Couldn't too many people call Gus by his given name and get away with it...but Joe and Gus went way back...

"I'm doin good man....Look, stay right here...I'm gon bring some Shenley Gin back...that's your favorite." said Gus.

"Alright....Now it's a party." laughed Joe as he continued to snap his fingers to the music.... Symphony Sam was swinging tonight...I was impressed...

Honey Brown was wearing a really low cut blouse that was showing her huge breasts off and her short dress had guys snapping their heads back and forth all night....Sloppy Joe loved it! She brought him over a basket of Fried Chicken and crinkle cut French Fries..and Louisiana Hot Sauce...

"They're on the house big daddy....Gus is coming over with the Gin...Anything else you want, you just let me know." she said.

"Yeah...I need more time so I could get to know a fine thing like you!" he said with a big laugh!

"Ouuuuuuuu, you so fresh!" she laughed as did we all.

Gus came back with the gin and some shot glasses....We all sat and drank gin and ate Fried Chicken and French Fries and listened to the music well into the night. was two o'clock.

Gus, 88, Rob Brown and I loaded Joe into my car...He was very weak....a little tipsy too...

"Guys...I had a ball tonight.....Thanks so take care of yourself buddy...I'll see you ....I'll be seein ya man." he said. Gus smiled weakly...He knew as did all of us that this was the last time he would see Sloppy Joe Forks alive!

''Soon enough ole buddy!" said Gus. He was still standing outside of Josie's , smiling and waving as we pulled off. Rob called Sonny and told him we were on our way...Sonny was there at the back door as I pulled up. He helped Joe out of the car....Joe looked at us and smiled...He was trying to be strong for us....Here we were three grown, hard as nails men and there wasn't a dry eye in the car...

"Boys...keep the party goin...because...if the party ends just cause I'm wasn't much of a party was it?" he laughed as he tipped his hat and was led back inside the hospice.

"Be Easy Sloppy Joe.." I said and tipped my pork pie hat to the old master.

"I'm Always easy know how I gets down." he said as he went back inside.

I drove Rob and 88 home...None of us said a thing as I drove. I started to go by Debbie's...but I couldn't...I just wanted to be alone!


Sloppy Joe Forks died quietly in his sleep later that very morning.....I believe he died a happy man!

(For SLC)


SLC said...

Wow. My cousin Samuel has a son named Colorado. I just found the kid last week on twitter. I think I need to find me a nickname. SLC isn't cool enough.


Anonymous said...

Great story.