I love Lucy, but what ever happened to Lucille Ball?


Here I am back in Hollywood with practical experience under my belt. Working with seasoned character actors this past summer has given me a newly discovered confidence. I’m beginning to get parts in little theaters around Hollywood, a good showcase for agents, producers and directors to scout for new talent. One morning, I get a call from my agent who tells me that last week, Lucille Ball sent someone to check me out in a play I’m in called Blue Denim. Apparently, she wants me to join the new repertory company she’s assembling at Desilu Studios. What a break! Just imagine. Lucille Ball wants to meet me.
On the day of my appointment, I’m more than a little nervous about meeting her as I vividly recall the Lucy of my childhood. A week never passed that I didn’t watch I love Lucy on our newly acquired television set Uncle Zack won in a poker game. I remember spending the first week just trying to figure out how people could move and talk inside that little box. Meeting a memory in the flesh is no small thing. Waiting here, my thoughts retrogress to the time when Joan Crawford, Aunt Lowee’s pet red hen, sat on Uncle Zack’s shoulder and never missed an episode of I Love Lucy. That hen was Lucille Ball’s biggest fan. I’d love to tell her about Joan Crawford but she’d think I’m stupid, that I’m making up such a crazy story.
I’m so nervous waiting here outside her dressing room for my interview, hives are starting to break out on my face. I try reading Daily Variety to calm my nerves. It’s hard to believe I’m about to meet Lucille Ball … my Lucy. Suddenly, I hear a loud, strident voice coming from her dressing room. I’ve no idea what my expectations are but this couldn’t be Lucy screaming. I’m trying hard to convince myself that no way is this shrill voice coming from the Lucy of my childhood. I’m startled to hear a rough voice scream, “Well, don’t stand there like a bump on a log. Get in here!”
Is she talking to me? She must be, there’s no one here but me. I cautiously walk into her dressing room and stare, not knowing what to say or what not to say. I didn’t ask to be here; she invited me. I begin to go back and forth with myself, thinking that surely this voice belongs to someone wearing a Lucy mask. No such luck. She cuts right to the chase, beginning her pitch in a hard voice, that if I sign the contract with Desilu, I’ll get more theatre experience. The carrot she’s dangling is the promise of putting her repertory actors in the many sitcoms she and Desi are grinding out at Desilu. This is no big turn on for me, even though she’s already hand picked and signed up quite a few actors. I’m loyal to my heroines but this one is going down fast. My trusting nature, or whatever naivety is left in me, has its heels put to the fire with this encounter. I watch her ultra red lips moving against a mop of freshly dyed fire red hair, eye lashes I could trip on, and realize she isn’t the wonderful Lucy I remember and loved.
Once reality sets in, clearly her offer will knock out future opportunities that might come my way. Fact of the matter, binding myself to a long term contract, for an iffy project that only pays scale, doesn’t make sense. She is promising the moon but does she think I just got off a banana boat? Truth is, I don’t like her. Sensing my hesitation, she begins to rant about my agent who either was, or, I suspect, still is her agent. She looks directly in my eyes and screams, “You’re so damn stupid, you don’t understand he doesn’t want you involved in our project because his commission would be shit! I know him like the back of my hand.”
I’m stunned she talks like this to someone she doesn’t even know. The Lucy I loved would never say “shit.” After this tirade, she dismisses me stating with utmost confidence, “Think about it and get back to me!” To insure her word is the last spoken, she screams, “Soon!
I leave her office fast as my legs will take me, thinking all the while that it will be a cold day in hell when I ever get back to her, as I take deep breaths of fresh air, and chew seven throat lozenges at once; I’m trying hard to overcome my devastation at losing the Lucy of my childhood. It’s hard facing the truth when a dream is shattered, the realization that someone I thought one way is quite the opposite. I call my agent from a pay phone to let him know I’d rather have my hooters shot out of cannon than sign a contract with someone I don’t trust! If I sign with Desilu, I’ll be stuck there forever. I’m startled to hear a rough voice scream, “Well, don’t stand there like a bump on a log. Get in here!”
Is she talking to me? She must be, there’s no one here but me. I cautiously walk into her dressing room and stare, not knowing what to say or what not to say. I didn’t ask to be here; she invited me. I begin to go back and forth with myself, thinking that surely this voice belongs to someone wearing a Lucy mask. No such luck. She cuts right to the chase, beginning her pitch in a hard voice, that if I sign the contract with Desilu, I’ll get more theatre experience. The carrot she’s dangling is the promise of putting her repertory actors in the many sitcoms she and Desi are grinding out at Desilu. This is no big turn on for me, even though she’s already hand picked and signed up quite a few actors. I’m loyal to my heroines but this one is going down fast. My trusting nature, or whatever naivety is left in me, has its heels put to the fire with this encounter. I watch her ultra red lips moving against a mop of freshly dyed fire red hair, eye lashes I could trip on, and realize she isn’t the wonderful Lucy I remember and loved.
Once reality sets in, clearly her offer will knock out future opportunities that might come my way. Fact of the matter, binding myself to a long term contract, for an iffy project that only pays scale, doesn’t make sense. She is promising the moon but does she think I just got off a banana boat? Truth is, I don’t like her. Sensing my hesitation, she begins to rant about my agent who either was, or, I suspect, still is her agent. She looks directly in my eyes and screams, “You’re so damn stupid, you don’t understand he doesn’t want you involved in our project because his commission would be shit! I know him like the back of my hand.”
I’m stunned she talks like this to someone she doesn’t even know. The Lucy I loved would never say “shit.” After this tirade, she dismisses me stating with utmost confidence, “Think about it and get back to me!” To insure her word is the last spoken, she screams, “Soon!
I leave her office fast as my legs will take me, thinking all the while that it will be a cold day in hell when I ever get back to her, as I take deep breaths of fresh air, and chew seven throat lozenges at once; I’m trying hard to overcome my devastation at losing the Lucy of my childhood. It’s hard facing the truth when a dream is shattered, the realization that someone I thought one way is quite the opposite. I call my agent from a pay phone to let him know I’d rather have my hooters shot out of cannon than sign a contract with someone I don’t trust! If I sign with Desilu, I’ll be stuck there forever. Lucille Ball is a great comedienne. I’ll give her that. I love Lucy ran from 1951 – 1957, one of the most watched shows on television. This afternoon, she spoke to me at length about how hard she worked getting to the top, how she saved her money from every paycheck, and how she never stopped trying to better herself. I take my hat off to her for that. I admire her grit because she’s married to someone who can’t keep his pants up. Maybe loving him made her so hard.
Once I recover from the shock of losing my childhood sweetheart, I drive straight home, crawl into bed with my clothes on, pull the covers up over my head and cry.

An excerpt from Tharon Ann


We are early. No matter. It feels good to breathe in fresh morning air. This ancient land has the most unusual mix of sounds one can possibly imagine. Morning satsang begins each day at 9:30 a.m., then again at 6:00 p.m. Everyone takes off their shoes before entering the Bhandara Hall and sits in rows, men to the left, women to the right. I’m greeted by Indian women, old and young, who signal me to come sit with them, especially Sadna with a smile and laughter so rare she could do toothpaste commercials if she lived in the U.S.
Once again Indian women cluster around me asking every imaginable question via mime, since they don’t speak English, and my grasp of Punjabi is hopeless. Doug puts on his shoes and patiently waits. As Jasbir pulls me away, he tells them in Punjabi that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Quite the contrary. We’re more like old friends getting reacquainted … hard to explain.
We walk upstairs to his quarters, take off our shoes and place them outside his door. Baba Ji sits without turban, a white knitted cap pulled down that touches his white beard glistening against honey colored skin. He wears a blue vest, white leggings, and white kurta*. His dark eyes scan our faces as he blesses us in ways that human language cannot describe. I continue to gaze into his eyes as he gives us darshan, an Indian word meaning the blessings received from a Mystic who glances lovingly at someone. He summons Parveen to bring tea. Sitting in the presence of a Mystic is no small thing. Wonder and awe best describes how I feel. I can hardly spea

An excerpt from India with a Backpack and Prayer

“Doug and I had no interest in each other as far as marriage was concerned. Little did we know what was coming down the road. Baba Ji told us we had a choice to marry in this life or take another birth to satisfy our karmic debt. Although we had known each other since 1968, the last thing either of us wanted was to marry, particularly to each other. The kicker was Baba Ji’s words,

‘Ki tuhanu iss jeevan vich viah na karan da faisla karna chahida ha, tusi ik duje nu aapne karman de darze nu pura karan layi ik hor janam lavoge.’

Translation: Should you decide not to marry in this life, you will take another birth to satisfy your karmic debt to each other.
We were stunned to say the least. I said I would never write another book after Tharon Ann, and that I would absolutely never marry again. Now here I am writing this book, married to this man. Baba Ji’s words left us little choice. He brokered our marriage and told us to meet the legal requirements of the United States, which we did. A minister performed a private ceremony in our home. For two weeks, none of our friends or work associates knew we were married. Several months later when he visited his American sangats, Baba Ji performed our ring ceremony Punjabi style. No sooner was it over than he whispered in Doug’s ear,
‘Tusi 2 saal deri naal ho.’ Translation: You are two years late.
One of our friends remarked that our initial union was more like Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Should you wonder how things worked out…so far so good.”

Excerpt from India With Backpack and a Prayer
by Jennifer Brookins, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon

Sex is an hors d’oeuvre in Hollywood

tharon ann

An excerpt from Tharon Ann.

“Every day I run back and forth to the Chinese Grauman Theatre, working crazy odd hours with breaks in between shows. Oh, the life of an usherette. Ha! At least I have a job, and one step closer to my goal. I have to start somewhere. I’ll never let anyone push me in the dirt again. Never.

It’s so cool living at the Hollywood Studio Club. It feels like a luxury hotel, but it’s more like a sorority house for starlets and other show folk like me floating around trying to get their foot in a door – any door. Lots of contract players from major studios live here. There’s so much to say about this town – the seedy underbelly of ambition, the many times I’ve been in a car when suddenly his arm slides down, and confuses my leg for the gearshift. Sex is an hors d’oeuvre in Hollywood, a precursor to fast-tracking goals, a route I won’t take – thank you very much.

After dinner I decide to sit in the lobby and work on a scene from This Property is Condemned, a one act play by Tennessee Williams, for acting class tomorrow. My room is so small, the lobby is the only place to read and study; the other residents do the same. It’s also where guests come to visit. No one is allowed upstairs with the exception of those who live here.

I’m sitting here with my nose in a script when I’m hit on by one of Howard Hughes, or so he says, talent scouts – like seriously, who can believe anyone in this town. He is a tall, nondescript man who tries to strike up a conversation about how hard it is to get parts in Holly- wood if you don’t know the right people. The man says he’s waiting for someone who lives here that was just put under contract to Howard Hughes, along with his pitch that he is setting her up in a new apartment. In addition, he pays all her expenses and pushes her career. He asks me the question, “What do you think of that?” Without looking up, I reply in my old Southern accent, “Sounds good to me.” Those words are the ammunition for his big finale.

He continues to explain that when Hughes calls for this girl, she must be available for him. He makes it sound like such a great

opportunity, that if I’m interested he can make it happen for me too. This guy is the usual Hollywood wall snot. I’m insulted by his offer.

In my softest Southern ladylike voice, I look directly into his eyes and without blinking an eyelash, smile sweetly and ask, ‘Would you kindly take that offer and shove it up your ass?’

He’s shocked by my reply, but I continue to focus my glassy stare on his very nervous face. I have no idea what he is about to say; I take the lead once again and continue our one-sided conversation, ‘If you so much as look at me again, I’ll have you arrested for pimping.’ I’m angry because I know I’m better than this. Perfect timing. The girl he’s been waiting for enters the room. He quickly turns from me. She’s happy to see him. Smiling, he takes her hand and they leave. I know her. She is Elizabeth Taylor gorgeous.

A week or so later I notice that same girl in the dining room. She catches my eye and motions me to come join her for dinner. After we exchange the usual chitchat, I begin to describe my brief encounter with the so-called Howard Hughes guy she went out with. To my surprise, she’s genuinely happy I have an opportunity to get ahead in this town. Still thinking she’s putting me on, I laugh and begin to share my exact words to “pimpman,” that I have no interest in being any man’s whore-girl. Horrified, she abruptly gets up and leaves the room in a huff. She never speaks to me again. Well go damn figure Hollywood.

I share a room the size of a shoebox with a goofy dancer at the Hollywood Studio Club. She has the one single bed in the room. Mine is on the sleeping porch at the end of the hall, number fifteen to be exact, where the Miss Universe contestants dream of becoming queen of the world during runoffs. She reminds me of a slightly off-centered Christmas tree angel. Each morning on the way to ballet class, she walks through the Hollywood Farm Market to test sausage samples for breakfast. Betsy’s leaving soon to go back home and marry her high school sweetheart. I’m glad. She would never survive Hollywood; way too sweet for this town … reminds me of back home. I’ll miss her when she’s gone.

I know what I want. When push comes to shove, I’m a survivor. Otherwise, how did I live through the first two years in Hollywood trying to break into television, trying to get an agent, trying to get anything. Agents always tell me the same thing, “Little lady, you’re no hothouse orchid. You got no headlights and a voice like Minnie Pearl. Take your cute little ass back to Little Rock and marry the milkman, but whatever you do – get out of show business. You’re in way over your head. You’ll never make it.”

Actually, I do have an agent of sorts who calls herself, “Mrs. Virginia, agent for the stars.” She represents midgets, talking dogs, parrots, jugglers, a ventriloquist, a spider monkey she stole from a street vendor and me. One day, she calls to say that such and such is casting a great role, “Dahling, you’re perfect for the part. It will put you on top dahling. Now you must be there on time dahling.”

I suspect Mrs. Virginia is a man in drag. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. She has a deep, show biz voice sprinkled with “dahling this” and “dahling that” in every conversation. Whenever she opens her mouth, I envision hot prune juice running down the side of her face.

When I arrive at the casting office, Mrs. Virginia’s entire circus act is in the lobby, flying and swinging in all their glory. Are we here for the same part? It could happen. This is Hollywood. I take her into my confidence, cough a few times on my sleeve and explain that I’m dying of tuberculosis, adding in my sweetest voice, “I haven’t the heart to waste your precious time.”

I may be new to the Hollywood scene but I’ve come a long way from this type of mass cattle call, and half-assed agents who book clowns and monkeys for car shows in shopping malls. It’s easy to be eaten alive in this town.

Being a starlet has the same value as a cheerleader in a nursing home. My dream is to be a real actress on Broadway. Last week, someone from the Actor’s Studio told me Hollywood actors aren’t respected on or off-Broadway. Well, that’s great, but I need to pay the rent. I have to begin somewhere.

At last, my foot is finally in the Hollywood door doing bit parts on television shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Father Knows Best, Dobie Gillis, Suspicion etc. If you blink you’ll miss me, but it’s something. Warner Brothers grinds out shows, one hit after the other. Sitcoms sweep the nation week after week. One of the most popular is 77 Sunset Strip starring Ephrem Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Smith, along with Edd Byrnes and Connie Stevens. Overnight, Edd has become a household name after his hit record, “Kookie, Kookie Lend me your Comb.” Teeny boppers go wild for this song. When Edd’s contract is up for renewal, his agent holds out for more money. Where Jack Warner is concerned actors are dispensable, no matter their popularity. Edd wants more money than Jack Warner thinks he’s worth, and fires him. That’s the end of his rising star, his agent’s big commission, and another hard lesson to learn in this town. The pendulum swings both ways. A headliner today stands in the unemployment line tomorrow.

My agent just called to say I got the job I auditioned for months ago … so excited I can hardly breathe. I’ll be part of a summer repertory company in Connecticut as well as a proud, card-carrying member of Actor’s Equity, and the union dues that go with it. He tells me to buy a plane ticket and be there in two weeks. Whoo! Whoo!

Summer stock isn’t what I expected. I hardly have time to unpack! On the upside, it’s an opportunity to learn the techniques of performing on stage with well-known character actors like Dora Merande, a great comedian in her late seventies. She makes it her life’s ambition to stand in the wings each night and critique my every performance – comedy in particular. Dora is like a badger hunting prey, her long nose always checking me out, her buzzard-like eyes, small, squinty blue dots that at first glance seem cold, unyielding and lacking in humor. On the other hand, her odd-shaped nose has made a grateful friend out of me. If I look at it long enough, it begins to assume a life all its own.

Dora feels it’s less painful to teach me her lifelong bag of comedy trade secrets than to have me step on her laugh lines every night for the rest of the summer. She’s tutoring me in all the tricks of comedy, how to come in when a laugh peaks, how not to step on a laugh line, how to do a double-take in a natural way, how to take a slap, how to give a slap, how to take a fall without breaking every bone in my body, how not to upstage another actor, and how to upstage another actor. In short, she has become my mentor in comedy, and likes me despite herself. I adore her, and hang on every word she says. Lucky for me, because directors in summer stock have little time for anything outside of blocking scenes and preventing the actors from killing each other. We rehearse next week’s play from early morning until late afternoon. Afterward we go home, wash up, and grab a bite before returning to perform the play of the week for packed houses six days a week. Monday is dark. This is hard, grueling work, not at all what I thought it would be, but I’m not complaining. Where else could I learn the technique of performing on stage, as opposed to television and film – two different mediums. I’m lucky they hired me; at least that’s what Dora says. Ha! During the day, I rehearse for next week’s lead role of the sexy waitress Cherie in Bus Stop. In the evening I play twelve year old Ann Frank in The Diary of Ann Frank. When Bus Stop is in performance, we begin rehearsals for Separate Tables. I’ve learned so much from this strenuous schedule. The disciplined give and take of ensemble acting isn’t for sissies. Not a week passes, I’m not taken to task by the older, seasoned cast members. I hope to have more confidence in myself by summer’s end. Saying goodbye to Dora won’t be easy. Seems like that’s all I ever do. “

Five-star reviews on Amazon

A beautiful story of bravery, tragedy, independence

Tharon Ann, by author Jennifer Brookins is a wonderful read! A young woman begins her journey to chase her dreams from the Deep South to Hollywood, enduring a number of difficulties and overcoming the hardships of single motherhood to a wonderful ending and to the lovely woman known to us today. She teaches us to reach for our dreams, and though life sometimes seems senseless, in the long run good things do come. I highly recommend this book to anyone that loves biographies or for just a delightful read. Check this out!” 

-C.C. Cole

Show Biz Here I Come

Jennifer Brookins author

An excerpt from Tharon Ann

The telephone rings. It’s my agent. I have an interview at 1:00 this afternoon with Jerry Wald, an important producer at Twentieth Century Fox. This is a huge break, and hard to believe it’s happening to me. I put on my best outfit and drive to Twentieth. When I enter his suite two other men are present who right away get down to business, and check me out like I’m the lox and bagels they just ordered from Cantors. They dissect me from head to toe as though I’m not here. Slowly, the conversation segues onto the subject of my name, that it doesn’t meet the standards of other great show business names. Jerry W. says in a thick accent, “Tharon Ann? It’s got no pizzazz!” Who ever heard of a name like that? You listening? I named Jennifer Jones … see the rhythm? You gotta have a three syllable first name and a one syllable last name.” I’m standing here, a cadaver in the midst of an autopsy, watching my birth name fly out the window. The only sound that comes out of my mouth is, “Yes sir, that’s fine.” The young girl once named Tharon Ann, someone I began life with, is dead. I’m suddenly frightened. I want to resurrect her … why did I cave in? … why did I allow him to change my name? Tharon was my father’s name; it’s all I have left of him. Then again, what’s in a name? So what if my ambition caved to a loudmouth star maker. So what. I’ll bury Tharon Ann once and for all. I’m not her anymore. Don’t I have my foot in the door of a major movie studio? This is what counts. I sign a contract with Jerry Wald for his upcoming film, Mardi Gras, starring Pat Boone, Tommy Sands, Christine Carrere, Gary Crosby, Dick Sergeant, Sherrie North, Fred Clark, Barry Chase and me. From this point forward, everyday I drive to Twentieth for wardrobe, hair, makeup, schedules, meeting with various cast members, and rehearsing the musical sequences with a choreographer. Jerry Wald parades me around Twentieth and introduces me like I’m his new toy poodle. Who minds being a poodle? I don’t. Woof! Woof! I’m in heaven.

I have an important interview today. Jerry W. makes a point of telling me to wear the yellow dress from Mardi Gras. He urges me to be very polite to one of the two most influential women in Holly-wood, Hedda Hopper. Louella Parsons and Hedda have gossip columns. They make and break careers with a word, wielding their long, vengeful, sword-like tongues. In 1958, they own this town. People around here treat them like the second coming. We walk over to the set where Hedda, as famous for the hats she wears as her scathing tongue, holds court. Jerry W. bows low and kisses up to her,
“Hedda, love of my life, I’d like you to meet another little lady who loves hats.”

The only hat I like is my old baseball cap, but today I’m wearing a pale yellow cloche style to match my dress. He continues,
“She’s going to be in Mardi Gras. This one has the makings of a star.” Unimpressed, Hedda gives me a quick glance, just enough for me to look into her unyielding steel-blue eyes. For a brief moment, if ever a pissant froze to death inside a popsicle, it’s me standing here right now. She hates me. In an attempt to salvage the moment, I grab hold of my composure, and strain to harness enough sunshine to send a Kodak smile to this powerful woman wearing a hat reminiscent of a rooster chasing a barnyard hen. In a calculated move, Hedda slowly turns her head in my direction, and gives me an icy look that clearly represents her instant opinion of me, which is: “Drop dead you little bitch!”

In silence, I recite the alphabet ten times in wait for sound to come out of her draconian lips. She whispers in the vicinity of where I’m standing, “How nice.” Her head does a three quarter turn, as she summarily dismisses me with a flip of her hand.
Someone once told me I’m too direct with people, that it makes them uneasy. After my lackluster introduction to the Queen of Hollywood I pretend to be dead, and stand there like someone waiting at a red light who dies two seconds before it turns green. Jerry and Hedda continue to plot about exclusive dirt he’ll give her, only if she will not print something he doesn’t want made public. This town specializes in the game of tit for tat. It’s easy pretending to like a person when they pretend to like me, but hard even being cordial to someone who hates me right off the bat. When he’s finished his arm-twisting, brown-nosing chat with Hedda, on we go to our next stop which is the makeup department. As we walk along he tells me how many stars he’s made, pausing long enough for me to acknowledge the double entendre. Once there, he introduces me to a well known man who is polite and eager to please – rare in this town. Everyone has an agenda. What you see ain’t necessarily so. No one around here can point fingers if they’re completely honest.

He takes one look at me and says, “Now little lady, wait here for a moment. I’ll whip up a custom eye shadow that will be perfect for you.”

After his last remark, my introspective, philosophical thoughts
jump headfirst out the window. I need the wait for my ego to orbit back to earth. I’m just being honest when I say, “I’m so in awe when I think of me.”
When anyone in Hollywood uses the expression, “I’m just being honest,” it’s usually right after they’ve insulted the crap out of someone and I’m just being honest.


India with Backpack and a Prayer

An excerpt from India with Backpack and Prayer

We arrive at Indira Gandhi Airport and go through the usual rigors of Homeland Security, passport checks, exhausted crabby travellers, and the endless wait for luggage. As for me, my thoughts are focused on meeting Baba Ji in Tarn Taran as promised. I am overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of Delhi, the colorful style of Hindi and Punjabi dress, and rickshaws designed for two carrying three or four people pulled by one slightly built man. These manual drivers usually come from the lower strata of society and work 12-14 hours daily for a couple of rupees during monsoon season to cold winter months. I see Indians travelling on bicycles; orange-robed sadhus begging for money; Indian music piped from loudspeakers; whiffs of curry, masala, and other Indian spices.
Everywhere I look there are women beggars holding babies, children beggars, invalid beggars, elderly beggars, and homeless beggars sleeping on sidewalks. I thought the streets of New York were crowded but I’ve never seen anything like this. Delhi is a wall-to-wall mass of people. India is one of the world’s oldest civilizations and often referred to as the cradle of humanity. This ancient land seems so familiar to me. I continue to have feelings of déjà vu .As we head through the terminal exit I notice several Indian men smiling and waving their arms in our direction. Baba Ji sent Ashok Pabbi and two others to pick us up and drive to his home where we’ll spend the night with his family. Early tomorrow morning they will drive us to the train station. We’re minutes from his home when Doug, embarrassed many times over, says,
“I’m so sorry but I left one of our suitcases at the terminal.”
They are very gracious, and reassure him they will return to the airport before sunrise, retrieve his lost luggage, and exchange the train ticket for another later in the morning. How can we express our gratitude to such loving souls? Each time we try to thank them, the answer is always the same:
“Please. Baba Ji’s Grace.”
I’ve never met people like this. They are service oriented and give without expectation of reward or praise. Ashoks wife welcomes us as though we are old friends. She has prepared a late meal that is out of this world: fried prantas* filled with onion and potatoes, homemade yogurt, and chai made with buffalo milk. Yummy. Afterwards, we’re taken to a bedroom already prepared for our short stay. Tomorrow is a busy day. We sleep in our clothes for a few hours. At 4 a.m. Archana knocks on our door and says,
“Naashte da time ho gya.”
Translation: Time for breakfast Ashok and his team have already eaten but sit with us for morning tea. They look fresh, energized, ready, willing, and able. We look sleepless, frazzled, and half-alive.
No sooner do we finish breakfast than our luggage is whisked to the car. They drive us back to the airport to fetch one more piece of luggage, then race to the Delhi train station for an eight hour train ride to Amritsar. From there Baba Ji’s driver will take us to Tarn Taran. One thing I will never forget is how attentive Baba Ji is. Every now and then Ashok calls to let him know where we are, how we are and says,
“Yes, Baba Ji, their flight went well.”
Despite his age, poor health, and twenty hour days of travelling, giving satsang, dealing with satsangis and non-satsangies the world over, he continues to oversee construction at Dera. All this and he wants to make sure we’re okay. Regardless of his health Baba Ji always puts the welfare of others before himself. The Delhi terminal is filled with people lined up for tickets while others have their arms around loved ones saying their last goodbyes. Some look like they’ve lost their best friend, others frustrated because they can’t find the right platform to board. Doug and I look more like tired children, our hands held tight by Ashok and team to ensure we don’t get lost in this mass of international travellers. The world over train stations have the same smell: wave-like puffs of steam telling passengers it’s time to board. Baba Ji’s sevadars* guide us through a pushy crowd anxious to get a window seat. They hold our hands until we step onto the boarding platform, hoist our luggage onto the rack above and strap us in as the wheels begin to crank up. Call me crazy but this train’s about to leave
with them still on it. Smiling, they reassure us we’ll see them tonight for Baba Ji’s birthday celebration. As they leave, the train gradually picks up speed. They remain on the platform until the train is out of sight. I look out the window and watch their faces slowly fade away, hard to believe it’s still early morning. Each time we try and thank them, the answer is always the same:“No thanks, Baba Ji’s Grace.” In the states, we call this type of train a Red Eye, and the seats hard-tail. I quickly tell myself it doesn’t matter, that in a few hours we will be with Baba Ji. I doze off only to be awakened by my armrest hitting me on the head. I grumble to an Indian food vendor who doesn’t speak a lick of English. The more I try and explain, the more politely he doesn’t understand. Finally, I pantomime the armrest hitting my head. He laughs and says,
“Ah yes madam fix, fix.”
He pulls it back in place, tightens the knob, returns to his cart, and moves on. Doug tells me to adjust to the situation instead of complaining as I roll up my shawl to put behind his back. I think to myself,
” Easy to say for someone not sitting in an aisle seat with an warped armrest.”
Like clockwork every forty-five minutes it flies up and konks me on the head. Each time it happens, I flag the food vendor, point to the armrest against my forehead, growl as he adjusts it for the twentieth time, and remember Doug’s advice.
“Just flash him a big smile and thank him.” I think to myself,
“Next time I’ll hoof it.”
He smiles, shows lots of white teeth, and continues to push his food cart down the aisle until he hears my next ouch. There is a reason for whatever happens in life, better stated as the karmic law of cause and effect. Also referred to as “as you sow, so shall you reap.” I shouldn’t have lost my temper with the food vendor, but I did and honestly, let’s face it, I could have been killed. Why do I always make excuses? There is an old Indian saying,
“Jado v chela tyaar hunda, guru pragat ho janda.”
Translation: When the student is ready the teacher appears. I’ve had that experience. There are no grey zones on this Path. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, good grief it’s a duck! “

My Oakie Grandparents and them Cherokee Indians from Childhood

“I could jus squeeze the bejesus out of my Oakie grandparents cuz that’s how much I love’um. They live in a big magic house with hidin places to play in. Grandpa got day dreamin room with windows to look out at the mountains, watchin sunsets, playin gin rummy’n keepin a look out for who’s comin to visit. Ever night he explains how things was in Oklahoma back in the good ole days when it was wild’n wooly’n how he moved his family to Ada to build a post office for them Cherokees so they got mail. He says they weren’t nothin for miles on end cept’n a handful’a Oakies round about. Grandpa says they don’t like white people none’n that’s how come he learnt to talk Indian. He gonna teach me too if I make good grades. Grandpa says I make him crazy askin so many questions. He built a log cabin back’a the store. Sometimes I dream bout that little creek behind grandpa’s log cabin’n the water mill Grammy used for grindin corn for the Cherokees. I wish I was there in the evenin with grandpa spinnin yarns bout Ned Christy, the famous Cherokee bandit. I cry when he says white people caught up with Ned’n killed him. What’s wrong with white folks? Grandpa says kids back then made they own fun playin in the woods’n chewin rabbit tobacco growin wild. After sayin that, grandpa looks in my direction’n laughs sayin I oughtn’t to look for it cuz it’s called nicotine. Them Cherokees was always invitin him’n the family to all day stomp-dances’n barbecues. When I asked grandpa how he went from livin on a Cherokee reservation to now, he says he moved west with all them other hell raisin Oakies’n that’s how he landed in East Los Angles. Them Mexicans reminded him of Oklahoma, that’n the property bein so cheap’n all.
Grandpa says he believes in the American dream, that if folks not afraid to put in a hard day’s work, they can be anythin they wanna be. He says his sister, my great Aunt Alice, lives alone in the log cabin her great granddaddy built high up in the Ozark Mountains. Grandpa says Alice never married’n to hear him tell it, it lucky for mankind she didn’t. She grows her own vegetables, hunts for possum, makes her own moonshine, chops kindling for cold winters’n can kill a rat three yards away with one spit a tobacco. Whenever the G-Men Revenuers is brave enough to travel on foot the long ways up the mountain to her log cabin, she pulls out the welcome mat’n plugs they ass fulla buckshot. When Grammy hears me say “ass,” she bout to have a kanipshun fit. Grandpa jumps in real fast, explainin that I only said it on accounta I heard him sayin it. Anyways, he convinced Grammy we meant it in the donkey way. Anyways, when Alice run outta supplies, she rides her ol’ horse bareback down the thick, back woods to the nearest town where she’s well known in these parts. Mountain folks protect they own specially where them Revenuers is concerned. Grandpa reckons Alice been makin shine for the neighbors too. He says she can get a government check cuz’a her old age’n all, but she downright burrs up, refusin anythin smackin’a charity. Aunt Alice don’t believe in state aid’n she is quick to say it. Grandpa says she’s stubborn as a jackass, but it’s not good to get riled up cuz’a her temper’n in all. He paid good money for her a radio but she won’t use it none cuz theys no electric. One day when me’n him are workin the cards playin gin rummy’n him spinnin yarns, he looks up at me’n sayin, “You jus like Alice. Botha y’all made outta piss’n vinegar!” Grammy don’t preciate him usin swears to describe me, but I take it good like a compliment.
Grandpa found his self a way of gettin round usin swears in front of Grammy. He says, “Government’s a bunch of SOBs (that would be sons of bitches) they ought’ a stay out folks GD, (that would be goddamn,) business!” Grandpa says swearins an art form’n damnation to hell fire, he ain’t stoppin for any woman! (til Grammy walks into the room)
When he was young, Grandpa belonged to a literary society but nothin ever came of the short stories he wrote, him explainin he had too many mouths to feed to fiddle round spinnin yarns. I love it when he reads his own poetry but I cry when he reads Mr. Robert Frost out loud cuz I know in my heart, it’s his way’a sayin he’s leavin soon. I caint hardly stand thinkin bout it.
The woods are lovely dark and deep
But I have promises to keep And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep”

An excerpt from Tharon Ann

An Excerpt from Tharon Ann

Tharon Ann
excerpt from childhood

Can you hear me Mister God? Is they two heavens – Jim Crow heaven for colored folks’n different one for whites?

When me’n Mama is ridin on the bus one day, I look across the aisle to see a woman wearin a nurse uniform sittin by the window. She wearin a blue cape with shiny medals’n a hat like the kind soldier boys wear in the movies. The man sittin beside her keeps pattin her mouth, so she don’t make a mess. Look to me like she gots spit runnin down her chin. I don’t know what to make of it. Durin the bus ride, folks turnin they heads ever which way starin’n laughin ever time the man pats her mouth. I guess he gots enough of them bus people cuz all of a sudden the man stands up’n turns round. He explainin to the bus people, the woman sittin in the seat next to him worked for the Red Cross durin the war, that she was in a Japanese concentration camp’n they cut her tongue out. He tells the bus people he pats her mouth so dribbles don’t get on her uniform. He’s tryin real hard to protect her from gettin her feelins hurt, but they hurt anyways. When he stops talkin, he pulls the cord to let the driver know they wantin to get off. Ever one is real quiet when the man helps the woman to the front of the bus; they lookin straight ahead, not lookin to the left or to the right, not sayin nothin when they get off. No one looks’um in the eye. The bus people keep starin at’um through the window, some lookin down at they laps in shame. I dream bout that nurse. I pray Jesus give her a new tongue.
Mister God, how come you let them cut out her tongue? I don’t want to be nothin like the bus people.
I love goin to church with Mama but I cain’t figure out in my head why if she thirsty, she got to use a different water fountain. She caint go to the white church, she caint go inside the cafeteria, she caint come in the front door to our house. Separate schools, separate churches, separate ever thing for folks like Mama. They even Jim Crow in white families that’s poor as dirt daubers, where color folks take carre of they children. If they trust someone enough to take care of they kids, why don’t they trust’um to drink from the same water fountain? This don’t make sense to me. It jus don’t.
Any color’a folks is welcome in Mama’s church. We have fun dancin in the aisle when they sing, What a Friend I Gots in Jesus. Mama say I’m the only white ever come here. She teachin me how to clap my hands’n sing gospel songs, keepin time while we clap’n sing together. They times I get carried away when me’n Tessie dance in the aisle with the grown ups. Mama laughs til tears roll down her face’n her best Sunday hat falls off. Mama jus laugh and say, “Chile, best you don be singin’n hoppin round like dat in dem white folk’s church cuz iffn you does, dey be callin you lil nappy head girl. I’m givin Tessie’a wupin for teachin you be talkin like a colored girl.”
I’m feelin right at home with Tessie, her bein one of Mama’s grandkids’n all. We best friends’n always play together. Right from the start, we love each other, not mindful of black’n white. Mama say we be lovey dovey cuz Lord made both’a us outta piss’n vinegar. One Sunday, her’n me gets into it over which ones turn it is to be swingin inside the sixteen-wheeler tire hangin on the Oak tree behind Mama’s church by a long rope. Tessie start shoutin at me like I don’t gots ears, “You cheatin little nigger, it’s my turn!” I’m not bout to let that girl get away with this when she know in her cheater’s heart it my turn.
I flip right back at her screamin at the top of my lungs, “No, you cheatin little nigger! My turn!”
Ever one within ten miles hearin us scream “nigger!” “nigger!” “nigger!” back’n forth til Mama’n the other church women come runnin out from choir practice to give us both a lickin. Me’n her still mad as hops’n don’t look at each other. They sit us down then all together, like the Hallelujah Chorus with an “amen” throwd in, they says how “nigger” a very bad word. Mama say if she catch us sayin it again, she gonna stand us in the corner for ten years. She say folks who says that word don’t deserve a best friend. Mama make us face a tree for an hour with both hands behind our backs, cuz we both so bad sayin “nigger.” I swear. After five minutes or so, she start to feel sorry for us. Mama say time up. Me’n Tessie already forgot why we argued in the first place. We laugh’n hug each other as Mama lifts us up in her big arms’n carries us back to the oak tree, where she crams our tail ends back into the sixteen-wheeler tire. We take each others hand’n swing back’n forth holdin onto the tire’n each other for what seem like forever. I take my Cherokee Indian arrowhead outta my coveralls, the one my grandpa gave me for good luck’n I give it to Tessie so she always be rememberin me – forever like. She takes a wad of gum outta her mouth’n gives it to me to finish chewin so I can still taste the juicy fruit. All the while, Mama jus standin there laughin with her hands on her big hips. I notice for the first time how white her teeth is. I say, “Mama, how come you got pearly whites?”
Mama say, “If you black as me, you teeth be pearly white too. But the main reason dey like dis, is cuz you Mama don’t picks round her food like you does. I thank the Lord’n eats’n dat’s why I gots pearly whites’n you doesn’t!”
Another thing bout Mama is she uses ever occasion, ever ques- tion, ever answer, ever birth’n someone’s funeral to drive home the smallest point. With these final words outta her mouth, she turn round’n heads back to church, her big tail end swingin from one side to the other like someone beatin on a tub fulla fat back. But the minute she outta sight, Tessie laughs’n whispers in my ear, “You still a little nigger’n Jesus knows I’m right!”
I laugh’n whisper back in her ear, “You a little nigger too – Jesus told me so last night.”
Not one to leave well enough alone, Tessie say, “Tharon Ann, what wrong with you hair – why you got them long pigtails when you ain’t a pig. How come you hair not like mine? They chicken fat in the kitchen – let’s do each other’s hair then we be the same.”
That girl already planned this out’n I didn’t have sense enough to know it. If Tessie want to have her way, she always be sayin like she recitin the Golden Rule, “Tharon Ann, ain’t no grass growin under my feet!” Shoot fire. I wonder where that girl heard that. I shoot right back at her, “Some people best get outta bed real early to pull wool over my eyes!” But what her and me agree on is once the deeds done, we both gonna look the same. I whisper, “If
Mama hear us say “nigger” again, we in big trouble. Let’s talk pig latin.” But Tessie don’t like nothin with pig in it; she won’t talk it with me cuz she don’t like the way pigs oink. She say we gotta go with her idea’n say “nigger” backwards – then no one gonna know. So “little nigger” becomes “elttil reggin.” That what we start callin each other – “reggin” for short.
“When I howl like a coon dog, it mean Mama close by’n you gots to hide the evidence quick. I be the lookout.” Then we argue over which ones the best howler. I’m of the opinion Tessie was born grabbin hold’a life like some folks wish they could touch a star. She gots no fear. She say me’n her together is a question mark. At first I don’t get it, then she explains that I’m the question part at the top’n she the dot. I gots questions bout ever thing but Tessie just is. Even though the two of us bicker over the littlest thing, we still in perfect harmony, if that don’t sound like the craziest thing ever. After thinkin about it – it sure does. We both in agreement that messin with Mama is dangerous business.In five minutes, Tessie come runnin outta the church kitchen like a streak’a lightnin. Real quick, we hide behind a tree in the woods. I smear chicken fat on her hair to calm it down. She unbraids my pigtails, cuts’um off, then rubs chicken fat on what hairs I gots left.She frizzes it up, fore she pulls a bottle black Shinola boot polish outta her coveralls’n empties it all over me. It takes a while to rub it in, but afterward we real fulla ourselves. Me and Tessie know for sure, we the same now – like real sisters. Me’n her of the opinion we the two purtiest little cheatin “reggins” in town.Mama callin to know where we are. She got her hands on her hips, which is not a good sign cuz she headin our way. We step out from behind the tree grinnin like chessy cats. When Mama gets herself a good look at us, we think she havin a stroke cuz she down on the ground from laughin so hard. She laughs’n laughs’n laughs. Mama laughin so hard she caint hardly stand back up on her feet. Pastor Roy Big John’n two other big men from choir practice, come runnin in our direction like they gotta put out a fire somewheres, but when they see Mama lyin on the ground they start laughin too. They says without a forklift, only Jesus can pull up a woman who gots titties bigger’n a elephant’s tail end. Everbody laughin so hard, tears runnin down they faces. Other church folks come out’n gets caught up in it too. Look to me, like they all bout to pass out on the ground. All in all, Tessie’n me a big hit. But now, Mama gots a problem. Haldane gonna fire her if she bring me home lookin like this. She think fast. We go back to Mama’s house; she put us in a washtub where shoe polish come off easy, but gettin chicken fat outta our hair hurts terrible. Tessie’s mama work two hours tryin to clean us up. Problem is what to do with my frizzed up short hair. Me’n her gonna keep one chopped-off pigtail apiece, for good luck charms. All of a sudden I’m scared. I caint lose her – not never.
“Mama, I’ll tell Haldane I gots bubblegum stuck in my hair’n I cut it all out when you went to the bathroom. I gonna say you already whipped me good so she don’t need to do it agin. Never you mind Mama, one whippin enough!”
Haldane happy these days. When she smiles, I got to wonder what for. I tell Mama over’n over how much I love her til the day I die, that I won’t never forget her even if I move to China with the starvin children. Whenever I ask what heaven’s like, all she ever say is, “Chile you ask too many questions. Mama jus don’t know the answer – it jus the way it is’n iffen you don’t shut dat little mouth, it gonna fall right off!” Mama sure love Jesus. She gots a friendship with him that don’t need questions’n answers. I’m always askin things like, “Mama, you ever talk to him in person like me’n you talkin right now? What’s his last name? Can I meet him fore I go to heaven?”
She go headfirst past my questions’n say Jesus be like the sun, him lovin everbody. Mama say, “Chile, Jesus de Lord’n we his little Jesus sunbeams. Sometimes cloud come in between, but after a spell they be goin away, then we be seein for ourself how he been lookin after us all the time. Amen! Praise Jesus!” Anytime the subject come up bout Jesus, she ends that sentence with, “Amen! Praise Jesus!” So, me’n Tessie start sayin “Amen! Praise Jesus” after ever sentence too. Mama give us a lickin for bein smart alecky’n says, “You two best stop on accounta Jesus got no use for chilren made outta piss’n vinegar. Amen! Praise Jesus!”
One night Haldane comes home from work’n tells everbody she gots another husband, that we got to pack up, cuz we movin to N’arleans. She says, “Tharon Ann, that colored woman caint come
with us, so you can get that out of your little head!”
That jus how she says it, jus shootin it out like “please pass the potatoes,” like it was nothin, like the way I feel bout Mama mean nothin too. I love her same as whites love they white mamas. I cry myself to sleep jus thinkin’a leavin her’n bein left alone with Haldane. Last night I dreamt her singin the jaybird song to me.

Poor little jaybird don’t you cry Mama don’t believe in saying goodbye Poor little jaybird, my oh my, Mama gonna sing you dis lullaby

Hollywood Junkies and Strip Joints

Jennifer Brookins author

From Tharon Ann – a memoir by Jennifer Brookins

“I’m head over heels in love for the first time in my life – with his Cherokee good looks, his soft blue eyes and long black hair in contrast to his fair skin. He’s got a gentle way about everything he does, the way he says my name, the way he lifts my hair and kisses me on the back of my neck. Here I am not even twenty and loving so new to me. I’m also in love with a career I don’t have yet. Now for the reality check. I spend most of my fairy tale marriage traveling back and forth on a bus to Chino State Prison whenever he’s busted for drugs. Each time I visit, I get body searched for weapons and dope. It has a stench about it that follows me until I get home and soak in the tub for an hour. It’s the odor of hell that eeks out the pores of everyone locked up in there. Chino is the only place he’s able to clean up from smack, and that only lasts a week or so after he’s released before he’s back on the street again. When I married him, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was so naïve. It didn’t take long to discover it was heroin that gave him the illusion of being something he wasn’t. Maybe buried beneath the layers of dope is the person he could have been. I smoke pot but I’m too vain to have track marks up my legs and arms like him. Sure I dabble with drugs, but I know enough to stay away from the hard stuff. I’d go so far out, I’d never come back. It’s easy to understand how he became a druggie. At sixteen, he was still in high school, already playing in jazz clubs around Manhattan and gaining a reputation for being one of the best jazz drummers around. One day the telephone rang and the voice on the other end asked for him. Naturally, his mother thought the call was for her husband as they have the same first name. She told the voice he was doing studio work, and that she would give him the message when he got home from work. The caller was the great jazz musician Charlie Parker who had no interest in the father but great interest in his son. Billy dropped out of high school and joined Charlie Parker’s famous band thinking it was the greatest moment in his life, not realizing at the time that it was the beginning of the end. I can’t help wondering why God doesn’t flag the events of our lives that will destroy it. I sometimes wonder how Billy felt playing with the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived – all strung out on heroine. He was the only white boy playing in Charlie Parker’s band. At sixteen, he switched from pot to smack, the perfect way to ward off stress and blend in. But today, he’s just another unemployed, strung out musician.Lots of jazz musicians work in clubs like The Hot Kitty Cat, a well known strip house on Sunset Blvd. Billy was one of them and talked the owner into hiring me as a waitress. I’m nervous about working in a place like that but we’re broke. Lucky for me, someone just quit and I’m hired on the spot. The owner orders me to wear stiletto heels, black mesh hose, devil red lipstick, a bustier and shorts so short men felt free to pinch my ass before I have the chance to knock the bejesus out of them. These horny old men think I’m for sale. I hate working here but I have to pay the rent. Billy shoots our paychecks wherever he can find a healthy vein in his arm or leg. Today the electric was shut off.Several days pass before I finally get the hang of this place. For me to get a tip all depends on how well I play the game. I’m a fast learner when it comes to playing games without being touched. The dressing rooms for strippers are located backstage, directly across from where the bartenders make drinks; they never shut their doors. I can’t help but see what these strippers do in front of the bartenders, waitresses, or anyone else who has the bad luck of being condemned to working in this X rated hell hole. I don’t have a temperament for this crowd. The Hot Kitty Cat, one of the most popular night spots in Hollywood, is packed every night with famous, as well as not so famous, male actors, producers, directors, and men trying to grab a cheap thrill. Some try to get it on with the waitresses by sticking a large bill down their boobs. If one of them tries that on me, I’ll knock him to hell and back. I can’t stand much more of this place. Tonight, as I’m going through my usual drill of wading through smoke and tables so close together that I’m amazed at the balancing act I’ve learned carrying oversize trays of drinks to balding horned toads, I bend over to serve a large group of white haired men, when one old man grabs a handful. I’m so mad I purposely drop the tray of drinks as hard as I can on his bald head, as glasses of booze crash down, scattering here and there in the most unlikely places, staining their Rodeo Drive suits and ties, while at the same time strains of “What the hell you bitch!” and “Someone get this bitch out of here!” are heading straight to the owner’s ear. Do me a favor and fire me! I’ve had enough of this hell hole! All my pent up anger shoots back “Kiss my ass, you sons of bitches! I’m calling your wife and telling her where you are and what you’re doing! I’m out of here and kiss my ass again!” Heads are turning. People are beginning to enjoy the little side show coming from the table of men and me, rather than the strippers. Here she comes. The owner is heading my way. I turn to her and shout, “Keep my paycheck and buy yourself a new face!” Then, I take off my high heels and throw them as far as I can back into the crowded smoke filled room. So long hell! I’m out of here!Every day I plead with Billy to let me help him clean up. I can’t unless he agrees to the hell days of withdrawals. If a ten year old girl can live through DTs with an alcoholic, shouldn’t I be able to help him? I want to. I’m naive enough to think I can, but then again didn’t I learn my lesson with Uncle Zack? I’m trying to make myself believe a part of Billy’s sick. We drive to a small bungalow on Fountain Avenue in Hollywood where he scores from two mean, skinny lesbians – the nasty bitches. We go inside. Three junkies I don’t recognize are making jokes about two young narcotic cops who sent them to Chino twice, but now work the Hollywood scene. These guys are blond, good looking narcos who resemble the Crosby boys. A middle aged gaunt faced man walks over to the three junkies, and motions for them to follow him to the back room. I always wait up front, never where the deals go down in the back, but if this place is busted, I’ll go down with every one else. I’m standing here feeling very uncomfortable, not knowing what to do or what not to do when I look over and wonder if it’s my imagination that a girl wearing blue silk pajamas hiked up to her knee caps, is sprawled out on a couch by the window. I walk to that side of the room and find a young girl with long auburn colored hair, maybe my age – maybe younger, with fresh track marks running up her legs and arms. Another young woman who is waiting to score walks over to me, confiding that the girl on the couch is the daughter of a famous movie star. When I ask what’s wrong with her, quite matter-of-factually she shrugs and replies, “She just shot up,” and abruptly, turns and walks back, anxious she’ll miss her turn to score. No sooner do I sit down beside the girl on the couch, than she reaches out for my hand, her fingers cold and lifeless. The man volunteers this girl is about to enjoy a large inheritance on her eighteenth birthday. She is a hard core junky, very young, very beautiful, very strung out, and biding time for death to come. She will never see eighteen.I’m almost out the door when the telephone rings. I answer. It’s Billy. I know from the tone of his voice that he’s hurting; a voice unable to score, one that is lost in the bottom of a well. He begins to cry, “Tharon honey, I’m sorry but I can’t take it anymore.” He’s begging me to help him clean up. I make him tell me where he is. I tell him to wait there … that I’ll throw some things in a bag and pick him up; we’ll drive to Malibu, lock ourselves in a motel room and just do it. Outside of going back to Chino, it’s the only way. I say, “Wait … please don’t go … just wait … Billy, just wait … I’ll pick you up in thirty minutes … it’ll be alright … don’t cry … it’ll be alright baby.” There he is. An immediate wave of sadness runs through me seeing him like this, standing on the corner in front of Barney’s Beanery. He was my first love, handsome, talented and so gentle. Now look – gaunt and thin with track marks on his arms and legs. Not even looking at me, barely mumbling hello, he gets in the car and we drive to a motel in Malibu. He tells me in advance that no matter what he says, I’m not to let him out of the room. He tells me to hide the car keys as well as the key to our room. There are no words to describe what it’s like trying to hold on to someone going through heroin withdrawals, to someone who isn’t here. By day three, I’m sick from sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and he’s sick from hurting. He’s freaking out; he’s threatening to kill me if I don’t give him the keys and what little money I have. His hands around my neck, he’s screaming in my ear, “Give it! Give it! I’ll choke you to death Tharon! Give me the goddamn keys or I’ll kill you … you’re a dead bitch!” He’ll kill me if I don’t do something. I give him my purse. He throws it on the bed, and takes all the money I have … twenty-five dollars. I unlock the motel door, and tell him the car keys are under the mat on the driver’s side. They aren’t. I’m not giving them to him; he’ll sell my car for a fix. He grabs the money out of my hand and shoves me aside. As he runs to the car, I quickly lock the door to our room. He’ll be back when he can’t find the keys. I’m so scared I can hardly breath. He’s back …now he’s banging on the door and threatening to kill me again. “Get out of here Billy. The police are on their way.” This will be a long night. I’m sitting on the floor, my back propped up against the wall in wait for dawn, to make sure he’s gone. He’s looking to score. After that he’ll be ok … until the next time when he thoughtlessly shoots up again.

Amazon Five-star review by Shirley Priscilla Johnson TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE: “This book will touch your heart, your mind, your Spirit. It will make you stop and think about the world that was and the one we live in now. It is both down to earth, yet goes deep into the Heart and Soul. A story of love, a story of pain, a story of battles, some won, some lost. Excellent read that you will never forget. Book received for an honest review.”


young girl

A little Punjabi girl with long black hair and denim coveralls, triggered this feeling of déjà vu:

“The year is almost over; I’ve hardly had time to fly my kite or make a party dress for my magic skin doll. And, doncha know the roof on my tree house still has a big hole in it. Why is it that everything I love goes away, but what I can’t stand hangs around forever? I think I’ll go to Willard’s Drugstore, and have a cherry phosphate. Sitting at the counter helps me figure out stuff.”

© jb