"It's a wake."
"Do it matter?"
Hell, no, it didn't matter. The crowd grew, grew louder, more frantic. "Two more, Earl," said a man with both hands already filled with drinks. "Let me have some more of this pink crap," said another, "but this time wit."
Charlie climbed himself up top the pool table as the juke box sang, "Day-o, day-ay-ay-o, daylight come and me wan' go home."
"I always liked that Sidney Poitier," said someone.
"Hell of a singer," said another.
Lift six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch.
"Two more sody pops, Earl," shouted Charlie on the pool table just before he collapsed on his back, his head banging off the felt like an eight ball.
Daylight come and me wan' to go home.
Just as I was running out of cranberry juice for the third time, when the beat cops had stopped in for the second time, when we were listening to "Mambo Italiano" for the fifth time, someone called out, "Frank," and it turned into a chant, "Frank, Frank, Frank," and someone else banged the jukebox, skipping off Rosemary Clooney before he punched in a number by memory and soon enough the sweetest voice that ever was come pouring out like liquid regret. The place immediately calmed, Sinatra sang Paul Anka's surly anthem to individuality, we leaned one against the other and listened and sang along badly and when Frank had let out his final "My way," Earl raised up his seabreeze and said, "To Joey Parma."
A razzing of Yo's and Hurrahs.
"We all knew his dad," said Earl. "The best damn meat man in the city. I remembers when Joey was just a kid, coming in here to pull his dad home. They weren't on the best of terms, yous remember, but that's the way it is with dads and sons. He wouldn't come here when his dad was alive, but as soon as Joey Senior died, Joey Junior, he started showing up. He said to me, he said, Earl, there ought always be a Parma at Jimmy T's. And there always was, though I guess unless that battle ax shows her face, there won't be none no more. But let's give Joey his due. Can't say the man wasn't consistent. He went out the way he lived his life -- in debt. To Joey Parma."
"To Joey Parma," came the response from the congregation.
"Good," said Earl. "Now somebody want to scrape Charlie off the pool table?"
"Tell me about Joey's last night," I asked Earl when the money had all been stashed, the glasses cleaned, the jukebox unplugged and the place every bit as quiet and sullen as it had been when we first stepped inside. He stood behind the bar, leaning on his arm, talking to us as Beth and I sat each on a stool. He had seemed like a dour old coot when first we met, but our seabreeze party had opened him up like a steamed clam.
"Nothing to tell, Victor," said Earl Ganz, my new best friend. "A cop came in asking the same thing and I had nothing for him, neither. A big black fellow with some Swedish name."
"Funny, he don't look Scottish."
"He doesn't look Swedish either. Just tell me anything you can remember."
"He was the same as always, came in ordered a Bud wit, felt around in his pockets and then told me just to put it on his tab."
"And you did?"
"Yeah, I always did. When I got out of the VA and my pension wasn't enough to take care of the family, his dad took care of me, you know. I always had meat on the table. A lot of shit you can eat in your life when you got meat on the table. So with Joey, out of respect for his dad, I let the tab run."
"He promise to pay it off?"
The foregoing is excerpted from Past Due by William Lashner. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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