Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose except seven hundred and eighty five thousand dollars in 1969...
The Road Part 9. Jude Acers and Janis Joplin Play a Game in the Coffee Gallery.
To know her you must know about needles. You must press her skin tightly to help her find veins that are not riddled with holes and tape her arms to keep them from getting infected. Remember her green pump shoes. Yes there she is, sitting in the bathroom with her head tilted to one side and shooting up heroin. Janis Joplin can whisper "It's better than anything baby." And if you expect to know her you'd just better keep your trap shut because you're just a punk weirdo chessplaying kid from Louisiana, you hear? Shut up and go get her a dress with long sleeves, dummy.
Go ahead and try. Sit there on the bathroom floor as she begins to fly away and ask her Mickey Mouse questions like a boy scout. She'll answer about heroin. She'll tell you exactly what's coming down. O.k. go ahead and ask me Jude.
"You're too straight to dig it... I'm gonna o.d. sometime... oh shut up shithead! I've heard it all before man, that crap. I've heard the bubble story. Is that what they tell y'all down there? A bubble pops from the needle and goes to your head and boom-booms your brain. Oh come on Jude, come on... needles? Dirty needles? Oh come on baby, shut your face. You just wash em like you wash dishes, cups, bottles you know. All you gotta do is be careful. It ain't gonna hurt and it feels so fine, so fine. It ain't gonna hurt Jude."
You have to sit there and watch your lady friend Janis Joplin shoot up because it is none of your business. You don't really know what is happening and "freedom is the right to do exactly what you please providing you don't shoot people." This is driven home by dozens of happenings in 1968 during the life of a good old Louisiana boy in the big city. Mind your own business. No lecture Daddy. San Francisco is freedom.
Besides this, you are very curious. The night before hadn't L.A. Kaurch and Carmen Holliday taken you backstage to the changing room of a Broadway strip joint and set you down in the only chair? Hadn't you just sat there and put dozens of questions to giggling ladies, six in all, so they changed EVERYTHING right in front of you Jude? Life sure is fast and furious in the super cool, super hip, big city. So you just sit there in your jeans, LSU sweatshirt and soak it all in. Besides, a man's life can often depend on a mere scrap of information the man with no name has told us in "Fistful of Dollars."
The radio blasts out with a long lead intro as Merrilee Rush gets set to do it to us again with one of "the truly great top pop golden oldies of all time" as the D.J. says about it. It is "Angel of the Morning," the number one record in the nation as I was drifting hopelessly into Denver, Colorado for a chess tournament in 1968. I remember the Holiday Inn I lived in, charging everything to a Shell Oil company credit card which had been sent to me by mistake. I am just going to have to pay them because I am a good guy. Janis Joplin knows the words and prances about the house. In the Denver Holiday Inn I had turned it up full blast and danced, swayed, "Classical Gas" was on the air. Everywhere too.
She steps dramatically, spreads her arms to belt out in chorus "Touch my cheek before you leave, baby... Just call me Angel of the Morning."
"God, that's a great song," she blurts out. "I wish I could sing something like that."
The doorbell in Janis' ground central station home is never needed. The door just opens at a push. Three people just come right on in and they are just your old routine down home folks coming over with a whole bucket of Colonel Sanders fried chicken. One Laughs. "All right Janis baby! Let's not have any bullshit. Where's your dope?" is the warm, affectionate greeting. They are glittery, flashy super groupie type people before it is fashionable to be exactly that. While they are investigating Janis's lovely narcotics selection; Jude Acers is making a security check of the Kentucky fried chicken of course. He thoroughly "examines" four choice pieces and pronounces it is suitable for consumption. Nobody seems interested so Jude decides on further tests and one half the bucket is doomed.
Sunshine, the delicious lady who works in the Coffee Gallery (and who has those two titanic front parts) is sitting there on the couch with a piece of rolling paper and, of course, Time magazine.
Johnny Ace comes on the radio and sings "Forever my Darling" The Pledge of Love from a Texas boy. Janis Joplin is from Port Arthur, Texas. The first Port Arthur Hippie, the first Port Arthur high school total reject, the dynamite lady singer in Austin who drifts along to find time happens in Southern comfort and switches tremendous backup bands three times. She will cram all this in during 28 years and die in L.A. because she could not tell that too much heroin before and after recording the vocal tracks of "Pearl" would simply kill her. Unless of course you accept another possibility mentioned by Janis - "That any pusher can kill you or make you God-damn sick by giving you too high grade smack." Janis Joplin's pusher man would not want to lose such a pleasant customer and her credit was good. I found money all over her house just bumping around. Under a flower plant. In the bathroom. The pusherman cometh and you gotta be ready, understand? Her "friends" did a lot of bumping in Janis' house - they found the goodies too.
Janis Joplin grossed seven hundred and eighty five thousand dollars the year she died. Grossman says so. Rolling Stone says so. Columbia Records says that's close. The Internal Revenue Service has collected the Christmas bombing fees on that account as well. And Jude Acers believes every word because he has seen Janis Joplin wipe out a dress shop, taking one of everything in her size and four pairs of shoes "Just to be sure I got something to wear for gigs." Jude helped the store's business too by purchasing two shoelaces.
Knowing that Janis Joplin grew up in Texas from ye olde Herb Caen's column in the Chronicle has its great advantages. You can play clue with the most sensational female blues screamer in the world.
"Clue, Janis, clue. Texas. Who is that singing?" "Oh, that used to play all the time in Port Arthur. It was... uh... it was... uhh some dude... isn't he the guy who killed himself with a gun?"
"Very true. Russian Roulette back stage between sets. The show did not go on. His name was Johnny Ace."
"I was at a football game trying to find this girl when I heard over the radio that he killed himself." Janis recalls, blankly brushing the floor, with her hair.
Janis put her head in both hands, stuck a pillow under her elbows and sat cross legged on the floor. Eyeing me carefully she had to probe down under, the old place.
"What's happening down there in Louisiana? Do they play me - my records?"
"The still don't play your records in the south. They're scared of you. One guy at a radio station in Baton Rouge said that you were death, 'white nigger' programming he called it. Big groups down there are rare. The only million selling records from anybody in our area came from Dale and Grace (I'm leaving it all up to you) and a group from Texas called "The Five Americans."
"The Five Americans? Christ, who are they?" "A bubblegum group but they were dynamite. You remember... "I see the light, Zip Code, Western Union..."
Janis does not remember. You tell her about somebody playing guitar and packing the Ivanhoe Lounge in New Orleans named Billy Winter or Eddie Winter or something. And there was our answer to the Rolling Stones the big B. R. - The Greek Fountains - "oh heart throb!"
She gives a nice smile and asks me whether it's safe to go back to "That house, that party-house place." It is where we first met and the place was raided by police on Thanksgiving Day. Janis and I had gone up some hall stairs to the roof. We were the lucky ones since we were able to make a Huck Finn getaway because we had our clothes on! It was a real McCoy Thanksgiving party with everyone bringing pumpkin pie, wine, turkey, corn, dope etc. The great Burkett supplied the beer, William Bills, Dennis Fritzinger, Lady Mary and the weirdo Louisiana boy. Fearing exactly what happened Max Burkett also left early.
"How... why was that party busted, man? I mean, everything was going along so fine. I was having me such a gas, I was so high."
Jude Acers, the unstoned, sits there and lets it sink in carefully. Janis Joplin does not realize how Bills, veteran chess master and road creature, was hit with acid by a prankster. Bills has never had any drugs and completely freaked out on his explosive "coffee." He began to jump up and down, screaming insanely. His threats became alarming. He blasted us with "This whole gathering is clearly a top secret undercover communist conspiracy. I am going to report you to the police department. Yes I am. I most certainly shall."
Nobody at the party realized how devastated by acid Bills really was. Some joke. Forgetting that he owned an automobile parked outside, Bills climbed a Muni bus and somehow wound up in Hunter's Point, the most dangerous part of the city. He was badly beaten up and robbed. Police found him unconscious in a doorway. The cops took him to the city drunk tank, thinking Bills was under the weather! Unbelievably Bills was actually able to mumble out something which led police straight to a very nifty holiday party with sirens all around the building. The apartment owner and several people were arrested without cause or evidence. Cursing and threatening William Bills with great bodily harm they were led off to jail by apologetic police "for questioning" and released a day later, case dismissed. Wow! Bills laid low for weeks.
Janis listens carefully, laughing and shaking her head at my back pages. "Gawd," "ha-ha," "Jesus" are interpolated with my clinker.
"It's obvious Bills was really hit, Janis. It had to be acid don't you think? Do you realize that the police towed away his car while he was beaten up, put in jail and having his mind blown. He had to go get his car when he remembered he owned one a day later. I know. Burkett and I put up the money to get the blasted mother out."
Janis Joplin said, "Some people do not have fortune, a chance. But you can have fun no badly how things are. If you keep on truckin' it works out. He must have been unlucky, is all."
"Unlucky?" thought Jude. Yes, this great character was born under a bad sign but persevered. It is August and September in 1968, William Bills, Subu "the Stabber" Subramanian and Jude are on the road again all across the nation. They are not worried. They have no home, no women, no life. They drift like an angry storm in Bill's soon-to-be repossessed Plymouth and lived on Jude Acers' beloved Shell Oil Company credit card. All the cities flash before the car hood. We are in Galveston, Texas now. Do you see that hotel twelve stories high over there? The Great Bills, Subu and Jude size up the scene. The Moody blues play. The car rock and roll tapes play.
William Bills points to the tenth floor. "That is where my mother killed herself twenty five years and four months ago. My father had died and she didn't really have anything to live for, she didn't like me. She jumped off the balcony, only she didn't die right away. She fell onto a metal chair ten stories down. It took her nine hours to die. There was blood everywhere. I could only watch. She was all broken in pieces. I tried to understand."
Subu Subramanian practically vomited. I sat there absolutely creamed, shocked. (God, if Burkett or Ken Smith knew this they would flip their lids.) That's how Subu and I got the message about Bills. He beat Bisguier, Addison and many other famous players in an endless odyssey trying to forget.
He knew his time was not the right time. "Jude Acers, I can't go on studying chess anymore. You must get strong enough to beat all those grandmasters. You must, you certainly must." From that moment on Bills owned the hides of Subu "The Stabber" and Jude. We mowed down several players to give Bills cash. We loved that man; and we'd analyze 14 straight hours on an adjourned game to give him a certain draw, probable win. It was the only time Bills had ever revealed himself to the people who played chess with him for twenty years.
Janis listened to all this. "I wanna go all at once man. I ain't stickin around to watch everybody I know disappear. Hell no!"
"He was really great Janis. People would applaude after some of his games. He beat a top Los Angeles chessmaster named Weinburger in nine hours. Subu and I went beserk when Weinburger resigned the game. We stomped, we shouted. He played such great games Janis. People would applaude..."
"What did I look like at that party, I wonder?" Janis Joplin asks.
"You were alone at a table with turkey leg in hand like a cave man. You wore a green see-through net top, jeans without a belt and brown sandals."
"Jesus... Jesus... you must be a genius man. How do you remember all that crap?" Janis screams in delight.
"Janis, I keep reminding you that I am indeed truly great. Besides on that occasion I was looking kind of close. Mary, Fritzinger the poet, Max Burkett, Jim Schmidt, Sunshine were all there. You looked over at this guy from the Rincon Annex, the party host. You said "Awright man where are those guys that are going to fuck us?"
Janis Joplin began screaming laughter, "That's right. Oh man! How do you remember... I remember now. He promised there was a party man coming, a party-pretty-boy."
She was silent for a moment trying to remember more. "I have enough trouble tripping over to a party like that by myself. I almost never can find the address. A number is always wrong or something. I musta been lookin' for a party dude."
Jude piped up. "Why Miss Janis, I do declare. I was there. Why didn't you latch on to me?"
"Why you don't count, Mr. Saint Chessplayer, you-you-you innocent virgin!" Janis screamed out with an ear to ear grin and three choice cackles.
Still, Jude thinks, it is strange that Janis cannot remember the remarkable Bills scene. How could anybody forget that? She is popping Southern Comfort slowly without ice. Then the heavy of the night.
"What do I look like to you Jude?" Janis asks very deliberately. She is actually serious. O.k. the truth.
"Not feminine, not masculine, neutral gear. You're my little sister. I don't drink and you do so as to make up for both of us."
Janis flips on that one. She is happy but will she still love me tomorrow? My snap judgements are made now. They are utterly stupid, wrong of course.
A. Don't worry. Janis is taking heroin but her supply is endless and she can handle it.
B. As long as she is singing at Bill Graham's places in San Francisco she'll get all the affection she needs. As long as she keeps on lying when Ralph Gleason asks her if she's off smack she's gonna be alright.
Janis looks down. "I'm dying. I know it. I know it."
Silence. What can you say? If I can't take care of me and manic-depressiveness run rampant how am I going to be able to give advice or comfort to the world's hottest lady rock singer? I don't even smoke cigarettes. Mom get me out of here. What am I doin' here? Please Mr. Custer I don't want to go...
Later... "Janis, I have two boxes of old chess books and things. I've stored them at the Café Trieste. Can I store them with you until I get a place that's safe? The Swiss-American makes my liver quiver."
Janis tells me to just drop them off. Maybe she'll learn to play chess. Sure. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
A week later I did just that. Janis wasn't at her place in Marin so I just tossed them in a drawer. I can actually remember Janis Joplin with a copy of "The California Chess Reporter" in her hands and saying, "What are all these little numbers?" She just sat there flipping through the pages. It was to be the last time I saw her alive. Her eyes were big circles but, believe me, she looked o.k., able to cope.
To understand why Janis Joplin put me on the road as a professional chesssmaster and changed my whole way of thinking about San Francisco, i.e. survival, it is only necessary to learn how I got the message.
I was sitting in Winterland and listening to Quicksilver Messenger Service, wondering why so few performing groups play non-stop. Is tuning up on stage necessary? Why can't groups be professional like Creedence Clearwater? I mean it. The dead data, the analysis was running in my mind. I was drowsy, unprepared.
Bill Graham just walked out and said "I hate to be the one to tell you this but Janis Joplin died today in Los Angeles. We don't know yet what happened but it's coming over KSAN and we know of other reports as well."
I freaked. I just sat there wondering how in the world a big powerful horse that I had picked to win couldn't even get to the racetrack alive. What had gone wrong? The guy from Chicago that she loved had to be a plus and besides for the first time in Janis' life someone else was paying the bar bills. Her last band, Full Tilt Boogie, was supposed to be all pro. Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman was watching over her very well without choking her. I knew this from first hand experience. I honestly believed she was getting away with her two cartons of Southern Comfort and money stashed everywhere for the pusher man.
With this writing there is the realization that I had never known anybody my age to die, someone I had met hundreds of times.
She had taunted me strangely. "You don't do nothing but move them little men around man. But you'll get the last laugh probably. You'll be old, old, old and just remember me baby. Ha. Ha." Janis said this in the Coffee Gallery where she once sang for free for more than a year. It was there that "Big Brother and the Holding Company" found her. That weird, colorful band broke the Janis Joplin sound worldwide with a record called "Piece of My Heart" or something just as catchy. Big Brother used to meet there before rolling to every conceivable audience in meadows, stadiums, gyms, bars. It was there that Janis Joplin played her game with me.
The turnover of faces in her house was incredible. I do not remember even a fraction of the people in the house that Janis Joplin spent her last years in. The record people were faces, friendly faces as sales soared. They found her wild, a risky investment and so did Grossman who insured her live for two hundred thousand dollars after Jimmy Hendrix decided to check out of the hotel. As to Janis Joplin's sexual and drinking stories, Joplin biographies, I cannot account, true or false.
She experimented wildly, lived like a torch. I saw nothing so wild as biographies tell us but then I wasn't around Janis Joplin like many others every day either. She was the only woman I ever met who could successfully use filthy language for expression that seemed in character and quite nice. She was mad about sensual men and women in her entourage and they were always touring upper Grant.
That's for sure. If you knew Janis, you boogied seven days a week.
Never unwilling to seek expensive thrills she tried a great many things. I was never able to tell if she was serious about anything. She was a wild, wild lady. And she could deliver the message... North Beach Days... back... back... back.
Two recollections will illustrate and precious indeed. I was in the Café Trieste and needed to change shirts in the men's room as I had no place to live. After going to the legendary green dufflebag (which the kind Trieste proprietor Franco most graciously stored behind the soda fountain) I was off down the hall on my exciting new adventure.
I reached for the washroom door and pop! It opened as if by itself. From behind the door came first two Hells Angel type behemoths, then a third small figure who looked like a fourteen year old girl. She was followed by Janis Joplin and TWO MORE men followed as well. I was absolutely astounded at the physical miracle I was witnessing. Six people had come out of that tiny men's room. Janis Joplin said, "Hello Mr. Chessplayer," and flashed right on by.
I stood there with my mouth open. I just couldn't believe it. "How... how... could all those people...?"
Janis whirled around with a grin and laughed "Hell, man, we left two men playing chess in there still and watch out because they'll beat your donkey!" I turned around slowly and carefully, thinking it over. I didn't want to disturb a game in progress. Honestly, that was my first thought...
As I stood in the tiny room and raised my arms to remove my sweater, I realized how completely my frame filled the space. How could have six people fit in there? What were they DOING in the little room? Janis, baby, how did you do it?
I tried to think of every evil possibility, but gave them all up. There wasn't room for six people to move in that place much less be wicked! I never figured it out, either.
When you think about it: you're coming home from a hard day's work at the office and you go to put your coat in the closet, you open it, and six people pile out without a word and Morphy is playing Steinitz in your little closet. You close the door and call the police and tell them your story and...
Two biographies of hedonistic Janis have left little to be said about her experimentation, nervousness, fears. No side of her is left uncovered the reader believes. Nothing ever published could have prepared me for Janis Joplin's game of the century in the Coffee Gallery. The only question left for me to answer is whether she planned the entire affair.
It was a Sunday morning in those golden years just before she died. Janis had always been getting a percentage of a band's appearance fee. Now she was a solo attraction, a superstar booking at staggering fees arranged by Albert Grossman and his eager beaver office crew in New York. I knew little or nothing of these goings on. Certainly I did not understand that the manager of Bob Dylan and Richie Havens was deeply interested in her career. Her projected income was more than two million dollars in two years. This would seem strange to me as she came off stage at Winterland and did not ever receive an encore. She was sent home by the audience. "I know I wasn't good. So what, man, so what, who cares?" she told me afterward in a candid confrontation outside. She got into a guy's little truck and puttered away. Is it possible to die before dying?
My world was where it happened. I was living like a rat and playing Slimy Burns at the rate of twenty five cents per grueling game. Slimy once played me a game that lasted nine hours by the clock. During the game a Slimey rooter dropped by and bought him a beer, went off to a basketball game, returned to see us and buy Slimey another beer, go home to dinner and bring his whole family to see the finale and buy Slimey another beer. After resigning Slimey looked up and said, "Just one more, double or nothing."
The second and (thank God) last game only went four hours. Slimey felt deeply about his quarters. He told me that when he was losing he would just sit there and the opponent would eventually forfeit the game and quarter due to some tripe such as a film, dynamite lady, fire, or working day. I hung in there like gangbusters to nip three pieces of silver in one session.
Oh sweet victory! I took those quarters to the bloodcurdling Swiss American Hotel and taped them to the ceiling so that I could look at them as I awakened each day! It was that rewarding.
I was playing Slimey for the usual heavy stakes when Janis Joplin began to "deliver the message" at 9a.m. The phone above the jukebox actually was ringing, what on earth for? There was nobody in the place but Slimey, me and George the bartender. NOBODY called the Coffee Gallery at nine in the morning. Let it ring.
Janis popped into the bar and sat down on the bench next to yours truly, tapping my leg beneath the table in a highly suggestive manner, distracting me unfairly. I have never seen anyone wear less clothing in public. In addition, she was wearing for the first time some "come-hither young-man" perfume and resting her arm atop my broad, powerful masculine shoulder.
"Janis, please, you're disturbing a very important game. My lunch money, my whole weekly allowance is at stake. Please, please."
"Not bad for a neutral gear gal, huh?" she said.
The phone rang yet again. What to do, what to do? "When are you gonna teach me to play this crazy game?" Janis whispered.
I gut up to get more coffee. George was asleep and Slimey was being boiled for lunch. Why is Janis here with me, the unplayboy? Must be because I am a holdout for dope conversion, I'm a good guy... why me, why me? Here goes the phone. I pick up the receiver and hear "Long distance calling for Miss Janis Joplin from Mr. Albert Grossman."
How on earth they know the Coffee Gallery number or even dreamed they'd find Miss Janis there at that hour I'll never know. Maybe the just phoned every number they knew.
"Lady, you're getting up in the world. Mr. Grossman is calling." I yelled out to her as she was holding the knights in both hands and whispering "You ain't gotta chance Slimey. He's too good."
She shot out of the bench and raced to the phone. "He's my brand new manager. Oh he's so good. You wouldn't believe, Jude." And she snatched the receiver out of my hands.
I just went back to my quarter game, taking great care to eavesdrop on her every word, a conversation which did strike pangs of envy to put the matter mildly.
The Grossman office was frantic. Janis Joplin was supposed to be in Miami tonight and, figuring the time zone, things were getting awfully scary.
Had she remembered tonight in Miami? No, she said. How much money was she getting?
"TWELVE THOUSAND - JESUS CHRIST!" she screamed. "I never thought I would get that much. Man you are the best manager, the best. I never got more than four ever, ever."
Then Janis was worried. "My clothes, I don't have nothing really good to wear. What am I gonna do? It will be too late to get some there." (It's Sunday, too, Jude is thinking).
Janis Joplin is told that her measurements were taken the last time she visited New York. All sorts of goodies were already waiting in Miami for Miss Pearl to choose for the show.
Janis was still nervous. Her band? Where were they? They were already in Miami, of course.
Janis said she didn't have much chance to get to the airport. "I forgot. I'm so stoned. I'm sorry," she moaned, putting her hand over against the wall and hitting it with her hand.
Just about that time Slimey Burns was realizing that another twenty five cents was gone with the wind. So Jude looks to the side through the huge panel window at Grant Avenue. Behold, up the street was coming a black limousine, pulling to a rest just outside the Gallery while Janis was still talking to Grossman in New York!
Slimey's eyes bulged in disbelief. "They must have phoned it long distance. Jude, you'd better be nice to that woman from now on. Lookie there, lookie there."
I was doing all the looking I could as Janis flashed by us into the limousine and said "Bye Jude. Gotta go to the airport." (Grossman doesn't take chances. He takes out a $200,000 insurance policy on you and sends a black limousine just in case).
Jude Acers looked out at the battleship fading out of view. "Slimey, now that's what I call managerial service." We played on.
Not much that is pleasant to record happened that night. While I was hungry and listening to the radio in the Swiss-American Janis was a sensation and getting herself arrested for verbal discourtesy to officers of the Miami law. She was definitely in jail the newscasts said and nothing new was coming over the tube all night. Just great.
I went down to the Coffee Gallery at 9:30 a.m. as Slimey wanted revenge. It was incredible repeat performance day as the phone rang again. 4hrs time I fought for Simey's cash with no conscience. George was asleep as before. Same time, place, station, characters twenty-four hours after. Eating came before Acers phone service. (Fischer used to always answer the Manhattan Chess Club telephone for years like a hotel operator! I mean it. You could just phone the place and Bobby the Killer would put the blade to your eardrum).
Slimey glared at the phone. Another quarter down the drain. "Our games should be played in a glass booth instead of a telephone company."
Suddenly Janis Joplin darted through the Coffee Gallery doors with a huge smile on an exhausted face. How had she gotten out of jail so fast and gotten back here? Wow! I didn't dare ask for the details because lunch hour was approaching. Besides I was speechless just to see her again.
The phone was ringing, ringing. Janis turned toward it, weighing the matter. "I'll get it. Watch my purse."
Jude held Janis' purse and played his knight deep into Smiley's beard and Queen side while the Coffee Gallery maid got the telephone.
Smiley took the knight in glee. "Shouldn't look at Janis young man. It will hurt your game young man. Hee! Hee! Hee!"
Whereupon Jude Acers ruthlessly checkmated Smiley with a very deep one mover bomb. "There, take that. Looking at her inspires me to new heights and encourages me to finish you off quickly you knave. She helpeth my positional imagination, tactical planning, knave. Besides, I see everything. Don't you know the basic truth that I am the best?"
Slimey could not believe his eyes and began half shoving chess pieces up for the next game while Janis was saying "You got the wrong number." And went down to the ladies powder room.
I pushed Janis Joplin's purse out of my lap and felt paper. Slimey was playing pawn to e4 when, beneath the table, I looked quietly at twelve thousand dollars in a strapped hump purse with a "Made in India" label. My friend, it was the most enchanting sight I can recall in my lifetime. It was all green vegetables, so lovely, so choking, so demanding, so insanely inviting. Greed ran rampant, the plague... Jude Acers could barely breath much less raise his arm and hand to make a move. Slimey Burns did not have the faintest idea what was happening, which was just fine with Jude. Happens every day. You play a chess game for twenty five cents and you're left holding the bag with fourteen thousand dollars.
Believe me, Jude took a long time to think about moving. At first moving hastily seemed a tremendous idea. Janis took her own sweet time about returning from the powder room which of course was completely blowing the mind of Jude Acers for the entire year to come.
Jude Acers did not know what to do. He just took the hemp purse and curled the top closed in his lap. Then he held it lovingly, carefully in his lap. And he stared at the purse in his lap. He was paralyzed with avarice, greed, crime, foreign travel thoughts.
Janis Joplin was beside him now, merry and unconcerned, on the bench. Slimey Burns did not know that the equivalent of forty eight thousand games of chess were sitting in Jude's lap. And Jude would have to win them all consecutively or it would take another game or two besides. Jude could not move. His mind was gone down the road, long blown...
Jude now had to make his move. Slowly, very slowly and with great pain, Jude Acers edged Janis' purse across his centrally located pants zipper, right pants pocket, pants seam, right pants leg and inch by inch along the bench, past a coffee cup, ash tray and two and one eighth, point five one hundredths inches to Janis Joplin's fingernail attached to the index finger of Janis Joplin's left hand which was conveniently shaped into what is commonly referred to as the eagle or bird sign. Through all this, agony not one word was said by anyone.
It is now time to speak. Rememer how to speak. Open your lips. Remember how to say words. Everything is all right.
Then Jude says to Janis Joplin. "How... how... did you know I wouldn't leave with your purse... it all... how Janis? You shouldn't do things like that Janis, never Janis, never, never."
Janis sat still. Then she smiled slightly. "Baby, I have them chess books at my house. You're a chess crazy. You do anything to my purse I would burn your chessbooks. Ha ha ha ha ha ha."
Slimey suddenly didn't feel like playing and left. I didn't dare tell him what had just come down as the three musketeers sat there. (Years later he refused to believe it as well). Slimey left Jude, Janis, and twelve grand to go sell blood for ten dollars.
It was flooding rain as Janis leaned her head against the Coffee Gallery windowpane.
"They put me in jail."
"How much money is in there Janis?"
Jude Acers looked down at his right pants pocket over which had passed twelve thousand dollars three minutes ago. Then he saw the Mechanics Chess Room score sheet sticking out of the pocket.
I pulled it out gingerly, still foggy in the head. Janis looked at me. I looked at Janis. "I want to read something to you that I copied from a letter by Jack London." Janis didn't say anything, sat there expressionless as I turned the chess sheet over and read the scribbly writing slowly, voice hoarse in a whisper.
I would rather be a superb meteor with every atom
I looked up and was astounded to see her in tears. "That's me... no, that's you... or... I don't know... Oh, Lord I'm so messed up, I'm so stupid, man." She was badly shaken, seizing her purse with rigid, tense hands and with a frantic movement headed toward the swinging doors of the Coffee Gallery. She dashed into the rain, crying, horribly drained, filled with smack of yesterday and stared for one moment at the chessplayer in the window who stared out at her. He was mouthing a word through the window. She squinted at him, not understanding. He said the word again. She could not hear and ran.
Jude Acers watched her run with twelve thousand dollars, the stinky clothes, the tired unshaven chess bum with no family, no one to love, and two of Slimey's quarters were dumped there on the bench in a helpless heap.
There was no future.
There was no one in the place except the sleeping bartender when Jude Acers said,
Return to Index