Friday, November 18, 2011

The Single Sock

By Susan Cross

She looked down at the sock on the floor. After folding tee shirts and underwear she had paired the socks, tucking the ends one inside the other to hold them together. Yet, she stared at the lonely sock. It was the inevitable single; no match.

Kim got up and walked back to the laundry room to check the dryer again; then the washer. Both were empty. There were no socks on the floor.

Slowly, contemplating where missing socks go, she walked into the bedroom and put the shirts in a drawer. His socks and undershorts, both boxers and briefs, shared the one above it. Leaning over, she picked up the sock and examined it looking for a hole in the heel or toe that would justify throwing the leftover in the trash without feeling guilty. No holes. No frayed edges. A clean sock without a partner.

Most likely, the other sock would magically appear next week but maybe not. Growing up, her mother’s rule was that you don’t throw things away unless they’re broken or damaged. She pondered. Could you donate one sock to charity? Do one legged men shop at thrift stores? Do homeless men wear unmatched socks when the weather gets cold? Would the owner of a store even take it and put it together with a similar sock that was also singular or should she just toss it out?

She brought her mind back into the bedroom and the sock in her hand. She opened the drawer and counted a dozen pairs of white ones with gray heels and toes.

The ringing phone shook her out of her reverie. As she picked it up she remembered she was supposed to be at her daughter’s house in ten minutes to pick her and her little boy up to go to the doctor. Her daughter was counting on her. She didn’t want to go alone. They would be getting test results that would determine where on the autistic spectrum her grandson fell and what the long term treatment would be.

With the phone in her hand Kim dropped the sock in the drawer and said, “I’m glad you called. I got caught up in something and lost track of time. I’ll leave right away and be there in about five minutes. Don’t worry, honey, it will all work out. Things have a way of falling into place.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

Does Size Matter?

This post is in response to a prompt on Eric Krause's blog,

It's not that I ever wanted to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Nor did I ever consider entering an Olympic high jump or pole vault competition. All I really wanted was to be able to reach the top shelf at the grocery store without standing on my tippy toes, standing on the bottom shelf or, if necessary asking another shopper or store employee to grab a box of FiberOne granola bars. (Why do they always put them on the top shelf?)

While browsing Facebook one day, I saw a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal about a new designer drug that could put a particular drug company back on track. Multiple lawsuits against the company had resulted from TV commercials claiming that birth defects may have resulted from taking any drug they had ever made and the stock had dropped considerably. This new medication, taken in liquid form, could actually cause a temporary growth spurt of up to six inches which would last as long as 24 hours. According to studies, it wasn't recommended that the drug be taken daily, but on an occasional basis it was shown to do no harm in monkeys whose growth was stunted through heredity. Could I possibly be like one of those monkeys? Although my mother was considered short at 5'2", my sister and my cousin were the exact same height as me--4'10-1/2". It seemed worth looking into.

The day after reading the article I made an appointment with my physician to discuss it. Well, actually, I don't see a physician. When I have a medical problem I go to the physician's office and see the Nurse Practitioner. In five years I have never once met the doctor who owns the practice. Although he's a General Practitioner, he and his wife specialize in cosmetic procedures and work together in the office adjoining the one I visit injecting Botox and fillers into wrinkles for baby boomers who are tired of hairstyles with bangs to cover their creasing foreheads and wearing turtlenecks to hide their newly wattled necks. But I digress.

A few days later I went to see the NP and asked her about this new drug. She had read the same article but didn't pay much attention. At a height of 5'8" it didn't interest her in a personal way. I explained to her that I'm terrified of ladders and asked her if she could prescribe it to me so that I might be able to clean the tops of my cabinets while just standing on my little step stool and perform other such tasks that she probably took for granted. After looking over my medical records, she saw no contra-indications and within 30 minutes I was on my way to the pharmacy to fill the prescription.

The next morning, I carefully measured the prescribed dosage and swallowed it in one gulp, like a shot of flavored vodka. I hadn't read the warnings that accompanied the bottle in pharmacy bag but I felt confident I had nothing to worry about. Surely the NP would have told me if there were side effects so I headed for the shower. Daydreaming about what it would be like to have to raise the shower head, I could feel some tingling throughout my body.

Now that I was squeaky clean, I dried my hair and went to get dressed. I got out my favorite jeans and when I stepped into them I found that I couldn't quite pull them up over my thighs. I dropped them to the floor and ran back to look in the bathroom mirror. There was no question that I was taller although I couldn't estimate by how many inches. The horrifying figure that I saw, however, was also wider!

Naked and barefoot I sprinted to the kitchen to read the side effects and there it was. "DO NOT TAKE WITHOUT FOOD. This medication may cause an increase in height up to 6" but when taken on an empty stomach, it may also cause an equal increase in width." With tears in my eyes I returned to the bedroom, put on an oversized tee shirt and yoga pants and waited for the effects to wear off and wondered what was I thinking? Does my short stature really matter that much to me?

Next time I read an article about new medications in the Wall Street Journal, I'll remember they are referring to stock prices of the pharmaceutical companies, not effectiveness or safety of the drugs.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Self-Righteous Blues

Apparently in 1972 I was listening to a lot of Dylan and Leonard Cohen and took a shot at writing some poetry. I found this one in a drawer this morning amongst others. I hope to hear your comments. Please feel free to be honest!

Self-righteous Blues

By Susan Cross
© Susan Cross 1972

Glaring blank faces
Wide-eyed open spaces
Show up clearly when you can’t relate
To the pace in the mazes
Of the frenzied rat races
That tear down everything you create.

When you feel like you’re beaten
And everyone’s cheatin’
You still bit but the hook’s got no bait.

After everything’s broken
You find yourself tokin’
Long deep hits of thick city air
Some crystal cold coke
And the factory’s smoke
With the people you know didn’t care.

You felt you were been beaten
Everyone was cheatin’
Without something there’s nothing to share.

Games that you played
Going out to get laid
Finding out that the rule wasn’t gold
Scores that you made
Not worth prices you paid
But you knew that some things can’t be sold.

Now you’re sure you’ve been beaten
It’s been days since you’ve eaten
Anything, anyone, young or old.

In two brown paper bags
You packed all your rags
And prepared for a long distance ride.
A little time lags from the junkies and fags
You ran into a place you could hide.

You feel you’ve been beaten
And the city’s been cheatin’
All your desires were always denied.

You tried a new place
Another pretty face
But you knew all along it’s the same.
New tails you could chase
Someone else on your case
Your surroundings were never to blame.

So there, too, you got beaten
The whole trip’s self-defeatin’
You’re asking yourself why you came.

Something you said
Spinning round in your head
All the answers you tried to avoid.
You wished yourself dead
But kept goin’ instead
It was the misery that you enjoyed.

Yes, you liked being beaten
By anyone you were meetin’
You’re still licking the wounds where you bled.

The decision you made
To take out in trade
All the bad hands you thought you were dealt.
Forever afraid of the shiny sharp blade
That could end all the hate that you felt.

You’re the one who’s been beaten
And it’s you who’s been cheatin’
So the anger and pain’d be delayed.

Well, come on big shot
If you think you’re so hot
Try to put it together at last
You’ve bullshitted a lot
Now you’re on the spot
Cut the self-pity crap—do it fast!

Or you’re goin’ to get beatin’
You just can’t live with cheatin’
Now it’s Russian Roulette—just one shot.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Leroy Cooper talks about Nat 'King' Cole

This is an excerpt from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me back in 2007. Cooper was the bandleader for Ray Charles for about 20 years. The material is copyrighted by Susan Cross and cannot be copied, published or duplicated without permission.

During my years spending afternoons with Leroy Cooper he told me stories that paint a picture of American musical history. Nat 'King' Cole was somebody that played a major part in his youth.

"Back in the ‘40s I went to a little church school down in Austin, Texas, Huston-Tillotson," Cooper said. "We used to call it the Pride of the Great Southwest. It was across town from the University of Texas. It was a Methodist school. They’d teach you to be a teacher or a preacher.

"It was a beautiful school, Huston-Tillotson. The band would play and the choir would sing and the president of the college would beg us to play The Bells of Saint Mary and it would make him cry.

"The president of the college would tell the students: 'In the early years, our forefathers got together to bring this institution about to lift the ban of ignorance…' he would say to us."

"People like Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Adam Clayton Powell used to come to the school. Every Wednesday night we had a celebrity speaker. They were so happy to see a bunch of kids trying to get educated. I enjoyed it. I played in the school band three years. I was the lead alto player which was a big deal. We had to try out for the school band like a football player. You earned a scholarship. I didn’t have to pay for nothing but books. Everything else was a freebee, food, dormitory.

"Every time Nat King Cole Trio would come through to play, our band would play the opening for them and then the Nat King Cole trio would play. All those bands would come through there and we would see those musicians dressed in those latest styles.

"Nat King Cole, he brought his wife. Well he wasn’t married to Maria then. He brought his girlfriend down. He was playing some job for the school so we used to go and watch them play tennis. I was really watching his girl in those tennis outfits. You know, a little young boy, he was laughing at us. Teenagers. Oh man, he was hitting the ball."

"We school boys didn’t have nothing. We’d be listening to the bands and the professor would say, “Stay in school.”

In another session Cooper talked about his experiences in Birmingham and the south touring with Ray Charles in the early days.

"Down there It got so bad when we’d play a gig they’d say, “No drinking in this dressing room. And if we catch one of you drinking in the dressing room you’re all going to jail. Everybody was calling home on the public phone out there. “Don’t stay too long on that phone.” Picky, picky, picky, picky, picky. To me, Birmingham was the worst place in the world.

"Nat King Cole was from Birmingham and I read that they had him going through the back door in the auditorium. Well with Ray, when our bus came in, they had us pull around to the back and we had to go in the back door."

Copyright © 2011 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Friday, February 25, 2011

Before the Beatles were the Beatles and then there was Billy Preston

By George, Cowboy Clothes
By Susan Cross

This story was told to me by Leroy Cooper during our first session and I transcribed it from the recording. First I wanted to corroborate the story since Leroy was 78 years old and I was checking on his memory. He insisted the club was the Star Club and that they did NOT have a regular drummer during Ray's gig at the club. When I saw Paul, John and George in their 'cowboy clothes' just as Leroy described them I felt I would publish his personal memory of the events that followed. It is all in his own voice.

This is an excerpt from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me back in 2007. The material is copyrighted by Susan Cross and cannot be copied, published or duplicated without permission.

In Hamburg, Germany, I was with Ray and we played in a place called the Star Club. It was a very popular venue in Hamburg at the time. It was very impressive. They met us at the airport with Mercedes Benz convertibles, a whole parade of them.

We went to the club and there was a house band playing there. There was all these guys with English accents and they were wearing cowboy clothes and boots. That seemed real funny to us because they were from England, not from the States. Every night, all we did was play shows but they had to play for the dancing and we used to laugh because they had this black drummer at the time. He was a showman. He really impressed me. He was in the Air Force and just passing through, fillin’ in. We lived at the same hotel as this band

They would say, “Come on over and listen to some records,” in their English accent. You know and we used to hang with them. There were two or three of us to a room because we weren’t making the big bucks, and these guys were all bunched up in one room. We would go and listen to records. Back then, they weren’t the Beatles yet.

So when they came to the States to be on the Ed Sullivan show we were watching these guys and somebody said, “Hey, they are the same guys that were in Hamburg, Germany. They changed their haircuts.” When we first saw them in Germany they were playing rock ‘n’ roll. Now they were doing this other music.

I said, “Wow, they made it. They made it.” From then on they were the Beatles and they were big, big, big, big. What a difference a day makes. What a difference.


Billy Preston

One year we were in Liverpool and we usually packed the place out, but this time the crowd was a little slim. We asked what’s happening?

They said, “They have a local group that’s real big. And they’ve got a movie out A Hard Day’s Night.” We had a big show that same night and that sort of hurt our crowd. So I said this new outfit must be dy-no-mite!

In Ray’s band at the time, Billy Preston was sitting next to me on the front line. He played organ and I played the baritone sax, and he met The Beatles at the rock ‘n’ roll show over here in the States.

Years later we were over in England again and the guys were laughing at Billy, saying the Beatles are big and you are supposed to be such good friends with them and everything.

I said “Why don’t you call them?” You know how guys put you on. “Have another drink. Why don’t you call the Beatles, you’re supposed to know them so much.”

He said, “Okay I’ll call ‘em,” We thought we could get a good laugh.

He calls and the housekeeper answers and she said, “They’re not in at the moment and did you want to leave a message?” So he left a message. Two or three days later he heard from one of them.

They said, “This is so and so and we bought your record contract.” At the time Billy was signed up with Ray Charles. They said, “Oh yeah, we bought it and we want you to join the group.” After that, he was like the fifth Beatle.

This must have been in the ‘60s. I remember he was driving a little ‘67 Plymouth and he was getting five hundred a week. He was always complaining about money.

“I’m tired of these cheeseburgers and I got to have more money,” he told Ray. He got with the Beatles and the next time I saw him he had a white Rolls Royce.

One time we were playing in San Francisco at The Fairmont Hotel there up on Nob Hill. It was real ritzy. We were on stage and I said, “Ray, Billy Preston’s in the audience.”

Ray said, “Aw he’s too big to sing with us now.”

Somebody announced Billy. McCartney and the other guys brought him up to the bandstand and he stayed up on the bandstand with us the rest of the night. The Beatles were sitting right next to him in the audience and Billy stayed up there with us. He didn’t forget. He admired Ray. I’ve never seen anything like him.

Anything Ray would play on the piano Billy would play exactly what Ray was playing and I thought this boy is a genius!

He was a young man at the time. He was so young guys would tell him how to dress. He was eating cheeseburgers and milk shakes. And I didn’t get to see him after he got to be a big wheel. He used to come through here and I was determined to try to get out to see him but you know you can’t get to people when they get that big. It changes.

Copyright © 2011 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Callback

This story was written as a follow up to a previous Friday Flash called The Audition which can be viewed here.
© Susan Cross

The phone rang. Her mother answered and called to her, “It’s the agency, dear.” She couldn’t believe it—she had gotten a call back from her audition! After setting the appointment she went and packed her satchel to head out to the train station.

Before she knew it she was seated comfortably heading for the city. She followed the same rituals as last time, using the toilet, washing her face, pulling her hair back. She wore the same white blouse tucked into straight-legged jeans with her red belt pulled tight accentuating her waist. Truth be told, these were the only clothes she had that didn’t give away her small town origins.

Before she knew it she was walking toward the office and opening the door. There was only one other girl in the small waiting area. She took a seat and shyly struck up a conversation with the other woman. This woman was wearing a suit and looked much older than she was, maybe in her mid 30s.

“Hi. I’m Mary Jane. I’ve never been called back after an audition before,” she said to the stranger.

“Don’t be nervous Mary Jane. I’ve been here many times. I’ve even gotten a few jobs for my troubles. My name is Abigail. Perhaps you’ve seen some of my TV spots although you probably wouldn’t know it if you did.” Abigail laughed at that notion, and then continued. I like your red belt. Do you have lipstick to match?” she asked.

“Well, no. I don’t usually wear makeup. I just focus on my hands, keeping the nails trimmed and lacquered,” Mary Jane replied.

“Well, I think you might look good with some lipstick. You should try it some time. Red would be a good color, sort of like mine. It would make the color in your belt pop, as they say, and perhaps you would be considered for other ads if you got noticed.”

Mary Jane only wore lipstick on special occasions. A local square dance; a movie date with James and occasionally when she and her mother went to a mother-daughter luncheon at the local women’s club. She chose the softer, more delicate shades.

“Mary Jane Tomlinson?” the receptionist said, her voice lilting into a question mark. She had assumed that Abigail would go first since she had been waiting longer. This didn’t seem to disturb Abigail, though. Mary Jane rose and followed the receptionist into a hallway.

She was ushered into a small office and a man invited her to have a seat. There were no family pictures on his desk or walls. The d├ęcor consisted of posters for various ad campaigns.

“I’m Mr. Ballinger. I assume you’re Mary Jane?” he said as he reached out his hand and took hers gently. “You really stood out in the audition. Your hands are very special and the way you applied our product was just perfect. I would like to see that again if you don’t mind,” he said.

“Of course, Mr. Ballinger.” Mary Jane felt her heart beating a little faster. He had noticed her!

Mr. Ballinger had a bottle of the moisturizer on his desk and handed it to her offering her a seat. She sat down.

“I’d like you to put a small pea-size dab on the top of your left hand and rub it across your skin slowly and sensually. Look down at your hand as you’re doing it and make your facial expression match the feel of the lotion.”

Mary Jane did as she was told.

“Now turn your hand over and put a little bit larger dab onto the palm of your hand. Yes, just like that. Look down and rub the lotion liberally on the palms of your hands.”

Mary Jane’s eyes were closed as she felt the warmth of the lotion on her skin. As her eyes opened just a crack she saw that Mr. Ballinger had unzipped his pants. She saw his ‘thing’ standing up high as he moved towards her. She was afraid she was going to be sick.

“I want to feel the lotion now. Are your hands still moist? Place your left hand in my pants under my balls and hold them, not too tight.”

Mary Jane was horrified! What had she gotten herself into? She wanted to run out the door but she also wanted the job.

“Now with your right hand stroke my cock from the bottom to the top and back again. Yes, just like that. Keep moving your hands like that. It feels very good.”

Within a few minutes, she couldn’t maintain her calm disposition and she pulled her hands away. “I’m sorry Mr. Ballinger, but I just can’t do this. I thought you called me back because you liked my audition and I was going to get the job as a hand model. But I can’t do this.”

“Wait Mary Jane. I think you’ve done a wonderful job. If you’re able to come back next week, we can shoot the commercial and possibly some stills for print magazines as well. Would that be alright?”

“I-I guess so. You’re serious? About the job, I mean? You wouldn’t ask me to do this again?”

“No, no. Next week is the photo shoot. You can make the appointment with my receptionist on the way out. Really I was just testing the product and I believe it’s good. Thank you for coming in.”

Mary Jane moved quickly past him to the door and into the reception area. She glanced at Abigail and wondered if she had been asked to do the same thing in order to get her jobs. Maybe Abigail was his girlfriend and had held back that information. She made the appointment and as she turned to leave she asked Abigail what she thought about the hand lotion.

“Hand lotion? I’m here about the lipstick commercial, sweetie. Did you get the job?”

Monday, January 31, 2011

Ray Charles - Traveling in the South

Through The South
By Susan Cross

This is an excerpt from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me back in 2007. The material is copyrighted by Susan Cross and cannot be copied, published or duplicated without permission.

Traveling in the South

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

There was a Jewish boy in Ray’s band when we were going through all of this named Donald Peake. I didn’t know anything about his religious background. There were about two or three white boys in Ray’s band during these critical times. I took it upon myself to try to be a protector of Peake’s down south and in Florida. Guys were selling Muhammad Speaks, it was the Muslim newspaper, and when they would see him with us, they’d have a circle on him; they were getting ready to do something. I’d come in the circle and say, “Man, he’s with us,” and blah, blah, blah. He’d be terrified, you know, and who wouldn’t? Having all these crazy people around you.

Miami, Florida

When we used to work in Miami, we couldn’t even stay on the beach. We had to stay up in Hollywood and travel down to the job. Ray was the only one who could stay down there. But we had a good old time and accepted how things were. One of our girls, one of our Raelets had bought some snake boots over in Germany. She paid about 700 or 800 dollars for these fabulous snake boots that come up to her knees. She had on a fur stole and all that and we were off in Miami. She went in the bar next door to the motel where we were living and the cops took her for prostitution. Ray had to go get her out of jail. She was just sitting at the bar having a drink and she told ‘em she was with the band but they didn’t believe her.

Things are better now. The hip hoppers can wear those snake boots and they’re all over Miami. Can you imagine putting one of them in jail? They can buy the jail.

Birmingham, Alabama

Ray started going to towns like Yazoo, Mississippi and Birmingham, Alabama. That was frightening. Back in the day, we were in the bus station and I had to be in the black part of the bus station. I was shooting the pinball machine.

This big cop came over with a fat stomach, a regular cop, and he asked the guy, “What do that big one do?”

“Oh, he’s a saxophone player.”

He said, “Can he blow it? Is he good?” In other words, he just wanted to have some kind of confrontation with me. And I kept ignoring him.

It got so bad when we’d play a gig they’d say, “No drinking in this dressing room. And if we catch one of you drinking in the dressing room you’re all going to jail. Everybody was calling home on the public phone out there. “Don’t stay too long on that phone.” Picky, picky, picky, picky, picky. To me, Birmingham was the worst place in the world.

Nat King Cole was from Birmingham and I read that they had him going through the back door in the auditorium. Well with Ray, when our bus came in, they had us pull around to the back and we had to go in the back door.

When we went to Mobile, Alabama they wouldn’t even let us in the arena unless we got rid of everybody we had white in the band. So the road manager told him we don’t have any whites, we have near whites. So the cops accepted that. The girls put powder on [Don] Peake, brown powder and he was scared that night. They made all the white patrons leave and we had to play to the black audience. The white people stayed outside the arena so they could wave to us when we left.

Things changed. Joe Namath, when he got popular years later opened up a club in Birmingham. We played the circuit in the south with Joe Namath. We went to his club and they had us in the biggest hotel downtown. I forget the name of it, and they had a massage parlor on the mezzanine. The manager of the hotel was telling the band, “You had your back rubbed?”

I said, “Wait a minute; that’s not for us.”

“Oh yes, they’ve got some nice girls up there.”

“This is not Birmingham. Time’s have really changed,” I thought.

We played the Bachelor’s Club in Ft. Lauderdale and we were treated royally everywhere and I said it can’t be the same south; it can’t be the same place.

Copyright © 2011 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Audition -- #FridayFlash

© Susan Cross, January 22, 2011 May not be copied or reprinted in whole or part without permission from the author. It is posted here for inclusion in the #FridayFiction stories.

She hadn’t relaxed enough yet for her body to mold into the faux-leather seat on the train. Looking out the window her thoughts were chasing each other trying to catch up with her emotions. After she had settled her crimson satchel on the seat next to her she rested her hands delicately in her lap. Carefully manicured fingernails were not adorned with any of the latest trends. No two-toned polish or rhinestones. No false, squarely filed extensions painted to match her lipstick. Instead she wore clear lacquer applied to her own healthy nails. They were filed across, squared but gently curving at the edges. Her hands appeared to belong to someone else, as if they were transplanted onto her slim wrists.

She was relieved that nobody was sharing the car to notice her movements. Her goal was to slow down her thoughts and relax for the two hour ride. According to the schedule, the length of time going in each direction was the same but as is always the case, looking forward to a destination gave the illusion of time crawling with each turn of the wheel on the track. The element of the unknown added to her anxiety. The trip home would be quicker because she knew what awaited her when she arrived.

Outside the window the fields were flashing past. Grazing cows and horses were a blur. She wondered how the speed of a train compared to that of a car on a highway. Remove the traffic lights and stop signs and each could cover the same distance but the train seemed to beat the car, even with the occasional stops at stations.

The relaxation exercise was working. Her breathing slowed, she opened her eyes, picked up her satchel and headed toward the rest room. Inside the tiny room, she used the toilet and washed her hands. Then she opened the satchel which held just the necessities. In an instant, she pulled her long brown hair back and secured it into a pony tail. Next she removed a plastic bottle containing a skin cleansing product. In seconds she saw her bare face in the mirror. No makeup; no lipstick. It was a familiar routine. She wore a white blouse tucked into straight-legged jeans. A red belt pulled tight accentuated her waist.

She strolled back down the aisle, head erect. She returned to her seat, folded her legs under her and leaned her head against the window. She wondered if she would ever take this trip again. Once she detrained she took a cab rather than walk the 9 long blocks. She had saved up for this trip to the city.

At the studio, about 40 women stood in line waiting. She had filled out the forms on the website. A man walked back along the line asking each woman’s name and then giving her a sticky nametag with just a number printed on it that corresponded to the number on the form.

Some of the women dressed casually, others overly stylish. She preferred to show off her assets for this audition, thus accounting for her non-descript attire. Some women wore gloves. She had removed hers in the cab. The line moved quickly. She was next.

“Number 22,” the man said. She stepped forward and followed him down a hallway and through a door.

She approached the table on the stage. It was covered with a black cloth. Bright umbrella lights were angled toward the table. A woman told her to put her hands on the table facing the camera with fingertips touching. Then she was asked to turn them over showing her palms. In the bright light, her skin looked translucent. A man appeared with a bottle in his hand.

“Are you left handed or right handed?”

“Right handed,” she replied.

“Good,” said the director. He signaled for the cameras to start rolling.

“Using your right hand, slowly open the bottle and pour a small pea-sized dab of lotion into the palm of your left hand.” She did as she was told.

“Great. Now rub the lotion onto the top of your right hand, slowly,” he said. “Good. Now rub your hands together – be careful not to get any lotion onto your nails. We want the impression that the lotion is so soothing and nurturing that you are having a life changing, almost sexual experience.”

She rubbed her hands together as she had been told. Her face was reflecting the pleasure she would feel if the lotion were truly changing her life, even though the camera was focused on her hands and nobody was paying attention to her body language.

“Thank you. You can go.”

She left having no hint of how she had compared to the others. She would wait for days to find out if she had been selected. She walked outside, hailed a cab and returned to the train station.

Her parents had told her she was beautiful, but she knew better. Her facial features were not symmetrical. Her lips were not full and luscious and could not hide her imperfect teeth. The industry's view of beautiful did not sync with her parents' idealized perception. She had dreamed of being a model for years but she accepted the reality that her face would never appear on magazine covers. She was hoping her one great feature would be enough. She closed her eyes as the train rolled towards home picturing herself in a film studio.

Tomorrow she would get up and go to work at the supermarket. She had been the only employee at the store that had ever worn gloves to work every day. Co-workers thought she might suffer from scars or discoloration but they never asked. Protecting her hands from the unwashed fruit and juicy packages of meat was essential. Maybe one day, her long slender hands would help fulfill her dreams. She would become a famous hand model.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Leroy Cooper...Drafted during Korean War

This is an excerpt from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me back in 2007. The material is copyrighted by Susan Cross and cannot be copied, published or duplicated without permission.

…Uncle Sam sent me a letter and I got drafted.

I went in the Army. They handed me a machine gun and said, “I’m going to send you down to the heathens. I’m going to send you down to F company where they don’t even give you commands, they give you whistles.” I said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness. I’ve got to audition for this band!’

They would have an all white outfit with a black leader. I went up to an all black band to audition and I tried to get out of playing the baritone. They said “What do you play?” I said ‘Alto.’ They said, “We only need a baritone.” I said, ‘Oh, oh, oh, I play the baritone.’ He said, “Okay, can you read?” I said ‘Yeah’ I saw music they had and it was something I had played every night so for my audition I took this song and said to this guy, ‘Kick it out for me.’ And he said, “Kick it out yourself.” And I kicked it off because I knew the song without the music and I played it and they were shocked.

He said “Okay, just mess around with the horn. I got to go to the office for minute.” I hadn’t played a horn in awhile because I’d been in training so I started messing around with the horn, blowing, and it felt good to me. I was just blowing away and the 55 piece band was sitting on the stage and they applauded. They said “Who was that?”

In Ernie Field’s band when I thought I was just keeping up I was a big deal to these guys. They knew who I was. I was only 21. They said, “We’re gonna get you in the band.”

Meanwhile I went down to my outfit, this machine gun company, and I was getting ready to go to Korea to fight. If you ever witnessed this, it was like a jail sentence. They said, “The following EM have been alerted for FECOM.” That was Greek to me. I said, ‘EM?’ They said, “Yeah, FECOM. Far East Command.” I said, ‘What does that mean, man?’ They said, “You’re going to Korea to fight.” I said ‘Oh Lord.’ They said, “Send all of your civilian clothes home. You won’t need them.” They gave you $10,000 insurance and they asked, “How do want your people to get the money? Ten thousand at once, or break it down?” I said, ‘Wait a minute. You can tell me nicer than that, man.’ I mean, they were sending us off to die. They said, “How do you want your people to be paid?” I said, “Just give it all to them at once, if something happens.” I went to mail my clothes home.

That’s not a good feeling. I was going to Korea, and in the machine gun company. They said, “The biggest man in the squad formation, the biggest man carries the ammo, the ammo bearer. One man carries the ammo, one carries the tripod.” I said, ‘I’m an ammo bearer, man. What do I fight with?’ They said, “You don’t need nothing. You just gonna carry the ammo. They knock you out first anyway.” Oh man, that’s not a good feeling.

Anyway, two days before I was shipping out, I’m in the barracks. Some guys were crying. It was sad, a depressing time. The CO who was the captain said, “Private Cooper?” I said to myself, ‘What have I done this time?’ So I said, ‘Sir, are you looking for me? Cooper?’

“Who is this damn band?” he asked. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, “Who are you?” I said ‘I’m Private Cooper.’ He said, “This band sent a direct order and drafted you away from us. You’re going to that band.” In other words, going to that band is more important than going to Korea to fight? And I said, ‘Pardon the expression, sir, but don’t bullshit me.’ He said, “No. They’re sending a jeep for you as we speak.” Then a jeep pulled up and said, “Are you Private Cooper? We’re looking for Private Cooper. Get your gear; you’re outta here.”

I threw my stuff in the jeep. My buddies waving and I would never see them again. We went up to where the band lived, and we slept on mattresses. And they had two sheets and they were complaining that the sheets weren’t ironed.

On the same post, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, they had 20 or 40 square miles; four or five bands. It was a city out there. I got up to the band, and, oh boy, at the PX I saw women walking down the streets; I’d been in the jungle down there.

I used to work hard up there and then not in much time, about ten months, I was a Sergeant. I felt so impressive in the band and when the man gave me those stripes, I didn’t want it. I wanted to hang with those fellows. He said, “No, I’m giving you a direct order, I’m making you a Sergeant.”

They gave me an 18 piece band to be in charge of. I was booking one of my jobs. One of my duties was to book Friday night parties for the different outfits on the post. Where did they send me? To the 91st battalion where I came from! This time I had Sergeant stripes, got my own driver and Jeep and I go back down that hill and there was the same Sergeant that kicked me out and told me I would never be nothing, I walked in and said ‘Request command to see me.’

“Oh yes sir, go back in.” I went into the office. “Close the door, son.” He pulled his liquor out and said, “You drink son, don’t you?” We drank and we had this party and all these girls came from St. Louis and talked about the band and after we finished business we talked about anything; telling jokes and everything. Then he said, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

In the Army days they called me Boogie Red. I don’t know what that was about but that was my nickname. I said ‘You remember Boogie Red?’ He said, “You used to be down here?” ‘I told you all the time I was a musician,’ I said.

I keep thinking about those Army experiences and I think the angels are watching out for me.

Copyright © 2009 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Leroy Cooper, Ernie Fields, Charlie Barnet and Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam's Big Band
By Susan Cross

This is an excerpt from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me back in 2007. The material is copyrighted by Susan Cross and cannot be copied, published or duplicated without permission.

After I left school, I went to Waco, Texas, with the little band. While we were there we met a big band leader that had a territorial band. There was a guy named Ernie Fields from Tulsa, Oklahoma that had a big band and part of his band had quit him. I’ll tell you who he had in his band: J.J. Johnson, the trombone player that wrote for the movies; Miles Davis was in that band; Gene Ammons; and Yusef Lateef. All of these guys went on to be big names but back then they were young so they left his band.

Someone from Ernie Fields band called down to where we were staying in Waco. They heard there were some musicians staying there, and they wanted this trumpet player to come join them. We were all high and everything, drinking our wine.

I said, ‘Tell ‘em you got the greatest saxophone player in the world sitting here.’ The guy put him on the phone and he said, “You want a job?” And I said, ‘Yeah.’

I was all cocky; I was tough and I was big and he said, “Okay, I’ll send you a train ticket to come to Oklahoma.” There was four of us, they sent us train tickets. All the people in Waco said we were going to be nothing and we said, ‘We’re going to join Ernie Field’s band in Tulsa, Oklahoma.’

So we caught the train, and I got to the band, and they were more professional than I was accustomed to. These guys were warming up and I heard the sounds coming out of their instruments, and I was afraid to toot my little horn. So I was just sitting there. The bandleader could see I was terrified because I was just a teenager so he said, “I’ll tell you what. Just play anything you want to play and tell the piano player what key you want to play it in. The guys didn’t even want to speak to me—that’s how musicians are. So I played Lady Be Good. And they got all friendly and introduced themselves. I thought, Wow I made an impression.

They wanted me to take Yusef Lateef’s place. He was a famous tenor saxophone player. I didn’t play tenor, I played alto. So that night in bed I thought, the baritone is the same pitch as the alto, it’s an E-flat instrument. They had an opening for a baritone player and the baritone player didn’t have to play solos because it was a bit awkward. So I told the band leader at rehearsal to let me try the baritone. He said okay. I didn’t have a baritone so one of the guys lent me one. So I got on the baritone and I wasn’t used to playing those notes and going through all those changes, and finally I told the bandleader, ‘Look, you can just give me bus fare back to Dallas and I’ll try again.’ I was giving up.

Back in those days, the band leader was like the father. He called everybody Hoss.

“I see something in you, Hoss.” he said, “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you give Hal McIntyre or Mooney who played with Duke Ellington’s band, (he was playing lead alto) you give him a dollar or two when you can afford it, and get him to teach you our book. So I got a room down the hall from Geezil Minerve, who went on to play with Duke Ellington, and I would worry him every day to teach me something. I was practicing every day. He was strict and he was from Orlando, Florida. He was a West Indian guy. And he would kick things up. I would say, ‘Slow it down,’ and he would say, “HuH Hut hut”, so being under him I improved. I got this new instrument that was a baritone and I got to where I could play. Sometimes he would get his flute and I could keep up with him on the flute, and in fact I was getting pretty good and they told me anytime a band comes through, worry the baritone player to death about the ins and outs about the instrument.

Basie’s band was forming in Oklahoma City and I was living in Tulsa. So when they came to Tulsa I would worry the baritone player to death. His name was [Jack] Washington. I would ask him, ‘Why do you do this, and why do you do that?’ He would say “Leave me alone.” But still we messed around.

Ernie Fields gave us our first trip to New York. The band went to do the show at the Apollo Theatre. Charlie Barnet’s band was playing there. Charlie Barnet’s band had all these big studio musicians. I remember the drummer had all these drums up on the stage. I had never seen that many drums and our little drummer had some little $1.98 drums. He was my buddy so he said, help me put my drums up on the stage. He was ashamed to take his drums up.

That night, Charlie Barnet had a birthday party and said everybody’s invited. So I went up there and I was drinking up the booze. And I was shaking hands and they didn’t know we were little country bumpkins from Oklahoma that didn’t know nothing. I went out on the stage and sang that first night. Our little drummer got a job with Dizzy Gillespie so when they took the program out I said ‘We don’t have nobody to sing.’ Lemon Drop was the song. So I said ‘I’ll sing it.’ I was 19 and I would do anything. This was at the Apollo Theatre where they would throw bricks at you; I went out there and sang my little song, baboom boom boom and blew with them so long that I got ahead.

The bandleader was teaching me stage decorum. I went out there and I turned around and he said “back up, back up.” I was learning how to entertain. The band paid me more money than I ever had in my life. He called me into where everybody got paid, this was in the late ‘40s, and I never had seen $100, and this man counted me out 100 bucks and he kept going. I thought ‘He’s counting out the money for the band.’ And then he got to $125 and he said, “Okay. Spend it wisely.”

I said ‘I get all this money? And you get paid like this every week?’ He said, “Yeah, boy.” And I said, ‘Wheee! I got money in my pocket!’ I spent it wisely. It was January and I was wearing my little Texas raincoat. I said I need a coat, so one of the little guys hanging around said “I’ll show you where you can get a coat cheap, and uh maybe I can get one if you get it cheap enough.” I thought he’s pulling my leg because everybody in New York needed a coat in January. He took me to a dry cleaner and all the unclaimed stuff was on the rack. He said, “Pick you out a coat.” Oh man, I got this nice, warm overcoat and the guy said “Give me 20 bucks.” ‘20 bucks?’ I said. The other guy I was with said “Fifteen.” I paid $15 and had a nice warm coat and the other guy got him a coat for about five. So I spent 20 bucks and both of us had coats.

He said “Now you need some snow boots.” For my little $125 I had a new suit and everything for the first time in my life. I wanted to go to a barber shop and get the works—shoe shine, nails—like I had seen it in the movies, so they fixed me up. I thought, ‘Oh, I could get used to this.’

They did a record while we were over in Jersey and a Broadway producer saw me. I didn’t know the baritone was popular like that and he said, “I think I can use you in a Broadway show.” I’m with this band over here and he was paying over 2, and I was traveling. Too much was happening too fast, but in the midst of all this Uncle Sam sent me a letter and I was drafted.

Copyright © 2011 Susan Cross – All rights reserved