Saw this cat named Terry on the bus the other day. Some guys are like a breath of fresh air. Not Terry. He’s a breath of cologne. I don’t wear cologne but there’s something about Terry’s cologne. It’s a subtle scent that doesn’t overpower you. You just know it’s there. He wears these velvet jogging suits that are smooth and loose. That’s Terry, smooth and loose. We ran into each other on the #5 Fulton heading downtown. Riding the #5 can be depressing. All those faces, that twisted mass of tech-washed gentrification that has overrun the city of my birth. I can barely stand it, that sense of entitlement of the techies, the coffee sippers—those financial sector technocrats whose presence radiates so much death of sprit. I try not to look but they’re all over the place so I close my eyes.
He got on board on Fillmore Street. The door opened and that cologne hit me. I looked up. “Hey Anthony” a voice called out. I was drawn in by his gaze. His eyes are somewhat unfocused yet radiate a smile contrived only of an honesty of the moment. “What’s happening, Terry?” I said. Terry moves a bit unsteadily, having been in a car accident years ago. Sometimes when talking, his attention drops off. Perhaps it is the area of lost consciousness that lands like a cloud, those precious moments when he slips into the subconscious street of his mind, where words and songs echo to the surface. Terry—Fillmore-born, still here. We got off downtown. We walked a couple blocks to Market Street. I remembered the way he walked from when I first met him. I was a vocational rehabilitation counselor for an employment training program run by a local non-profit organization. Most of the participants in the program had developmental disabilities. The training facility was an assembly center where the workers sorted, counted, weighed and packed mosaic tiles for shipping to retail outlets. My job was to supervise the workers, which is always uncomfortable because I see myself as a worker and not a supervisor.
I hit it off with Terry. We’d laugh and he’d sit and count those tiles like they were poker chips. But he would sometimes lose count and have to start over again. His eyes would drift to the women in the program. He liked talking to the girls, always complimenting them on what they were wearing. I’d say, “Hey Terry, you can’t do that. Ain’t you ever heard of sexual harassment?” Terry’s gaze would drift away for a few seconds. “You’re a motherfuckin’ killjoy” he’d answer, smiling. “You’re right about that” I’d answer.
We walked to Market Street. Terry has moved on to a profession better suited to his passion. He sells mix CD’s. Five bucks a pop. He pulls out a small binder filled with CD’s in transparent sleeves. He asks me what I like. I ask him what he has. Fast jams or slow jams, whatever you want, he tells me. I tell him to set me up with slow jams. He pulled a CD out of its sleeve. He had a playlist to go with it, not digitized and impersonal but handwritten on good, old-fashioned lined paper:
“Ole School Mixed Slow Ballads”
- Sho’ Nuff must be love—Heatwave
- Do Me Baby—Prince
- I’ll be there—Jackson 5
- Hanging Downtown—Cameo
- Got to Be there—Jackson 5
- Do Me—Rick James
- Never Can Say Goodbye—Jackson 5
- Between the Sheets—Isley Brothers
- What’s your sign—Danny Pearson
- Natural High—Bloodstone
- Oh Honey—Delegation
- Be My girl—Dramatics
- What’s come over me—Blue Magic
- Sparkle (in your eye)—Cameo
- Fell for you—Dramatics
- Didn’t I blow your mind this time—Delfonics
We parted ways. I had my mix CD. It sat in my bag a couple of days. Terry called me and asked me what I thought of the CD and I told him that I hadn’t listened yet but would soon. He called again and again I told him I’d listen as soon as I could. I finally found a perfect time to listen—at work. I popped in that CD and let it play. Now, I don’t know how it happened but I got mellow and loose and hell if I didn’t look at myself and see that I was wearing a velvet jogging suit. And that smell, is it cologne? Damn, Terry got me again. How am I going to get any work done today?
Hey Terry, thanks for the music, thanks for being here. I never knew a jogging suit could fit so well. Thanks.