Tim, Mary Ellen and I went to an area designated “Little Prague.” That of course was because Russian troops had just rolled into Prague to “quell” the unrest there, just as Chicago “troops” had rolled into Lincoln Park to stop the audacious anti-war “rioters” from disturbing the great Midwestern-American domestic tranquility.
It was a big open area, some kind of courtyard, and compared to other parts of town, relatively calm and not very crowded. There were few cops, so everybody just milled around and talked and hung out. A few people handed out informational pamphlets, some sold buttons and “Little Prague” and “Roast the Pigs” T-shirts. There were also makeshift eateries set up. Everybody has to eat and clothe themselves, right? The American free enterprise system was alive and well even there, if slightly mutated.
Tim and Mary Ellen stopped to check out the T-shirts. But I was hungry, so I told them I’d be right back and ducked into a little downstairs “restaurant” to grab a burger—I could have cared less if it were a ham-burger or a tofu-burger. I just needed food.
Walking down the steps, I felt some weird vibes going on. The place was dusky-dark. It was long and narrow and had the acrid odor of stale grease. I felt like I was descending into a bunker designed to protect against some encroaching battle, though strangely, neither Vietnam nor Prague.
At the very back, a big black man was flipping burgers over a greasy grill. He was grousing and grumbling and scowling, and with my acid-eyes I could almost see the sparks of anger spitting from his eyes. Was he pissed at me? I looked around and noticed two clone-like, thin, blonde young women. If in his eyes there was anger, in theirs, there was fear, boiling, churning, almost washing them away.
“Hey, got a customer,” the man yelled at them. “Stop the lollygagging. Find out what she wants. Get goin’ there, for Chrissakes.”
One woman took down a plate, rattled it around, almost dropped it. The other gave me the most timid, angst-driven look I’ve ever seen. “Uh, can I help you, miss?”
I blinked. With all that LSD in me, I felt assailed, embattled by this scene. I felt the anger; I felt the fear. And LSD never lets you just shove it down. Oh no. No way you get off that easy.
“I—I’ll have some eggs,” I said, walking slowly towards them. “I mean, if you’ve got any. I’d really like some eggs and toast.”
The women really bustled then. One got the eggs, the other the bread.
“What the hell did you get those eggs for?” the man bellowed. “They’re too damned small. I told you to use the other ones, for God’s sake.”
“Ah!” The woman shrank back, inadvertently crushing the eggs. They fell on the floor.
“Goddamn you klutz. Clean that mess up. Aren’t you good for anything?”
The woman grabbed a paper towel and started cleaning. The other one bumped noisily into a counter as she was getting the toast. The man barged his way into the narrow passage between them to the refrigerator to get the “right” eggs. With my acid-antenna riding high atop my head, all their base and terrifying emotions were searing through me like the grease on that old grill.
“Oh, my God,” I said. “Oh, my God. You guys have got to stop. You’re acting like a big bully,” I said to the ‘boss,’ “and you’re acting like weasely chickens,” to the women. “You’ve gotta stop right now. I can’t stand it.” I held my head. “Ow.”
All three stopped, staring at me incredulously. “What are you doing?” the man shot at me. The women just blinked.
“You know,” I told him. “You know what you’re doin’, man. You’re acting mean. You’re acting like a plantation owner or something.” I looked straight at him. I ducked my head and shook it. “And you know it. Come on, you do.” It was the acid. It was also true.
“And you guys are going along with it because you’re too afraid to stand up for yourselves.” I walked toward the women. All three kept staring at me. “And you know that too. You think ‘cause this guy is black you have to be scared of him. So the bottom line is, you’re insulting him by treating him like he’s some stereotype of a mean black man.”
I kept smiling. I couldn’t stop. Through it all, I couldn’t help but see the humor in their behavior, the man acting mean and the women scared. The acid did that. But even so my head was hurting with their damned bad vibes shooting out all over the place.
There was a blast in the room. Air burst in from somewhere.
“He razzes us all the time,” one of the women shot out. “And he’s not even our boss. We’re all volunteers.”
The man jumped, clearly surprised she had the nerve.
“Well, you chicks act like I’m the devil incarnate just like this gal says, ‘cause I’m black,” he shot back, grinning devilishly. “So what the hell, if you think that already, I’ll damned well prove it to you.”
I laughed. I doubled over and almost fell to the floor. Looking up, I caught a fleeting sparkle of humor in all their weary, battle-torn eyes.
“You can talk about it,” I said softly to all three. “You really, really can.”
A ripple bounced through the place. I felt it, saw it and, in some way, whether they knew it consciously or not, I could tell they felt it too.
“I’ll make the eggs,” one of the women said. “I can do that.” She seemed to have just realized she could. “Do you want over-easy or sunny-side up?”
“I’ll get the toast,” the other woman added.
“Oh, hell, I guess it wouldn’t kill me to wash a couple of these slimy dishes for a change.” The man smirked, but he went to the sink and started right in.
I stuck around and finished up my eggs and toast. By the time I left, although the atmosphere wasn’t as sunny as a turned-up egg, it was at least better, over-easy, you might say.
Send a comment to the author: