Breakfast Stories: Toast, French

A stylized shot of French toast on a cast iron skillet.

I’ll admit I wasn’t then a particularly sensitive human being. I should say “yet” instead of “then,” so you won’t think that my growing up in Queens excuses or explains my being like that. There are plenty of good people living there, but this happens to be a story about a pimp. When was it? That would be 1983.  I finished high school that year, so I must have been eighteen. I was eighteen, I’ll swear to it.

I had stayed over with my Puerto Rican call girl girlfriend. She was no streetwalker. A call girl’s got a lot more class. A streetwalker’s got it rough, standing out in the weather (she only walks when a cop happens by), and, often as not, working fast in some alley or in the seat of a trick’s car. A trick, I hope you know, is not just what a guy wearin’ a cape does with his hands. You might still say that whorin’ is whorin’, but with a streetwalker that’s nearly all it can be. She’s got no time for conversation. You’ve seen her. She’s the one waiting at the bus stop, only, when the bus stops she doesn’t get on. Another difference for a streetwalker is that her working numbers increases her chances of trouble, of disease, of mixing up with some bad-ass dude, or with cops, who’re mostly son’a-bitches. The literal-minded will like it that call girls, as the name implies, might work up their business on the phone. Even call girl language has more class: client instead of trick. And when it comes to sex, that’s going to happen inside somewhere probably on a bed, not in some family sedan.

But I’ll shut up, assuming that you know something. My call girl girlfriend had this nice apartment, by Queens’ standards, kept a bed in each of its two bedrooms, one to use with her clients, and, when she was free, one for her and me, when I was her boyfriend and could stay over there instead of at my mom’s. We usually got along good, but things weren’t so good the night before because of this argument we had over her pimp, who this story’s about.

I’d heard that he’d been giving her a hard time. I don’t remember what the problem was, differences between them, or something that he had totally dreamed up. I doubt that it would have been over money since she had steady, well-paying clients, and so she couldn’t hold money back from him since he knew just how much should be coming in. I remember saying something like “That’s what you get for working with a pimp named Larry,” which was allegedly his name; but since she’d worked with him longer than her and me had known each other, this was a kind of joke between us. She’d always thought it was a funny name, too, and I’d smile hearing her say that all-American name, shifting the accent to the second syllable and saying it with a long ‘e’.  She’d say “Lar-ee” and smile, and she had great smiles.

Watching her talk—I loved to watch that girl talk—with those full lips of hers that she kept dark red, and those eyes of hers set back in her head deeper than a white girl’s. Her eyes had these wonderful shadows. Up till then things weren’t all that bad for her as being a call girl goes, but her business couldn’t have been an easy one.

That night, my mentioning his name got us started off in the wrong direction and upset her and upset me. And what was this pimp? I don’t remember if he was allegedly black or white or what. Called Lar-ee, it’s ten-to-one he was no Puerto Rican. I’d always thought that the less I knew about him the better things were for all concerned, for him and me and her and me, and for that matter, her and him. The trouble was that he’d been roughing her up a little, and what was worse, had threatened, according to word on the street, to do a whole lot more. It was this I had in the back of my mind when I said, “That Larry better start doing less to you than more. How dare he threaten you for some pimp reason he dreamed up.” So she and me had argued half the night over how she should handle this Lar-ee and his alleged threat to her.

As you’ve figured out by now, my living in Queens had taught me something about pimps, even though that ain’t all Queens is, as I might have said. I never got into that myself, but pimping was just another scam, and I definitely knew about, and, to tell the truth, had worked a few scams myself. What I had no patience with was someone saying he was going to get rough with a girl for no reason except to show what a big man he could be with one of his women. It was this that really got me pissed — I knew better than to start thinking of her as my woman…man, a big mistake. I’d said to her, “Your man’s way out of line,” even though I knew what he was doing was perfectly pimp, pure pimp. But the times had changed regarding pimping, and the truth was that with all the money and power there was alleged to be in drugs, just being a pimp was barely a scam at all. It was little more than being an ordinary businessman. I was still in high school then, but I knew that if you were going to run a business you had to run it right, and stop acting like being a pimp was some big deal.

The reason I didn’t get this across to her was I was talking on another level, not some higher level, but just a different level from the level of a working call girl who couldn’t see the forest for the trees, which I told her. This is probably why she’d said, “You live your life…I live mine!” Showing she was in no mood for me to tell her anything, she said, “If you don’t understand the Big Picture…” I replied, “It’s you that don’t see.” And she’d said, “It’s you in that forest that’s blind.” What I said next was, “Don’t you see that my forest and your Big Picture are the same place?” Maybe she’d been under control up to then, but after I said this, her big dark eyes pushed out a little from that pretty way they set back in her head. It was then I knew I wouldn’t be getting nowhere trying to reason to her these finer distinctions in language. It was then I’d had the good sense to say, “We’ll talk about this later.” To which she’d said, though, at that moment it sounded confused to me, “Queen-boy, how you know so much about forest and trees?” She hadn’t talked like that with me before, using words like a knife, but I have to say, though I never liked being called a ‘Queen-boy,’ which in some basic way I was, at least back then. Her words caught me off guard and I sat quiet a moment. Then, before I could say anything she said, “Queen-boy, how you think you know what I mean?”

I was also getting angry by then, but I felt there was something more important to straighten out. What I could see as clear as light was that both the big picture and the forest showed that things weren’t looking good for her, yet she wanted nothing to do with my call to handle her out-of-line pimp. Even if I don’t remember all the details exactly, I still had that much right. And if we’d been two gears that night, it wasn’t until sometime early in the morning before our gears caught and turned together, to be poetic.

When I woke up, before it was even light, the first thing I thought about was what I’d said and what she’d said, and I still knew I was right, that her Lar-ee was a bad businessman. What sense did he show threatening her like he had? That was the thing about pimps that really got me, their being bastards to their women when their women were doing good work and the money was coming in. I see now that part of the alleged problem was my being eighteen and not realizing yet that reason wasn’t what was going to make some Lar-ee start acting like a real human being. Back then, I wasn’t so sensitive myself.

I knew I was alone in bed, and I could smell that she was frying something special for breakfast. It was probably French toast, which may not seem so fancy to you, but back then I thought that it was very special. With our bedroom door cracked I could smell and even hear her cooking and humming. I also knew that she would want to talk and make up for what each of us had said during the first half of the night. Her getting up and fixing something had worked before, but it’s so easy for me to go without breakfast. In fact, I most never eat anything until I get off of work. In the past she’d said, “How you go so long not eating nothing?”

The thing that started me disliking breakfast was probably how my old man had been such a pig at meals. The way he would eat—dunking cake in his coffee and spilling it all over. Then drinking out of his saucer instead of pouring the coffee back into the cup, and making this loud schlockin’ sound. This wasn’t the only thing about him that I had disliked, not the only reason I had for not liking breakfast: there was also my weird metabolism.

Suddenly I knew that after last night’s argument that I just didn’t want to sit in her tiny kitchen and make up. I was just eighteen then and knew how to be angry. Lying in bed by myself, I’d had time to get that way again. Sitting with her over that fancy breakfast, I don’t know if I’d have been any more sensitive about it, about making up, even though the night had ended pretty well. I think that that morning I probably would have stayed mad, given how good I was at getting mad back then.

So I got up and was half dressed before she called for me to join her in the kitchen. “I fix something for us,” she must have shouted, not shouted, but in a soft, special voice she had. Now that I think about it, that’s what it was, her saying “for us,” that made me decide to leave. Maybe my forest and her big picture weren’t the same thing. Just then French toast felt to me like her own little scam to get me at that table and have to make up. I said something she probably couldn’t quite hear, something like, “Baby, I’ve gotta run,” finished putting on my shoes and headed for the door. I did that directly so she wouldn’t get me talking and sitting at the table with a plate in front of me loaded with food my metabolism couldn’t handle. Pimp Lar-ee’s name would come up, and we’d have been at it again. So I said, “I’ve gotta go,” and without turning, stepped into the hall. I was that much of a human being, even back then.

That was the last time we didn’t eat breakfast. She disappeared shortly after that. The story got out that she had tried taking revenge on Lar-ee, using something harder, if not sharper, than her words. Lar-ee turned out to be, whatever he was, tougher than his name. Word spread that Larry killed her. But there was not one bit of proof he had and charges were never made. It could be that pimps named Lar-ee were especially good at making sure.

Recipe

Toast, French:

According to my girlfriend: Soak bread in a mixture of egg and milk. Heat butter in a skillet, and drop in the soaked bread. Fry well on both sides. It must be more to it than that, but that’s none of my business.

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