TEN MILE ROAD
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This story first published in the Chattahoochee Review, Vol.27 #1 Fall ’06

By Jeanne Sirotkin (Haynes)

 

I’m starting to think in rhyme. My friends just roll their eyes and shake their

heads. Sometimes they laugh. Mostly they’re puzzled by this mid-aged, slightly plump

(well-endowed, I like to think), white lady who lives just north of Ten Mile, bakes

cookies for her grandkids and volunteers twice a week at the old folks home and is really

a super-star in disguise. Or at least a potential super-star trying to bust her way up to the

big time. I’ve got my believers too. “You can make it, Shirley,” they tell me. “Get

down, girl,” they holler as I climb onto the stage for open mic night. Ain’t got but one

dream. It’s mighty fine. Ain’t got but one trip and it’s mine, all mine.

It started one day when I was doing the dishes. An ordinary day in an ordinary

suburb. I had finished drinking the second pot of morning coffee. I couldn’t stand still,

twitching away. The words just started to tumble and flow. They summed up my

existence. It’s a bitch that Tuesday looks just like Monday and Thursday and Friday

don’t even rhyme. Up in the morning. It’s such a bore. Do the dishes and sweep the

floor. I take out the trash, cook more hash. Talk some trash. I’m talking trash. Kiss my

trash. I’ll kick your trash. Big, fat trash. Shake it now. Shake it fast. That big, fat trash.

Shake that ass. Shake it now.

That’s just the opener for my act. I’ve got the shake-it costume too. A silversequined

tube top. Lets my cleavage show. Lets everything else show too. It’s good for

shaking it and I’ve got lots of “it” to shake. Since I’ve started to perform I’ve cut and

dyed my hair a spiky blue. During the week, when I’m disguised as a suburban

grandmother, I wear a wig. If anyone notices that it’s fake, they assume that I’m a cancer

survivor.

I never wear the wig when Richard stops over. Richard is my ex-husband. I love

to rub his nose in it. He has peanuts for testicles. And no rhythm. I should never have

married a guy who couldn’t dance. Unfortunately, it appears that both my grown

children have inherited his two left feet. They can at least clap their hands in time to the

beat once I get it going, but they have to work at it. Richard is one of those guys with a

briefcase and a pocket protector who wipes the phone with a hanky before using it and

probably wouldn’t ever sit on a public toilet seat. How he got that twenty-somethingyear-

old bimbo to move in with him, I’ll never know. Lorraine. What a name. What a

shame. Bimboland is mighty cool. It’s a real fine place for ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends

and fools. You gag ‘em, and you choke ‘em and hang ‘em on the wall. Let them out for

supper and a tumble and a paw. The bimbo makes him constantly late with his checks so

lots of things are broken around my house.

Often I have trouble with my wheels. Wheels are a big deal in this town.

American wheels. Japanese ones could get you stoned, or worse. You dream about

wheels until you’re sixteen, then spend a lot of time and money getting hold of the right

looking machine. It’s part of the mating dance like peacocks spreading their tails.

Cruising the streets looking bad. That’s how I met Richard. Richard drove a Mustang

years ago and I was a Mustang style lady. Now I drive a Ford Escort. I’ve named her

Jane, as in Plain. Trouble is that some days she runs and others she won’t. I take her to

the mechanic and she works just fine. Mike, my mechanic, looks at me blankly when I

come in one more time with a loud noise that disappears as soon as I pull into his

driveway. “Sounds great, Shirley. No problem with that engine.” I think that means it’s

all in my head. Rev’ your wheels, open your door. I’ll do it in the backseat. I’ll do it on

the floor. If your chrome don’t shine, we are through. So baby, oh baby let me double

hemi you.


Today, Jane refuses to start and I have to take the bus. And I mean The Bus, as in

The One and Only. If you miss it, kiss it good-bye. I’ve seen movies where you stand on

the corner and, whoosh, bus after bus will sweep by and pick you up. No way. Not

today or any day in this town. The wind is trying to shift to the north and I’m dancing

from foot to foot to stay warm. I have my costume bag with me. The “City Times”

wants to do a shoot and I have to be at their office by 1 o’clock. A centerfold piece, they

told me: “MC Mama mixes it up in the Motor City”.

I see and smell the bus approach. It has an ancient advertisement for “The Lion

King” on its side. And a public service message about the vices of smoking. It makes

me want to light up right then and there. I board, and insert a dollar into the receptacle.

The driver barely glances at me. I feel like one of those science kits for the barely

Visible Woman. A transparent body that the light shines through. The driver sees a

slightly stale middle aged woman on her way to nowhere. If he only knew!

It’s the middle of the morning and the bus is mostly empty. I sit in the middle. I

prefer the middle – the middle of anything. So I can really mix it up. Leave open all my

options. It’s like that child’s rhyme about the crazy Duke of York. When you’re up,

you’re up and when you’re down, you’re down but when you’re only half way up you are

neither up nor down.

A young man sits in the back. He’s wearing a satin jacket and a baseball cap

pulled on over a headrag. He’s wired to music. I can tell because of the beat. Boom-dada-

boom-da-da boom can be heard in spite of his earphones. He taps with his fingers on

the metal bar of the seat in front of him. Boom-da-da-boom but he stops and looks me up

and down a couple of times before rising from his seat.

“Hey!” he calls. “You that crazy white old lady rapper? I know you! You

bitchin’. You one bad mother. Wanna hear some fine beats?” He offers me his

headphones. It’s XLDaddy2Cool. My palms start to sweat. Daddy2Cool is too cool.

Thinks he’s so ghetto that no one can touch him. Certainly not some menopausal wrinkly

suburban white lady. I’m in training though. I’m almost ready. I offer the young man

some oatmeal raisin cookies from my bag and give him a flyer for my Saturday show at

the Juke Hall. It’s billed as the Biggest, the Best and the Baddest get down in Motown.

I’m not sure which I am, but I want to be all three. Get down in Motown is my fast track

out of here. Rumors are that a Japanese promoter will be there.

Daddy2Cool left a message for me on my answering machine. “ Yo, mama! Yo

ass is so big – it ain’t something that Japanese dig. You white rice, you stinky fish. I

gonna make you sushi on a dish.”

The bus lurches its way into the City. Old newspapers and plastic grocery bags

blowing everywhere – in all the weedy fields and abandoned buildings. We pass one

strip with viable stores. An auto repair shop, a wig store, a nail salon, a drugstore, and a

bar-be-que joint that looks tempting. Just thinking about a slab of short ribs makes me

start to drool. The branch library stands off to a side with boards over its windows. The

trees have lost most of their leaves and they point at me with their bony fingers. Stay in

your place, Ms. Wrinkly-Face, it ain’t a question about race. It’s who wants a gramma

who shakes her bootie and can jam’ wit ya. Like the brother down the road drivin’ a

Lincoln or a Ford, or a Caddy or a Hummer, or a dope 440 Porsche. Rev it up! Burn

some rubber! You might not get it. You a sucker. It sounds like a whammy

Daddy2Cool might try on me. He’s like those trees pointing with their fingers. He’s got

nothing on me, I tell myself. And this weekend I’ll get to prove that – showdown at Juke

Hall. A duel with Daddy2Cool. One that will let me take off on a 747. I sure hope that

they like cookies in Japan.


The bus lets me off a few blocks from the City Times office. I try to hurry and

when I arrive Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a), my DJ, is pacing the hallway. She’s

young and oh so trendy.

“God, Shirley. What took you so long!” she says.

“It’s the awful buses.” I take my coat off and throw it on a chair. “Can’t wait for

my first real contract. Then I get my Mustang and look out – its ride, Sally, ride.

Cruising Belle Isle on a Friday Night. Taking off to Chi Town for the weekend. And I

get to tell Richard to shove his pitiful allowance up his ass. How’s my hair look?” I have

on shiny blue press-on nails to match the color. I run my hands through my hair to make

it stand up and look electrifying.

“Hair’s great. Come on,” Marcia says. “I’ll help you with your clothes and

make-up.” We’ve got the routine down to fifteen minutes. Like Clark Kent in a phone

booth, I become MC Mama. Good thing the steam heat is on high in this old building.

Goosebumps wouldn’t photo well, I think.

I walk into the room, which is set with bright lights for the shoot. Marcia is

telling me something about Saturday. I catch just a part of it. “Shirley, Bernie said that

those Japanese promoters are in town. Saturday’s for real money. It’s the Big Time –

our break! Wham. Bam. And we are out of here.”

“Shirley, baby, good to see ya.” George, the city editor, comes over and stands on

his tiptoes to kiss my cheek. I am a big woman, like I said. Both wide and high and,

with my spiky heels on, I’m a virtual tower of power. George is a small, affectionate

guy. I give him a big squeeze. The click of the cameras tells me they are shooting this

too. A pseudo stage covered with Christmas lights is set up in one corner with a mic.

“We want this to look like the Juke Hall. We’ll be out on Saturday too for extra

shots of the crowd, and of Daddy2Cool. We asked him to come down today and do a

photo op with you. He ‘don’t do that,’ he said. ‘See my agent.’ So, honey, you are it.

You’re the centerfold. The City Times playmate of the month. One color shot and the

rest black and white.” George looked out the window. “That about sums up this town

too. One color shot and then black and white.” He shook his head and left the room as

the photographer went to work. He took a lot of shots from below. I’ll probably end up

looking like Paul Bunyan or his sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox.

Marcia takes charge of the beats and scratches while I rap a bit to loosen up. I

get nervous in front of a crowd. Nervous pumps me up. Gets me going at 99 miles an

hour. Makes my brain shimmy and slam. It feels odd to be rapping in a room with only a

photographer and a light man. I think about Daddy2Cool. Whooping and hollering and

grabbing his crotch. That gets me nervous enough to start jammin’. Saturday’s show is

not a head-to-head open mic showdown but a three act, coin-toss order of performance.

Me, Daddy2Cool and this kid, SlamJamJoey. The kid is ok. Uses some pretty worn

retreads and isn’t a showman. Daddy is my competition.

“One more shot, please,” the photographer begs. “Just lean over. That’s right.

Thanks baby.” I squeeze my arms against my chest. They press my big bosom further

towards his cyclops camera. I lick then purse my big red lips. Shut my eyes. Blue glitter

falls out of my hair, cascading towards my cleavage. Marcia is good at these touches.

The blue glitter. I find it everywhere for days after the shows.

“Come on,” Marcia says after the photographer has finished. “I’ll give you a lift

home. I don’t have to be at work for a couple of hours.” Marcia waits on tables at the

Great Lakes Bar and Brewhouse when she isn’t working shows for me. It doesn’t seem

like much of a life but she’s young. A friend of my daughter’s introduced us and we’ve

been a team for the last couple of years. MC Mama and DJFineBody (her stage name).

We head north up Woodward, across 8 Mile Road and into the burbs. She whips

her car into my drive and screeches to a halt. We sit for a moment and stare at the porch.

Someone’s been there. White chalk is rubbed everywhere and something that looks an

awful lot like blood is smeared on the stairs. I unfold my big self and jump out of her car,

slamming the door.


“Goddamn it Marcia! Look at this.” A dead chicken with its neck twisted has

been deposited right at my front door. “He wants me to be afraid. Daddy2Cool. I’ll fix

him. Send all these bad vibes right back at him. He shouldn’t mess with me.” The beats

were pounding away again. Snakeskin. Frog legs. Eyes of newt. Chicken leg gonna

tear your suit. Wave your hand, grab your balls. Your face will crack and your voice

will fall. Voodoo gonna get you. Gonna get you soon. Voodoo gonna get you. Make

your life a cartoon. So grab your crotch, what’s in it’s mighty small. Wave your hands,

but I’m the one that’s tall. 6 plus 7 gonna make you fall. Nothin’ save you - You warty

juju man. Nothin’ gonna save you - not even yo’ mama can.

I go inside as Marcia drives off, leaving the mess for later. My answer machine is

flashing red. I push the button. “You have two messages” the voice drones.

They’re both from men. One is from Richard and it’s some mumbled explanation

about why his monthly check will be late. Bimbo probably needed new breast implants.

The second one is an insane cackle. “Yo, yo, you ‘hoe. Don’t bother showin’ up

Sattaday. I’m the man. I am the baddest and the best. I’ve got words to make lips burn

and pussies howl. I gonna beat you with the hippest bop. No way you gonna make me

stop. I’ll throw you to the floor, ‘til you holler ‘no more’. No dried up old lady gonna

shove me out the door. Hey babe – you there? You hear me? Just forget it. Forget I

said. Go back to bed. You ‘most dead.” More cackling. Sounds to me like I’ve got him

worried. Otherwise, he’d be ignoring me instead of going to all this trouble. I feel so

satisfied that its time to bake some cookies. Double Chocolate Chip Chunks, my favorite

kind.

That night I dream I’m taller than the Colossus of Rhodes. I’m standing

straddling several islands – one foot on the north, the other on the south. My electrified

blue hair lights up the night sky. Below me people are scurrying to and fro talking

excited in a language I don’t understand. They point at me and blow kisses, then bow. I

wake up shouting “ Konnichi wa!”

Saturday arrives before I have much time to think about it. The Juke Hall is just

east of Downtown. It’s a neighborhood bar during the week with some of the finest

entertainment around on weekends. Only special shows, like tonight, have any cover

charge so it’s real popular with the young crowd. The Hall’s hard to spot as you drive

down the street. It’s on a block that leads to the river. All the buildings are a dilapidated

gray. Most are abandoned but somehow the Juke Hall survived. You have to know it’s

there. They don’t advertise but you don’t need to in this town. If the music is good,

word of mouth carries it around. Plain Jane decides to run so I’ve got wheels to get me

there.

‘Hey there Mama!” Joe, the bouncer greets me at the door. With a deadpan face

he asks me for my ID. “Gotta keep things legal here.” he says, pretending to scrutinize it.

“Go on upstairs. Marcia’s been here and set up. She’s up there worrying if you’d make

it on time.”

I climb the rickety stairs to what passes for dressing rooms, costume bag slung

over my shoulder. I have to duck at the top of the stairs so as not to bang my head.

Someone said the Juke Hall used to be a stagecoach stop on the Chicago-Detroit line but

it looks more like an old whorehouse with a sink and a toilet in each of the upstairs

rooms. Layers of yellowed mismatched wallpaper are peeling off of the walls. I could

write my name in the grime on the windows. I throw my bag onto a satin couch in the

room Marcia has claimed for us. There’s a thermos of dark roast coffee waiting and I

start to slug it down. The twitching in my head begins. I pace around the room throwing

off my clothes. In my head I picture a scene from the movie “Rocky”. Come out

punching, I remind myself. Swing hard. Hitting below the belt is legal.

Marcia DJFineBody walks into the room. She’s dressed all in black, slinky black

leather. Her entire body is Ninja wrapped. Only her eyes show, thick with black mascara.

“Clothes, Shirley” she reminds me that I am naked. Her voice sounds muffled beneath

her headgear.


“Grab a shoehorn and shove me in,” I say and we run the fifteen-minute

transformation drill. Glitter covers the floor everywhere as Marcia tosses it in my hair.

I hear SlamJamJoey kickin’ downstairs. The beats come right up through the floor. He

must have drawn number three, the opener. It’s a warm up with the crowd still arriving.

“I got your prop,” Marcia whispers. “Brandon kind of ‘borrowed’ it from work.

It’s got to be back, in one piece, on Monday.” She motions over to one corner of the

room. A huge old jackhammer is leaning against the wall. “It’s your lucky night, big

lady. We drew number one. You get to close.” She dusts my chest with a last dash of

blue glitter that clings to the adhesive she rubbed on my large expanse of exposed skin.

The excess sinks between my breasts. I’ve waited so long to bust out, bust outta this

house, bust outta that door. I been blind, been deaf, but I’m ready to roar.

“Let’s go listen to Daddy2Cool. I’m ready,” I say and we go down the stairs,

through the bar and into the dancehall. We stand way in the back behind the soundman,

Bobby. He smiles and winks at us. “Go get him Shirley,” he says.

Daddy is up on stage, arms waving, foam flying from his lips. Heavy gold chains

swinging around his neck. The front of the audience is his fly girls. Scantily clad and

moaning with pleasure, they writhe to the music. “Do me, Daddy!” they cry. Daddy is

real rubbery, like a snake. He slides around the stage, hissing and crotch grabbing. I see

him scan the audience. A mistake. He’s looking for me, I can tell. I stand tall, blue hair

glowing above the crowd packed sweaty shoulder to shoulder. Smoke is pouring from

his smoke machines on stage. Fingers of white smoke wriggle through the audience

–Daddy struts this way and that, then points at me and starts bobbing. You blue bitch

you give ‘em blue balls. I gonna laugh when you fall. I gonna Huh-huh-huh and nasty

nasty. Whip it in your face. Watching you bleed raw. You ain’t nothing up one big

tittie. All shriveled up and no no pretty. Watch me whip it. That’s it baby, whip it.

Watch me now, Oh baby. Feel it. He’s crotch grabbing like wild now and the fly girls

are screaming. One climbs on the stage and they dry hump. The smoke gets thick as he

wails and carries on.

Suddenly three canisters onstage explode, shooting whipped cream into the air.

Lights crash and Daddy is gone. Really gone. So gone, he doesn’t even know it yet.

The crowd whoops and hollers. But I am ready. Daddy2Cool won’t even know what hit

him. Marcia slips away to open in her Ninja disguise. My words are sharp as Ninja

fighting stars. Damn the torpedoes. I’m a mountain of a woman coming at ya. Ready,

aim, fire.

Marcia opens with the beats. We buy them from some high school computer

music geeks. They are special. Anyone can move to them. She is scratching and

spinning and playing while I shimmy through the audience to the stage. Buckets of blue

glitter confetti have been rigged over the audience. Marcia pulls a cord. It tumbles over

the crowd and they scream and go wild. I’m shaking my bootie moving towards the

stage, wailing and howling into the microphone I’m carrying. Oh yes baby, I’m ready to

fight. Get down tonight. This here is Motown. Listen to my lowdown. This here is

Motown, where the weak are eaten alive. I’m one bad Mama coming at ya. Get down

tonight. Get down. I’m coming at ya. Finally I reach the stage and six young men in the

audience give me a one-two-three boost up. I’m wearing 6-inch neon blue platform

shoes. I look way larger than life like a statute or a visitor from another planet.

Someone’s fantasy of the Great Mother. I grab the jackhammer. That’s when the trouble

begins.

I mount it and when I reach the line I like ‘em big and strong. Full of action. You

gotta a little weenie that you’ve been packin’ all hell breaks loose. Out of the corner of

my eye I catch a black and gold flash, realizing too late that it’s Daddy2Cool looking like

Ferdinand the Bull.

“That’s it Mama. I won’t take no more insults from some old white lady. You

too big for your britches. I’m cutting you down.” He gets off one good swing that

catches me in the eye. He tackles me and we topple to the ground, rolling around the

stage. I may be old but I’m big and strong and he is blubbery. When I punch him in the

gut it feels like a giant marshmallow. I manage to incapacitate him with a knee to the

groin by the time Joe the Bouncer and some other beefy guy make it up onto the stage.

The crowd seems to think its just part of the show. They haul Daddy2Cool away. My

head is a whir and the beats are a blur.


I holler to Marcia “Skip to the finale” while I pant and try to catch my breath.

She’s rigged a swing that drops from the rafters. I jump onto it and rap while

swinging over the heads of the audience handing out chocolate cookies baked by yours

truly. I don’t spot anyone who looks remotely like a promoter, especially one from Asia.

Maybe that’s for the best, considering the night’s events. When we hit the last note the

entire dancehall is rocking. We exit the stage, leaving on a loop of repeating music

playing for the crowd to dance to. I feel my eye swelling up. If it turns blue I guess it

will match my costume.

Upstairs, I change my clothes then sit back and let Marcia remove my make-up

and tend my eye. She has removed her Ninja suit and put on some old sweats. Phil

Jacobs, the club owner comes in with a concerned look. I’ll bet he’s thinking lawsuit.

Worrying about it. Not my style.

“Look, Phil. Daddy2Cool’s a baby. He isn’t worth the time of day. I don’t want

to spend one more minute thinking about him. Let’s just not put him on any bill with me

ever ever again. And I mean that. Never ever again. He’s no artist – just some thug.” I

don’t have to convince Phil. He’s with me on this one.

I take my cut of the door. After I pay Marcia it’s enough to get me through the

week even if Richard stiffs me on my allowance check again. I feel like I’m stuck in one

of those repeating music loops myself, waiting for another chance to break out.

“You want a ride home, honey?” Marcia asks, looking at the puffiness shutting

my right eye.

“Naw. As long as Jane starts I can make it north of Ten Mile in no time. I might

try slapping a steak on this eye. I’ve always wondered if that really works. Although

slapping it on the grill sounds better to me right now.” I realize that I’m hungry and

thirsty and deflating quickly. Time to hit the road home.

The twenty-minute drive north goes quickly. I’ve barely walked in my door and

thrown my bag on the floor when the phone rings. It’s Marcia.

“What’s up now?’ I ask. “You just can’t stay away from me, is that it? Or do you

want to come over and have steak dinner with me at 3 in the morning?” There’s noise in

the background. Obviously she hasn’t gone home.

“Shirley, he was there! The promoter was at the show. He wants you. He wants

you to tour Japan.” She stops speaking for a moment. I can’t believe it. My lucky

night. This is great. It’s like a crack opening and I can bust in, I just know it. Finally.

“There’s a catch though.” and she pauses again, waiting for me to ask.

“Money?” I ask.

“Nope. There’s plenty of that. You’ll never guess. Sit down.” She waits a

proper length of time.

“Ok – ok. I’m sitting. What is it?”

“Shirley, he wants you BUT..... he wants you with Daddy2Cool. The whole

show. Choreographed, like tonight.” I can’t speak. “Shirley, you there? Goddamn it,

say something. You ok? This is for the big bucks, honey.”

“Wait a minute, give me time to think.” I sit there and imagine wussy Richard

standing in the doorway, writing me another check and whining all the while. “Bimbo

needs new clothes. Bimbo needs a trip to Vegas.” I imagine letting him write the check.

I stare at him with my icy blue eyes and draw myself up tall, inches above Richard. I

take the check and let him watch as I shove it in my mouth and eat it, chewing ever so

slowly, never once losing eye contact. I can’t resist this picture.

“It’s OK, Marcia. It’ll be OK. Let’s do it.” Bring it all on. I am the Biggest, the

Best and the Baddest ready to roar out of Motown. Look out, Japan.