I’d been channeling Ellas McDaniel–better known by his stage name, Bo Diddley–for so long that I didn’t realize I’d been transformed into him until I arrived at the coffee shop across from my train station the other day.
“That’s quite a jacket,” the woman behind the counter said, and I looked down to see that instead of my usual blue or grey solid or pin stripe suit, I was wearing a loud red plaid jacket.
“Thanks,” I said, a little mystified.
“Medium?” the woman at the counter asked.
“Yes, please,” I replied.
“Anything for your friends?” she asked as she handed me a cup.
I turned around and saw Jerome Green, Bo’s long-time maracas man, and “The Duchess”, his gorgeous sister.
“Unh, sure,” I replied, a little embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed them before. “Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t see you two standing there.”
“Thass alright,” Jerome said. “”I’ll have what you havin’.”
The Duchess was a different proposition. She could be moody, sullen, uncommunicative, haughty. “You got any cross-ants?” she asked, showing off the French she’d learned on our tour of the Continent during the British Invasion of the ’60′s.
“No,” the woman behind the counter said. “Just muffins and scones.”
The Duchess exhaled a little sigh of contempt. “I don’t want no scone,” she said. “Jest give me a coffee, unlest you got cappuccino.”
“We can make that for you,” the woman said, trying to be agreeable. I felt sorry for her; she was just doing her job, and wasn’t used to dealing with royalty.
“Duchess,” I said, “I’ve got to make the 5:55 train.”
“Whuffo?” Jerome asked.
“So I can get in early,” I said. “I’m more efficient in the morning.”
“You forgit,” Jerome said, “you ain’t no businessman no mo’. You Bo Diddley.”
If anybody would know Bo, it was Jerome-subject of “Bring it to Jerome” and the party of the second part in “Say, Man”, Bo’s spoken dialogue hit that anticipated rap by twenty years.
“If you say so,” I replied.
The woman behind the counter had the cappuccino ready for The Duchess, and placed it on the counter.
“So, two regular coffees and a cappuccino, $6.75.”
I put down a five and two ones, and the woman plunked a quarter down on the counter. That was enough to set Jerome off, and he began to shake his maracas to our trademark “Shave-and-a-haircut-two bits” beat. CHICK-a–chicka-chick-chick–CHICK.
“That’s catchy,” the woman said.
“Thanks,” I said, as I dropped the quarter in the tip jar. “Let’s go,” I said to my two new companions.
We got in my car and drove over to the train station, where we joined the usual early morning crowd; everyone silent, keeping to him or herself, contemplating the dreary day ahead.
“We goin’ to a gig?” Jerome asked.
“Yeah, but not the kind of gig you’re thinking about.”
The Duchess didn’t look happy. “We gonna eat when we get there?”
“Duchess,” I said, a little exasperated. “You had a chance to get something back at the coffee shop. I can get you a croissant when we get into Boston.”
The train rolled into the station and we climbed aboard, me with my briefcase and guitar, Jerome with his maracas, The Duchess with nothing but her purse and her cup.
After we got settled in, the conductor came down the aisle, checking tickets. I showed him my monthly pass, then he looked at my entourage.
“Where you goin’?” he asked Green.
“I dunno-he’s the headliner. I’m just the maracas man.”
“Where you headed?” he asked me.
“You payin’ for her too?” he asked, nodding at The Duchess.
She gave me a look that would have flash-frozen a pan full of peas, then turned and stared out the window.
“Two round trip,” I said, a little annoyed at the extra expenses I was beginning to incur as a rock ‘n roll pioneer forced to stay out on the road long after I could have retired if somebody’d told me not to give up the rights to my songs for flashy clothes and a Cadillac.
“You jest payin’ the cost to be the boss,” Green said with a sly little smile.
The train pulled into the Wellesley Farms station and who should get on but Todd Smirsky, an insufferable twit of a trader who bolted my firm last year, taking millions of dollars of business with him.
“Well, hello there, Bruce,” Smirsky said. “How’s it going?”
“Fine, fine,” I said trying not to be too friendly in the hope he’d shut his yap and let me ride into Boston in silence.
“What’s with the funny-looking guitar?” he asked, pointing at my trademark rectangular instrument.
“This? Oh, sort of a new hobby. I . . . uh . . . twisted my knee skiing this winter, so I decided to take up rhythm ‘n blues.”
“Really?” he asks, more a supercilious put-down than an inquiry, really.
“Yeah. I . . . uh . . . go by ‘Bo Diddley’ now.”
I could tell from the look on his face what was going on in his mind. “How déclassé!“ Smirsky’s idea of a wild weekend is two gin and tonics after eighteen holes of golf, year after year, stretching out in an unbroken line from here, to retirement, to the grave. How boring.
“To each his own,” he says as he sits down with his Wall Street Journal and opens it up to the Money and Investing section. “How’s everything at the old shop?” he asks.
What he wants to hear is my hollow-sounding claim that things couldn’t be better, business is booming, we’re going great guns, etc. Instead, I give Jerome the cue, and he starts to shake out our trademark rhythm, while I launch into the hard-edged guitar sound that first got kids up on their feet, jerking spasmodically, a half century ago.
We got forty-seven billion in assets–
Our large cap fund is top-rated –
A Scandinavian receptionist, a company jet,
And none of our trades was back-dated!
“Oo-ee!” Jerome chimes in, and The Duchess begins to rock her head from side to side and snap her fingers. I can see Smirsky is taken aback-he was expecting to Lord it over me as usual, and instead he’s been hit by a rock ‘n roll tsunami; a pulsating, insistent beat and a fecund verbal imagination that he’s never encountered, even in the prospectus of the riskiest biotech start-up.
“That’s good to hear,” he says, then tries to change the subject. “And how’s Meg?” he asks, referring to my wife.
The question catches me off-guard. I hadn’t expected Smirsky to drop his usual business one-upsmanship in favor of innocuous social chit-chat quite so willingly. Jerome, however, doesn’t miss a beat-literally or figurative.
“Man, your wife’s so ugly she’s got to sneak up on a glass of chardonnay to take a drink!” he says to Smirsky, eager for an impromptu “dozens” match of rapid-fire insults.
Smirsky is silent for a moment, then asks me “Who’s this fellow?”
“That’s Jerome Green-my maracas man.” As if to make the point with greater clarity, Jerome leans across the aisle and shakes his instruments in Smirsky’s face–CHICK-a–chicka-chick-chick-CHICK.
“Impertinent,” is all Smirsky says by way of rejoinder, and turns his attention back to the stock tables.
Jerome isn’t letting him off that easy. “You wife’s so ugly-she broke yo brand-new digital camera when you took her picture!”
Smirsky gives Green a bitter, sardonic smile-the adult equivalent of “So funny I forgot to laugh.” I guess the burden he puts on the left side of his brain as a top stock-picker has caused his right-brain-the locus of our creative and imaginative talents-to atrophy.
“Man-yo wife is so ugly, she sets off the security alarms when she walks into Talbots!”
Smirsky is smoldering now, and slams his briefcase shut. “You know ‘Bo’,” he says to me, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “I’m chairman of the membership committee at Pine Woods Country Club. I seem to recall that you’re getting to the top of the waiting list there.”
All of a sudden, the downside of my walk on the wild side becomes apparent. There’s no way I’m going to fit in with a bunch of white suburban males now that I’m possessed by the soul of Bo Diddley, except that my wild clothes will blend in with their weekend golf outfits.
“Bo Diddley’s a four handicap!” Jerome sings, but I extend my hand to silence him.
“Listen, Todd, I . . . uh . . . apologize for Jerome. He’s new to the metrowest suburbs of Boston. He was just engaged in a little signifiyin’.”
“Signifying? He’s downright insulting.”
“He’s just joshing,” I say. I’ve got a $1,000 deposit down on that club membership, and my wife will kill me if we blow it. Smirsky calms down a bit. He didn’t get to be the top producer in our office by taking needless offense at friendly invective that’s part of an oral tradition dating back to dawn of history in Africa.
Jerome glares at Smirsky, his lower lip twisted into an expression of contempt, but he cools it, and stares out the window while he continues to pump out the beat. The Duchess, however, is having none of my attempt at peace-making. “We don’t want to join your damn country club anyway,” she fairly spits out at Smirsky.
Smirsky snorts at her apparent presumptuousness. “What makes you think we’d even consider you for membership?”
“Don’t you know nothin’ about the British Peerage?” she asks, incredulous. “You all’s wives may be ladies,” she says, drawing herself with pride. “But a Duchess outranks a lady.”
Available in Kindle and print formats on amazon.com as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”