Stevie Nicks is fine

I said goodbye to PawPaw and crawled into my dad’s truck. I was anxious to show him my award from school for having drawn the best art in Baton Rouge for my age. It had been all over the news, but he didn’t have a TV. Even if he did, it’s unlikely he would have been awake at 7AM for the Buckskin Bill Black show that I watched with Paw Paw before school. But I wanted him to know that I had been on television and was famous, just like Big Daddy had been so much lately.

My dad smiled real big and slapped me on the shoulder and told me how much bigger I had gotten. I smiled back, so happy to see him that I forgot about showing my award. It stayed in my backpack with my weekend clothes, and he started telling me about Stevie Nicks.

“Justin – Goddamnit! I mean Jason – Stevie Nicks is fine! She’s gonna dance and sing all night long! What do you think about that?”

I was excited, and I told him so. I said I was ready to go Honky Tonkin’, and he burst into laughter and lit a joint. I had never met Steve, but if my dad said he was fine then it should be a fun weekend.

I always had fun with my dad, and he was always nice to me. He had even brought me a Stretch Armstrong, like I had seen on color television in the hospital when I stayed there for a while getting brain surgery. Well, not Stretch, but the bad black guy who stretched like Stretch Armstrong. And, I didn’t have brain surgery. I fell from PawPaw’s cow fence between the house and barn, and I busted open my head. I had a huge scar  across the back of my head that Paw Paw said was from the doctor did brain surgery and gave me a second brain, which is why I won so many awards and could do anything I put my minds to.

My dad cracked his window and let some of the smoke out, and pointed to my floorboard and told me to hand him the Rumors cassette. I remembered what it looked like, so I rummaged around the crumpled fast food bags and crushed beer cans and eight-track cassettes until I saw Rumors. I held it up and smiled, and he smiled back, but he had just inhaled so he didn’t say anything. He just pointed at the cassette player with his middle finger while holding his half-smoked joint between his first finger and thumb. I put in Rumors – the right way this time – and pushed as hard as I could until it disappeared inside. Then I used all of my fingers to push the play button hard enough to start Rumors. My dad exhaled a stream of smoke at me and laughed and told me how proud he was of me and that he loved me.

Static came across the speakers, and I heard a drum beat and two voices singing together. It sounded good, and I wiggled a bit to the sound.

He said that was Stevie singing with her boyfriend. I knew the song, but didn’t know that was Stevie, and that Stevie was a girl’s name. We loved listening to Rumors on our road trips, and it usually took at least two joints to listen to the whole thing going back and forth from his place. But we weren’t going home, he said. We were going to see Stevie Nicks, live! She’s fine! he said again, and took a long drag from his roach. That’s what he called a joint when it got as small as a baby cockroach. After a few verses of Second Hand News, he exhaled the smoke and we began singing along together.

Rumors was Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 album, and the rumor was that they had recorded it while super high on pot and cocaine. And I had it on good authority that their lead singer, Stevie Nicks, was fine. I knew a lot more than most kids in my kindergarten class, thanks to my dad. I was grown up, he said, and didn’t need any of the crap they were teaching me in school. He said I was growing up so fast that it seemed like only yesterday he had given me Neil Armstrong. I said his name was Stretch Armstrong, not Neil, but my dad didn’t hear me because he was tapping the steering wheel and singing along with Fleetwood Mac.

Stretch and the black bad guy had been released in 1976, just in time for Christmas commercials, and when I saw all those kids stretching Stretch with their friends I got as excited as my dad talking about Stevie Nicks. I had to have one! And of course my dad came through. I never had the courage to tell him that I had stabbed Bad Black Armstrong with PawPaw’s screwdriver, and that his super gel had leaked out and not even PawPaw could fix him. Instead, PawPaw got me a pocket knife, not as big as the one Big Daddy used, but  still big for me. I carried it in my pocket, just in case we ran into trouble.

We stopped along downriver from the Baton Rouge Centroplex along the River Road, and my dad shifted the truck into park and turned up the volume and rolled another joint. He took a drag and rolled the window back up so no one would bother us, and we jammed out to Rumors. I felt great! I always felt groovy on road trips with my dad.

We laughed and laughed, though I can’t recall why, but I remember that he was really looking forward to Stevie Nicks singing from Rumors, especially because she’d dance and change dresses for every song. She was fine! he said, rolling down his window to toss out the roach. He’d say that a few more times. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I laughed with him anyway. He slapped my leg, and asked if I were ready, and I said I was born ready and he laughed some more.

We walked upriver to the Centroplex, Baton Rouge’s new downtown concert venue, and he argued with the ticket counter that he shouldn’t have to pay for me, and they looked down at me and I smiled broadly back up at them and they let us inside. They didn’t even check my pockets for a weapon – this was before 9/11 – and I walked past all the other adults, holing my dad’s hand. He told me I did a good job, and let go of my hand so he could buy a beer. We were early, he said, so he could have a few beers and get us close to the stage, where he could see Stevie. He bought me a Coke, and I sipped it just like he sipped his beer, and we made our way to the stage.

I don’t recall how long we waited, but it was at least two joints; though he shared them with people around us. They all patted my head and told me that their dads never took them to concerts, and that I was lucky. I smiled and pretended I understood what they were saying over the din of the crowd. People started bumping into me, and one of the guys who said I was lucky spilled his beer on my head, so my dad picked me up and put me on his shoulders to make room for more people.

From my perch, I could see all around the inside of the Centroplex. We were only a few feet from the stage – stage right, I’d learn in theater class a few years later – and behind us was what seemed like all of Baton Rouge, though later I’d learn that it was just under 10,000 people; a sold out show, and I was in front and high. Through the haze of smoke, I saw more people than I had ever seen at once. Not even the outdoor Fest for All had that many people! Suddenly, all of them started shouting and hollaring and raising beer cups in the air, and when I turned around I saw a few men walking onto stage with guitars like my dad played, so I knew this would be fun. I raised my Coke and yelled. Behind the band was a woman wearing a long flowing dress. She didn’t carry anything, but waved at us. I started to wave back, but had to lurch forward and cling to my dad’s forehead, because he had let go of my legs to clap his hands high in the air. I was pleased that I spilled my Coke on the head of the guy who had spilled his beer on mine. My dad cupped his hands and hollered Whoo Hoo! and slapped the shoulders of everyone around us, and looked up at me and shouted that that was Stevie Nicks. What did he tell me? She was fine!

She seemed to float or glide more than walk, and if there were angels on Earth she must have been one. I was happier than I had ever remembered, and I cupped my hands and hollered Whoo Hoo, too. I stayed high on my dad’s shoulders and Miss Nicks danced for us all night. She changed dresses between songs, and each one was more glamorous than before, just like my dad had said. He was always right.

Later that night, we stumbled out of the Centroplex and along the River Road, laughing and looking for his truck. We finally found it, and he fumbled for his keys and dropped them and stopped laughing and started cursing and picked them up and brushed the mud off them and tried to find the keyhole. After a while, he got his door open and plopped down and told me I’d have to help drive. It was only a short way to Sonny’s house.

My dad pulled me onto his lap and showed me how to hold the huge steering wheel with both hands, and told me he’d do most of the work. I just had to pull a little if he drifted into the left lane, the one beside the levee, or if he got to close to the right side, the one beside the Old State Capital.

I couldn’t reach the pedals, but I sat on his lap and felt when he applied the gas or brakes. He said his new truck had an automatic transmission, so we we didn’t need to use the clutch. This would be easy. I had no doubt it would be.

The levee blocked my view on the left, and the River Road didn’t have lights, but I could see the Old State Capital on the right, and up ahead I could see the New State Capital towering over Baton Rouge. That’s where we were going. Sonny lived around the corner, in Spanish Town, and he had some cocaine that would wake up my dad and let him drive us home. He started the car, and I believed I was steering us to Sonny’s.

I focused, and I drove like a pro. We arrived so soon that I was disappointed that Sonny’s house was only a few minutes away. We got out of the truck and lurched up the steps to Sonny’s porch, and my dad banged on the front door until the music volume lowered and Sonny came out in his dark plaid bathrobe. He was happy to see us, and asked how I liked the show. I told him Stevie Nicks was fine! and he and my dad erupted into laughter and Sonny told us to come inside.

Sonny rolled a joint using the big crawfish platter he kept on top of his refrigerator, pulling the pot up and letting the seeds tumble down and land against the platter’s lip. My dad said he’d get Sonny better weed next time, some sinsemilla. I knew that meant “without seeds.” I knew a lot of things other kids didn’t. Twenty years later, I’d learn that it literally meant without (sans) seeds (semillia) in Latin, but I doubt that even my dad knew that back then, even though he seemed to know everything at the time.

Sonny handed the joint to my dad and put away his crawfish platter, and pulled out a bag that made my dad’s eyes light up. My dad said it was cocaine, like what Fleetwood Mac used, and that it was fun. He lit the joint as Sonny spread some cocaine on the back of a Rumors record cover – all of my dad’s friends had a Rumors album and a crawfish platter – and I thought that cocaine looked just like the powdered sugar on the beignets that Paw Paw bought me at Coffee Call, so I knew it was good stuff. But I didn’t know you could eat it through your nose. I’d have to try that the next time I was at Coffee Call.

After a while, my dad said he was sober enough to drive us home. Sonny said he had fun partying with me, but I didn’t respond because I was almost asleep. I had curled up on the couch, resting my head on my dad’s lap, and he had to take me in his arms and carry me outside to the truck. I was so tired that I barely noticed him starting the truck and navigating out of Spanish Town and up the on-ramp for Interstate 10.

We flew over Baton Rouge on the way home. I liked that drive, especially the big bridge over the Mississippi River, but I was so tired I couldn’t see the bridge lights and I said I’d like to have some of that cocaine to wake up. Abruptly, my dad turned to me and his finger in my face and said in his deepest and most serious voice that I was never to use that word around adults again. And don’t tell anyone where Sonny was. And don’t talk about what we did that night, especially to the judge. Did I understand him? He was furious and I was shocked and he was talking fast, but I understood him and said I’d never talk about those things to anyone. I dozed back off, unsure if I was dreaming. But I would always remember to not tell anyone about my weekends visiting my dad and Sonny.

I was asleep by the time we got home, and don’t remember how I got inside. I assume my dad carried me. He was always good about carrying me to bed when we stayed up late Honky Tonkin’ with his music friends or partying with Sonny. He was awake by sunrise as usual, and had to shake me to wake me up for breakfast. We at a few Turtles, gooey chocolatey peanuty mounds of heaven, and he said it was time to get to work.

I didn’t really do much work, but he let me pack a few baggies with sinsemilla, and let me practice using the big mechanical scale to weigh them. Outside, I could hear morning frogs singing in the swamp, and inside I could smell the sweet pungent fragrance from rooms full of pot plants hanging upside down to dry. We were in one of Big Daddy’s houses. Even though he had been gone to prison for a few months, we still used his houses and cars and trucks. My dad said that Big Daddy was still getting paid by the Teamsters, though I didn’t know what he meant by that, but that we weren’t protected anymore and had to be careful from now on. I promised I would be.

He dropped me off at Paw Paw’s Sunday evening, just in time for dinner. I slid down out of his truck and pulled my backpack after me and slipped it on, then swung the door shut with a loud bang. Maw Maw was standing in the doorway and waved. I waved back. She never came out to see us. My dad called out that he loved me, I said I loved him too, and he drove off.

I ran towards Maw Maw with my backpack bouncing behind me, and she squatted down and rested her hands on her knees and smiled and said, “Give me some shugga’!” And I ran into her arms and covered my face with my hands and laughed as she planted shugga’ all over my face. She stood up and laughed as I tried to wipe off all the lipstick I knew would be on my face, and she said dinner was ready, and then lowered her voice and smiled and looked at me and asked if I knew what was for desert. My eyes must have shined brighter than Fleetwood Mac’s stage lights as I blurted out, “Cookies!” She said I was right, and asked if I knew what kind. I said chocolate chip! And she told me I was the smartest little man in Louisiana.

Just then, Paw Paw came inside from the back yard barn, squatted down, and smiled and said, “How’s my Lil’ Buddy?” I ran to his arms and jumped in and told him I was the smartest little man in Louisiana. He laughed and asked what I did with my dad that weekend. I quiet and couldn’t think of what to say and must have looked confused, because Paw Paw hugged me and said it didn’t matter because I was home now and dinner was ready. He sniffed the air and said something smelled be good… what was it? I meekly said, “cookies.” Paw Paw stood up and lit a cigarette and said that Maw Maw’s cookies were too good to wait for desert, so we should have a few right now. I thought that was a brilliant idea. Maw Maw laughed and said one for now, more for dessert, and gave us two chocolate chip cookies while she got out plates for dinner.

Paw Paw and I sat at the table and ate our cookie and I showed him that I still had my knife and hadn’t had to use it because we didn’t go hunting or fishing this trip. He said that after dinner we’d go fishing in the pond beside the barn. I asked if I could catch the crickets this time, and he laughed and said of course, Lil’ Buddy. He had just tossed a piece of potato in their cage, so they’d be gathered around it and ready for me to catch them.

We had fried chicken and potatoes for dinner and chocolate chip cookies for desert, and I caught a brim using the fishing pole Big Daddy had given me the last time I saw him. The brim had swallowed the hook, cricket and all, and I used my pocket knife to cut the string as close to its mouth as possible and let him go quickly, like Paw Paw had taught me, though Paw Paw had to open my knife for me. I carried it even thought it was too stiff for me to open; Paw Paw said that it wasn’t that I wasn’t strong enough, it’s that the knife he bought me was too stiff. Fortunately, I never ran into trouble when I was with my dad, so I never needed to open my knife in a flash, like Big Daddy could with his. Paw Paw showed me how to close it safely, and told me I was the world’s best fisherman, and we went back inside and I ate a few cookies as he smoked a few cigarettes.

The next day at school, most kids practiced reading and tried to draw what they did over the weekend. I practiced reading, too, but Miss Founteneaux, who was as fine as Miss Nicks, always let me draw whatever I wanted. I don’t recall what I drew the week after I saw Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors tour, but it didn’t win an award that time. Some other kid got that week’s award. And I didn’t get to go on Buckskin Bill Black’s show again, though I’d brag about my fifteen minutes of fame for years. In my mind, I was the best fisherman in the world, the smartest man in Louisiana, the most talented artist in Baton Rouge. And I knew my dad was proud of me, even though he never saw my award or watched the Buckskin Bill show, because he told me so every time he saw me. I was Justin-Goddamnit!-Jason Partin, and he was my dad, and he was proud of me.

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