Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ooh! My Soul

Sundown, a red glow filled the room, just like I used to see in the bordellos around Macon. They all had red light bulbs under tasseled lampshades in their fancy drawing rooms. But this was the real deal, no mood lighting. The California sun was setting like a fireball over the ocean and spreading through every window in every house in Los Angeles.

And my house, well it took the cake. You know how much this place cost? It cost $25,000 and it was all mine, a real movie star home. It even had a giant staircase with a chandelier! Ooo-wee! Chile, when my mother saw the marble floors and the lavish bedrooms, she just about died. This wasn’t the kind of home black folk lived in down in Georgia. Oh, she was so proud of her baby. Joe Louis, “The Brown Bomber” himself, lived next door on my Sugar Hill Street, Virginia Road. Know who else used to live around here? Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, The Mills Brothers. Now Little Richard himself, the wildest thing around!

And what a wild day we were having. The whole band was there in the living room drinking highballs, smoking reefer and balling. Angel was taking on three of the boys at once. One of them was as long as this donkey my daddy used to have pull the cart he’d load up with the moonshine liquor he’d sell to the local farmers. Oh that Angel, she was just a-wrigglin’ and a-moanin’, havin’ herself a good time. Two guys stood on either side of her and she had their peckers in her hands, slowly moving up and down. I tell you it was something to see.

I watched and watched. That’s what I liked to do. Richard the Watcher, that was me. It was almost too thrilling. And I was playing with my thing the whole time. That’s what I like to do, and I was doing it all right. I met Angel down in Savannah, this lovely girl with big ol' titties and the skinniest waist. She was almost out of high school when I first saw her and asked one of the guys to invite her to our hotel. A few weeks later she joined me in Washington and stayed. She worked as a dancer, a stripper, a nude model. That girl wasn’t shy! She'd show off her fine stuff all the time, and she loved me. Anything I wanted she’d do, even have sex with other guys. She liked it and so did they. Oh boy, did they ever!

I was sitting in the corner on a red velvet throne, touching myself when the door bell rang. Aww man, not now. Things are starting to heat up just fine, but my momma always taught me good manners, and if someone is a-knockin’ for you, you gotta answer. It just ain’t right to ignore people.

I stood up, hitched up my drawers and clacked my shiny shoes on the foyer floor. I opened the door just a crack; there was too much crazy happening in full view and it wouldn’t do to let an innocent visitor peek inside.

“Hi sugar, can I help you,” I happily cooed as I opened the door. There, in front of me, was a man of the cloth. Softly and kindly, he answered.

“Good afternoon son, my name is Brother Wilbur Gulley. Did you know that Jesus loves you?”

“I should think he does honey, ‘cause I am beautiful and sing like an angel!” I cracked myself up on that one, doubling over and smacking my knees. He didn’t laugh.

“Do you read your Bible, Richard?”

“I do, baby, I sure do. It’s my favorite book.” He thought I was joking, but it was true, the Good Book was my main reading. Sometimes after we’d rip it up with an all-night orgy I’d read a passage to those sinners I’d just been messin’ with. It was a hoot. But how did he know my name?

“You know who I am?”

“I do Richard. I’m glad you know the word of the Lord. With your gift you can reach more people at a higher level if you sing about God’s way. I have here some other books you may want to purchase to purify your soul. I have brought many stars to the path of righteousness and holy purity.”

This cat was too much! “Honey chile, I can’t reach no more people than I do now. Let me see some of those books,” I asked playing along for a spell.

Brother Gulley, thinking he’d hooked me, handed me a couple of thick books to look over as he started giving me his rap. “I’m a missionary, out to save the souls of the afflicted. My church, that is, The Lord’s church, is the Church of God of the Ten Commandments. I go door to door sharing the lord’s gospel with those who suffer in hellish sin.”

Suffer? This man was plain crazy. I opened the door wide. Inside, plain to see, was Angel bent over the sofa, one fella behind her, one in front. The room was bathed in a hot scarlet glow. There was yelling and groaning, writhing bodies in a mad fury under a layer of marijuana smoke that covered the room. “The Girl Can’t Help It,” one of my records, was playing.

I looked straight at Brother Gulley, who was staring at the incredible scene in front of him, his jaw dropping.

“Does it look like I’m suffering? Mister, I ain’t never had so much fun.” I was laughing loud and high as he turned red as a tomato. “You wanna come in and have a ball?”

Gulley stammered, his head hung down. “N-n-no, son I don’t think so. I-I-I must be going now. I’ll pray for you, boy. You are lost.”

I slammed that door laughing my head off. Lost? Baby, I’ve never been so found! I was King of the World, Little Richard. I dropped my pants and headed back. We gonna have some fun tonight! Richard the Watcher, back in action.


In early 1957, Little Richard was visited at his Los Angeles home by Brother Wilbur Gulley, a man who had success converting stars to Jesus. Richard was impressed and Brother Gulley led him on a spiritual awakening. On October 4, 1957, in the midst of an Australian tour with Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and The Bluecaps and others, Richard saw the just-launched Russian satellite Sputnik and the ball of fire in the sky “shook his mind.” He turned to God then and soon announced his retirement from rock and roll. The following January he became a Seventh Day Adventist minister. Richard returned to rock during a late 1962 tour of England.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can’t Be Really Gone

Ah, the exciting life of a ballplayer. Here I am, not even 22 years old, and am I out on the town boozing it up, dancing the night away at some fancy club with a gaggle of sexy chicks hanging on my every word? Nope, not ol’ Tugger. I’m stuck in Jacksonville, Florida on a sweltering night, lying on my couch drinking warm Jack Daniels from the bottle and watching a Beverly Hillbillies rerun. Oh, the glamour!

Don’t get me wrong. The life of a baseball player has its upside, to be sure. And it is the swinging sixties, and girls do like athletes. There’s always one party or another to go to and there’s a lot of sleeping around. Even in a dead end city like Jacksonville, there are a lot of cute girls in bikinis hanging around the pool at the University Apartments, where me and some of my teammates are living during our stint in the minors. I’m just complaining because my arm hurts.

Back on that May night at Shea, after uncorking a pitch to Tommy Harper of the Reds, I heard a minor explosion like the sound you hear watching news coverage of Vietnam. I knew my arm was shot. Man, for a guy making his living off of his left arm, it’s just no good to have it so sore. My fastball stopped going fast, my screwball stopped screwing. The Mets sent me down to Florida to pitch for the Suns, hoping that with extra work my wing would pitch its way back to shape.

So far, rehabilitation has been pretty erratic. Some good outings, some bad. When I’m on, baby, I’m on top of the world. Everything’s good – I’m a star baseball player. Plus, I’m not in the Marines anymore. Just being out of the Marines felt great. That was a crappy winter, I can tell you.

On those good days, Seaver and I fool around by the pool, tossing a football around, missing on purpose to let the pigskin roll near the prettiest girl on a lounge chair. Then we saunter up and, while bending over to get the ball, strike up a conversation. Yeah, it’s a gimmick, but it always works. Especially for Seaver, who’s a handsome guy with the talent sure to make him a star in the big leagues. It even works for me, a goofy looking Irishman with a huge chin. It’s how I met Betty.

Betty’s pretty cute, alright, especially in that tiny bikini she struts around in. She told me she’s 18, but I’m not so sure. She’s still in high school, Terry Parker High, I think she told me. She’s hard to resist though – kind of petite with brown hair. I could go for her. I like how she laughed that when I told her I was baseball player. She thought that was kids’ stuff. She giggled when I told her my name was Tug. Hey, she laughs at me a lot! Not sure I like that, come to think of it.

Anyway, she’s supposed to come down pretty soon from her apartment upstairs. Her mom doesn’t mind that she visits and that we yell to each from our balconies. Right now, I’m not in the mood to see her. Another shelling on the mound today; nothing was working. I just want to wallow in self-pity. When I saw Betty this morning at the Laundromat, where I was bleaching my uniform, and she was doing the family wash, we made a date, but now I wish we hadn’t.

There’s the bell. Gotta answer it. I open the door and there she stands, in a little tank top, mini-skirt and, as usual, barefoot. She looks great, but the throbbing pain in my arm is all I can think about.

“Hey Tug!” She leans over for a kiss, which I return without enthusiasm. She doesn’t notice.

We sit on the couch.

“You want a drink?” I ask.

“Tab, if you have one,” she says. No beer, no whiskey? She’s not eighteen, no way.

As I go to the fridge to see what I have for her, she looks at some of my baseball trophies and pictures, and makes idle chit chat, not really interested in the game. In fact, she seems a little upset.

“What’s up Betty?” As soon as I ask, she starts to cry. She told me her dad had dropped by the apartment and they got into a fight. Betty’s mom had already gone out with her new boyfriend. Her folks aren’t divorced – yet. I could relate since my parents were already splitsville.

We sat together on the couch, really close, and talked for a while about family and friends. Betty was pretty shaken up and, I think she felt vulnerable. We kissed and I held her, but it was clear she wanted more. Things were started getting pretty heavy; clothes were starting to come off. Now, I’m not against having sex whenever and wherever it’s available, but she was so emotional that it felt like I’d really be taking advantage of her when she was most vulnerable. It just didn’t feel right, you know?

I gently pushed her away. “Betty, listen, I really like you, you’re a swell kid, but I think going any further is a pretty bad idea right now, you know?”

She immediately sat straight up. Her expression changed from lust to anger. “You do? You don’t want to go further? You think it’s a ‘pretty bad idea’ do you?”

She stood up, putting her shirt back on. I think she was embarrassed also. That didn’t mix well with how furious she was.

“You should have thought about that before you led me on Tug. Really. You men are all alike.”

She turned to leave.

“Betty, wait a minute,” I said, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t really care. I wasn’t too attached to her, just another girl. Once I get back to New York she’ll be forgotten.

I took another swig of Jack as the door slammed loudly behind her, and turned the dial to the local news.

Tug McGraw, future relief pitching legend for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, was doing a stretch during the summer of 1966 in Jacksonville, Florida. It was there he met Betty D’Agostino. They saw each other frequently and Betty would become pregnant (after the one time they had sex), giving birth on May 1, 1967 to Samuel Timothy McGraw. That baby would become Tim McGraw, one of the biggest stars in country music. When Tim was eleven years old, Tug found out he was the boy’s father, although he denied it for seven years. They would become close after Tim’s 18th birthday, remaining so until Tug’s death from brain cancer on January 5, 2004, in Nashville.