(Excerpt from, “Have a Nice Day, Man . . . tales from the dark side of the 70s)
No one wants to believe in fresh pressed lime and cane juice as much as I do. Was it really that good? Could anything in the world have tasted that way? In the winter of ‘73 down in Kingston town, before I became a Twinkie thief up in the Florida Keys, I watched them slice up whole cane and limes, fresh from the fields, with a MACHETE hacking faster than a machine, then drop this juice-bleeding-out-mass into the lower plate of the hydraulic press, then turn the crank till the top plate began to press down upon the bottom plate . . . and the juice poured out . . .
Juice maker number two, less burly, more nimble, shoves green glass bottles under the spout to catch the mighty stream . . . filling to the brim . . . then another, and another, and another in assembly line manner till the last drops of the press dribble. Out. Then, with ball peen hammer in hand, he caps the bottles with one pure strike, the nimble one, bottle man below, not machete and crank man above . . . and hands it to me!
“Ten cent,” is all he says.
I give him a Jamaican quarter of a dollar. “I want two, casting my eyes up toward Onny, standing just behind me.
He smiles and hands her a bottle too. Gives me a nickel change from my Jamaican quarter of a dollar. Which I almost forget.
So Onny palms it.
Two seconds after it’s been made, we’re picking up the opener to carefully remove their caps, filled to the brim as it is, and also in case we want to reclose it. The sun splashes in tatters over the wet, steam-rising-up-from-the-pavement after the quick shower. It’s cool out, but not for long. There are rainbows somewhere. Children sing-song around us, because we are both so pretty, and are the only interracial couple there at the everyday bazaar. With the sun striking the lime green colored bottles, we tilt and pour this elixir down our parched throats.
What is it about heaven that you want to remember? Her hair was tucked up under one of her tight, off-white turbans, so her high cheek bones, tiny nose, and wide brown eyes had a better chance of startling you into a state of awe . . . Dianna Ross came to mind for a boy from Pittsburgh. But for Onny it was nothing but Roberta Flack.
“The first time ever I saw your face . . .”
We were cane juice and lime, which seemed, in that moment, like two things that could never exist without each other. Separated at birth, they were. Now rejoined, as they were always meant to be, in that slim, 10 oz bottle. Both flavors took the entire tongue by storm, from tip to base, filled reddening cheeks, then slid slightly back up the nose, popped your ears and opened a place in the middle of your brain . . . where you swallowed the perfect mating of all time, fresh raw cane and lime, and took it down into the place of pure energy explosion. In that moment, at twenty years old, in love with her, Jamaica, Jamaicans, and the sweet winter sun when it’s been turned down ten degrees by a twenty minute downpour, I could do anything.
Our arms circled each other in that easy, sexy way that says we know all eyes are on us. Where else would they be looking. Her bottle hand dangled over my shoulder, while I held mine out away from my body, and pulled her into me at the small of her back. We kissed. She never wore perfume except when she was out to catch a man, so, I got to smell just the lime and the cane, her sweat mixed with the unscented soap she used that smelled like that simple animal fat it was made from. Tallow. Except her neck, where a strange ambrosia would float up into my nose that could only be her mating signal undampened by ninety percent humidity, or our bodies melting together. She stepped back in my arms like a dance partner, just long enough to take another pull on her lime and cane. Out eyes locked together. She touched my long, soft, red-streaked hair, bleached-out crazy colors by Jamaican sun. I had a thousand freckles on my nose alone . . . which would all peel off the day after I touched down in Miami . . . just another hippie tourist who lost his way.
Times like these, we didn’t need words, so, cultural barriers were not a problem. Or my stumbling understanding of the pigeon dialect she and all her mates spoke at lightning speed down here. At least it was English. Sort of.
We kind of danced, sauntered, kissed, drank, swayed, and laughed our way along. She was taking me to her favorite Chinese restaurant for lunch. I had returned from America and flown all those miles, she can only imagine on TV and in magazines, to be with her. She hadn’t turned a trick since the day I showed up and found her leaning up against a building in her tight black skirt and simple white blouse tucked in and open at the throat. Her sexuality was so easy it practically made the building fall over, sagging as it was from standing there since the days of the Spaniards, back in the late 1700s.
“So you come back . . .” is all she said, as the sun slanted down the street from the west, and the dogs scoured the curb for anything at all they could sink their teeth into. My knees shook as I folded her into me. Her breath was so hot on my neck, it felt like an acetylene torch. Her hips, a little thinner and bonier than they were just a month ago, ground against me, while sun melted over the golden harbor . . .
No, she hadn’t started to gamble—play coolie, bet the horses, play rummy—staying out all night drinking, smoking ganja, and chasing any wager till dawn . . . which led to the need for trick money when her plans to get rich didn’t turn out like they were playing out in her head.
But we weren’t there yet. We were still on our island love song with the children dancing around us singing street rhymes they made up there on the spot for no reason other than they were children . . . like we were.
Later, after dark, we went to an open air theater and sat on long wooden benches under the milky pale stars watching, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” It was the first time I had seen it. I swear everyone in that theater thought it was a comedy and laughed their way through the whole thing. We did too. I couldn’t wait to get her back to her bed-sized apartment room above the bar. I had something that came all the way from America, and two different colleges—an entire continent of love-drenched hippie desire that needed to saw into her, make its mark, notch her deep. Divine. White on black. Lime and Cane. Where did the sour start and the sweet begin? Shaken up together inside this small island vessel like a green glass bottle holding us in. Don’t ever let us go.