By John “Mick” Matthews
Some people say that life sucks then you die. I really hope that’s not how it is. My birth certificate says my name is William David Dickerson, but you can call me Bill. I’m a native Washingtonian, like that’s anything to brag about. Try growing up a white kid in Anacostia back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I had to act like one of those Ozzy Osbourne suicide cases to keep from getting my teeth kicked in on a daily basis, but I gotta admit Randy Rhode’s guitar solo on Crazy Train was genius.
I graduated from Ballou High and went on to University of DC, and that’s when my life got flushed down the toilet. Government waste caused massive budget cuts to the university. Now, I’m not the kind of guy to sit on my duff and let just anything happen, so there I was out in front of the picket lines, getting on the Provost’s bad side. To make a long story short, tuition got too high to pay, my little part-time job got downsized due to economic hell, and to make matters worse, my mother succumbed to breast cancer. The house I grew up in was sold to pay her medical expenses, and what money I had managed to save dried up real fast. I was broke, with nowhere to go, and not much hope.
Here’s a little secret about me. Now I’m sure you’ve read the DaVinci Code, or at least seen the movie. That guy Tom Hanks played, Robert Langdon, that coulda been me. If I had the connections, the mentoring, and the opportunity, I could have been just like him. Except I’d never be caught dead in Harris Tweed!
Another thing they say about life is that it’s like a box of chocolates. If you don’t like the one you’re munching on, there’s another piece that’ll be much more to your liking. So far this existence has been less than what I’ve wanted, but that might just change in the near future.
The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was the kind of May morning Ned Flanders would describe as “scrum-diddly-icious” or some other Pollyanna-type nonsense. I call it Tuesday.
I was sitting at one of the molded concrete picnic tables at Pershing Park, sipping on a large cup of McDonald’s coffee, smoking a hand rolled cigarette. I faced away from the table, toward the statue of General John Pershing, the commander of Allied Forces during World War I. Located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets, the park features a waterfall and artificial duck pond, as well as a marble wall emblazoned with engravings and maps detailing the American and Allied advance on the then Kaiser-ruled Germany.
Sitting on the table itself, perched above me was Kathryn. Everyone else calls her Kittie-Kate, or just Ms. Kittie, a nod to the feline-like sensuality she exudes from just breathing. Most people think we’re an item just because we sleep together. Let’s just say that the hottest thing going on under the covers is the warmest night’s sleep you’ll find outside during the sub-freezing temperatures of winter. Truth be told, between her issues and mine, one of us would get seriously hurt if we hooked up right now, but for some reason we’ve never said “never,” just not right now. A decade from now we’ll probably be married, but for now we’re “best friends with benefits to be determined.”
I was sitting between her legs, facing away from her, while she cornrowed my small-of-the-back-length hair. I like my hair done in ‘rows because it’s easy to manage and very low-maintenance. Besides, having a woman like Kittie yanking my hair is kinda a turn-on, a bit of safe fun for me.
We were listening to some Dethklok on the MP3 player I won a couple months back at this “D.C.’s Biggest Brain” contest Best Buy held up at Union Station. I got the speaker attached to it from a buddy who “misappropriated” it from an eviction he was working. We were chatting about whatever random thing came to mind, when I saw Marlane, the old woman who slept at the other end of the park, walking over from 14th Street with a large soda from McDonald’s in her hand.
“Bill, Kittie, did you hear about Frank?” she asked as she walked over to us.
“No, I haven’t seen him in a couple days,” I responded, after exhaling a puff of menthol-flavored smoke. “I figured he got locked up again or something.”
“Uh-uh,” she said, shaking her head. “Nope, they found his body a couple mornings ago over by that little park by 6th and I. His heart just stopped and that was that.”
“Looks like that steady diet of Velicoff and Vicodin finally caught up with him,” Kittie chimed in as she wrapped a tiny rubber band around the tip of another cornrow.
“Yeah, I’m surprised he lasted this long,” I said, taking another sip of coffee.
Frank was an old black guy who sometimes crashed at Pershing. The thing that made him memorable was this gold Freemason’s ring he always wore, with its emblem of a stonemason’s square and compass with a capital letter “G” in the center. I once heard him tell one of the younger homeless guys that tend to flock in the parks during the day that the “G” stood for “God.” That was my first clue that he wasn’t the Mason he claimed to be. Anyone who’s researched Freemasonry can tell you that the “G” was for “geometry,” the set of mathematical functions necessary to build anything from a tool shed to a skyscraper. This is very appropriate, given that Freemasonry arose from a seemingly ancient form of organized labor dedicated to concealing stone and brick-building techniques from outsiders as a method of increasing security in the houses, castles, and churches they built for their patrons.
I confirmed my suspicions about Frank when I told him that though I wasn’t initiated into the brethren, I was open to doing a good turn for the sake of the “poor widow’s son.” From what I’ve read, “poor widow’s son” is in fact a reference to Hiram Abif, the legendary architect and head builder of Solomon’s Temple, who was murdered guarding the architectural secrets of the temple. Every Mason sees Hiram as a symbolic link to himself and every other Freemason. In modern usage, it’s become a code phrase, letting the listener know the conversation is turning to things Masonic, and that the speaker could be trusted. Frank’s ignorance of this proved to me that he was no Mason.