I WAS TWENTY-FOUR years old then, sitting in my office at my desk, talking to my Pet Rock when my best pal, good old Chucky Flynn tapped me on the shoulder. Chuck was a few years older and wiser than me and someone I looked up to I could rely on, besides my Pet Rock, of course.
Most of us grew our hair long in those invigorating times and wore a lot of beads, flowered shorts, bell-bottom pants or faded jeans.
I for one, preferred my black armadillo cowboy boots and denim-shirts with colourful patches. It was the new look on the West Coast, and with my aviator sunglasses, was lookin' pretty cool, man!
And Chuck … well he was from the old school of the mean streets of L.A.-- a solo street-smart hustler of sorts, who came off a little like a used car salesman, but much cooler. A pleasant short, stocky energetic character with blonde hair and brush moustache, with little of the witty Irish-Anglo in his somewhat macho demeanour.
My desk was next his when he leaned into to me.
"Hey, little bro...Did you close that mark yet in Tulsa?"
Chuck was always looking out for me, and a "mark", of course, was a sucker on the hook.
"Waiting for the call now," I said, holding the phone receiver to my chest.
Then a loud shout came from the supervisor's desk on an elevated dais in the centre of the room against the wall facing us so he could be seen -- and he could keep a keen eye on us too. His name was Neddy Lederman, a thin, aged hippie in his late thirties, who'd obviously given up on the ideology of love and trust some years ago, and was now fully into making money with the promise of securing a ten percent commission off us for every sale we made on the phones, and believe me, he was doing better than he ever dreamed or expected. We had made him a rich man.
Neddy waved his arm wildly in the air, clicking his fingers, with one hand over the phone receiver trying to get everybody's attention. There was always an air of excitement when a big potential call deal came in, and everyone's eyes and ears turned to hear me give my big pitch. This time I was to give my spiel to a man named, Phidias D. Burke, who was President of Burke's Construction Company, located near some backwater swamp in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Our supervisor, Neddy looked at me with a big shit-eating grin, "This is it, Cabot. You make this deal count and you win the big five-hundred dollar bono this week... Go for it, kiddo!"
I needed that bonus because it had been a very slow week and my rent was due.
"Remember what I told you, little brother," said Chuck. "Easy does it in the beginning then suck the old bastard in and slam-dunk it with a quick close."
I glanced up at the Supervisor with my usual look of determination, and he put the phone receiver into the phone speaker slot so everyone could listen.
"Okay, I'm ready. Put 'em through."
Sure, I was nervous, who wouldn't be with all eyes on you!
But I had a natural gift of gab that surprised people.
As soon as I began talking on the phone I quickly changed my voice into a slow, smooth slick southern drawl.
"Uh, yessa, Mister Burke...Good talkin' to ya'll again, too. This is Willie Jameson here. You know, we're the people working hard out there along with the President of this great United States to get those poor black kids off the streets and into proper job training programs in Alabama."
There was an uneasy pause on the line. Then Mr. Burke started cussing me out, bitching about the black people in his area, hanging out protesting in front some of his constructions sites and he wanted to know why in the hell I was bothering him again!
Everyone in the phone room looked worried and I knew I had to do something, and do it fast if I was going to snag that bonus.
So I tried to calm the cranky, agitated S.O.B.
"Now wait a minute, Mr. Burke, there's no reason to curse me like that! I knows' you gave us money six months ago, but that was only for chill-en's day-care centres."
I glanced around at Chuck then up to Supervisor, who had anxious looks, like I was blowing it. Regardless of what they thought, I straightened up in my seat and confidently continued my pitch.
"Okay, Mr. Burke, I know you don't have lots of black folks in Tuscaloosa, but that's the reason you gotta help us and the president of these United States. Don't you see? When you help us by takin' an ad in The Daily Negro News, you're actually helping out all America, and showing the black people in this country that Mister Phidias D. Burke isn't a bigot racist!"
There was an eerie silence on the other end then he started yelling.
"Why you son of a bitch, you callin' me a goddamn racist now?!" he raged, banging his phone against the desk.
"Uh, no, Mr. Burke, I didn't say you're a bigot or prejudiced because I believes you believe in Jesus and equal opportunity for all Americans."
"Well, that's better."
"You know, it makes my heart sing every time I say that word, America. Land of the Free!"
Burke was mumbling to himself, "What is this bullshit?"
I tried to change the subject.
"You know I was in Nam."
That got his attention. "Nam, huh? See any action or were you sittin' on your butt?"
"Action, sir. Wounded three times."
"Wounded, eh?" he said, calming down. "That's right. Purple Heart."
That's when he told me he was a platoon leader and captain in Saigon. I was in trouble. I didn't know shit for shinola about the war except what I'd caught on the nightly news or what Chuck had told me.
"Oh really," I fended. "You were in the Tet Offensive?" But of course he was! Wasn't everybody out shootin' gooks over there, except me?
"Tell me about your station in Nam," asked Burke.
The guys in the phone room were shaking their heads, looking pretty gloomy at this point.
"Well, sir. I really don't wanna to talk much about it. Bad memories. Somethin' I've been tryin' to fo-get. You know how it is? Mud, blood, and bullet holes everywhere."
I was starting to sounded like an old John Wayne movie and trying to keep from laughing. That's when he went silent on me again.
"Yeah, I know it is," Burke mumbled. "Well, you sound like a stand up kind of soldier and I respect that. Tell you what I'm gonna do. I'll think about buying an ad next year."
It was the indicator I was waiting for and knew I'd have to work a little harder, maybe even use a little intimidation to close the deal.
During those years the Black Panthers had made quite a stir and frightening name for themselves, and it was time to turn up the heat.
"No, no. Not next year, Mr. Burke. Now if you don't mind, we'll send some of our affiliate Panther representatives over to visit your office to discuss it with you. But if they gets upset, I'm 'fraid they many cause problems and send more picketers in front of your office."
I could hear Burke breathing heavily in the phone. He grumbled something, and I was wondering how he'd react. Then he coughed nervously and spit, "Uh, how much did you say that ad was gonna cost?"
Bingo, I had him