White gravy, black beard 

The beads of sausage gravy come out of his mouth like white bullets of flour, grease and pepper. They fall onto the twisted black wire on his chin, and he swats them with a napkin generously provided by our hosts, The Country Boy.

It’s out there by the factories and the beer stores and the stretch pants, out there on Nine Mile, out there in Hazel Park, out there by the karaoke bars and the old boots crushing gravel in high-fenced construction yards. Rusty cars bigger than a house cutting you off. Paint flaking off old machine shops.

The sausage gravy comes in a big bowl with the biscuits, an accessory to The Big Daddy, The Big Magillicuddy, The Can-You-Say-Big Biggest Fucking Breakfast You Ever Laid Eyes On. It’s all the meat, eggs, hash browns, biscuits and gravy that fit on a plate. The gravy, however, will not stay in Jay Strangler’s mouth. The dendrites are drying into pale yellow flakes. No matter how hard he assaults them with the shredding napkin, some globules will not shake loose.

I believe they are trying to tell me something, trying to spell something out on his black whiskers. It’s congealing into a pattern. Is this a map? I see cities popping up, people coming into view, tour buses peeling out of Best Westerns. I see the roads and the alleys and the funeral homes. I see tattoo parlors, doormen kicking assholes out of dives.

The first city looks like Carleton. There’s a trailer park, and a 5-year-old kid banging hard on a birthday guitar. Yes, it’s the beginning of Strangler’s story. The kid goes to the other yellow node, the one connected to Carleton, the one they call South Rockwood. But the map is fresh, still plenty of places to go. Another drop of gravy hardening into another fleck. This fleck’s called Wyandotte, and he stays there until he’s thrown out. There’s a skirt involved, and a baby. They need a place to stay. Skirt’s parents let him in. He stays until he can’t stay any more.

He goes to a Mobil station out on Telephone Pole Road and Seven-Eleven Drive. Some dude with a mop-cut is ringing up fill-ups and jamming to some harsh and dangerous tune. Strangler befriends the clerk and goes to the Mobil all the time. The clerk is in a band, and he wants Jay to play guitar. Would Jay consider it? He tells his friend to wait, to let him finish his Slushy and his Baby Ruth, and says, “Fuck … fuck, yes.”

The map sinks deeper into the nap of the beard. Strangler smokes and pushes the fragments deeper into the mass with the sleeve of his leather jacket. I’m gonna lose my place, lose the story, lose the tragedy and the comedy and the filth if I don’t keep that map intact. Without a map, one just hears the whiskey voice, sees the bear-walk, smells the Pabst, the sulfur.

Pure Bastard Extract. That’s what they call the band. It’s punk. They play St. Mary’s Park. They go home and drink and fuck the local girls and work on each other’s cars. Strangler starts to think about other things. The Mobil station guy is thinking of some other things too. Pure Bastard Extract goes the way of all flecks. It dries and blows onto a windowsill.

A man named Lacy commands Jay into the Hillside Stranglers — new band, old-school, brand-new chunk of gravy and a couch and a van and a stage await this Downriver rat.

Flea market parlors get traded for a lifetime of load-ins and setups. People start to die, people he knows.

“More people than I got fingers”

Overindulgence knocks one over, a semi plows into another. Guys are getting Jesus. Some are running for the hills, toward steaming stacks of chicken pot pies and screaming wives. Some are putting on suits.

But there’s another place for Strangler, another spot of sausage grease and wheat. He’s staying with the load-outs, waiting for the beer they promised, waiting for the tour to start. Downing a few with the old-timers at the joint the old lady works at.

The gravy is just a beige smear now. I know there’s another fleck there, a band named Pub Life. Old-school. “Fuck ... fuck, yes” he must have said one morning, watching all the assholes going to work.

“People hate us”

The map disappears. My Jell-O arrives.

Dan Demaggio dines with interesting people for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]

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