My songwriter friend Robin called me with an opportunity to make some easy money, fast. She gave me the name and address of a friend of hers and, although I was pretty busy kicking drugs and booze, I jumped at the chance of making some money. I hopped the number two express on Seventh Avenue and travelled up to Seventy-second street, where Robin’s friend had an apartment in the middle of the block. When I arrived at the apartment, I rang the doorbell, heard a man call out, “It’s open, Mary. Come on in, my name’s Doc, I’m in the bedroom.” I opened the door, took a quick look around the living room on my way into the bedroom and couldn’t help but notice the wallsfilled with gold records, not to mention the Steinway grand.
Doc, a huge bear of a man, was in bed, a bed that I would soon discover was his headquarters when he was at home. The bed table was arranged so Doc could easily reach for anything he needed: telephone, a copy of Goldmine (the music collector’s paper), a pair of glasses, a yellow legal pad and his phone book. There was a wheelchair in the corner.
Doc asked me to type up an interview with B.B. King. I was, like, Wow man, this guy knows B.B. King! He handed me a yellow legal pad with the interview written on it and directed me, “Out there in the living room I have a table with a typewriter setting on it. You can work there.”
When I took my seat, and turned at the typewriter, I saw on the wall in front of me a framed photograph of John Lennon at the B.M.I. dinner. It was signed, “To Doc, With love and admiration, John Lennon” Who is this Doc guy, anyway?
I was digging on the interview while typing it, and Doc was busy on the phone. When I was finished, I went into Doc’s bedroom and sat on his bed, waiting for him to finish. He looked over the interview; gave it the okay and paid me twenty-five dollars for my fifteen minutes of work – it was the most money I’d ever legally made for exerting so little energy. Getting paid was like a bonus; I was already thrilled to meet this man, Doc, whoever he was.
When I asked him about the gold records, he said, “Oh, those are for the songs I wrote.”
“Would I know any of your songs, Doc?” I asked, dying to know about those gold records. He went into a recitation of rock n roll classics: Teenager in love,
This Magic Moment, Viva Las Vegas, Little Sister, Suspicion, Save the Last Dance for Me, Sweets for my Sweet, Can’t Get Used to Losing You, Hushabye, Lonely Avenue and many more. B.B. King had just won an Emmy for Doc’s song, There’s a Better World Somewhere.
“I know all of your songs, Doc!” They’ve been playing them on the radio forever, or on American Bandstand. I even own a couple!”
“Cool,” he said. Everything was cool with Doc. When I told him I was nervous about typing the interview because I was kicking drugs, he wasn’t fazed.
“Oh, I got plenty of friends who kicked. In fact, ten years ago, I kicked the habit myself.”
When I told him I didn’t think I could make it without drugs and booze he told me, “Mary, you’re cool and if I stopped using, so can you. I had polio as a kid and it left me paralyzed from the waist down. I sure used a lot of drugs and booze over that situation. But it didn’t change anything, I just got more and more fucked up. When my manager suggested I quit, I felt the way you do, I can’t make it without my drugs and booze. But, like I told you, it’s been ten years.”
Doc reached over and opened the top drawer of his bed table and took out what he called ‘a gris-gris bag’ and handed it to me. “This will protect you,” he said. The small bag was made of red felt, and contained twigs and herbs. It was fastened on a long, red string.“Women wear the bag around their neck so it will lay between the breasts, close to the heart, men carry gris-gris bags in their pockets.” I thanked Doc and set it on his bureau. I silently thought, there’s no way I’m wearing that voo-doo bag around my neck. Matter of fact, I’m not even going to take it with me. I will conveniently forget it.
And that’s exactly what happened. As I was getting up to leave, Doc said, “Thanks, Mary, you’re okay. Stop by and visit whenever you like. Just call first.”
I sure didn’t feel okay but it felt good to hear it! We said our good-byes, and I was out the door and over to the elevator, when I was suddenly gripped by a very strong feeling that I couldn’t leave without the gris-gris bag. I tried to shake this feeling, but it wasn’t going anywhere, and the next thing I knew, I’m back in Doc’s bedroom, telling him I forgot the gris-gris bag. I grabbed it off the bureau and split. When I was out the door, I put the bag in my pocket and it stayed there for years.
I paid many visits to Doc over the years. He was my medicine man – my grig-gris angel, who was always happy to give me a hand up when I was feeling low down. I don’t now what I did to deserve the good luck of being friends with this hip and beautiful man, but, thank you to the rock n roll angels who were surely looking after me when they hooked me up with Doc Pomus.
Mary Shanley has had two books published: Hobo Code Poems and Mott Street Stories. She publishes in Long Shot, Poydras Review Poetry, Underground Voices, Anak Sastra Asian Journal, StepAway Magazine, The Zine Will Change Your Life, Chuffed Buff U.K. Books, Logos Journal, Prompt Literary Magazine, Gloom Cupboard Journal, Hobo Camp Review, Blue Lake Review, Shangra-la Shack and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood.