“I actually think she’s seeing somebody,” he mumbles. His forty year-old body is here giving us each a brotherly hug, but his mind is elsewhere.
“Jennifer’s tippin’ on you?” asks Geoff, concerned.
“Not Jen. My mother–I think she got a boyfriend.”
Geoff: “Dammnnn. Your father know about it?”
“Franklin’s folks have been divorced for years,” I interrupt as we begin a stroll under a cloudless Los Angeles sky among the Grove’s Sunday retail and restaurant patrons. “Frank, if your mother is dating, that’s great. She’s been alone for years. But did she say she’s got a boyfriend?”
“Mom ain’t said boo about no dude. But on the phone I mentioned meeting you guys for a movie, and she started telling me about something she went to see with Morgan Freeman in it. Now, mom ain’t been to a theater since ‘Gone With The Wind,’ and she’d never go alone. And she refuses to get cable. But suddenly she’s seeing first-run movies, man.”
“Maybe she goes with a lady friend.”
“Nah. Lacey [Franklin’s brother] thinks he actually met this cat the other day. Went by the house. Said mom was actin’ funny, like she didn’t wanna let Lace in.”
“Who is he? What did he look like?”
“You remember Cosby’s father on Cosby’s old show? Lace said he looked kinda like that.”
Geoff: “That’s not bad.”
“Dr. Huxtable’s daddy,” snorts Franklin. “In a leisure suit.”
“Beige. With beige patent leather loafers. Can you believe it?”
Geoff: “Heh, heh–Jim Dandy to the rescue.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“What’s WRONG? Man, my daddy wasn’t ’bout no leisure suits.”
“This isn’t your daddy–he’s your mother’s boyfriend.”
“Do you know how it feels to find out your mom has a leisure-suit-man mentality? Lace said she introduced him as ‘Mr. James.’ ”
Geoff: “Uh, oh. They datin,’ brother. Why do mothers who date again call their boyfriends ‘mister?’….”
“It’s just strange thinking of mother being with someone else after all this time,” says Franklin. “I mean”–his eyes squinting suspiciously–“what are they DOING when they get together?”
Geoff: “Money, you don’t wanna know what they doin.’ They….”
“No, Geoff,” says Franklin, “what I don’t wanna know is what YOU think they’re doing….”
“Frank, people don’t stop having sex just because they’re older.”
“But, it’s been so long….”
Geoff: “So? Sex is like ridin’ a bike. You can be away for years. But once you climb back up on that bad boy….”
“It’s remarkable, Geoff,” says Franklin, “hearing you actually BEG for an ass-kickin’ in public….”
“What? I’m talkin’ about your mother ridin’ a BIKE….
“Don’t talk about my mother ridin’ NOTHIN,’ okay?”
While Franklin and Geoff bicker, to myself I concede that If there’s any consolation to losing mama while just a kid, it’s that I had to endure her dating only once.
For years after she and Daddy divorced, mama did nothing. Then, one day, when I was 14, there’s a man calling the house. I don’t know how or where she met this guy. Don’t remember much–he came around but two or three times. But he was a man.
He’d call, I’d answer and without so much as a “Just a minute,” I’d rudely plop the receiver on the table: “Mama, a man is on the phone!” In summoning her to the phone, deliberately, I’d forgo the dignity of using his name. In my mind, an ancient so-and-so sniffing around after my mama didn’t deserve such a courtesy.
Fact is, a tuxedoed Sidney Poitier could have come calling, still clutching the Best Actor Oscar he won nine years earlier in ’63 for “Lillies of the Field,” and I’d have sent him away. After five kids and in her forties, what in the world, went my immature, selfish notion, did my mother need with a man?
Mama apparently understood my jealousy, but never acknowledged it. Instead, she tiptoed about the brooding envy of her protective middle child with demure placidity.
I share my story with the fellas. We’re mulling the rather uncomfortable philosophy that a boy’s mother is also his very first girlfriend–just as a girl’s father can unwittingly serve as model for the men in her life to come–when we run into a couple I know, recently back from France.
After introductions are made, the pair excitedly launch into a story about shaking the hand of Lance Armstrong just minutes after he’d won yet another Tour de France. Franklin grimaces and abruptly excuses himself to check theater showtimes.
“I say something wrong?” asks the male half of the couple.
“Not really,” answers an earnest Geoff. “It’s just that Frankie’s mother has started riding a bike again and he’s a little sensitive about it.”
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].