Shag

My grandfather called it shag,
the sweet-smelling ferment of tobacco which filled his pipe,
held between a yellow-stained finger and thumb.

He lived in the apartment two floors above us,
and not a day passed when I wouldn’t charge up

the steep, carpeted stairs and be treated
to refrigerated Oreos and milk
or vanilla ice cream drizzled with Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

I must have been four or maybe five, when my grandfather
was assigned to be my babysitter for a few hours by my parents

so he took me to the Majestic Theater to see a foreign film,
which he said was an amateur movie that was made
far away in the land of Sweden. 

He told me the title was called “A Blue Movie” 
so I was expecting something like artists painting on canvases
with blue paint.

The movie started, winding up to speed with that automatic
spinning sound that I never hear anymore except in movies
about old movies.

As the images began to flicker on the screen, nothing seemed
particularly blue. 

It was mostly blonde, young women who seemed very interested
in taking off their blouses and kissing the penises
of goofy-looking men as they were being waved through the air.

I sat there, puzzling out my error in expectation, when my dad
showed up and plucked me out of my seat.

My grandfather and his younger son exchanged words in low
voices. I heard my dad say the word smut and my grandfather
just assured my dad that I would be just fine. 

As my dad walked out with me over his shoulder, 
I saw my grandfather’s pipe glow a deep orange
as he pulled deeply at his shag.

It’s hard to say if I turned out just fine or not but I’ve always
been an enthusiast of the blue-movie genre. 

I’ve never thought of it as smut; just a form of art underappreciated
for its subtle use of costume and interpretive cinematography.


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Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best of the Web nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.