"So folksy and pokey and phony, if you're asking me," she said, with a hurried overemphasis that I was beginning to get used to, while her warm black eyes darted back and forth on my face like stirred-up horseflies. "And a traitor to his country besides."
"Well," I admitted, "you won't find him on Grand Ole Opry real soon, but the college kids eat him up, and for his sheer sincere picking—none of that show-biz flash that sometimes bothers me about Earl. Young lady, you should calm yourself and sit down and listen sometime to those albums Pete cut with Woody and the Almanacs before the war."
"I did," she said eagerly. "I did, I did. 'Talking Union.' 'Sod Buster Ballads.' Wonderful true-blue lefty stuff. The West Coast Communists must have loved it. Mr. Chester, did you ever in your life listen to a program called Jamboree, out of Wheeling?"
"Did I? I got my first air time on it, on good old WWVA. Me and Jim Buchanan on fiddle, before he got big. 'Are You Lost in Sin?' and 'Don't Say Good-bye If You Love Me,' with a little 'Somebody Loves You, Darlin'" for a rideout. Did I catch your name, may I ask?"
"You'll laugh. It's a silly name."
"I bet now it isn't. You got to love the name the good Lord gave you."
"It wasn't the good Lord, it was my hateful mother." Momentarily holding a deep breath that rounded out her cheeks like a trumpet player's, she said, "Imogene." Then she exhaled in a blubbery rush and said, "Imogene Frye. Isn't it silly?"
"No," I said. That was my first lie to her. She seemed a little off-center right from the first, but Imogene could talk banjo, and here, in this city of block-long buildings and charcoal suits, that was as welcome to me as borscht and salted cucumber would have been to that homeless KGB colonel, locked out forever as a traitor from the land he loved.
"I loved," this Imogene was saying, "the licks you took on `Heavy Traffic Ahead.' And the repeat an octave higher on `Walking in Jerusalem Just Like John.'"
"It wasn't an octave, it was a fifth," I told her, settling in and lifting two bourbons from a silver tray that a kindly Negro was carrying around. I saw that this was going to be a conversation. Banjos were getting to be hot then, what with that Beverly Hillbillies theme, and I didn't want to engage with any shallow groupie. "Do you ever tune in WDBJ, out of Roanoke?" I asked her. "And tell me exactly why you think this Bobby Thompson is the future."
She saw my hurt, with those hot bright eyes that looked to be all pupil, and hastened to reassure me in her hurried, twitchy way of talking that I was the present, the past, and the future as far as she was concerned. Neither of us, I think, had the habit of drinking, but the trays kept coming around, brought by black men in white gloves, and by the time the reception broke up, the whole scene might have been a picture printed on silk, waving gently in and out. The Iron Curtain experts had drifted away to their homes in Bethesda and Silver Spring, and it seemed the most natural thing in the free world that little Imogene, to whom I must have looked a little wavy myself, would be inviting me back to her apartment somewhere off in one of those neighborhoods where they say it's not safe for a white man to show his face late at night.