James Brown, 71, did his thing for almost an hour and a half last week at 4th & B (no encore, but no one seemed dissatisfied). Before the show, at his merchandise table, a woman directed her assistant to pull different shirt sizes from green '70s-era zip-up suitcases. They sold panties (with Brown's face and the words "I'm Real"), hand towels (imprinted with "The Man Who Took the Wet out of Sweat"), and T-shirts with other lines from The Man with Ants in His Pants. I bought a "Mr. Please Please Please!!!" T-shirt for $25 (and the panties for $8).
I spoke with the vendor about sizes, costs, and whether James Brown had sat down to autograph the color-copied photos with his signature (she said yes). Before I left, I asked the woman her name. "Fannie Brown...I'm James's sister."
I'm no autograph seeker, but there she was...and she didn't question my request. She took out a black Sharpie and began to write on the back of the white T. She signed her name at the top; below that, she wrote an e-mail address that may never be deciphered. It's tough to write on fabric with a felt marker, so the shirt started to look ugly...ruined. Under the e-mail address, she wrote a telephone number, each character four inches tall. I assumed it was a number with recorded Bible verses or something similar. Underneath the phone number (in smaller characters), "May You Be Blessed," and then my name.
When I got home around midnight, I punched in that phone number with the 815 area code (Illinois). I think I woke up a woman on the other end of the line.
"Is Fannie there?"
"Where is she?"
"She's out of town."
-- Shannon Price