“See that?” Milton says. “He owes me for the last cut, and I forgot. See why I like my clients?”
The kid leaves, and the track coach takes his seat in the chair.
When Milton moved the business from City Heights, his clients followed him. Some, including both the track coach and the young guy in the other chair who laughs every time Milton laughs and rolls his eyes every time Milton rolls his eyes, were clients at Don’s even before Milton’s time.
“I’ve been coming since I was eight,” the young guy says.
“True,” the coach says. “He’s a fixture, part of the walls.”
Milton and Coach talk about how Southeast San Diego used to be what Milton calls “the hub,” but how “today, you see more Asians and Mexicans than us.” They explain how, in recent years, black San Diego has spread out to Temecula, Murrieta, Oceanside, and El Cajon.
“But we come together for extracurricular stuff,” Coach says, “like a Tyler Perry play or Gospel Day at the fair.”
“Friends I haven’t seen since elementary school,” Coach says, “I see them here. He has all kinds of people coming in. There’s lawyers, retired policemen. The old chief of police used to come. He’s got transit workers, artists, gospel singers.”
Speaking of gospel music, Milton tells me Coach is a gospel singer, too. Coach points to a flier on the wall, and there he is, looking cleancut and gospel-y. His single is available now.
“What’s up with the album?” Milton asks.
“Oh, you know how it is with money and studio time,” Coach says. “I’m hoping it’ll be out next summer at the latest.”
Someone brings up Tiger Woods firing his caddy, and the conversation takes a turn toward sports — golf, the Padres, high school basketball — and then the conversation turns again, to the prostitutes on El Cajon Boulevard.
Coach says, “These are the low-budget ones.”
The beefy kid, who’s now sitting on the window sill, says, “Oh, really? Where are the high-budget ones?”
“Downtown,” Coach says, not yet aware that he’s being teased.
“And how do you know that?” Milton asks.
“Oh, I don’t pay for nothing,” Coach says, aware now. “Nothing but my album.”
“So you use the barter system?” Milton mimes zipping his pants and handing over a CD.
Laughter all around.
Back to Hoover basketball, and then on to white women. The young guy argues that it’s better to date white women because “they’re calm,” to which Coach says, “White women can be loud and boisterous, too. He’s 19. He doesn’t know.”
“What do you think I came here for?” he says. “I can get a black woman in Memphis.”
It’s hard to tell if he’s joking or not. When I choose to follow up as if he’s not, he says, “What do you mean, why?” Pause. “Financial purposes.”
The guys laugh. Milton amps up the drama.
“Now, you can put my picture in!” He shouts, “Come and get it, girl! Come and see me!”
When he sees me writing in my notebook, he says, “You have got to be kidding. Don’t write that down.”
Then a wink. “Unless you think it’ll help.” ■