#72: Curtis Mayfield, "Superfly" (1972)

72 Superfly.jpg

Me and Kaley knew we’d got lucky when I found a drawer full of old CDs in the nurse’s office. They were all piled up in the bottom of a metal file cabinet drawer with no files in it. Most of it was crap, like techno ‘80s stuff and a bunch of grandpa music, but Superfly was there, by Curtis Mayfield. I’d never actually heard that album except in the movie, which is a trip if you never saw it and kind of got me interested in being the drug queen of Lakeview Middle School that I thought I was before I wound up here. I also knew “Move on Up” because my mom used it as her alarm song in the morning. I’d be lying there in bed in the early hours when it was still dark and through the wall I’d hear the first few seconds of, “Move on Up,” so zippy and energized, like the sound waves were yellow and orange, which must be why moms chose it, but she’d hit snooze at least two times so I’d hear those same opening chords over and over again and hardly ever heard the whole song until I found that CD.

I snuck into the nurse’s office for some rubber bands. I knew they’d be the crappy kind that pull and tear your hair, but Kaley and I were bored and we didn’t care about split ends anymore. I’d been in there almost three weeks and my roots were starting to show, which looked really weird because I’m a redhead and my hair was dyed purple, so I was looking kind of Halloween-y, but not in a good way. The only rubber bands were a couple of grimy green ones that probably used to hold newspapers together and they were in the top drawer. I found them right away, but I figured I may as well look around while I was in there and while Kaley was keeping watch and while we knew the nurse would be sitting on the pot playing Words With Friends for at least ten minutes (don’t EVEN ask me how I know that! You do NOT want to know!). There wasn’t much else to steal except some much-needed chapstick, the shitty kind that dries your lips out, and some paper clips because they had pointy ends and you never know when you’ll need that, and a rock—I don’t know what kind, just, like, a pet rock—and a book about horoscopes. It’s dumb but fun to read and sometimes you want to believe it like when it tells you that you and Jared, who hasn’t come to see you once since you been in here, is your soul mate according to the sun signs AND the moon signs, which you have to admit is kind of amazing.

When I came out of the office, Kaley left her post at the bathroom door and we went back to our room to go over our loot. We kept it in a hole we dug into Kaley’s mattress and flipped it over. It didn’t take long to figure out we could play Superfly in the rec room on the old boom box and the orderly who hung out in there and kept an eye on us had no curiosity about where it came from. I mean, he wasn’t going to see some old CD and assume it was stolen. I bet none of the nurses even knew those CDs were in that drawer.  

We listened to it a lot. Kaley and I would sit on the couch and work on our hair and talk and whatever while the other druggy losers played pool or read books. No TV. But Superfly playing made everything seem so much cooler than it was. We felt like we were in a movie, and we were the stars, super cool chicks with great clothes and hair and the best coke in town. I was more of a meth user, and so was Kaley because that’s what was cheap, but still. Kaley decided to go for an afro, which really changed her look, and then she gave me cornrows, which didn’t look very good on me, she said because my hair was like limp string. While we were listening to “The Pusherman” one day we started talking about how Curtis Mayfield’s message was kind of a downer and kind of made us feel bad about our druggy past, unlike the movie, which, as I said, makes you want to rock that white rock and wear bell bottoms. Mayfield’s talking about people with tombstones in their eyes! That is creepy! I said so, and that was when Kaley told me that Curtis Mayfield was her great uncle.

I knew she was lying, we all did, everybody in the rec room started firing questions at her about him and somebody said he was dead. Kaley got all tore up about it and started to cry, which made her mad, which made her want to fight, and she decided I was the one. She pushed me hard so that I fell halfway off the couch and had to stand up real fast to keep from falling.

She stood up, too, and there it was, the reason I knew I wanted her on my side in that place and not against me. She was ready to GO and I mean it, she’d have torn those cornrows she just spent two hours on right out of my head.

“Girl,” I said, “I don’t care if you want to say your uncle is Abraham Lincoln!” I kept my hands down.

“But he is. Curtis Mayfield is my uncle.”

“The musician?”

“Curtis Mayfield is my uncle.” Her face was like stone. Tombstones in her eyes.

“Okay, okay.”

Well, what the hell? We need our stories, right? I get that. But not everybody would let her be about it. This guy, Lane, who was a rich dickhead, kept laughing at her and calling her Niece-of-Superfly until finally she flounced out of the rec room and went to bed.

That night we got to leave the facility. Nine of us piled into a white van and they took us to a meeting in the closest town, one of those places big enough to have a mall and a few high schools but not big enough to be called a city. “That’s my hometown,” Kayla said.  “I live there.” Normally I’d have rather gnawed off my own leg than make a special trip to sit in an empty storefront at the end of a half-empty strip mall and listen to a bunch of people talk about how grateful they were to be there, but being in treatment wipes your social calendar clean and any chance to get out feels like a big party. Kayla and I did our makeup. I taught her how to line the inside of her lids and she showed me how to do Amy Winehouse liner on the top. It really takes a steady hand, let me tell you. We looked hot, if I do say so myself. “Superfly,” she said, and I agreed. It felt so good to wear my hoodie and my boots. I almost felt like myself again.

In the van Lane started teasing Kayley again, and this time it was me who got hot. He was sitting on the row of benches in front of me and I reached up and smacked him hard on the back of his head. He swung around and probably would have hit me back, but Cheryl and Jesse stopped him. The bus driver yelled and threatened to take us back to the facility but he didn’t do it.

We took up a whole row of seats along a green cinder block wall in the back of the meeting and sucked down a couple of pots of weakass coffee. You could tell the woman chairing the meeting, who looked like she was remembering her own wasted youth when she looked at us, was trying hard to make us feel included. She kept calling on us and we kept saying, “Pass,” until she called Kayla.

Kayla had something to say. “Y’all know my uncle Curtis,” she said, addressing the group. There were about thirty people there besides us. All kinds of people, most of them older than us, but that wasn’t hard. Half the room was already facing us and the other half had to turn in their seats. When she said that, a few of them nodded!

“Good to see you here, Kaley,” a Hispanic man in a heavy Carhartt coat said.

She smiled at him. “Is he coming?”

“Running late,” someone offered.

I jabbed her in the side. “Are you serious?” I said.

She spread open her hands like all the signs of the zodiac would start dancing on her fingertips. “Told you,” she said.

Then after a while a small black man with round glasses and a Chicago Bulls jacket on scooted in, bringing a blast of cold air with him. He walked back to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup then sat down on the other side of the room from us. When he caught sight of Kaley he stood up and came over to our side, sitting down in the empty seat in front of her. He gave her a fist bump over his shoulder. After the meeting when we were all shaking hands he went around to everyone in our little juvy group and introduced himself as Curtis Mayfield.

Lane looked pissed off. “Should we call you Superfly?” He was such a dick.

Curtis Mayfield grinned at him and nodded. “You know it! Here, let me give you my card.” He took out a fat wallet and handed Lane a card that said, “Superfly Roofing and Construction. Curtis Mayfield, Owner.”

“Thank you, sir,” Lane said. He was polite to his face but on the way home in the van he gave Kaley a hard time. I was pretty pissed off, too—I mean, she could have told us she didn’t mean the famous one. None of the drama kept us from listening to Superfly in the rec room, though, and I got to where I knew every sound on that album. After I got out I set “Move on Up” as my alarm clock song, to my mom’s amazement. Kaley texted me a picture of her getting her 6 month chip and then I texted her the same.

—Constance Squires