* I do not pretend to have excellent grammer or superb spelling. If errors in these areas upset you then you will most assuredly despise my writing and I suggest that you stop now unless you couldn't read this to begin with because it is far too small and I am too proud to make it any larger. I do love a good run on sentence!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Town of Carrington, Part 1

Churches and Train Tracks

Downtown Carrington, very much like most of rural America, consisted of a town square built around an ornate, domed courthouse. A pretty Victorian neighborhood surrounded the square for several blocks. These homes were grand and owned by the elite of Carrington. Anyone with any means owned one of the brick or colorful wood frame mansions, decorated fancifully with wooden gingerbread and Corinthian columns. There were two large plantation homes that survived Sherman’s March to the Sea but they were farther out of town. Homes from the 1930's and 40's, far more subdued but still very beautiful, surrounded the Victorian neighborhood. Subdivisions from the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s could be found outside of town on one of the two state roads that went through Carrington. South on Highway 41, one could find most of the “newer” stores like the Dollar General, the Piggly Wiggly, and two strip malls built in the 1950’s. The schools, chock full of asbestos tile and lead based paint, were west of town on Highway 86 along with the town’s two trailer parks. The wealthy met for tee times, tennis, and toddies north on Highway 41 at the prestigious Carrington Golf and Country Club. The town’s movie theatre was still located on the square and had been renovated to accommodate Dolby Digital Surround Sound. But Carrington’s population of 5,689, for the most part, did not like change. “Change” happened somewhere else in some faraway town north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The people of Carrington felt they had been through enough “change” when those rapin’ and pillagin’ Yankees came through town during the War of Northern Aggression! A grudge is a grudge, no matter how many generations have passed.

Near the edge of the old section of town was a tiny congregation of clapboard shot gun houses and an old textile mill. This area was known collectively as “The Mill” and those who lived near and worked at the mill were known as “mill people.” Even though the mill had been closed for nearly 30 years, those poorer people who rented the mill homes were still called mill people, the term now lending itself more to a description of social status rather than location.

And no self-respecting southern town is complete without a railroad track. The track that crossed through town one block north of the square used to run cars carrying commuters, cotton, and coal. Men and women dressed in their Sunday best would line up at the old Carrington train station for a day trip of shopping in the big city of Atlanta. During the world wars, townsfolk would congregate on the wooden platform to welcome home fathers, brothers, and sons with red, white and blue patriotic swags and miniature American flags. The train, timed almost as precisely as the clock on the courthouse, would chug through town at 5 o’clock in the morning and again at 8 o’clock in the evening. Now, however, the Norfolk Southern train cars carried freight to larger cities. As if the town were invisible, the train would pass through flashing railway crossings as it sailed through the community. It no longer had reason to stop in tiny, rural Carrington, Georgia.

The First Baptist Church of Carrington was an enormous brick structure one block west of the courthouse on Main Street. The current building, built circa 1875, replaced the wooden structure burned by those “damn Yankees” during that “damn war.” As a testament to the faith of the community, or a perhaps to protest the overbearing regime of the new “Federal” government, the congregation of The First Baptist Church of Carrington saw to it that the steeple on the new church rose higher than the dome on the courthouse. It is also rumored that the steeple of The First Baptist Church of Carrington measures exactly twice that (to the inch) of the black First Baptist Church of Carrington. Everyone knows that the higher the steeple, the higher the hallelujahs! On Sundays preacher Benjamin "Boo" Boatwright could be heard for blocks hollerin' about heaven and hell, sinners and saints, and tithing... and tithing. And no one dared not respond to his calls of affirmation when he yelled, "Can I have an A-mayann?!?"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dumpsters and Dear Johns

The bum by the dumpster scratched his butt and then scratched his nose. His face was wrinkled with life lines, love lines, and all of the lines of a life well lived. He did not regret his place in society here, nearly at the end of his life. People (those who walked by with noses screwed up in judgement) did not understand that his alcoholism was truly for medicinal purposes. It eased the pain, the emotional pain of a man who had seen too much in his life, who had experienced things that those people would only visit in movies or newspapers.

Yet, he did not regret a moment of it.

His life now was a convenient vacation, bit of a dirty one, but a vacation none the less. Better yet, this was his retirement and those who disapproved, well, could just go on disapproving. He lived here just like they did, was a part of the community just like they were, and did not depend on anyone to help him out. He enjoyed sleeping in the woods that surrounded the town, he enjoyed the generosity of Curtis (although he never asked, or God forbid, begged), and he was quite content to drink his social security check while lazing away the warm (or freezing) afternoon next to the dumpster.

He did try to work once when Curtis decided he could improve the bum's life with the satisfaction of a paycheck. What Curtis did not consider was the possibility that work did not fit into his lifestyle…that work made retirement less, well, retire-ful. He worked most of his life and now he wanted a good long break. A break long enough to last until the Long Break. For some reason, people didn’t equate his retirement with those who scrimped and saved their entire life. To him, it was very much the same. He just took fewer baths and began drinking earlier in the day.

Don’t for a minute think that the bum didn’t understand that he made people uncomfortable. That was why he stayed behind the store to enjoy his afternoon. The cars on the streets and in the parking lots made him feel edgy anyhow. Too much noise for a proper retirement.

He reached into his pocket this fine chilly afternoon and pulled out his most precious items, very nearly his only possessions. He held up a picture of a little boy, which he had accidently bent during a bar fight 10 years ago. He had his ass whooped during that fight near the pool tables, but it was nothing compared to the beat down he gave the same man in the parking lot that same evening when he realized that the picture had been bent during the fight. His temper had been a problem then.

There was also a bullet in his hand, a bullet with all of the indications that it has been fired. That bullet had once been a part of his brain; thankfully, a part that could be repaired with little consequence to his daily functioning. He had spent weeks in that army hospital on all sorts of pills. A very nice nurse, Marda (a strange name to him), took care of his bandages and moved his legs in a bicycle fashion to keep his circulation good. Marda was quite beautiful and was in love with a soldier on the front lines. She had pictures to show too. They became fast friends.

Quite often Marda would bring him an extra dessert or an extra roll with his dinner. After he left they exchanged letters. One day Marda’s letters stopped. He later heard from another wounded soldier who had been treated at that same hospital that Marda’s love had been killed in a skirmish near the Mekong Delta. Lovers disappeared quite often during the war both in Vietnam and at home. His disappeared at home.

Country Ham and Decaf Coffee TO GO!

May showed up to work the next day hair coiffed perfectly, accented delicately with a small rhinestone barrette. As she approached the automatic doors she envisioned them slamming shut over and over again on Curtis' head. Oh she wanted to blame Twila as well but she knew in her heart of hearts that women will woo and married men should say "I woo not!" That being said, Twila's head was not excused from May's violent visions. So, with brief case in one hand and a purse large enough to carry a country ham in the other, May lifted her tiny chin and proceeded through the sliding doors. She stopped at the gumball machines, popped a quarter into a slot, turned the knob, and scooped up a large bright orange gumball. Orange. Her favorite color. Maybe today wouldn't be so bad after all.

She rounded the wood paneled, glass topped, cubical she called an office and stopped at the small swinging door. Someone had replaced Paper Snowman, gingerly taping the paper frozen vegetables back on to his mittened hand. May stood there for a moment briefly replaying in slow motion the events of last Friday in her head. With all that had happened in that explosive episode, she remembered having at the time the involuntary urge to stop and stick Paper Snowman back onto her swinging door. He was after all an innocent bystander. And now seeing Paper Snowman returned to his proper place, she hoped someone had been as good to Paper Santa as well.

The store was quiet that Monday morning, but Mondays were generally pretty quiet. The Pig's circulars were usually in Thursday's paper, so most people shopped Thursday through Saturday, except of course on Wednesday's when the Senior Citizens would arrive for their discounts. The lack of activity was usually welcomed as it allowed May to concentrate and get down to the numbers she had to crunch, and the forms she had to fill out, and the payroll she would have to finish. But the low buzz of Muzak and the clacking from someone pushing that cart made work very difficult. She grabbed the carafe from her coffee maker to fill it with water when she realized that unless it was decaf, she wasn't having any coffee. Shit! Shit! Shit! Stupid Pregnancy! She thought to herself. She stopped, put the carafe down, and pushed through the swinging door to the floor of the store, precisely where she had hoped not to have to go that day. Let's see, coffee is aisle 8, she remembered. May picked out the best decaf coffee the store sold and went to the check out lane where Dotti was working.

"Hey Dottie. How you doin'?" May managed a smile.

"I'm fine, Sweetie. You okay? You need anything? A margarita? What about a shot gun?" Dottie was one of May's most favorite people in Carrington. Dottie could be the one hanging from the cross, but she'd make sure everyone had a hammer and nails.

"I'm okay. I'm glad you didn't have to see it. You were off, weren't you?" May wrinkled her nose in embarrassment.

"Glad I didn't have to see it? That put me at least 15 minutes behind on the gossip in this store and you know I hate that!" she said with a wink. "Honey! I wish I had been here, if anything to give you some backup. Curtis may be my boss but he's still that little snot that lived across the street from me for 15 years. He ain't gonna fire me for tellin' him to put his peter back in his pants and fly right! I can still call his momma!"

"Oh! Don't do that, Dottie. I knew, sooner or later..." Tears began to glaze May's thick mascara and Dottie quickly grabbed a brown paper towel so that May could avoid both Raccoon eyes and embarrassment.

"You blame yourself and I'll come 'round this counter and snatch you bald headed!" Dottie scorned. "When you go for lunch? Let's go down to the Red Chic and get us some grease!"

"That sounds really great! Let's go about 11:30? Beat the crowds?" May replied, perking up a bit.

"Meet cha' in the parking lot then, Sweetie. And don't let that bastard see you being upset or nothin'. He don't deserve it or you for that matter!" Dottie dropped the coffee into the bag and handed it to May. "You want me to go and get water for the pot so you don't have to go wanderin' 'round this store? I ain't got no one in line right now."

"That would be a huge relief Dot!" May was thankful for good friends.

Fightin' Cock

Small town grocery stores could provide both psychiatrists and anthropologists a life time of clients and case studies. The Piggly Wiggly in Carrington, Georgia was no different. Curtis couldn't keep his business in his pants even though he loved his wife with almost all of his heart. Dotti, after years of being an indulging parent, had realized that she should of have whipped her son's ass far more than she had when he was a child. Brandi's bright mind and sulky attitude made her the recipient of the worst of Curtis' pick-up lines. Twila? Well, Twila was just trailer trash. And May, poor pregnant May continued to pile her hair atop that tiny head and march into work each day to face the man she still loved... or hated... or loved... Well, it depended on the hour.

These folks had their faults, as all humans do. But they were good people too. Take, for instance, Curtis. Few people knew that everyday Curtis would go to the deli and buy a meal from the hot bar to take to the homeless veteran who hung out by the blue dumpster at the side of the store. He would also buy the guy a pint if the horrible evidence of alcohol withdrawal stared back at him in the form of fearful eyes and shaking limbs. Something in Curtis made it impossible for him to deny the things that this man needed. Perhaps it was the fact that Curtis' father had disappeared mysteriously on a seemingly routine TDY. Whatever the reason, Curtis felt responsible for this man's well being. He tried to give him a job as a bagger once but after two days on the job Curtis found the man back at the dumpster, bottle in hand, whimpering softly. That was the end of trying to change the situation and the beginning of enabling it.

Scattered and Smothered

Curtis had women trouble. He didn't expect to cheat on May but he did. And now he'd really screwed up. May wasn't some girlfriend that he could shrug off. This time he cheated on his wife. He wasn't going to be able to walk away from this one unscathed. He was going to have to either patch it up with May or get a divorce and all that entails. Unable to approach May due to cowardice, he found himself in a new relationship with Twila. Twila just assumed that since they shared a half a pound of spit in his office that one afternoon that they were now boyfriend and girlfriend. Curtis' MO for life had always been to take the path of least resistance and that meant letting Twila think they were in a relationship (with all the perks that involved), and avoiding May at all costs (with all the perks that involved as well). But for some reason, he couldn't get May out of his head. There was only one thing he could do. He headed to the storeroom to hit on Brandi.

Curtis pushed through the swinging doors that led to the back of the store where pallets of Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms sat waiting to be the catalyst for the next mother-toddler standoff. (Sooner or later, mother would convince herself that 4 dollars for a box of cereal would be a small price for finishing her shopping without incident. Toddler: 1, Mother: zip!)

"Brandi?" Curtis said in a slightly raised voice. "Brandi? Where are you Sweetie?"
"I'm here Curtis and don't call me Sweetie!" Brandi replied in a most disgruntled fashion.
"Where?" Curtis said impatiently.
"I'm here near the splendid new shipment of Idaho potatoes. It would seem that 13 bags of these beauties have better things to do than show up here at the Piggly Wiggly in Carrington. Shall we send out the lynch mob for the rascals or wait and see if they come home on their own?"
"Ahh Damn! Did they shy us some bags again?" Curtis asked while silently hoping that Brandi wore those low rider jeans with the sequenced hearts on the back pockets. The hearts were a bonus. Like little bull's eyes, those hearts were beacons that lassoed his eyes and brought them to lay quite obviously on Brandi's behind.
"I would answer your question if I knew what 'shy us' meant. If you are referring to the fact that we are short again on the shipment then yes, they 'shy-ed us' Curtis," Brandi retorted in her most I-am-far-more-educated-at-the-10th-grade-level-than-you-will-be-in-your-whole-life voice.
"Well, I'll be damned." Curtis said scratching his head and ignoring her insult. "Guess I should make a call." He walked gingerly toward the teenager sitting on a pallet opposite the potatoes. He sat next to her, opened his legs into a comfortable position and leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees. "What do you think I oughta do about this, Miss Smartie Pants?"

Tombstones and Tears

Lipstick and mascara smeared May's little face. She had kicked off her heels and plopped down on the damp grass. Segments of over-sprayed hair flopped in the breeze as she brushed away stray leaves on her mama's grave. Tears thick with makeup fell on her pink skirt.

"I know you said he'd do this Mama. You said he was up to no good. You said he'd screw anything with a pair of tits and you were right. I'd never have said it while you were alive but I'd say anything now to have you here (sob). Oh Mama, what in the hell am I gonna do now?"

May wiped her tears and snot with the palm of her hand and then on her skirt. She ran her fingers through the thick sod surrounding her mother's grave. The lines from the recently laid rolls were still visible around the stone. Absently, she picked a blade of grass and spilt it down the middle. With her tiny stature and bare feet she looked more like a small child than a married woman. Then as if she remembered something she read in Cosmo she said,

"Guess what Mama? You're gonna be a Mee Maw! I took one a' those pee-on-a-stick tests a few days ago. I was waitin' to tell Curtis until the weekend. We were gonna go to that restaurant down by the lake, you know, the one where you can get fish food outta the gum ball machines and feed the catfish? Now, well, I have no idea what to do."

She ran her hand along the stone above her mother's grave.

"I'm glad I paid extra for this stone. It looks so nice. You deserved it. Daddy wanted to go with the smaller one but since I was payin' for it he let me do what I wanted." May put her hand in her lap and continued, "He misses you so much, Mama. Oh, he goes on about his day. He still meets his buds down at the Krystal every morning and makes sure the yard looks nice an' all... but he misses you so bad."

The breeze picked up and May shoved her loose locks behind her ears. The trees, waving the few leaves left on their branches, vibrated against the dark sky of the oncoming storm. The beauty momentarily diverted May's attention.

"I'm sorry I haven't visited before now. It's just that I didn't feel like you were here, you know, in the ground. But I didn't know where else to look for you and I needed to talk to you. I haven't felt you with me. At the funeral, all those stupid people told me that you weren't really gone... that you'd be with me where ever I went. Well, I can tell you that ain't true... But this baby's with me, Mama. He's with me all the time." She put her left hand over her stomach and added, "No, I don't know what it is yet, but I feel like it's a boy. Poor thing! What a great role model he has for a daddy, huh?"

She felt the first drop of the autumn storm on her arm and turned to look at the clouds again. "Looks like I'd better get. The rain's comin'." She grabbed her shoes by the straps and stood wiping her butt of loose grass and leaves. For a moment, she stood there in front of the stone lost in the carved words and dates. And then, heaving a big sigh she said, "Well, Mama, I'm glad I came here. I guess I know where to find you now...." and blinking back tears as the rain began to fall she added, "I miss you a lot."

Prom Queen and Pampers

If you are just joining me on this story, just check the side bar for the history. They in order by date and are fairly short.

Brandi (that's Brandi with an "i") stood at the loading dock behind the Piggly Wiggly grinding a disregarded lettuce leaf into the ground with her cross trainer vividly imagining her father's face under her toe. I hate him! She brooded. No, hate is too good for him... Death is too good for him because if I kill him he'd probably go to Hell and Hell is too good for him. Brandi's father was self made, nouveau riche. He had money. Lot's of money. Enough money to earn a membership at the country club (well, he wasn't black, Jewish, or a woman; and while he was a Yankee, he did marry on the right side of the county's tracks). Enough money to be invited to every haughty charitable function and to-do. The old money would greet him with a warm handshake and a gentle slug on the arm... until of course they turned their back and then they'd roll their eyes and look at each other as if to say "poor sucker." After all, he was still a Yankee. And if it wasn't for some damn turn coat during the War Between the States selling southern secrets like tomato aspic and fat back to Ulysses S. Grant, they'd all still have their slaves and tobacco wouldn't cause lung cancer.

Brandi's father believed in hard work and self discipline and inflicted upon his daughter these values as well. Hence the forlorn teenager's position behind the Piggly Wiggly. In order for Brandi to keep her car, her phone, and her pocket money, she had to maintain a part time job... of his choosing. There would be no silly tromping through frilly underwear all day at Victoria's Secret or pretending to straighten clothes racks at Banana Republic. He wanted her to really earn a dollar. So he found a job for her stocking shelves and whatnot at the Pig. It was the "whatnot" that really pissed her off. "Whatnot" included aisle clean-ups, smooshed poopy diapers in the parking lot, sweeping the loading dock, and tasks in the restrooms that would require therapy in her not-to-distant future.