Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Pallbearer's Social

The first chapter of an adaptation of the play The Pallbearer’s Social.

The Well

   Lacey left instructions to have the pallbearers for her funeral gather in the Well of Mercy Bar, just across the street from the Absent Friends Funeral Home. The bar was a converted grocery store (next door to Harold’s Pool Hall & Jeep Shop) with two old Standard Oil gasoline pumps bleeding rust from all sides, both still standing on the side of the sagging building and serving as hitching posts for folks who needed fresh air after drinking too much. Old metal signs from the bar’s heyday were still nailed to the outside walls, fossilized scales advertising Grape Nehi and Coca Cola and Royal Crown Cola, 7up and its First Against Thirst slogan, Viceroy and L&M Filters, Sir Walter Raleigh that Packs Tight Smokes Sweet, Hav-A-Tampa Cigar, Bayer Aspirin, the First Choice for Fast Pain Relief, Ken-L-Ration dog food, and Bordens Ice Cream and the smiling cow head with flowers for a necklace. There was a handmade sign among the metal ones and one sign on the front door, both declaring in a scrawl, Private Party! Closed Until 7 PM!
   There was still an outside bathroom used by the bar regulars who at some point in the evening stood around in the parking lot, some leaning against the old gasoline pumps to steady their swaying as they slurred words with friends who were standing off the concrete island and scratching with the toe of their boots a smoother place to plant themselves among the dirt and crushed shells.
   The Well of Mercy bar was pure south Louisiana, football helmets and jerseys of different teams hanging from the ceiling and twisting in the stale air, the gear of LSU, Tulane, the New Orleans Saints, the local high school team, all sporting name tags hanging from lengths of fishing line. The jersey from LSU, purple and gold, had the number 20 on it, the number 17 on the green jersey from Tulane, and the Saints jersey with the name Taylor on the back, all dusty and fading from years on display. Behind the bar a handwritten menu with curling corners was tacked to the wall listing what po’boy sandwiches were available: roast beef, ham and swiss, catfish, shrimp, oyster, crawfish. An old upright piano sat in the corner of the bar alongside a snare drum, both near the juke box and an old style South Central Bell public telephone; tables and chairs were scattered about, both showing plenty of wear: the cloth-backed vinyl tablecloths stained and torn, the padded chair seats split and the material inside clearly visible.
   Alone in the bar and lounging in one of the chairs while looking around, it occurred to the guy dressed in a dark suit at one of the tables that the Well was still the hub of civilization here in Travellers Rest, some folks spending more of the evening in this watering hole than they did at home, and it was sad and funny to Adam Macauley to know living here hadn’t changed much, the after work idleness still the same: drinking and forgetting the everydayness of drinking and forgetting.
   Adam glanced at a journal he had been reading. It was all there, the important parts anyway, the transcriptions of Lacey’s sessions, many of the pages copied from her own journals she kept all of her life, meticulously copied by Adam with one of his favorite ink pens he collected, dog-eared entries of his own musings, and even recollections of conversations that all pertained to Lacey, no matter when they took place in those long ago days.
   Putting the journal on the table, Adam got up and slowly toured the bar, checking his memory against the way things were now, smiling when he came across his carved initials on the top of the piano, letting his hand fall to the keys and playing a chord. He dusted his hand off and glanced up at the ceiling, remembering rifles and two black pajama uniforms of the Viet Cong once hanging among the football jerseys. Back at the table—sitting and extending his legs out in front of him, closing his eyes and letting flashes of Lacey play out in his head—he had no need to open the journal for any prompting, from thousands of readings over the years he knew the placement of every comma and period, every single word written there.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Atomic Shadows

There were two big old boys in the neighborhood living a street over from us on Lafaso, Mert and Dick Tugwell, older, maybe my brother Wayne’s age or maybe even older than that. They are nice guys, fun-loving, always horsing around with the younger kids, and I am one of those one day, doing whatever, maybe trying to tackle one of them by wrapping arms and legs around one of their stout legs. One of the Tugwell brothers reaches down and pries me off, grabbing my legs with one hand and the other hand on the back of my neck, lifting me up and making gorilla noises like he is going to slam me to the ground. When he does release me on my feet, I am aware of slight pain under my ears, his thumb and middle finger pressing under my ears while suspending me above his head, like some native in a Tarzan movie holding up a sacrificial child. It is not long before there are rounded lumps under each ear the size of a tennis ball. What is lost is whether I go to the doctor then or the next day or go quickly to the emergency room. The next distinct shadow is being in one of the hospital rooms, one bed only, windows always presenting a view of home.
Whatever my illness is—ruptured lymph nodes or salivary glands?—it keeps me in the hospital as a pampered patient for weeks, doctors coming and going and hushed whispers to my mother, nurses coming and going and a daily series of injections in my buttocks, first one cheek and turn the other, please. There are two other particular shadows imprinted during that time.
After several days, my backside looks like a human dartboard, a chaotic pattern of blue on both cheeks like bruised fruit. And the injections sting and the hurt lingers. Finally one of the nurses starts giving me a sharp slap on whatever cheek is up for duty right before the injection. It works, her sharp swat masking what quickly follows. Bless you, nurse-angel, whoever you are.
The other ghost image is books—probably many of them comic books—scattered always over the bed, on the nightstand, stacked on the window ledge. There is no television in the room, I don’t think, I would remember that, so the days are spent in adventures far beyond the hospital room, with Batman and Robin and Superman in thrilling deeds of capturing criminals and rescuing always grateful ladies in distress. There is the absolute joy also of my mother reading to me, being able to lie back on the pillows and watch the changing sky while those escapades play in my head, the imagined stories fulfilling some need in me I didn’t know I had, allowing me to leave behind any pain in my neck and backside, presenting an escape route from the hard truths of growing up in the neighborhood nearby.