Journey of a Lifetime
Fond memories of our hometown golf tournament
By Bailey Jordan
This month the Wyndham Championship returns to Greensboro. Founded in 1938 as the Greater Greensboro Open, or as locals came to call it, the GGO, this professional golf tournament has brought the game’s greatest players right into our backyard. This year’s contest (August 14–20), returns to Sedgefield Country Club for the 10th consecutive year. Sedgefield, where the tournament was played several other times over the years, was designed by legendary golf course architect Donald Ross.
Each and every year, the tournament brings back fond memories of different stages in my life. My parents moved to Greensboro in 1962 in a package deal. My dad (William) would be the new minister of music at West Market Street United Methodist Church downtown. My mom (Rose Marie) would be its new organist. My dad took up the game in his early 30s and got hooked. I came along in 1963 and under Dad’s tutelage, I was holding a club by the time I was 8. Mom still says I learned to read in order to study the sports page of the Greensboro Daily News and discuss it with Dad at night.
My first recollection of the GGO was in the early ’70s. The likes of Sam Snead, Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were still tournament regulars. My on-course hangout was the Par-3, 12th hole (now played as the third). One of Dad’s choir members was Helen Alspaugh. She and her husband Laurence lived on the 12th hole, so Dad had a coveted “residence pass” to park at their house. The Alspaughs were wonderful hosts. Their house was a constant buzz of people coming and going, but cleared out when someone would shout, “Here come’s Arnie’s Army!” referring to the crowd that followed Arnold Palmer.
A standout year was 1973, when a Puerto Rican golfer named Juan Antonio “Chi-Chi” Rodriguez won the tournament trophy. He was one of my favorites. I especially rooted for his putts to roll in, whereupon he would go into his “bullfighting dance” and “sword show,” using his putter. Chi-Chi was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992.
I also distinctly remember the year 1975. Joe Inman, Grimsley High School and Wake Forest University graduate and three-time All-American, was playing the 12th hole when his tee shot landed left of the green — right at my feet. When he arrived at his ball, he asked, “Is everyone OK?” Someone spoke up and said, “You splashed mud on that kid.” After making a tricky up-and-down for par, he walked over, apologized and gave me the ball. What a nice gesture and what a thrill! I carried that ball in my golf bag for a while, but during a round while visiting my grandmother over the summer in southeast Missouri, I thought I needed some good luck. So I put Joe’s ball in play. It didn’t take long before my newfound luck ran out: I sliced that ball deep into a soybean field (Sorry about that, Joe!). I also remember when Don Knotts invited me inside the ropes in 1975 to walk up the first fairway with him. What a treat. I still have his autograph.
When the GGO moved to Forest Oaks Country Club in 1977, I was quick to volunteer for the gallery control. Sitting up close to the world’s greatest players and eating Maid-Rite sandwiches for free was a pretty good deal for a 14-year-old. I continued volunteering and attending the GGO over the years. My big break came in 1994 when my friend Mitchell Paul introduced me to the assistant general chairman of the tournament, Stanhope Johnson. Stanhope needed a treasurer for his upcoming year as general chairman. I joined the Greensboro Jaycees and served on the GGO executive committee for five years. I was proud of the work we did, funds we raised and charity dollars we gave back to the community. The best part of it all through was meeting my future wife, Cathy. She was a Jaycee and tournament volunteer.
While it was sad tearing down the course for the final time at Forest Oaks in 2007, a new door opened . . . the GGO returning to Sedgefield. The past three years have been a family affair. My wife heard about the need for volunteers for The First Tee of the Triad, an organization that uses the game of golf to teach kids (ages 7–18) essential character traits and valuable life skills. She contacted Mike Barber, president and CEO, and asked how we could help. It was an opportunity for our son, Nathan, who recently took up the game, to volunteer with the Tesori Family Foundation All-Star Kids Clinic at Grandover resort during the week of the Wyndham Championship. Started by Paul Tesori, the foundation helps those in need, with a particular focus on children with special needs. Paul’s full-time job is caddying for Webb Simpson on the PGA Tour. Nathan’s involvement over the past three years has been a rewarding experience that has resulted in a friendship with Paul and his family.
As my family looks ahead to this year’s Wyndham Championship and All-Star Kids Clinic, I can truly say it has been — and continues to be — the journey of a lifetime. I’ve gained far more out of my relationship with the wonderful event than I’ve put into it. It’s been worth every moment.
See you on-course. OH
Bailey Jordan is a Greensboro native and lifelong GGO fan.
Sun-ruled lions enter a creative phase
By Astrid Stellanova
Star Children like Alfred Hitchcock, Ben Affleck, J.Lo and former President Barack Obama just go to prove that Leos have more than feline grace going for them. Whatever they choose to do, those born under Leo like to lead. Simple fact is, we would all like to be a Leo at least once — most especially now. As the summer heats up, chill out. August has nearly everybody fussing about either somebody who wronged them or somebody they’d like to hit with an anvil. Take a chill pill and stop hollering. — Ad Astra, Astrid
Leo (July 23–August 22)
No lie, Child, this is a mighty fine year for your birth sign. Among other things, times are especially fine for creative projects and any ideas you hatch, match or dispatch. Many of us have wondered about (and envied) your special brand of magic. Birthday Baby, if you finally decide to write that tell-all you have been pondering, this is the perfect time to park yourself at the computer and get going. It is time to take a leap of faith. Everybody who knows you wants your Leo happiness, which is something that you can take straight to the bank.
Virgo (August 23–September 22)
Check the engine light, Sugar. You got overheated and are about to bust a hose. This red light is a warning. It does not mean you open up the throttle, but just the opposite. Put it in idle or coast down the road. What happened may not have been fair, but you will have to muddle on and not go hunting justice if you want peace.
Libra (September 23–October 22)
OK, you won. But just look in the mirror, Honey. It’s like you’ve been on a forced march, judging by your expression. Take some time to consider that you won the battle and don’t let one little peevish problem cause you so dang much frustration. It ain’t nothing but a little ole distraction.
Scorpio (October 23–November 21)
Was THAT your Kumbaya moment? Lord help us! Try again, Sugar, to reconnect with some people who are in a position to help. There is something you desperately want, and if you play nicely with others, it is in your reach. Meanwhile, it is possible you may need to reconsider the end goal.
Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)
It’s nobody’s beeswax what you’ve been up to, Sweetheart. Don’t tell. Actually, puhleese don’t tell. You have a very strong instinct about something and you’ve been listening to your inner voice. It won’t lead you wrong, but most people just cannot understand the nature of your private obsession. Not yet, anyhow.
Capricorn (December 22–January 19)
You nearly fell out over what ought to be a happy surprise. Only slowly did you figure it all out. Now that you have, bask in the sunshine. There is something in the road that ain’t nothing but a little old speed bump. If you slow down and remember this is what mud flaps are for, ain’t no way any mud will to stick to you.
Aquarius (January 20–February 18)
You ticked off somebody close to you and never even knew it. They’ve been chewing that bone over. And over. If you feel like hollering about how unjust it is, just drink an RC Cola. Then move on down the road and let them figure it all out. By the time you meet up again, you will both be in a better place, Sweet Thing.
Pisces (February 19–March 20)
A mysterious stranger is returning to close a chapter in your life. It is only significant because they need the closure even more than you do. Sweetie Pie, sometimes we get a chance to do someone a big old kindness, and the only reward is good karma. This is the case for you; score some celestial points.
Aries (March 21–April 19)
Shew we, Baby! Did you really mean to confess what you did? Nobody expects you to be tight-lipped, but I’m glad I ain’t your lawyer. If you really want to dazzle others, the best thing to do is to shut up. You have a lot of social power, and don’t dilute it by telling everything you know and everything you thought you knew. Take a time out before somebody puts Baby in the corner.
Taurus (April 20–May 20)
Life ain’t a reality show. You’re fixin’ to gum up the works by climbing on the roof with a bullhorn to tell the whole world something that you got going on — or wish you did — or think you saw. Get at least one of those feet off the ladder and take a deep breath. What you are convinced happened may not have. At least wait for confirmation before you blow somebody’s cover, Rambo.
Gemini (May 21–June 20)
You got a parking ticket, but the way you’ve been carrying on has everyone thinking you’ve been thrown into the lion’s den, just like Daniel. Seriously? As you were wailing about that misfortune to one and all, you missed at least two opportunities. This month holds more good fortune than bad, and a very smart move, Honey Bun, is to recognize that you are the lucky one.
Cancer (June 21–July 22)
You were born naked, screaming and afraid, just like the rest of us, Honey. Just look at how far you have come, but still frustrated! A rock that moves does not get fuzzy stuff on it, right? Or is it that a rolling stone gathers no moss? You keep moving forward and you still find yourself in the exact right spot this month. Time out is what is needed, and time to detach. OH
For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.
By Ash Alder
Heat, ma’am! It was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.
— Sydney Smith, Lady Holland’s Memoir
If ever you’ve stumbled upon a tangle of wild blackberries, perhaps you have felt the sweet stings of freedom that poet Mary Oliver describes in her poem named for this sultry month. You have tasted the “black honey of summer” and have the scratches on your legs and arms to prove it.
August conjures the soft thuds of the earliest apples; gifts us with eggplant and sweet corn and towering sunflowers; plucks the season’s first ripe figs or else leaves them for the birds.
The air feels like a wet cloth over our mouths and skin. We move in slow motion. We move to the shade. We move indoors, where the fan dances in lazy circles.
Heirloom tomatoes are peeled, seeded and chopped for gazpacho. Watermelon is sliced into tidy triangles. The ants that march along the juicy rinds remind us there is work to do:
Can or freeze the excess harvest.
Stake the vines and prune the shrubs.
Prepare the soil for autumn plantings — beets, carrots, peas
But don’t forget to play. When you stumble upon a patch of swollen berries “in the brambles nobody owns,” do as Oliver illustrates. Allow yourself to get lost in the delicious moment. Savor the sweetness of this harvest month.
The August sky reveals to us countless wonders. Following the full Green Corn Moon on Monday, Aug. 7, the annual Perseid meteor shower will peak on the night of Saturday, Aug. 12, until the wee hours of Sunday, Aug. 13. Although a waning gibbous moon may compromise the view, it’s possible to see 60 to 100 meteors per hour. Cozy up with the crickets and test your luck.
Something you can’t blink and miss: A total eclipse of the sun occurs this year on Monday, Aug. 21. Visible for up to two minutes and 40 seconds along a narrow arc that starts in Oregon and slices across the states to South Carolina, the Great American Total Solar Eclipse will cause eerie bands of light to shimmer across the darkening sky as the sun slips behind the hungry moon. Do wear eye protection for this so-called celestial coincidence, and find maps of the path and more information at www.eclipse2017.org. Prepare to be truly dazzled. North America won’t see anything like it until April 8, 2024.
The Sacred Hazel
According to Celtic tree astrology, those born from Aug. 5 to Sept. 1 draw wisdom from the sacred hazel, a tree whose forked branches have long been used as divining rods, and whose medicinal leaves and bark create a potent astringent. If you’ve any doubt that this tree possesses magical properties, consider that it produces the star ingredient of Nutella (and that said ingredient, the hazelnut, is believed to invoke prophetic visions). But back to humans: Analytical and organized, hazel archetypes are often considered the “know-it-alls” of the zodiac. Although they tend to hum with nervous energy, they seem to get along swimmingly with rowans (Jan. 22 to Feb. 18) and hawthorns (May 13 to June 9).
The gladiolus may be the bright and showy birth flower of August, but what says summer like the sunflower? As they follow the sun across the sky, these cheerful giants remind us that we become that which we give our focus. What will you attract this month?
Kathy Green’s garden of spirited delights
By Cynthia Adams • Photographs By Amy Freeman
Ask anyone their idea of the perfect summer cocktail, and more often than not, the whisper of the exotic-sounding “mojito” will tumble from their lips. The zesty, rum-based concoction, which as one devotee allows, “makes you want to Salsa,” owes its roots to clever Cuban mixologists. Food & Wine magazine reports the mojito first appeared in a 1929 Cuban cocktail book titled Libro de Cocktail. If you’re a purist, you can travel to the source (though it’s trickier to do so these days) with a stop at the famed El Floridita, the fish and cocktail bar in the older part of Havana (or La Habana Vieja) that serves up the classic Cuban libation, as well tas its more touted bigger sister, the daiquiri, a favorite of Papa Hemingway. I’ve a well-traveled friend who did just that, but that is a story best told on her dock with something strong in the glass.
Yet for those lucky enough to know Greensboro resident Kathy Green, a trek to La Habana Vieja or even a rum run isn’t necessary. A mighty satisfying mojito can be had right in her very own cocktail garden. The space that Green has created offers both colorful and unexpected lush options for a visually striking departure from the standard Cuban classic. Green’s particular version of the cocktail requires vodka, flavored water, fresh fruit, limes and good guests — plus a hefty helping of summertime banter and laughter.
It all began four summers ago, when friend Ashley Simpson served Green a vodka mojito during a beach trip. Since then, Green has created her own variations on the pleasurable concoction. She likes mixing it up with fresh, tangy ingredients at the ready in the garden. Green even has her own Key Lime citrus tree.
When friends drop in on her Irving Park home for drinks, Green simply steps out onto her patio and up to the bar — one fashioned from a rustic potting bench — colorfully set up for cocktails.
“I have a little bar indoors. But I found I was always inside tending bar,” says the amateur mixologist. Green wanted to be free to socialize with her guests and decided to innovate, even leaving a recipe card at the bar “so people could make their own.” It liberated hostess and guests to experiment.
The classic rum-based version is typically made from five ingredients (white rum, simple syrup, club soda, mint and fresh lime.) But in Green’s hands, variations occur just as organically as the plucked-from-the-garden ingredients. Mint and basil, which flourishes in raised beds, are in easy reach for muddling into the mix. When in season, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries are ripe for picking from Green’s backyard.
She credits her gal pal who first served her the vodka-infused beverage as her source of inspiration. “Ashley is so good at creating beverages — she has a great knack for it,” Green says. “And, I’ve always enjoyed having girls over, groups over, so when the patio’s looking pretty, or it’s a great night, or the weather is looking good, I’ll send out some texts. It’s not a real planned out thing, it’s a fun thing with girls when I know a lot of people are together, especially in the summer.” The vodka mojito has become her signature for summertime entertaining.
“I always have a bottle of vodka and flavored water. I can grab some limes, berries or mint and can throw something together. You don’t have to run to the grocery store,” Green explains. A boon for anyone juggling work, family, volunteering and summer activities.
She has gradually developed her own go-to faves. She loves berries, so they are the basis of her preferred elixir. But Green also finds her guests gravitate towards a tangy, citrusy version, which has the unexpected zing of grapefruit and herb.
“I have two different cocktails. I call them my berry mojitos with vodka and the grapefruit basil drink, also with vodka,” says Green. Her mojito menu keeps evolving, as tastes and preferences alter the mix.
Green explains that the secret is in the muddle. “I have a muddler, which is a kitchen tool,” she says. (One that looks very much like a pestle.) “With my basil drink, I use a wedge of cut grapefruit, with a basil leaf. Muddle it [all], and add vodka and ice.” For her berry concoction, Green likes to mix blackberry and strawberry with mint, all muddled together. “The type or flavor of the Mojito depends upon what I’ve got in the garden,” she says. “Strawberries are in season first, then blackberries. And then, after that, I get blueberries. Right now, the blueberries are just starting to come in.”
She muddles in the berries, then adds more for good measure. The more the merrier, she says, “because I love berries.”
“I do it on the bottom of the glass,” she says of the muddling process, before making a confession that would, ahem, shake up any bartender: “I sometimes use the bottom of a martini shaker.”
But to Green’s way of thinking, throw out the rules if you want to have a Barefoot Contessa kind of cocktail party.
Which is why, when asked if her recipe calls for one jigger of vodka — or two, or more — Green pauses. The guests dictate the terms. “I add the vodka to the guest’s liking,” she answers. She personally prefers to use two shots —just the right amount to allow her time to sip and enjoy the drink over an evening, as the ice slowly melts and the flavors merge. “You’re putting it into an eight-ounce glass. All that water dilutes the vodka. I can enjoy it with my guests without having to get up and leave them to refresh my drink. With all the insulated glasses today, I can leave a drink out and the ice survives, even overnight,” she says.
“Next, I add the flavored water, a carbonated flavored water, [Green likes the Harris Teeter brand], as you don’t need simple syrup required in the classic mojito recipe.” More often than not, Green uses the lime-flavored water, but raspberry and other flavors are also tasty. This little trick not only saves calories but adds more subtle notes The sweetness of the carbonated flavored water adds just enough sweetness, Green says. Perfection in a glass.
But no two palates can agree on perfection, where mojitos are concerned.
“My friend, who invented the recipe, still likes to use the simple syrup,” Green says. (Simple syrup is a boiled mixture of sugar and water, frequently used in cocktails, particularly mint juleps.)
Finally, the grand gesture: the voilà touch that whispers summertime fun. “You can throw a berry on top or a mint leaf as a garnish,” Green suggests.
And what about her other signature, the grapefruit mojito?
The makings are similar but with a twist.
“Cut a wedge of grapefruit; add a basil leaf torn up and muddled with the grapefruit,” Green explains. “To this, I add about two jiggers of grapefruit juice, ice, vodka and lime-flavored water.” Green then fills the water to the top of the glass, with specific measurements not required.
And here again, she tailors the amount to suit her guests’ tastes: “If the vodka’s too strong, add water to dilute it. I find the girls sometimes want more grapefruit juice; it becomes a very personal drink. It’s not like a vodka tonic (made a very specific way). You personalize it.”
As the Green’s dog, Alli, and Lila the cat, one of her rescues, stroll past a rock wall with trailing plantings overhanging the stone pathway, the stage is always set for cocktails on the patio. Flagstone paths meander through the enclosed garden to separate seating areas where friends can sit and chat or just regroup. There are recliners and Adirondack chairs, too, inviting guests to linger with drinks and their thoughts. Pink flowers spill from tall urns, dappled by the shading trees. A fountain flows into a pond stocked with goldfish and Koi.
There may not be a banana tree, as you would see in La Habana. But there is everything needed to summon up the good life as re-imagined by the Green family, in their own small slice of heaven, best enjoyed with a sweating mojito in hand, a photo-ready mint sprig right on top. Even if you don’t feel like dancing the Salsa, you’ll definitely want to stay awhile. Go ahead and help yourself to another mojito. The recipe card is right there on the potter’s bench bar — unless, like Kathy Green, you’d rather improvise. It’s summertime, after all, when the livin’ is easy and rules were made to be broken. And if you break a few, we promise not to tell.
8 mint leaves, plus 1 mint sprig for garnish
2 ounces white rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce chilled club soda
*Source: Food & Wine magazine
Cynthia Adams is a Greensboro-based writer and contributing editor to O.Henry.
Famous banned book covers artfully reimagined
Featuring Thomas Boatwright, Margaret Baxter, Ray Martin and Harry Blair
The first summer I went away to Boy Scout camp at age 11, I took an internationally banned book along for casual reading.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t know it was a famously banned book. It was simply a thick paperback volume from my dad’s overstuffed bookshelf that featured a classical drawing of a nude Aphrodite on its cover. The author had a cool handlebar mustache. I thought it might be about an Englishman’s adventures in the Near East and remember a blurb on the cover that said something to the effect: “The Book that Shocked an Entire Continent.” The title was My Life and Loves, by Frank Harris.
In fact, the author was a controversial Irishman and author, newspaper editor, short story writer and social gadfly who railed against censorship and puritanism in all forms. His lurid and engaging 600-page memoir — which was banned in Britain and America for 40 years and first published privately in Paris — related colorful tales about his close friendships with leading politicians and celebrities of the Victorian Age. But it also brought down the ire of the U.S. Postal Service and British and American censors for its explicit depictions of the author’s sexual exploits with willing Victorian Age debutantes.
The book, I learned many years later, tainted the otherwise estimable career of Harris, who authored well-respected biographies of Shakespeare, Goethe and his close friend Oscar Wilde, among others. He was also pals with the likes of George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill.
Needless to say, My Life and Loves was potential dynamite in the hands of an 11-year-old Tenderfoot Scout and would surely have gotten me sent packing before the Friday Mile Swim had anyone known the revealing subject matter contained therein. I remember telling friends it was just a boring book about Greek and Roman mythology.
Today My Life and Loves is considered a classic of eroticism and historical reporting. I still own a copy.
In this spirit, just for fun — being August and our annual Reading Issue — we invited several talented artists and photographers from our three sister magazines to imagine updated covers for famous banned books of their choosing.
As they lavishly prove, even if you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can sure have fun illustrating something that was once considered so bad for you — it’s good.
— Jim Dodson
Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
Year Published: 1865
Years Banned: early 1900s, New Hampshire; 1930s, province of Hunan, China; 1960, in various U.S. school systems
Why Banned: purported promotion of sexual fantasies and masturbation, and drug use; the Chinese banned it because of the book’s animal characters’ ability to speak human language.
Awards/Accolades: An instant publishing sensation, garnering early fans such as Queen Victoria and Oscar Wilde. It has never been out of print.
– With a taste for the macrabre, fantastical and irreverent, Greensboro-based cartoonist and illustrator Thomas Boatwright has found a natural fit for his works in children’s books, comic book artwork, role-playing game illustration and Web comic design.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing
by Maya Angelou;
Year Published: 1969
Years Banned: Frequently banned over the years since its publication from junior high and high school libraries, classrooms and curriculae (It ranked No. 3 on the American Library Association’s list of banned books in 1999 and No. 6 in 2009)
Why Banned: sexually explicit scenes, including child rape, use of language and irreverent religious depictions
Awards/Accolades: nominated for the National Book Award in 1970; Maya Angelou was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’fore I Diiie, a Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away and three Grammy awards for her spoken-word albums. Springarn Medal, 1994; National Medal of the Arts, 2000; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2011.
– Margaret Baxter has parlayed her childhood passion for drawing into a career illustrating for books, newspapers and magazines, and has won several awards for her work. She lives in a flat near downtown Greensboro. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Year Published: 1939
Years Banned: Off and on since its publication, both nationally and internationally
Why Banned: The book was banned and publicly burned for its foul language, sexual explicitness and religious depictions; cited as socialist and communist propaganda. Kern County, California took particular exception to it for its depiction of the community and migrant camps; publicly denounced before Congress by Democratic Rep. Lyle Goren of Oklahoma as “a lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind.” Its criticism led to the American Library Association’s creation of its own Library Bill of Rights.
Awards/Accolades: National Book Award; Pulitzer Prize for fiction; named to Time magazine’s, Le Monde’s and Modern Library’s lists of 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century and The Guardian’s list of Britain’s best-loved books of all time. John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.
– The stuff of dreams infuses Ray Martin’s work. The Sandhills native also draws inspiration from “plein air” in his painting and drawing. Martin has exhibited in area galleries and has taught art in secondary schools and colleges in the Carolinas. He has been a professor of Art at Rockingham Community College since 2013. Info: email@example.com
Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger
Year Published: 1951
Years Banned: 1961–1982, and
off and on in the years since
Why Banned: Vulgar language, sexual promiscuity, undermining of traditional values, moral codes, encouraging rebellion. Banned from Issaquah, Washington schools in 1978 for being part of “an overall communist plot.”
Awards/Accolades: Named one of Time magazine’s 2005 list of 100 best English-language novels written since 1923; included on Modern Library’s list of 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
– Harry Blair began drawing at the age of 5, and he never looked back — despite his father’s warning that he would need a “real job” after graduating from college. But Blair had heard that people would pay him for “drawing and coloring,” and they did. Nearly 70 years since he picked up his first crayon, Blair has had fun “drawing and coloring” for newspapers, magazines and advertising campaigns. The longtime Greensboro resident has been a contributing editor to O.Henry since the publication of its first issue. Info: harryblair.com
Fiction by Jill McCorkle
Your husband is cheating on us. I’m assuming that he hasn’t told you yet. I’m the test wife and he tries everything out on me first, I mean everything. Remember when he got hooked on that massage oil that heats up with body temp? Now maybe you liked it, but I sure didn’t. I got a rash, but of course, I have extremely sensitive skin and always have. I mean, I am Clinique all the way. If you were writing up this triangle (fast becoming a rectangle), then you’d be the one with sensitive skin, the fair, hothouse flower, and I’d be the scrub grass by the side of the road.
And look at you — some tan. I know that you go to Total Skin Care and get in the sunning beds. It’s odd how he tells me all about you. There have been many times when I’ve said, well, why don’t you just go on home then? And of course, that’s the ironic part, because he always does. But, girl, like are you thick? I would know if my man had been out messing around. Like I know your perfume — Chloé — and the fact that you have not picked up on my Shalimar is amazing. I wear the stuff the way it’s supposed to be worn — heavy; I’m one of those women people ask not to be seated next to on the airplane. At my last clerical job they ran a ban on perfume in the workplace after I’d been there a week, so I had to quit on principle. That’s me, a quitter; a principled quitter. When the going gets tough I get the hell out, always have.
I’ve come here today with a proposition for you, but before I get into that, I thought you might like to hear a bit about me. I’d think you’d want to, given that I know everything there is to know about you. I know your mama died last January, and I have to tell you that I almost called you up to give my condolences. I mean, I’d been hearing about how awful her illness was and how you were traveling back and forth to tend to her. I heard you on the answering machine many times when I’d be over here cooking dinner. I’ve got to tell you that I just love your kitchen — that commercial-size stove and those marble countertops. Was he feeling guilty when you all remodeled, or what? You and I both have excellent and very similar tastes. Don’t look at my hair. It’s not a good day. You should see me when it’s just cut and blown dry. Maybe I can show you some time.
Anyway, one of those nights when I heard you on the machine, you were crying so hard that I almost picked up, so strong was my urge to want to comfort you. When Mr. Big got home, I told him there was a message I felt he had to listen to right that minute, and of course, he did, but then did he call you? No, ma’am. And did he call to check on your son, who he had dumped off at the Anderson house and them not even home from work yet? I told him that if I had a son I believe I’d be more responsible with him, and he just pawed the air like l might be dumb. He must do that to you a lot, too. I’m sure he must. I even suggested I excuse myself, go to the mall or something so he could have his privacy but he just waved again and shrugged, like, nayyhh. Well, that was the first time I stopped and asked myself just who in the hell was this man I was sharing my (or your) bed with? I looked at him in a completely different way after that. I mean, how could he hear you sobbing and carrying on like that and not rush to call you? I see your surprise and I’m sorry. We all grow up and find out that the truth hurts. But here’s some truth you might like. I did not sleep with him in your bed that night. I faked myself a migraine (complete with blinding aura) and made him drive me straight home. Do you think he ever looked all around to make sure your neighbors weren’t looking? Hell, no. Either too stupid or just didn’t give a damn, I can’t figure which. I moaned and groaned and talked of the bright lights I was seeing out of my right eye (I told him the left had already shut out in complete blindness), and honey, he drove faster than the speed limit. I have always noticed how men (at least the ones I’ve come into contact with) can’t stand to observe pain. It just sends them right up a tree. I have also faked menstrual cramps with Mr. Big on several occasions, and so I know in great detail (he talks a hell of a lot, doesn’t he?) that you have just terrible periods and always have. My bet is that you’ve faked your share, am I right? Well, either way, I know how you sometimes ask him to crush up some Valium into some juice that you sip through a straw so you don’t have to sit up and straighten yourself out. Genius. Make that Mr. Big Ass work! But honey, I’m not so sure I’d trust him, you know? If I were you I might mix my own cocktails.
But enough about that, I wanted to tell you about me. Get yourself a drink if you like, or a cigarette. I know you smoke. He knows you smoke, even though you think he doesn’t. I mean, the man is slow for sure, but he isn’t completely out of the loop. He has smelled it in your hair, even though he says you spray lots of hairspray and perfume (he doesn’t know you wear Chloé — I do). So come on out in the open and just smoke. I smoked for years and I absolutely loved it. But I quit years ago. I am actually one of those who quit because of Yul Brynner coming on television and saying that, when I saw him there doing that ad, then it meant he was dead. Lord. That was a moving experience. I was holding a cigarette in my hand and was seven months pregnant (yes I have had a life, too), and I felt like Yul was looking directly into my eyes. Talk about an aura. Yul had an aura, and don’t be like Mr. Big and make a joke about his baldness. I felt his soul reach out and grab me by the throat and say, Put out the butt. I went out on my back stoop, took one final drag (a long, delicious drag), and then I thumped that butt clean across the darkened backyard where it twinkled and glowed for just a brief second before dying.
If I was somebody who could like have one cookie at a time or could eat the designated portion written at the top of the recipe or on the side of the box, then I’d ask you to give me a cigarette, but we know better. If I had one cigarette, I’d have a carton. I have always told people that if I was ever given the bad news that my number had been drawn in that great bingo game we call fate and I only had a little bit of time left, that I’d get me a cooler of beer and a carton of cigarettes and several bottles of Hawaiian Tropic (the oil with the red label for tropical-looking people), a tape deck with all my favorites from when I was teenager: Pet Clark and Chad and Jeremy, you know my time, I’m a few years older than you, I think. And I’d just stretch out and offer myself to the sun; a burnt offering. Burnt, greased, and buzzing like a bee.
The baby? You’re asking about my baby? Well, let’s just say that if I had a baby then my last wish would be a very different one. But that’s not something I like to talk about. I’ll tell you what I did come to talk about. You see, I have been thinking that we should get rid of Mr. Big. That’s right, don’t look so shocked until you hear me out. It would be just like in that movie that came out a year or two ago, only I do not want to get into a lesbian entanglement with you. I mean, no offense or anything, it’s just not my cup of tea. Actually I would like some of whatever you’re drinking. Diet Coke is fine. Don’t slip me a Mickey, okay? A joke, honey. That’s a joke. I’m full of them. Probably every joke you’ve heard over the past eight years has been right from my mouth. Mr. Big has no sense of rhythm or timing — in anything, you know?
Truth is you look a far sight better than how he painted you, and you look a damn lot better than that photo of you all in that church family book. I mean it made me sick to see Mr. Big Ass sitting there grinning like he was the best husband in the world when of course I knew the truth. Honey, there are facts and then there are facts, and the fact is that he is a loser with a capital L.
Arsenic is big where I’m from. I guess anywhere you’ve got a lot of pests there’s a need for poison, and then maybe your perception of what constitutes a pest grows and changes over the years. There was a woman from a couple of towns over who went on a tear and fed arsenic to practically everybody she knew. If she had had herself a religious mission like Bo and Peep or Do and Mi, whatever those fools were called who tried to hitch a ride on the comet by committing suicide in new Nikes, or like that Waco Freak, or, you know, that Jim guy with the Kool-Aid down in Guyana, she’d have gotten a lot of coverage – People magazine, Prime Time, you name it. When they finally wised up to her, she had enough ant killer stashed in her pantry to wipe out this whole county. It’s big in this state. Cyanide, too, might be good because you’ve got that whiff of almond you might could hide in some baked goods. But I don’t know how to get that.
I know what you’re thinking, sister. I’ve been there. You see, your husband has been faithful to me for eight long years, and why he up and pulled this stunt I don’t know. Middle-age crazy, I suspect. Maybe he wanted somebody younger and shapelier. Maybe he wanted somebody a little more hot to trot like my oldest friend — practically a relative — who sleeps with anybody who can fog a mirror, and her own little lambs fast asleep in the very next room.
If I had had my own little lamb, my life would have been very different. And I was going to tell you about the real me, so I’ll just begin before I go back to my plan. You keep thinking about it while I do my autobiography for you. You see, I think that my first knowledge that I would live the life I do is when I was in the eighth grade and my foot jumped right into a size nine shoe. Now I’m looking over and I see that you are about a seven and a half, which is a very safe place for a foot to be these days. That’s a safe size. But I hit nine so fast and all of the women in my family said, “Where did she get that foot?” My brother called me Big Foot. My great-aunt said, “Oh my God in heaven, what if she grows into those?” This from a woman who was so wide, her butt took up a whole shopping aisle at the CVS. I mean, it isn’t exactly like I came from aristocracy but they thought so, or at least they thought that a slim little petite foot meant that somebody way, way back stepped off the boat in some size fours.
I maxed out at a size ten when I was a senior in high school. There they are, full-grown pups, and honey, there isn’t a single shoe on the market that I don’t order and wear. Sometimes I have to order a ten and a half (I firmly believe that this is the result of the Asian influence in this country). I finally got to an age where I could look out at the world and say, “Fine — I am of good solid peasant stock; I am earth woman, working the fields, turning the soil.” I can dig with my hands, and I can dig with my feet. My folks aren’t sitting out on the veranda as much as they’d like to be. They are picking cotton and tobacco leaves, and when they get their tired hot bodies back to the shanties at the edge of the field, then here comes The Mister from the Big House. I know that might sound stupid to you, but the size of my feet made me both tough and subservient. I thought long ago that it could all turn around with me meeting the right person at the right time, but that has yet to happen.
You know when I first met Mr. Big, though, I thought it might be happening. Part of the reason I liked him so much that first time is because he talked a lot about you and your son, and he really did seem to care. I even asked him the first time we met in a more personal way, you know, didn’t it bother him that he was cheating on you. He said at the time that it was okay because you were cheating on him; I let it be an excuse because he did look pretty cute back then, but I think I knew that you weren’t really having an affair. I mean, you had a one-year-old. Now, I’ve never had a one-year-old but I sure do read enough, and know enough folks who do, that I know the odds of you having time to run around were out of the question. You were probably lucky to get a shower, am I right?
He showed me a picture of your son the first night I ever met him — a cute little thing, plump and grinning — but after we started sleeping together he never showed me any more pictures of your boy. Or you for that matter, other than Mr. Big’s Holier Than Thou Church Photo. I should have known to leave him alone right then. I should have said Kiss Off and disappeared. And I’m still not entirely sure why I stayed, except that I was very lonely and I knew that he was safe.
I’m still lonely. I know you might think I’m putting too much stock on the size of my feet, but in my mind it is a physical symbol of my difference in my family. They are all over there in the nice warm room lit by firelight, and I’m way off yonder by the barbed-wire fence with snow on my boots while I shiver and peep in. I’ve always felt that way, and therefore, I’m comfortable with it. I used to get hopeful every now and then, but I got over it.
And this woman! She is much younger than you are, honey. And she has got boobs such that you could place a cafeteria tray there (man-made, I’m sure). Short skirts. Over the knee boots, I mean, really. Everybody says I have awful taste in clothes, and I do much better than she does. I mean to tell you Mr. Big has hit bottom. Here he had us, two perfectly good-hearted, good-looking women, and he falls for that? If I were you, I might even take precautions against disease. She might be packaged to look clean, but that is one sordid thing. Check her out some time. I have her working schedule at Blockbuster’s, and I know her address and phone number. As a matter of fact I’ve already started in harrassing her for you. Don’t thank me. I’m doing it for me, too.
So, I say we bump him off. Real easy. Slip him the poison. Start in small doses and then up it and up it until he’s so sick with what seems to be the flu or some awful stomach problem and then we either choke or smother him, say he did it while trying to be a pig and eat while you weren’t around. If you carry it through, you know, fall completely apart — grieve, rage, mention that hussy whore girlfriend down at Blockbuster, don’t tamper with the will (a document that does not make a single mention of me!), then they’ll believe you, especially when you say that you feel you’ve got to get that man in the ground as quickly as possible.
Done. Then you just go on about your business and I go on about mine and they might put Miss Blockbuster in the slammer. Truth is that I don’t have much business and never have.
I almost had a baby one time. The daddy was nowhere to be found. Get up and shake the sheets, and he’d blown clean out the window and down the road, never to be heard from again. Well, here came a baby. Everybody kept telling me to get rid of it, but when have I ever done what anybody said to me? Never. So I plodded along, planning. I had lots and lots of plans. But it was a bad joke — a fake baby. No breath, no heartbeat. I looked at it and realized that was my life. No breath, no heartbeat. No life for me. I’m a slave girl — a servant. I’m one rung lower than a dog.
Mr. Big is too low to be called a dog; that would be an insult to canines everywhere. He didn’t call you back that time. He was never there for me, not that I ever expected it; but what if just once he had been? What if just once somebody had taken better care of me, taken me to a real doctor, gotten some help. And Mr. Big knows that you’ve been feeling down lately, but does Mr. Big care? No. I say we kill him.
Oh, but I see doubt in your eyes. I see love, and for that I sure am sorry for you. You better lose that light, honey.
Bring him down. Think of Delilah. Cut off his strength and watch him go blind and pull a building down on himself. Sap him while you can.
Oh, my, stop crying. Lord. I didn’t come over here for this. You are not the woman I thought you were from that photo in the church book. You looked to me in that picture like a women who could enlist in a complicated plot, but you are a bundle of jumpy weepy nerves. I know that we’d no sooner put Mr. Big down under, but what you’d be confessing and giving out my name. You are a tattletale. You were probably one in school and you’re still one. I still call and hang up on the tattletale from my school, that’s how much I hate a tattletale.
Oh, yeah, I can see it all, now. You’re sitting there thinking about how you could nail me. The wife would get it easy. A woman under stress conned by the mistress. You’re crazy if you think I’d fall for that one. I may not have any children to worry over, but I have pride. I have dignity. I have the child I almost had and lots of times that keeps me in line. I imagine where he’d be right now, twelve years old — my son waiting for me to get home so he can complain about what I don’t have in the refrigerator. I tell people, maybe men I might’ve just met, “Oh no, I don’t stay out late. My son will be waiting for me.” Don’ think I don’t know what it feels like. I was pregnant. I had mood swings. I studied all those wonderful little pictures of the fishy-looking baby growing legs like a tadpole — moving from water to land, just that easily.
But you have everything for real. You have Mr. Big legally.
You are hopeless woman. I’m the one that ought to be crying! Snap to. Listen to some good advice, because in a minute I’ll be out of here. You tell him that you know all about that little bitch he’s been seeing (she works at Blockbuster Video and wears way too much eye make-up). Tell him he better shape his butt up or you are out of here, sister. Make him sweat. I mean I don’t want a thing to do with him, you know? So use me. Call me by name. Tell him I’ll come to your divorce hearing and help you clean up. Get him back if you want him, and make him behave. But don’t let him off easy. Pitch a blue blazing fit. Scream, curse, throw things. Let him have it, honey. Your husband is cheating on us. Let him have it. And when all is said and done, please just forget that I was ever here; that I ever walked the earth. After all, I’m Big Foot. Who knows if I even exist. OH
Jill McCorkle is a daughter of Lumberton (NC) and an award-winning author of ten novels and books of short stories. Five of her books have been named Notable Books by the New York Times and four of her short stores appeared in the Best American Short Stories series. Like Lee Smith, her fellow Good Ol’ Girl, Jill is a resident of Hillsborough and a North Carolina treasure.
Fiction by Lee Smith
I come here to be touched. I want the lotion, the rubbing, the smoothing, the stroking, the pressing, the kneading fingers, the touch on my toes and feet and legs and hands and shoulders. Oh and I always get the neck massage, too, in addition to the deluxe manicure and the hot stone pedicure and the warm wax treatment on both feet and hands. I especially love the moment when each hand or foot slides into its own plastic bag filled with that melted wax, you think it’s too hot and you can’t stand it, but you can. And I especially love Kim, a round sweet Filipino woman, the salon owner’s wife, who is doing me today, both for her wonderful plump firm hands and also her strength as she goes deep, deep into the tight muscles of my calves and neck. If I can’t get Kim, I ask for Rosa, thin, tense, and angry, or Luis, a gentle, beautiful young man who seems wistful or sad to me though who knows if that is true or not. None of these people speak English beyond the most rudimentary and necessary terms such as “Mani-pedi too-too?” or “Hot-hot?” as I put my feet into the tub, or “You like?” as Kim asks now, massaging my calves, then “Feel so good!” with a nice big smile as she brings the hot towel to cover my knees and lower legs and feet. This is heaven. I smile, too. I love it that we can’t really communicate. I’m not here to talk, I’m here to be touched.
Since Charlie died, many people have actually come up to me and said, “Well, it’s a blessing, isn’t it, after all this time,” or “It’s so sad, but it must be a relief, too.” The fact is, it is not a blessing, and it is not a relief, either. So what if Charlie couldn’t speak to me for the last four years? He knew me, I’m sure of that. The body has its own way of knowing, bone to bone, skin to skin. I believe it comforted him when I touched him or turned him so that we lay curled together side to side like spoons in a drawer, flesh to flesh as in our long life together, two old high school teachers, married for 45 years. The body has a knowledge of its own, this is why I kept him at home and I don’t care what anybody thought of that, my son or his wife or the hospice people or anybody.
So now? I don’t miss Charlie himself, he’d been gone for years. But I do miss his body, his flesh, the feel of him, the touching. So I come here. I come way too often, I know, especially considering that I don’t really have any nails to speak of, I never have. I come too often and I stay too long.
But so does this other woman, also older, like myself, a blowsy, disheveled blonde who occupies the other pedicure chair in this secluded back alcove. I’ve seen her here several times. Today, she has already had her manicure; she waves her hands through the perfumed air, then holds them up to admire her perfect nails, tapered hot pink points, while her feet and ankles soak in the hot tub.
This is a reversal of the standard routine. Usually the pedicure is first, then the manicure while the toenails are drying under the special light at one of the nail stations. I love that special light, so warm on my feet, I love the tiny fan on my fingernails. I tip extravagantly when I leave.
“They already told me I can just soak as long as I want,” this woman suddenly leans forward to tell me, sounding defensive.
What a surprise, a real jolt! I have never talked to any other customer here in The Purple Orchid in this rundown strip mall out on the highway north of town, far from my own staid neighborhood and all my regular haunts. I can’t think what to say.
“I’m having a real bad day,” she goes on, leaning forward, ”but I swear, it always calms me down to come in for a mani/pedi. Kim sweetie, could you come over here and jack up the heat for me, hon? Hot-hot please-please!” she calls, and Kim leaves my chair to go over to her. “Just a little bit more, yes-yes hot-hot, that’s good, that’s good hon, that’s perfect! Thank you, sweetie.”
Kim comes back to me and the other woman settles back in her chair. She was beautiful once, I can see that, about 40 years and 40 pounds ago, in a beauty queen sort of way. In fact she was a beauty queen, I’m sure of it, Miss This or Miss That, back in the day, which was my day, too, of course. But I was not a beauty queen or a cheerleader or a majorette. No, I was in the Beta Club, and the French club, and the band. Flute. This woman’s hair is still fairly full and too long for her age, almost big hair. Hers is not the practiced smile of the professional beauty contestant, though, but an engaging, lopsided grin.
“I tell you what,” she says, looking straight at me, “I really do need to calm down today. I need to focus. I’ve got to get myself together.”
“Well, me too,” I hear myself saying. Maybe this is true.
Kim takes off the hot towel now and massages my feet, rubbing lotion between each toe, buffing that recalcitrant callus with a pumice stone, then trimming my toenails, first one foot, then the other.
“Yeah, I’ve seen you in here before,” the blonde says. “My name is Sandy Neighbors, honey, and my husband is Manly Neighbors, that’s the one that does everybody’s taxes in this whole town, you may have seen his billboards, he’s got them up everyplace, there’s one right near here where Church Street runs into Route 60. Manly Neighbors, he’s got a red tie and a great big old shit-eating grin.”
I start laughing, I can’t help it, I have seen that guy on that billboard, and she’s right. I haven’t laughed in so long it hurts.
“Yeah, he’s real busy right now,” Sandy says. “It’s tax season, you know” — it’s April — “so Mr. Manly Neighbors, Mr. Important, Mr. Big, he just can’t do a goddamn thing with his wife, he’s so busy, he’s a workaholic anyhow, even at the best of times. I think that’s what happens when you grow up poor, you know, you just can’t ever make too much money, you can’t believe it’s real somehow. Him and his mom used to eat the old bread that the Mick or Mack grocery store was throwing out, that’s how poor they was, so I guess we just can’t imagine.”
I really don’t know what to say to that, which doesn’t matter anyway as Sandy Neighbors just goes right on talking while Kim trims my nails and then expertly applies the polish on my toenails, Tijuana Holiday, something new for me, I picked it for the first time today, usually I choose something more subdued such as Dawn Blush which is almost mauve. But who cares? What does it matter?
“Ooh, I just love that red,” Sandy Neighbors says. “And you’ve got the prettiest feet, too!”
I have never been told this before.
“You look real good, honey,” Sandy pronounces now, while leaning way over the side of her pedicure chair to haul up an enormous sequined tote bag which she begins rummaging around in, finally pulling out a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade which I know to be the real stuff that they sell at the liquor store and at the convenience store up the highway where I go to buy my cigarettes, Salems, which I have started smoking again now after quitting for 30 years, nobody knows it though, I don’t do it in public ever, just mostly in the car out on the Interstate or out on the bedroom balcony late at night when I just can’t sleep. Now Sandy is all bent over feeling around in the tote bag again, emerging finally with a flushed face and one of those old churchkey openers that I haven’t seen in years.
“Ta-da!” she pops off the top, throws her head back, and takes a big pull on the bottle then grins at me. “This here is my special lemonade,” she says. “It calms me down real good.” She takes another swig, looks all around as if for spies, then leans across to say to me confidentially, “Actually I’m just going to set over here a while and drink some of my lemonade and try to pass this, this kidney stone that’s just about to bother me to death.”
I was nonplussed. “Can you just do that?” I ask. “Just like that? I mean, pass a kidney stone just because you want to?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she says. “Stick around and we’ll see. But I read in a magazine that citrus is real helpful. And this lemonade is pretty damn good, too. You want to try some?”
“Sure,” I say, and she pops the top of another one and leans way across the pink carpet so I can reach out and get it. I take a big swallow. This stuff is wonderful.
“So what do you think?” she asks. “Pretty good, huh? I think it’s relaxing, too. In fact, I’m getting real relaxed already.”
“I can see that,” I say, settling back, taking another long pull on this longneck bottle, which amuses me, the wordplay, I mean, “long pull” and “longneck.” I used to be a poet in my youth. ”I’m getting pretty relaxed myself.” I take another drink. “So, what’s happening over there? Any progress with that kidney stone?“ I ask, while a part of me seems to have levitated to the ceiling where I hover over us both, me and Sandy Neighbors in our pretty pink alcove which looks like the inside of a seashell, I think suddenly, one of those big curly conch shells that you can blow into.
“Well, I don’t know,” Sandy says, “I can’t tell yet. But I’d really like to go ahead and pass it so I can go on this Senior Water Aerobics Club trip tomorrow. I sure don’t want to pass it while we’re all on the bus. And I’ve already paid for the trip.”
“But where are you going?” I ask, thinking of nearby bodies of water: Kerr Lake, Jordan Lake . . .
“Oh honey, we’re not going swimming! Lord, it’s way too cold for that!” Sandy laughs at my stupidity. “No, honey, we’re going to Savannah on a big fancy bus, it’s a scenic tour kind of thing. Of course I’ve already been to Savannah one time with Manly” — she rolls her eyes — “we had a free trip we won at a Rotary Club raffle. But this trip will be completely different, a girl thing, so it’ll be lots more fun. They’ve got a bar about every 20 feet in Savannah, plus all this old architecture and culture and shit, and low country cooking, that’s what they call it down there, ‘the low country.’”
“I’ve heard that,” I say.
“Hey, you know what? You ought to come along with us!” Sandy cries.
I drain my lemonade, trying to imagine this. Maybe I look doubtful, because she adds, “Without the husbands, you know, why we’ll just have the best time in the world. So you can leave yours at home too.”
“I would,” I say, “but you know, this is kind of short notice.”
She gets out two more longnecks, pops the tops, and hands one over. “Well, even if you can’t make this trip, you ought to join our water aerobics club anyhow, we have a lot of fun in there, splashing around and gossiping. Plus it’s real good for your arthritis and balance and everything.”
This is exactly the kind of suggestion my daughter-in-law and my sister keep making all the time.
“When do you meet?” I ask in spite of myself.
“Ten o’clock Tuesday and Thursday mornings,” she says, “in the pool at the Orange County Recreation Center.”
I shake my head. “I’m a poet,” I say. “That’s when I work.”
“Work?” Sandy snorts. “I thought you said you was a poet.”
“I mean, that’s when I write,” I say, firmly now, convinced of it.
“Well, why don’t you write some other time, then?” Sandy asks with a big shit-eating grin. “You ought to come. You’d just love us!”
“Maybe I will,” I say, just as Sandy grabs both arms of her pedi chair and starts yelling. “Oh oh! Oh my God! Watch out! It’s happening! It’s coming! It’s coming right now!” she shrieks, hanging on for dear life. OH
Lee Smith, who resides in Hillsborough, is the award-winning author of 13 novels and four short story collections and a beautiful memoir of growing up in rural Virginia called Dimestore, published in March of 2016 by Algonquin Books. She is one of the brightest lights of American fiction, a true gift to the Old North State, and an old friend of this magazine.
I’ll not read poetry at bedtime anymore —
those wild words gang up,
go roaming in my head,
jump synapses, gathering speed,
picking up more of their kind,
bringing little phrases
to the threshold of my sleep
like proud cats leaving
mice on a doorstep.
Some I shoo away,
but others will not let me rest
till they finally shake me awake,
and with pen scratching sleepily
on the back of a store receipt,
I quickly let them out.
— Laura Lomax
Saturday Night Fever
Remembering the summer of ’77 in the Gate City
By Billy Eye
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” — George Carlin
Itís 7:40 p.m. on August 6, 1977.
Johnny’s restless. The family’s snugly ensconced in the crushed velvet Broyhill living room suite his mom won last year on Truth or Consequences, watching Chuckie Baby introduce Gene, Gene, The Dancing Machine. But a Saturday night in front of the electronic fireplace isn’t Johnny’s bag. A rising senior at Page, his girlfriend’s va-caing at Ocean Isle with her P’s, and a good number of his friends plunked down six bucks for Supertramp at the Coliseum that night. Even so, there has to be something happening in Greensboring!
The roar, then rattle and hum of a 302 engine reverberates off garage walls as Johnny backs his 1973 Mustang convertible down the driveway. Classmates give him a hard time about his ride but, since Detroit will never again make a droptop, he’s hanging on to it forever. So what if the filling station charges 65 cents now for Super Shell with Platformate? Johnny’s flush with cash since he took that part-time job at Peaches for $2.45 an hour.
Canvas top lowering into its resting position, Johnny plunges Bat Out of Hell into the AM/8-Track deck before motoring east. Cresting the hill on 16th Street, passing the 29 overpass, what appears to be a Lucas-like spacecraft looms into view on his left, with fiery tile moorings and modular, elevated cannon towers. Light beams in primary colors bathe the smooth, white surface of this monolithic structure sprawling across the landscape for as far as the eye can see. Foot off the gas, that Saddle Bronze Metallic pony car idles down to 30 mph orbiting the periphery of this imposing, angular compound. Johnny’s in awe, “There will never be a cooler place than the Carolina Circle Mall.”
This 17-year old finds it inconceivable that anyone ever got through life without the many wonders contained within its funhouse mirrored interior: skating in the central corridor’s Ice Chalet; J Riggins, where he bought that tight-fitting, black polyester three-piece suit for prom; air hockey and four-player Fireball at Electronic America; the mystery powder that makes an orange a Julius; the sickeningly sweet aroma fanned out from Great American Cookie Factory. Most especially, the diffused-lit, plexiglass splendor of The Current Event disco on the lower level where Johnny met his girlfriend Deb, a sophomore at Grimsley. Seriously, all of that and Camelot too.
Up ahead, Johnny can see half a dozen teens in helmets and shoulder pads breaking above undulating, block-long concrete bowls at the newly constructed skateboard park. A glance behind the passenger side bucket seat confirms his Tony Alva board is there but that’s when an aroma of another mother floods his senses, the putrid smell from a nearby sewage treatment plant. Johnny jams that muscle car into Drive, then his foot to the floor, to leave a steel-belted radial calling card on the parking lot surface behind him.
After a pickup game at Blair Park, our boy rolls slowly past some girls’ houses in Irving Park (because, you never know, right?) before parking on Northwood. Crossing the street to Baskin-Robbins, he wades into a crowd of teenagers numbering in the hundreds who have migrated over from the Janus after Star Wars and The Van let out. Wearing a PacSun T and cutoffs, Johnny chats up a girl whose answers he uses to cheat on Ms. Alston’s math tests. She proposes they hang at her TFF’s crib, while the parents are away for the weekend; knowing where that leads he reluctantly passes. Lucky for him, because who should saddle up but Deb’s bestie, she’s never liked Johnny from the jump, probably because he’s a skateboarder, who she derisively refers to as “dirt surfers.” To curry favor, he’s sucked into an overly cordial conversation about how much her daddy hates Fords, which he finds somewhat confusing, but that’s because the term “passive-aggressive” hasn’t yet entered the lexicon.
Alone, back in his ride, Johnny ejects
Meat Loaf to insert a Yes cartridge while cruising up High Point Road, blowing past Cheap Joe’s, Bill’s Pizza Pub, then Roy Rogers. After passing Four Seasons on the left, he turns right into a new nightclub he heard advertised on RQK, Dadio’s, where bartender Ronnie tells him about their upcoming Ladies’ Lock-Up night while pouring a cold one. (Being served liquid sunshine when he’s only 17? Johnny has a fake ID that says he’s 18.)
Black Betty blaring, Johnny crosses the dance floor to join a couple of UNCG jocks he recognizes from Sunday afternoon Rugby games at Latham Park. After finishing their Buds, the guys and their dates invite Johnny along to disco the night away at Papillon, but who wants to be a fifth wheel? Besides, he’s still smarting from being introduced by one of these brawlers as, “That high school kid I was telling you about” at a gathering on campus.
The TI-500 beeping on his wrist signals this night must come to an early end. Johnny made his girlfriend pinky-promise she’d phone every night at 11 o’clock and he’d better be home to receive that call or he’s the one in trouble. Pulling into the driveway with only minutes to spare he’s thinking, “I knew there’d be nothing to do, anyway.” OH
Billy Eye is done Summering in the past and will be Falling in the future.