ole ritin of buddy don:
a nuther story writ fer the group
it mite seem a lil odd that im puttin all these ole stories in here, but purty soon when the group gits a'goin in that novel, life n pinions of buddy don, hillbilly, twill be a bit of a hep to refer back to these here stories. so heres a nuthern. oh, pall gies fer them that gits insulted on a counta how taint whut wood be calld palliticully correck cumpletely, but tiz as true to life as i could make it n still be ritin bout these kinda thangs.
The greatest Gothic romance ever written in the American language was destroyed before it ever found a publisher. I was working the eleven seven shift at "Gus's Gas and Grab It" when I wrote it.
Gus's is located on the Oliver Springs side of the City of Science, perched at the top of the hill that leads out of town. We at Gus's catered to the vices — the legal ones — of our customers. Since vice is relentless, we remained open and well stocked around the clock.
I hadn't worked there more than three weeks before I learned to read customers every bit as well as Gus could read the cash register shift report. I'd spot a fat girl waddling in and predict without the possibility of mistake that she'd be good for a Mountain Dew and a Nutty Buddy. Or I'd see a thin man with a pot belly wearing greasy blue jeans and a John Deere cap and ring up the price of a can of Skoal and a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Sometimes it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. Here'd come a young man sporting a gold chain that nestled in the hair of a chest bared to the button of the belly, and I knew I'd be selling a six pack of Miller Talls and a Cavalier magazine. Black dudes'd stroll in to pick up Kool cigarettes. Mothers with pale skin and pink hair curlers wearing stained white blouses and stretched out stretch pants would be good for a box of Pampers, three small jars of Gerber's and a TV Guide. Kids who couldn't see over the counter would make their dimes last by choosing three pieces of Big Bubble and two Hershey's kisses. What were they doing out so late? Same as everyone else, getting their fix.
Such predictables, of course, are not the stuff of great gothic romance. For that, the author needs inspiration, and for inspiration the author needs something irregular. During the summer I worked at "Gas and Grab It" I met four irregulars. The first of these unpredictables was Red McNeely, a thin boy with a nose that barely stood out against a background of painful looking pimples. I'll never forget the first time he came in. I watched him run his dirty fingers through his long, grease and dirt stiffened red hair, and I said to myself, here's a sure bet for a tube of Clearasil. I was wrong, obviously. To keep a case of pimples like his alive and swollen near to bursting, you've got to feed it something more substantial than medicinal cream. He knew this, of course, and went straight for a Geno's Frozen Pizza with sausage, a Boyer's Smoothie, and a small carton of Sealtest Milk. I watched him cook his pizza in the microwave, which was located at the rear of the store near the beer cooler. Even from the cash register at the other end of the store my nose could tell that he was not yet on speaking terms with soap and water.
After he'd cooked his pizza and scraped it into his mouth with a plastic fork, he paid me with a five spot and asked for his change in quarters. I quickly glanced at his right hand. Sure enough, the middle finger bore the tell tale callous. I could've kicked myself for misjudging him so completely.
"Gonna play some Ms. Pac, huh?"
"Thought I would," he grunted, brushing the quarters into his hand.
"Mind if I watch?"
"It's a free country."
I followed him back to the corner and watched as he cleared eight boards with his first man. I expressed my admiration by saying "Wow!" about ten times.
"It's nothing," he said.
"The way you play, maybe."
"Little practice is all."
After I'd watched him ring up close to two hundred thousand, I decided to get back to the register. As I turned to leave, he asked me if I'd ever played with my eyes closed.
"You must be crazy."
"Bet you five bucks I can clear two boards with my eyes closed."
"Impossible. Besides, I'd have to blindfold you if I was gonna bet."
I ripped open a pack of Handy wipes, tied two together and wrapped them around his head.
"Only thing is, Bud, you got to tell me when to start the second board."
"If you get that far."
He did. I didn't like losing the five, so I delayed about a second after the second board began. Halfway through, I could see his pattern was busted. When he only got three blue men following his second energizer, he let go of the joy stick and slammed the glass with the flat of his hand.
"No I did not."
"Well, you'll be sorry."
I was. He cleared the board anyway. When he wouldn't take the five in merchandise, I pulled out my last five and paid him.
We were fast friends after that. He showed me how to beat the machine — not only that, he showed me how to turn it on without wasting a quarter — and I treated him to his choice of dinner delights, everything from Campbell's Chunky Chicken to Pet Ritz Cherry Cobbler. It got so he'd hang around half the night, talking cars, stocking the beer cooler, even sweeping the lot.
Once he claimed to have a date and begged me into loaning him my 1969 Plymouth Satellite. I knew he couldn't have had a date, but I let him use the car anyway. He probably just wanted the car to see what it could do. Before he left, I gave him a bottle of Breck New and Improved Oily Hair Formula Shampoo, a carton of Stridex Medicated Pads, a can of Ban Roll on, an unbreakable plastic comb, and a bottle of Musk for Men.
"What's this junk for?"
"What am I supposed to do with it?"
"Don't you ever watch TV?" I asked, selecting a tube of Ultra brite and an Oral B Hard Bristle Toothbrush.
"No woman's gonna let you get near her nose until you tone down that smell a little. I'm saying it man to man."
He looked like he was gonna cry.
"Look, I'm not trying to hurt your feelings. Ain't we friends?"
"Yeah, but . . . "
"Well, I wouldn't give this stuff to just anybody."
"Well, what's wrong with me?"
"Nothing that a little grooming won't cure."
"Grooming? You mean, like a horse?"
"Yeah, you got it. Or a car. What'd happen to a car if you never changed the oil?"
"It'd fall apart. You'd have to sell it for junk."
"Exactly. Don't you think it's time you changed your oil?"
"Well . . . "
"Look, man, trust me, I'm an expert on women. I even wrote a book called Slave of Desire where I explained everything there is to know about women and sex, not to mention truth and love. Trust me."
"Well, maybe tomorrow."
But for his sex life, there could be no tomorrow without a bath today. Oh well, you can't tell nobody nothing.
On one of the blackest, wettest nights in July, I met my second irregular, one of the blackest, wettest men I ever saw. I'd just finished stocking the cooler and was carrying out four bright blue plastic milk crates to set next to the ice machine. What a night! If Noah had been there, he'd have set sail before dawn. I was standing next to the ice machine, watching the lightening and sheets of rain — hell, I should say quilts of rain — when I heard what sounded like a pair of dice being shaken. I turned to glimpse the whites of a pair of disembodied eyes blinking above a set of chattering white teeth. Judging from the location of these body parts, I guess their owner to be crouched down in the corner where the ice machine butted up against the wall of the store. A flash of lightening revealed a tight ball of humanity, shivering and soaked as thoroughly as a large mouth bass.
"I be movin' on soon's dis rain stop."
I watched the eyes and teeth rise to the top of the machine.
"Why don't you come in to the store and dry off?"
"I don't got no money."
"That's all right."
I led the shivering skeleton into the store and offered him a seat on top of a display of Kendall Thirty-weight. When he sat down, I noticed that his left leg was a thin as a broom handle. He wore a pair of grey work pants, a black dress shirt, and a pair of green tennis shoes. The right tennis shoe pointed straight forward, but the left was almost completely turned around, facing the motor oil. I made a point not to stare at it.
"Polio," he said.
"I say my foot be crooked 'cause I had de polio."
"Oh, I hadn't noticed."
"Most folks be noticin' somethin' dat obvious."
I went back to the cash register, unloaded some pennies, counted my folding money, dropped all but thirty-five of it in the safe. I loaded the Icee machine and made some pop corn, then restocked the cigarettes. I could feel his eyes crawling all over me like a pair of ticks.
"You must be new here."
"Been here fo' days."
"Where you from?"
"Georgia. What brings you to the City of Science?"
"Yeah, I once tried to get into that same program."
"I spose you wasn't black enough."
"Nope. Found something better."
"I see dat."
"No, I mean, I got on at the Onion. Programmed computers."
"Sho' nuff? You be movin' up, aintcha?"
I went to get a broom and began sweeping the store. I always start at the beer cooler and work my way backwards. I'd reached about the halfway point on aisle B — paper products — when I heard a sharp squish followed by a slow scrape. I paused. There it was again. Squish. Scra a a pe. Squish. Scra a a pe.
I turned around slowly and nearly touched the nose of the skinny man with the deformed leg.
"Do they got any Salvation Army Mission in this town?"
"Ain't eat in fo' days. Don't got no money neither."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I suppose a hungry belly makes a man sarcastic."
I finished sweeping the aisle, pushing him ahead of me.
"What's your name anyway?"
"George. George Jackson."
"George Washington Jackson?"
"Sho' nuff. You white boys be so smart."
"I wish I could say the same for you, George. Just so happens my granddaddy was named George Washington, too. George Washington Gurley."
"Was he ever hungry?"
"Why don't you just come out and ask?"
"I don' beg from no white mens."
I later found a cat in a Dempster-Dumpster. It wasn't much more than bones and claws and fur. I offered it some milk, and it hissed at me. I named it George.
"Well what do you want me to do, George?"
"I don' beg."
"But you're hungry?"
"Ate fo' days ago just after I go off de bus. Bought me a do nut with chocolate icing with my last forty two cent."
He looked at me, his eyes wide, his mouth relaxed, not the least hint of a wrinkle on his face. He ran his tongue over his thick pink lips and rubbed his flat wide nose with the palm of his hand. Then he squished and scraped his way back to his place on the motor oil.
I finished sweeping, got the mop and bucket, mixed some Spic'n Span with cold water and began mopping.
"You a Christian?" George said, low, almost a mumble.
"I give to them that asks."
"I mop de' flo' fo' five dollar."
I dropped the mop, letting the handle bang against the floor. I stood with my hands on my hips, staring at George, who'd entwined his skinny legs together and who smiled with both his hands on his right knee. He looked straight into my eyes, no expression on his face, licking his lips.
"Will you take the five in merchandise?"
"You mean food?"
He immediately squished and scraped over to the mop. In fifteen minutes he had the floor whiter than I'd ever seen it."I spose you be wantin' me to wax, too."
"It's part of the job," I lied. Within thirty minutes he was sipping on an RC Cola, eating his third TV dinner, a Swanson's Man-sized Fried Chicken which he dumped onto the cardboard box to cook in the microwave — and the floor looked like a mirror. Once he got some food in his belly, he turned out to be a pretty nice guy. I showed him how to turn on Ms. Pac without wasting a quarter. He played until four-thirty, after which he said he had to leave.
That very same night I met my third irregular customer, a fat white man with a burr hair cut, a tattoo that claimed he had a mother, and a toothpick dangling from his tongue. I'd have guessed a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, but we could sell no beer between the hours of three and six. He poured himself a large cup of coffee, ripped open a package of Krispy Kream Do-nuts, swallowed them whole, opened a carton of Farmbest Chocolate Milk, poured it down his throat without stopping for air, noticed a Bob's Quick Cook Cheeseburger, microwaved it, ate it, sipped on his coffee, found a used newspaper, sat down on the Kendall's thirty weight and began reading.
"Uh, excuse me, sir. That'll be four dollars and eighty-three cents."
"Put it on my tab."
"We aren't in the habit of keeping tabs."
"You'd better git into the habit soon, Son."
I picked up the telephone receiver and dialed 911. Before the policewoman who answered got my name, Toothpick walked over, opened a switch-blade knife, and stabbed it into the counter. I hung up.
"Name's Burt Henson," he said, offering his hand. I squeezed it.
"Uh, glad to meet you, Burt."
"All right. Now you got that tab straightened out?"
"Sure. Burt Henson. Four dollars and eighty-three cents."
I busied myself wiping down the counters, cleaning the glass of the pop corn machine, and reloading the soft drink cooler.
"You're new around here, aren't you Sir?"
"You talking to me?"
"Name's Burt Henson, Son, not Sir."
"You new around here, Burt?"
"Been here four days."
"Oh. You must be here for the training program."
He dropped his paper, looked out the window, then walked over towards me.
"Who you been talking to?"
"Nobody. Everybody in the City of Science knows about the training program."
"Do they now? Well let me ask you something else if you're so smart."
"Do you know where a man can go to get away from the nigger in this town?"
"You heard me."
"No, I don't know any place like that."
He picked up his newspaper.
"Where you from?" I asked in my cheeriest voice.
"Mississippi. What's it to you?"
"Is it hard to get away from the nigger in Mississippi?"
"I'm here, ain't I?"
"So what's the problem?"
"They put me in a dormitory room with a scrawny little nigger. The boy's crippled!"
"But I fixed him. Make him stay out 'til Four-thirty. Always was a early riser."
Of course, you couldn't take the inspiration necessary for a great gothic romance from a bunch of losers like Red McNeely, George Washington Jackson, and Burt Henson. For that I needed my fourth irregular.
I never learned her name. She came in one evening around one-thirty. I had the store to myself. George was breaking down boxes and stuffing then into the dumpster, and Red had been gone almost a week due to a flare up of his Pacman elbow. Who cares where Burt was?
She floated, she strutted, she pranced, oh my God, she danced in wearing a pair of silky green jogging shorts, a man's white tee shirt and a pair of high heeled sandals. She browsed through the magazines while I browsed over her body. She was certainly the most beautiful woman anyone had ever imagined. What can I say about perfection except that she wore a long black shag haircut, no bra, only the barest trace of make up, a man's flimsy tee shirt with no bra, big, black, liquid eyes that would have made Bambi proud, no bra, and a pair of long legs the like of which you only see in magazines that your mother never read. I put my hand into my pocket as she brought a copy of Secret Romance to the register.
"You like romance," I said. She smiled. She winked. She walked out.
I told Red about her. I told George about her. I began using Musk for Men and Brylcreem and Ultra-brite. I watched. I waited. I dreamed wet dreams after each of her return visits.
Finally, after I'd sold her the seventh romance magazine, it hit me. What she wanted was romance. I was inspired. I wrote and wrote and wrote, giving up Ms. Pacman and trading food to get George and Red to do all the real work around the store. At last I had the first three chapters of Savage Romance ready.
As millions of American women know, having boosted the sales of Silhouette romances to obscene proportions, every good romance requires a few basic ingredients. You've got to have a tall, dark, silent strong-man whose muscles ripple and whose proud but sensitive eyes make women weak in the knees. You've got to have an innocent but inwardly strong and aggressive but in-relation-to-the-man-weak woman. They've got to be attracted to one another in spite of themselves. Finally, you've got to have mystery.
Well, I had the basic ingredients close at hand. Gregory Heathcliff, my hero, is the elemental man I knew myself to be deep down inside. Amanda Traum is an innocent young Southern lady who'd been educated at Radcliffe without losing her naivete and who is home to visit her strict and demanding parents. While there she hears a report about a naked man, a savage who's been spotted several times in and around Sunbright, which is where her strict, upright, honest but narrow minded parents live. Amanda pulls on her silky green running shorts, high heeled sandals and father's tee shirt, and goes outside to ponder the meaning of life by sighing at the stars. While there, she is kidnapped by the naked man, who drags her far into the mountains to his cave. There she learns he cannot or will not speak and owns only a knife and a notebook, which he will not let Amanda get near. She hates her woodland paradise at first, but shortly after getting carried away by the smoldering emotions that burn in her breast each time the naked man looks at her with his sky-blue eyes and then seducing him, she begins to forget the awful world she left behind. What a wonderful romance it was. It had Rousseau's noble savage, Shakespeare's Arden, Wordsworth's rude natural, Kant's very ding-an-sich, and Amanda Traum, fictional counterpart of my fourth irregular.
After she finished reading the first three chapters, she spoke to me for the first time. Move over, Mozart! Back down, Beethoven! You have met your musical master, the voice of heaven!
"Got anymore?" the voice asked.
I gave her the next three chapters — the bloodhounds, the chase, the poor crippled black boy who is falsely accused by the ignorant redneck toothpick sucker, the naked man's rescue of the innocent victim who hides in another cave, the discovery of the naked man's cave by the red headed brother of Amanda Traum, Amanda's attempts to read the notebook, her failure to do so, her decision to teach the naked man how to talk. It was only a matter of time before she was mine.
By the way, Red noticed the lady in the green shorts. And George noticed her. And Burt would have, but he didn't get up until four-thirty. George bought himself some fine clothes. Red learned how to use soap and, though it was hopeless, he began to make headway on his pimples. I wrote the final three chapters, putting Gregory and Amanda back in the Garden of Eden, so to speak. I knew I'd be in paradise when she realized I was well on my way to winning the Nobel Prize. Then she'd be sure to make me hers.
Or so I thought.
On the last night of my job, everything came to an end. She'd just come in and was browsing through the romance magazines. I was quickly proofreading the last three chapters.
In preparation for this big night, I'd lent my car to Red, as good a way as any to get him out of my hair. I'd also finally talked George into standing up to the bully and demanding to be allowed to sleep in his own bed at a decent hour. Everything was perfect.
She came over, smiled, took the chapters. I was just about to ask her what she thought when I heard somebody screaming. Out in the parking lot, Burt was chasing George. His knife was out.
"Oh that poor Negro!" she said.
"Ain't it a shame what prejudice does?"
"You've got to do something. Protect us."
"But that redneck has a knife!."
She put her hand on my wrist.
"Oh, Gregory, you must save us!"
Gregory? She knew my name?
I leapt over the counter, dashed to the door, ran out into the parking lot. Burt was slashing the air, trying to catch George, who was using his one good leg like a pogo stick, breaking every record ever made in the special Olympics. I stepped in front of Burt.
"Burt, what are you doing?"
"Killing me a nigger."
"Burt, man, that'll only get you in jail."
"You gonna try and stop me? Huh, niggerlover?"
"What do you mean, niggerlover?"
"Ain't we friends," George said, careful to keep me between him and Burt.
"Yeah, but . . . "
"Hit him!" Amanda said, "Cut the dialogue and beat the crap out of that redneck!"
"You hear that?" I said.
"Out of my way, punk," Burt answered.
The next thing I knew, I was spread out on the ground, bleeding from my nose and mouth. I didn't even try to get up, even though I could hear Amanda screaming for me to be a man and save the Negro. Then I saw her throw my last three chapters into the air.
"Somebody's got to do something!"
Burt had George cornered next to the ice machine. He cut him once, twice.
Suddenly Red came around the side of the building, saw the fight, ran over, took Burt by the collar and threw him to the ground before he could regain his balance. Then he stamped his face with both his greasy black boots. Burt groaned, unable to stand. George hopped over to Red, thanking him again and again.
"You'd better call the police," Red said, picking up Burt's knife and guarding him. Amanda avoided my eyes as I went in and dialed 911. I looked back out into the parking lot. Amanda had her arm looped through Red's. After the police finished asking their questions and drove off with Burt, Red and Amanda walked off together, her head tilted against his shoulder. He turned back to wink at me.
When Gus got in, I told him I was quitting. I didn't bother to pick up the loose sheets of my last three chapters. I'd already lost the first six chapters anyway.