by Donald Baker
I'm from someplace in Indiana you never heard of.
That’s right, Indiana.
Jefferson City to be exact.
Never heard of it?
That’s what I thought.
I got a surprise for you. Despite what you see on TV, not everyone is from New York, or California. It’s the Hollywood way of putting their noses in the air with that stuck up whine and saying “Anyone of importance ends up in NY or LA anyway! (sniff) What do they have in Indiana anyway? Corn fields and a race track?” (sniff again).
Nah! We got more than that.
We got cows too.
Let me go on record here and now and say, I’ve been to LA and New York and I hope I never go back to either. Nice if you like that sort of thing.
Indianapolis is the biggest city in the state. Lived there too one time, well right outside of it really, in a stuck-up burb called Carmel.
I always hated the way she pronounced Carmel. She put an accent on the end of it, Car-mel!
Anyway, forget it.
Don’t get me wrong, it ain’t like LA as far as cities go but it’s still too much for me. So, I’ll stay forty miles south in my little town. My money’s just as safe in the Jefferson City Savings and Loan as in any bank in Indy. I can own a big, empty house outside of town down here just like I did up there. And the best thing is I don’t have to bump into Janice or any of her socialite butt-in-the-air friends down here. The suburban Carmelite society in Indy don’t come down this far south. They wouldn’t be caught dead in a town like Jefferson City unless it was to stop to gas up their Lexus on the way to the Casino Riverboat.
Janice. Janice. Janice.
How I don’t miss her!
How I don’t miss having my English corrected and laughed about at her snob parties. How I don’t miss “You have to wear a tie tonight! Everyone’s going to be there!” and “If you have to drink beer, drink imported!” and “When your friends come over, tell them to leave the John Deere caps in the trucks. I don’t want the neighbors thinking we’re from the hills and hollers!” And my all time favorite, “If you didn’t make good money, I wouldn’t have any use for you!” She reserved that one for the final year, and she wasn’t saying it just to hurt me.
We were way past that stage by then.
What do I do down here? Not a whole lot. Technically I’m still President of the JC Brick and Block Company. I put in fifteen hours a week. Mostly chatting with the employees and drinking coffee. My son Phillip runs the show and he don’t need me putting my foot in the middle of things. He certainly does better than I did at the whole thing. I have no idea how much money we make until we go over the books at tax time. I do know that Phil sticks money in my bank account every month and he tells me, when I can get a word with him, that we are in the black.
Now black is the good one.
Phillip, there’s a story. I started this business out of my garage. Wore out a couple dozen trucks hauling tons of brick and block all over this part of the state. Went up to my ears in debt buying a building, more equipment, and hiring a dozen people when Janice pushed me to expand the business, and of course make more money. Floated around for years running just ahead of the bank, the IRS, and later on, Janice’s lawyers who were looking to get her the bigger half of everything. Then, in walks Philly twenty-some odd years later, fresh out of Redland Graduate School of Business at expensive Tennessee Tech University, and in a few short years not only multiplies the business many time over, but about retires me in the process.
And he never once picked up a brick!
The best part of it is, he did it all after the divorce settlement. So what could Janice do? She certainly didn’t want to go after the business when Philly was involved.
I have the best son in the world.
If I ever complained about what that college cost me, I take it back now.
I’m pulling up in front of the Jefferson City Grill for my daily one egg and toast breakfast, small orange juice and two cups of coffee. I’ll sit in there all morning. Up until about nine I’ll BS with the other locals. Then they all have to go off to work.
I’ll sit around and talk to Dale the owner, or Lynette the hillbilly waitress. Sometimes Thomas Selwyn Lane the black cook, and rumored to be half owner, sticks his head out and spends some time.
I clomp in through the glass front doors and get hit by the pleasant smell of eggs frying in bacon grease and acidic coffee brewing in massive, stainless steel Bunn coffee makers. Brought Janice in here one time and she backed out like there was a horse crapping in front of her. “That nauseating smell!” She cried jumping back in the car. Like I didn’t know that she planned she was going to do this all the way down here from Carmel.
I sit at the counter, leaving the tables for parties of more than one.
I’m greeted by Jimmy Grott an old time acquaintance and part-time friend. You know, one of those friends that you go around with every once in a while, usually along with other friends you know better?
“How’s it goin rich boy?” He asks in a gravelly voice while drinking coffee and not looking at me.
I’m used to this ribbing after all these years. “OK poor boy.” I counter.
Jace Holland leans over from two seats down with the same dumb smirk on his face that he’s had since high school. “Hey Bill, whatcha gonna do today? Buy a yatch, a fancy BMW, a Rolex?”
“Nah!” I shoot back “Thought I’d stay around downtown and later on get a manicure and a Armani suit.”
Jace laughs like a hyena at this, over-reacting like always. “Your big Momma used to dress you in those Japanese suits didn’t she?”
It was an easy one to jump on but I let it go. Janice wouldn’t have, and I for darn sure didn’t want to do anything SHE ever did. “Yeah, she wanted them, uh Japanese suits, in the divorce. I had to give them up. Still miss those old suits.”
Nine o’clock gets closer and the working regulars drift out. There ain’t much happening and I am just getting ready to leave when in comes Mayor Clarence Stickle and his toadies.
Can’t stand the guy.
You might say, I’m sick of Stickle. A great campaign ditty for an opponent if you ask me.
He thinks we’re great friends.
He’s been mayor for six terms. That’s twenty-four years of his pompous bull and smug good-old-boyism.
They sit at the table behind me. Stickle makes a big show of greeting what few people are left in the place while one of the toadies whispers everyone’s name to him ahead of time.
The toadie doesn’t have to whisper my name. Everyone in town knows me.
“Bill, how are you these days?” Stickle squawks.
I wave and don’t turn around on my stool. “Good Clare. How’s the campaign coming?”
He hates being called Clare. And he will tell someone without money that fact in a minute.
He don't say nothing to me.
I decide that I’ll stay awhile just so Stickle can see my back.
“Another landslide of course” One of the whispering toadies chimes in. Stickle laughs a little nervous like.
“Not what I read.” Dale, the owner, pipes in while striding out to deliver silverware to the table. “That big City Police Chief scandal two months ago took a huge chunk out of your behind. Especially when you backed the chief and he got hauled off to jail by the county Sheriff. The Daily Journal says that now Denise Padgett has a chance. Maybe some well placed campaign contributions here and there and poof! She beats you in the primary and she probably wins in the general. Just like that, we have our first black elected official. And a woman at that!”
Dale loves to stir it up.
Maybe that’s why we get along so well. I give him a look when he comes back around the counter and he smiles.
Stickle blusters. “I don't want to hear no more about that Police Chief! I was a victim there too! I didn't know all the facts! Anyway, it's all over and done with!”
A toadie screeches like an owl, “Contributions! That’s a big maybe. We know how much they have to work with and they are a long way from anything that is gonna make a difference.”
“Yeah” Another toadie chimes in. “She is gonna have to do more than appeal to the colored churches if she wants any real numbers voting for her.”
Stickle chuckles. I can see his fat, red face in the mirror above the counter. Then I’m distracted by the swinging kitchen door. The idiots at the table can’t see that kitchen door but Dale and I can.
We give each other a look.
We know what’s up and we play it cool.
The toadies talk loud and Stickle makes a jackass of himself like usual. “How many darkies do we have in this town anyway? A thousand?” Stickle asks and a toadie agrees. He stupidly continues. “Even if they all voted, we still win.”
I feel like busting out with a cuss word.
“So much for “We shall overcome!” A toadie laughs and they all think that’s the funniest thing on the blessed earth.
Of course Stickle can’t keep his mouth shut. “You see women and coloreds are political creatures of habit.” He lectures us like some kind of college professor or something instead of the sideways fool that he is. “They always vote Democrat and always will. A Dem can always count on the women and colored vote.” The toadies nod wide eyed in agreement, duly impressed by his bull. “And I ask you, who is the Democrat you think of when you think Democrat in this town? Mayor Stickle, that's who.”
He's all puffed up and proud now. I almost lose my breakfast. But the idiot still can't shut his trap.
“I ask you” He continues “Ten years back, who gave those people a new park right in their part of town? Four years back, who made sure the city chipped in money on the renovation of the county welfare offices? Whose can they call on when the state gives them grief over their benefits? Who makes sure we have plenty of jobs picking up trash, working the parking meters, keeping the city and county buildings clean, and the grass cut in the parks? And the women! Who made sure the old Murphy Mart building sold out to Planned Parenthood for the sum of one entire dollar? Who stands in there and fights for these people? None other than Clarence Stickle, that's who.”
The dummies are all open mouthed and awestruck. Nodding their heads like the puppets they are.
And that boy still don't have the sense to close his mouth.
“So, let this Lavonda, Yolanda, whatever Padgett run against me in the primary. Sure, she might get a few black sympathy votes. And the guilty white libs will go her way. But the smart people will go for the guy who gives them the things they want and need.”
Lorraine, the hillbilly waitress is clearing off the next table. She stares at the back of the fat creeps head like she’s gonna whack him with a tub full of dirty dishes. Instead she grabs all the junk from the table, real noisy. I hear her say, kind of under her breath but meant for everyone to hear. “Effing Idiot.” Then off she stomps.
The effing idiot didn’t hear a thing.
Is this guy for real? Women and coloreds? This is the 21st century and this pip-squeak just said “women and coloreds”. Even that wasn’t good enough for him. He had to say it like this: “Wimmin an cullurds”.
And get this, he still can’t shut up.
“Then we got the good old boys like Bill over here. So I would say I got nothin to worry about. Not this year. Not four years from now.” The toadies all agree and Stickle laughs his jackass laugh then follows it up. “Right Bill?” I notice that he sounds a little too concerned at this point.
I don’t even turn around. Just stick my hand up a little and wave. “You got it all figured out Clare.” Hoping he will finally shut up.
And they do all shut up like a switch is thrown when Thomas Selwyn Lane steps out from behind that little dishes nook by the kitchen door.
But Selwyn plays it cool too. He’s about 5’5” and 135 lbs. Built like a real life black stick man. Shining black skin and all jittery and loose hanging. Big, teeth blazin, full mouth, cartoon smiles.
Then he starts jivin and I almost die.
“Why look-a heyah!” He prances out with a fresh coffee pot to fill up the jackasses cups. “Misto Mayor and the genmun!”
I can’t look at Dale or we will both bust out. So I force myself to look at my empty cup and I just listen to Selwyn have his fun.
Selwyn is in rare form, flashing those big, white teeth and getting all high pitched in his voice. He goes on and on about our fat, creepy mayor and what a good customer he is. Selwyn doesn’t leave the toadies out either and heaps praise on their eager, round, pink faces in his funny jive talk. “Heh, heh, heh. Did I tell you all genmun bout that mouse that was fraid to come in the back door thother day? Heh, heh.”
The idiot and the toadies all laugh and hoot while Selwyn launches into one of his ridiculous stories. He’s putting the jive on good for the fools and has them wagging their dumb fat tails and falling out of their seats for a half hour.
Dale pours me another cup and I refuse to look at him.
I decide to stay awhile and go outside to get the basically worthless Daily Journal from the paper box. Selwyn entertains himself for a time with the jackasses then dances back into the kitchen.
I get caught up reading about a road construction project north of town. The laughing hyenas calm down and eat their breakfast then finally hustle out in a big hurry when one of the toadies cries “Oh, God! The park project meeting!”
After a while I leave the paper on the counter for Dale and toss down a ten.
I never wait for a ring up at this place.
I mosey on to the front walk and sit at the park bench in front. People are walking here and there on their way to or from the courthouse or the city-county offices. Some folks are shopping, I suppose, but the retail business seems slow as it usually is on a weekday morning. I look at how some things never change. The businesses might come and go but they are basically the same. The courthouse and the county offices have been the same since the big expansion twenty some odd years back.
I watch Pat Inabinit over at the dry cleaners. He’s trying to show his nineteen year old nephew how to clean the front glass of the store. But the kid has locked eyes with this pretty young thing walking out of the DPW offices with a hand full of busting file folders and an open blouse busting something else. She’s probably a secretary or something. I can hear Pat yelling at the kid all the way over here.
Someone sits down softly beside me. The bench barely moves so I figure it’s a little old lady or someone looking to rest her feet. I turn around to see Thomas Selwyn Lane sitting beside me twisting a clean, white dish towel around one hand and looking off toward the city-county headquarters where the recently breakfasted simpleton mayor and his minions have scampered.
“Looks like it’s all sewed up. Uh huh.” Selwyn has dropped the jive now. He never uses it around some people.
“That’s what the man says.” I observe.
“Well that is what he says. He has the wimmen and cullurds in his back pocket. And most of all the good old boys like you. Creatures of habit is what the man says.”
“That’s what the man says.” I repeat.
“Newspaper man says a little well placed funds and there might be a surprise or two.” He continues.
“That’s what the man says.” I say again.
Selwyn continues. “Why that man at the newspaper says that sometimes you need what he calls ‘a new vehicle for change.’”
I keep on looking at the traffic. “He says that huh? The newspaper man?”
“That's what the man says. You know I’ve heard and read that habits can be broken. I’ve read that people can do a whole lot of things they never thought they would do when they finally see the need for it.” Selwyn goes on.
“You’ve read that huh?” I ask. Selwyn is still looking off toward the courthouse.
“Read it.” He twists the towel tighter around his hand. “Seen it.” Twist again. “Lived it.” He unwinds the towel wrapped so tightly around his hand that I’m afraid it will cut off the blood. “How about you?” He flicks me lightly on the leg with the towel. Finally looks at me and smiles and it isn’t the cartoon smile he gave the jackass mayor.
“Hmmm.” Is all I respond and watch Selwyn disappear, quick like a little black cat, back into the diner.
After a while I see Rick Vanlanot’s seventy year old mother come out of the Eckerd Drug Store down the block and start trudging my way with a purpose in her walk. She gets distracted when a clerk from Eckerd comes out after her with a small bag of something she forgot to take with her. I see my chance and scoot quickly around the corner. She would certain have made a morning of it on that bench with me. Talking, talking, talking. About how she grew up in a preacher's home and how phony it all was but that people thought her father was the greatest. And how everyone in the family practically had a party at the old mans funeral. So I scoot.
I’ve heard it more times than I can count.
I take my time getting over to JC Brick and Block. It’s only a few streets away but why hurry?
It’s not like I do much once I’m there anyway.
I stop and hold the door open at the fabric shop for a lady in a wheelchair and her friend. We make a little talk. They are from the city and go on about what a quaint little town we have.
“Hey Angie.” I say when I finally bang into the office. Angie is doing something on her computer and just hanging up the phone. “Philly in?”
She gives a thoughtful face. “He is but not for long. I think he’s on the phone.”
“What a surprise.” I say going past her and down the hall to my son’s office.
Phillip is on his feet and leaning over his desk trying comically to take the phone from his ear and listen at the same time. He’s fighting to get someone off the line and hang up. “OK, you can handle that part of it. Really Jimmy, this one is no different from the last three we sent over there. Just do the same thing.” Phil sees me and rolls his eyes about the person on the phone. “You got it. Right.” He looks at his watch. “Tell you what Jimmy; call my Pop if you have anything else on this. And you shouldn’t.” He rolls his eyes and looks at his watch again. “Right Jimmy. Gotta go.” Phil sees his chance and hangs up.
“Holding Jimmy’s hand again? Don’t pass him off on me!” I chuckle. Phillip throws his hands in the air and paws at the half tied neck tie he has on.
“Sorry Pop, I’m on the run. Meeting with New Century in Carmel and I should have been on the road already.”
“Ooh, Car-mel.” I wince, correcting him. And it isn’t lost on Phillip; he knows exactly what I mean.
“Right Pop.” He pats me on the shoulder and brushes past me to get his suit coat from the back of the door. “And you can’t go. Meeting Mom for lunch after.” He gives me the raised eyebrow look that he always gives when he is making a point.
“Better not wear that tie then. It’s one of my old ones. She’ll recognize it. You know those kind of things never get past her.”
“Oh foo. I have to go.”
“Is Diamond gonna be there?” I ask pointedly.
“Yes Pop, he is.” Phil says tiredly.
“Better take an oxygen tank and a nurse. Might need one.” I add.
Ron Diamond is her new hubby. Much more money than me and a good 17 years older than Janice. Which makes him OLD as far as I am concerned. He owns a string of those check cashing stores and another chain of those cash for gold stores that seem to be everywhere. Before all that he was the largest independent retailer in the Midwest for video stores and DVD rentals. He's rolling in cash, whereas I am only sitting in cash with one butt cheek.
“Pop, he never did anything to you. He has nothing to do with your troubles with Mom. Why do you hate him so?” Phil asks exasperated.
“Hate him?” I counter. “I love him! Him and his money got your mother off my back! You didn't hurt things either.”
“So that's why you love me!” Phil says mockingly.
“It didn't harm your cause none.” I say fussing with his tie.
“Let it go, Pop.” He says squeezing my shoulder.
“I do. Gladly. The only time I think about it is around you.”
I fix the tie for him because for all of his education and smarts he never learned how to tie one of those things. “Hold on. Hold on. Give me a minute. I actually have to ask you about something.” I slow him down on the way out the door. “Won’t take but a minute.”
“OK. What’s up?”
“How am I fixed for cash?”
I ask seriously but he laughs me off. “Pop the way you spend it will last you fifty more years. Why do you ask?”
“Just something I’m thinking about.” I say trying to be mysterious, but it’s lost on Philly.
“You want a new truck, or boat? Go ahead.” He waves and starts out again.
“Yeah, something like that. I don’t want you surprised.”
“Crap, buy a new house if you want to. Buy two. Go talk to Morris at the bank. You don’t need my permission.” He laughs.
I wave him off. “OK, OK just telling you.”
Now he gets smart on me. “Hey, you know they have a lot of new Chevrolet trucks out there on Welcher's lot. You ought to take a look.”
“I raised a funny boy didn’t I?” He knows I hate anything Chevy, especially the trucks.
“Spend whatever you want Pop. Love ya.” He calls over his shoulder.
He hustles off down the hall. In a few seconds he hustles back. “Hey Pop. Lynn says call her. She wants you over for dinner some night this week. The baby is crawling. The way she rocks back and forth on her knees! It’s the cutest thing you ever saw.” He kisses me happily on the cheek and doesn’t wait for a response before he rushes off again.
I’m just left standing there smiling.
Now the morning’s almost over and I don’t have a whole lot going on today.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining at all.
I walk on back downtown, stopping along the way to talk to Mrs. Walker out in the yard with her grandkids. She laments about how they all have runny noses. My old truck is still parked next to the diner so I drive on over to the Wal-Mart Supercenter out on the highway. It’s a new place and plain old Wal-Mart wouldn’t do for it, now it is a Wal-Mart Supercenter.
No reason for going really. I guess I could pick up a few odds and ends before going home.
I’m just bumming around looking at this and that when I decide to have a soda at that little fast food place in the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Stogies, or Stompies, or something like that. I figure I will sit there for a while and look through a paperback novel I picked up in the book section. It doesn’t take me long to realize that I will probably be putting this one back on the shelf. I figure it out in the first ten pages.
Just about to put down the book when I hear people talking real close to me. See, I’m right next to the produce section. A lady in her thirties and her thirties husband evidently just met up with an old friend over the cucumbers. I’m thinking that they are more interesting than the paperback so I listen in.
“Woman I don’t know how you do all of this. Don’t you get worn out?” The thirties lady with the husband asks.
The other lady turns a little and I know where I’ve seen her before. On posters around town. She responds. “It keeps me running that’s for sure. It’s all how you deal with it anyway.”
The man chimes in. “Kind of surprised to see you here. I thought you might be out campaigning with first week of May coming up. Hotly contested Primary, is what the Journal says.”
“We’re having a luncheon for the ladies at the retirement center and I promised to bring the salad. Some of them made a special request that I couldn’t turn down.”
“How in the world are you going to keep up with all of that after you’re in office?” The thirties wife asks.
The other lady waives off the question with a chuckle. “I‘ll worry about that IF it ever happens. How’s your mother doing Alex?” She asks the man.
“She’s up and around just like always. Thanks for asking. She still talks about how you visited so much when she was down. She says that this town would be fools to not put a saint like you in office.”
The woman waives them off again and the group talks on while I sip on my soda. When I’m finished I return the paperback to the shelf and check out.
Guess it’s time to go back to the big, old house on the edge of town.
I’ve been working on a furniture refinishing project in my three-car, heated garage. So I decide to get into that project a little more. That kind of work is always useful when you want to do some thinking. Before I know it hours have passed and I’m hungry. Guess I could make my own lunch but I’m tired of being on my own. The diner isn’t busy this time of the afternoon so I figure it’s time for another road trip.
It’s turned cold and windy downtown like it’s apt to do this time of the year. I look around. Some things never change. At least they don’t change very quickly. Maybe sometimes it takes a new vehicle to move things along a little.
After all, what good is it to be a “good old boy” if you don’t stir it up a little when you can?
I’m done thinking.
“Crap or git off the pot!” My old man used to say.
Janice always hated that saying.
I walk on past the diner because the hunger has been replaced. Past the square and on a block farther to one of the many off-the-square houses converted to an office. Will a new vehicle make a difference? I don't know. Anyway, it will be fun to see some people squirm a little.
I love this early retirement.
I shrug up my shoulders and shake my head.
“Well hell …, it’s only money.”
I feel for my checkbook in my back pocket and walk into the overly warm offices of Denise Padgett for Mayor.
New vehicle for change?
That's what the man says.
© Donald Baker has resided, with his family, in both big town and small town Indiana. His fiction is inspired by observing human interaction. He has been writing off and on for a number of years. This is his first publication.