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Lord, Take Me Downtown

posted on November 26, 2011 by fractalbob

On Election Night, my father made a run to the liquor store while my mother and I hung around on the deck listening to the returns. Dad texted me from the aisles of whiskey and vodka. “Who’s up in ward 2?”

Me: “Tush.”

Dad: “Nnt fummw bob”

Me: “Sorry. Damn autocorrect.”

I didn’t know until later that my father thought I was being an asshole, helping to spread a rumor about Candidate Humphrey’s alleged dalliances with a married man at City Hall. By the time he got home, Tish Humphrey was the clear winner, Mom and I were three sheets to the wind, and Dad just wanted to catch up. I didn’t find out about the Tush rumor until Thanksgiving Day when my mother took a moment to prepare me before our guests arrived.

At the time, I was lying in the backyard hammock, reading a book. The dog was asleep underneath me.

“Promise me you won’t say anything about Tish Humphrey at dinner,” my mother said.

“Why would I say anything about Tish Humphrey?”

“Don’t fuck with me, Bob,” my mother said, “I still have shit to do.”

“I won’t fuck with you if you tell me what you’re talking about.”

So she told me all about it. And I don’t have to tell you because you already know.

Not long after that, my parents’ house was filled with adults and children who had all done lines of cocaine right before they got out of their SUVs. They chattered and squealed their way through every room on the ground floor. I ran upstairs and took a Xanax.

One of these guests was a man you might know. We’ll call him Johnny because he reminds me of a thug in an outlaw biker movie. And he has been busting my balls since I was fifteen.

“Hey, bright boy,” he said, punching me in the gut. “How you doing?”

“Fine,” I said, hoping he noticed that his hammy fist bounced off my abs.

“Whatchoo doing all the way down here, bright boy? I thought you were living large in the Big Apple? You just laying around now? Living off the fat of the land?”

My mother stepped in. “Bob, take the kids to the den and turn on the TV for them.”

Grateful, I did as I was told.

Johnny’s daughter is a ’tween, and as the little ones settled down in front of the TV, she texted like a mad woman until she threw the phone aside in a fit of pique.

“Everything OK?”

She rebuffed me with a potent scowl, but I have sisters and my moods are inured to such treatment. I would have gotten up and wandered back into the adult herd if I didn’t hate Johnny so much.

Johnny’s daughter retired to the guest bath and when she returned she sat next to me on the sofa. I stood up to watch through the bay windows as my mother showed her female guests the winter garden her son Bob had planted for her. The old dog, still lying under the hammock, raised his head to look at me. “Oui, mon frère,” his baleful gaze said, “what wretched bastards we are.”

“Bob,” said Johnny’s daughter, “when was the last time you saw me?”

“You were this big,” I said, my hand level with my knee.

She giggled, waiting for me to comment on how much she’d grown, but we were called to the table, where I was seated next to Johnny’s wife. Hair teased and frosted, nails painted pearly white, bangles jingling, treacly East Texas drawl hanging in the air. The light had gone out of my father’s eyes, my mother’s sought mine beseechingly, and the vamp at the kid’s table begged me to join her.

Right then I had the urge to curb stomp someone.

But, after the beautiful grace my father said, we took turns, as is tradition in my parents’ home, to tell what we’re thankful for.

“I’m thankful for having a wonderful home to come to when I needed it,” I said, and my mother reached across the table to put her hand on mine. Johnny looked embarrassed for me. If he shit all over the moment, I was going to kill him.

My mother is thankful for some time alone with me — which means without girlfriends, buddies, even my siblings. She and I have spent quality time in the kitchen and the garden since I came home.

My father is thankful for the Bearkats’ best season since 1956 when he was a student at Sam Houston Teachers College.

“I am thankful the mission raised enough money to feed five hundred families this Thanksgiving,” Johnny’s wife said. Just kidding.

And Johnny is thankful for the new City Council and the voters’ overwhelming support of the water plant expansion.

“Hear! Hear!” shouted our guests, raising wine glasses and water goblets. “Huzzah! Amen!”

“Why?” I said.

“What’s it to you, bright boy?” Johnny said. “You’re not gonna be around to reap the benefits of a return to professionalism.”

“That Jack Wagamon,” Johnny’s wife said. “Thank goodness he’s gone.”

My parents sat rigid and tight-lipped. Gossip has never been allowed at our table and certainly not on Thanksgiving.

“And George Russell,” someone else said.

“With those fucking pussy stickers all over everybody’s campaign signs,” Johnny said.

“What?” my mother said. Even George Russell is not capable of the image Johnny had created in her mind’s eye.

“Never mind,” my father said, so my mother turned to me, the son who will not patronize. I described the blue stickers with the line from “Scarface”: “This town is a [cat picture] that I’m going to f##k.”

“That sounds like a threat,” my mother said. “Did anyone call the police?”

“That’s crazy fucking George,” Johnny said.

“What about Goofy Gibbs-Smither-Robinson-Smyth Cousin,” I said, “in his lederhosen and People Shooting Hat?”

“Goofy is harmless,” Johnny said, and still capable of drawing up a contract that will hold up in court. George, however, has slipped into the depths of depravity, they all agreed.

“He wants to legalize abortion,” said one of our female guests.

“It’s already legal,” I said.

“Prostitution,” her husband said.

Fuck it. I might as well break my promise.

“So did Tish Humphrey really sleep her way to City Council?” I said.

No, said our guests. That’s just more of Ugly Huntsville’s scandal and lies.

“Just tell me it wasn’t with Bill Baine.”

“It wasn’t with Bill Baine,” Johnny’s wife said with a suppressed chortle.

“Who’s Bill Baine?” asked Johnny’s daughter.

“Nobody,” Johnny said. “Shut up and eat.”

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