Previously Published in Texas Writers Journal Q4 2014 Edition
Sitting in Tracy’s 1973 Vega in front of Bailey’s Grocery Store on a warm October night, we were waiting, like two eagles plucked down in the middle of the Farm Plex to scout for an incoming bus. Not just any bus – the bus that was gonna take Barry Manilow, the Man Who Writes the Songs through our dinky, little town.
“I don’t know, Tracy, really the Halloween carnival wasn’t as bad as I thought,” I said.
“Yeah, it was,” she retorted, fishing for her cherry lip gloss.
The problem was, I wasn’t a Barry Manilow fan, I was way more hip than that. My motto was bring on Aerosmith, Ted Nugent or Peter Frampton. Well at least the Bee Gees anyway. Oh sure, I had spent some time running around humming Mandy, pulling for her to go back and give Barry another chance. She was so unselfish and all that, but I had well been on my way to Rock ‘n Roll, and I preferred to hear Steven Tyler scream to me about Dreaming than listening to Barry moan.
The problem was that there wasn’t much to do in Munville, Texas in the 70s and probably not much to do at any time in the past either, come to think of it.
“I can’t believe Danny Jones, he was so, so….”
“Animated,” Tracy broke in.
“Yeah, that’s it,” I said.
“Oh he’s a pretty good actor if you can draw him out, of his shell, in fact, they all did okay with the haunted house,” said Tracy.
Danny Jones was a perfect kid, never got into trouble, in fact, he was probably the most pristine out of all the church kids that were putting on the haunted house.
“Who was that in with Jimmy Phitts?” asked Tracy.
My eyes strained after the car now in the distance: “I’m not sure,” I answered.
“Oh,” said Tracy.
Not too many people out tonight for a Saturday, there was a dance out at nearby Rhoneville, and that’s where most of the high school kids went to meet others who lived out of town.
“So are you sure he is coming?” I asked.
“Of course, he is on his way to Abilene and this is the only way through,” Tracy said.
I sighed. A habit I had gotten into way too early to express my constant boredom of life, and boy was it ever boring here in Munville, Texas. Another car went by.
“Oh Yipee!” that makes three cars we’ve seen tonight!” I said.
Tracy turned to me and made a face. “Yep, less people around to scare Barry Manilow off!”
“Umm what do you like so much about him?” I asked. “He’s kinda old…”
At least compared to Leif Garrett anyway.
“Well I think he is handsome. I like the music, it’s like he is singing to me,” said Tracy.
Yep, I thought, just like Robert Plant is only screaming for me too.
“Yeah, ok, whose car was that, Cathy Yandell?” I asked.
“I don’t think so, it’s getting too late for her to be out!” laughed Tracy.
“Oh,” I look down the street and the big clock on the 1st National Bank which was now registering 10:30.
“Hey, what did you come up with as the reason that you have a new dent in your car?” I asked.
“The one from the mailboxes or the other?” asked Tracy.
Tracy drove like a wild woman. We had accidentally taken out a couple mail boxes when she dropped her large, cherry coke the day we were out frog hunting and one of the frogs escaped from the jar which had put us in panic mode since we didn’t like animals without hair. Especially jumping all over the backseat. None of that was our thing, it was Mr. Chester’s, the biology teacher’s idea. Apparently he didn’t want to spend valuable school funds on frogs when those dollars could be used in the football program to outfit the Fighting Steers. So Tracy and I became Amphibian Enemy #1. Although we only had to have one frog apiece.
“No, the new dent,” I asked.
“Yep, I told them I cut the corner too short going into the garage,” said Tracy.
“At least it is not too bad,” I said.
Tracy was a pretty good girl, all in all, and so was I, but occasionally it was our turn to throw a small party and the occasion presented itself a week ago when her parents went to a seminar in Abilene. We loaded up in the car with my cousin Bobby and headed to the beer joint to purchase some Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill: the nectar of rural American teenagers.
“I’ll bet they know you had a party,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” said Tracy.
I distinctly remembered someone knocking off that Italian vase that her parents had in the piano room.
“How does that vase look?” I asked.
Tracy frowned. “It’s coming along, I’m trying to glue it exactly and I can use some paint to cover the lines,” she said.
Tracy’s house was a lot different than mine. No expensive collectibles anywhere, and my mother never left to go to conferences, just to the Rest Home where she worked. I couldn’t figure out the rest part of it, cause it didn’t look to me that anybody ever got any rest there, especially her.
“You mean your mother hasn’t missed it?” I asked.
“Nope, not yet,” said Tracy nonchalantly.
“But its kinda big….did you ever find out who knocked it over? And what about Abe Lincoln’s head, I think you glued his eyebrow on crooked?”
“Well nobody is gonna confess, but I think Eddie Scoggins, he was plastered,” said Tracy.
“If I comb my hair in the middle, then curl the bottom part, can I get the Jackie Smith look?” asked Tracy, attempting to scrunch her hair in the process.
“Yeah probably,” I replied although I was seriously doubtful. I had failed miserably at copying Farrah. I had studied the yearbook pictures I had recently taken and it looked like I had taken two orange juice cans and put on the sides of my hair, while all the rest of it stayed flat and stick straight. So I knew, quite forlornly, that I had to give it up.
“What do you think if I color it too?” asked Tracy.
“With your parents, right?…then we may as well put you on the bus with Barry when it comes through,” I said.
“Oh lookie, it’s Johnny Larson,” I said.
“Eww he’s so cute!” said Tracy.
He was, and I had actually gone out with him, then later had to slug his ex-girlfriend in the nose because she kept harassing me.
“Yeah, so what? Guess we will just have to leave it at that,” I said.
“Ha ha, you hit Gayle Grisley smack in the nose, blood everywhere,” laughed Tracy.
“Good times,” I sulked. “It wasn’t over Johnny Precious either, like everyone thinks. It was Gayle and her hyena girl pack.”
“They put that bloody picture of Carrie on your locker with your name on it,” said Tracy trying not to laugh.
“Oh, and not to mention her sister Marilyn going through my wallet and stealing photos,” I said.
“Now she’s a witch to be sure,” said Tracy.
We both knew there was nothing worse than a spying, back-stabbing fake friend which in the future would evolve into the word: Frenemy.
“Well anyway, they kept coming by my house all hours of the night, laying on the horn,” I said.
“Yeah, I remember, they came by when we were in your garage trying to hide the
Boone’s Farm behind that old metal thing that belonged to your grandpa,” said Tracy.
“It had even gotten to the point where they were chasing my mother because they thought I was driving the car.”
“Yeah, Gayle had it coming,” said Tracy.
I was glad my grandmother hadn’t found out I slugged her, I knew she would be disappointed in me.
“Well never mind Gayle, what happens if they find out about the vase?” I asked.
“They won’t, I’m doing it right,” said Tracy.
“Maybe they won’t discover it until you are twenty-five and have moved away,” I said.
“You’ll see,” said Tracy confidently.
“We sure need a different place for parties, no more at your house,” I said.
Surprisingly Tracy nodded. “Yeah, they made a mess.”
We both had to clean up until mid-morning and then we had to go to the Lion’s Club to serve punch and coffee. I kept nodding off to sleep, staring straight ahead at Mr. Schubert’s glasses thinking how big they were and trying desperately to keep my head from flopping around.
“We both fit in that day, half the Lion’s Club always sleeps during lunch presentations,” said Tracy.
“Next year I think the haunted house needs more blood,” I said thinking of Gayle’s nose.
“Maybe,” said Tracy. “I think even the fake blood scares Charla so bad.”
“Time to recast the cast!” I said.
The big clock on the bank now read a few minutes past 11.
“Hey look, here comes a big something!”
“Ahh maybe!!” said Tracy.
We both looked down the street at the lights in the distance. The streets were still pretty much empty again, a small light from Bailey’s grocery poured out onto the concrete. I had loved that store as a little girl. It was right around the corner from my grandmother’s house, a squarish rock building with a double door. I had gone in many a summer to escape the heavy, Texas heat. Once inside, I enjoyed the cold blast from the air conditioner while shopping for an orange push up and roaming the rows and shelves up front looking for a treasure I needed, but that normally cost too much, waiting on my grandmother who had stopped at the meat market buying lunch meat that Mr. Bailey had finely cut and wrapped in white paper with matching tape.
“Oh darn it!” exclaimed Tracy. This sudden exclamation of discontent brought my mind back from inside the store to deal with the absence of one very popular Pop Star, The Man Who Writes the Songs. By now Tracy was definitely one of those young girls who felt like crying. I was unhappy too, I wish we could at least listen to the radio. The last time when we were sitting at the grocery, playing California surfers with the shopping carts, which we meticulously put up afterward, right after Tracy pushed me into the street then Robbie Burns narrowly missed running me over in her car, which she would have done if she knew I was in the cart.
“Nope not a bus,” I say absently.
“Ya think?” said Tracy sarcastically as Tommy Tolliver’s truck rolled by. He honked and waved at us.
“Woohoo!, does he want a cookie?” asked Tracy.
“Annoying,” I agreed.
“Remember when we ran the battery down listening to the radio?” I asked.
“Yeah which is why we aren’t doin’ it now,” she said. “It’s Manilow Mania Hour at KONIN.”
“Really? Last week it was Ted Thursday,” I said.
“Cat Scratch Mess….it hurts my ears,” said Tracy.
“Maybe you haven’t really listened,” I said
“Oh I hear it blaring from your room when I come over,” said Tracy.
“Your cousin Bobby was a jerk,” she said.
“Unh?” I asked.
“About the radio, when we ran the battery down…”
“Oh yeah, he can be,” I said.
“Especially now that he’s getting’ ready to join the marines.”
I remembered last Sunday dinner at grandmother’s when Bobby was all out of sorts, criticizing me, wanting to leave, then not wanting to leave this town.
“But you said you had to get out of here,” I said.
“I have to, there isn’t anything here,” Bobby said.
“I don’t know, a lot of people find stuff to do,” I said.
“Well there isn’t, just you wait, you will have to work til you die. Die, got it?” he said.
“Umm, ok,” I said. Then I got up to get seconds on the peach cobbler so in case I died that night, I could go out happy. The marines might just do him some good, he might learn to pick up his stuff and make his bed so Aunt Julia wouldn’t have to keep catering to him.
“At the Copa…Copa Cabana….wonder where he’s staying in Abilene?” I asked.
“Why? He’s coming through here,” Tracy said vehemently.
“Well, ok, but if he figures out another route, maybe we could go to the hotel and pretend like we work there and get his autograph,” I said
“That’s kinda stupid,” said Tracy shrugging her shoulders to the side and giving me her best Charlie’s Angels stance.
Personally I though we were more Laverne and Shirley than Charlie’s Angels.
“It’s weird how you never see Charlie, isn’t it?’
“Not really, doesn’t bother me,” said Tracy.
Another car was coming at us, getting closer. I realized it was Penelope Watts. Darn the luck, she was pulling up to talk to us.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” said Tracy.
“What are ya’ll up to?” asked Penelope.
“Nothing really,” said Tracy.
“Nobody is out tonight,” said Penelope.
“No one much,” I answered.
“Have you seen Keith?” asked Penelope looking straight at me.
I wanted to say no, nobody has seen your deadbeat, two-timing boyfriend and nobody wants to, but I didn’t.
“Nope,” said Tracy.
“Have ya’ll been here all night?” asked Penelope.
“Mostly,” I said.
I didn’t trust her. I bet she knew all about Marilyn’s Carrie plan for me. In fact, if I found it was so, her car might be a good target for my grandma’s discarded green tomatoes.
“Ok then,” said Penelope with a smirk. “I’m gonna go home, ya’ll have fun.” Penelope backed her Monte Carlo out and headed south, one less person I didn’t like.
“Hey Tracy, did I tell ya, Alice got a new car?”
“No you didn’t, what kind?”
“A Pinto,” I said.
“Oh cool, she needed one.” And we both laughed.
“Where did Reid go?” asked Tracy.
“He went off to college at Angelo State,” I said
“Oh right, I remember , I take piano lessons with his sister.”
“Did he ever date Alice?” she asked.
“Nope, he didn’t,” I said.
“Will you be sorry to see Bobby go to the marines?” asked Tracy.
“No, I won’t. He is mean sometimes, plus it means more dessert for me at grandma’s,” I smiled.
“Ya know, we are almost seniors,” said Tracy.
“I know,” I said. Thinking that most everybody I had hung out with had either left or were getting ready to…school, military, attempts to sideline pop stars passing through the area…
Down the street, the big clock now showed shortly after midnight. I was sleepy and just wanted to go home.
“Ya know, Tracy, I just don’t think….”
“Let’s stay a little longer, you just never know,” said Tracy.
I looked sideways at her, I could see she was doubting now herself.
“Why do you think Elvis went to Seymour and not here?” I asked.
“Oh I think he came through here.”
Of course she did… “Oh yeah, on his way to Abilene too…” I said.
The town was now deserted and Tracy and I were like two shadows in the night. The small lights from Bailey’s Grocery still filtered outside. I could make out the Coke sign: “Its the Real Thing!” The grocery carts were neatly parked like metal soldiers in a row. The downtown square was long silent and a block over, down the street my grandmother had long turned out her lights.
“I kinda miss summer,” I said.
“Yeah me too,” said Tracy.
The cool October air floated through the window when Tracy finally shifted her position and turned the in the ignition. KOMA radio sprang to life, the late show was on. I was thinking it might be appropriate if the Copa Cabana was playing, but no, instead it was Frampton.
Off we went into the night, streets deserted, stars shining, the Halloween carnival long over, streets folded up, this small world sound asleep and Tracy steering the Vega homeward.
“I hope he doesn’t come now we are gone,” she said.