Saturday, October 22, 2011
A gal named Zola from Savannah insisted that I come and stay with her next time I was headed that way. She sounded like a real interesting person, and she was so full of wonder about A Driving Fool. I was intrigued enough to stop there last week, and it was an unforgettable experience.
She had described to me living with her family in a penthouse. Well, I guess it was an apartment, but it was in a large area full of extremely low-income housing. I was grateful for the bed, and walked in with no expectations. Zola with the flaming red hair gave me a big hug and welcomed me, but I was distracted by the overwhelming aroma of dog and cat piss and crap. And as I walked in, I saw small piles everywhere. It was like navigating a small mine field.
"Do you like cats, Bill? Do you like dogs? I hope so, cuz I have 2 dogs and 6 cats. Yes, you did hear me right."
"I do like dogs." One of her dogs began to bite at the cuff of my jeans, growling and chewing.
"Stop it, Beanie. That one is Beanie, and the other one is Cecil. You may smell the poop, but you get used to it."
"Come on in and meet the family. You know I never read your blogs, I have too short an attention span. I just read your Facebook posts."
She led me into a tiny living room, where twin boys sat cramming cheese balls into their mouths (from a huge jar full of them) as they watched TV. "Mom, I'm hungry," one of them said.
"These are my boys, Timmy and Tommy."
"Did you hear him, we are so hungry," said the other boy. Each of them looked to weigh over 300 lbs. "We're starving."
"My boys are juniors in high school this year. Am I proud? Well of course I'm proud. Why wouldn't I be proud? You'd be proud too if you were a parent, only you're not, but if you were. At least, now wait a minute, maybe you are a parent and I just don't know about it?"
"Nope, no kids."
"As far as you know," she said, winkly broadly and elbowing me in the ribs with surprising force. "My husband Deano is in the bedroom. He probably won't be coming out, you won't see much of him."
"Yes, see Deano doesn't like people much. Except for his family. And you are not a member of this family. Well, you kind of are, I mean I feel like you are in my heart, but then, you know, he's not me. Deano is very much his own man."
I walked over to a torn chair and sat down. "OK if I sit here?"
"Yes, of course, sit, sit, for God's sake make yourself comfortable. This is my home, not a prison farm. You visit with the boys, I have to go check something in the kitchen."
"Bring us back something" said one of the boys, his mouth full of cheese balls.
"How are you guys doing?" I asked.
"Shut up," said Tommy , or Timmy.
"We're trying to watch our cartoons," said the other one. I couldn't help looking at them and thinking of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Only with an attitude.
Zola came in carrying a huge tray full of serving bowls. "Dinner is served. I made a special meal just for you, in honor of you, our special guest a driving fool." She took the bowls off and set them on the table. One had potato chips, one had corn chips, another had pretzels, and still another had popcorn, and the last one looked like pork rinds. Timmy and Tommy nearly dove head first into the bowls, seemingly starving for more. I'm on a diet where I'm not supposed to be eating any of this type of thing, so I nibbled slowly on a pretzel.
Beanie chose this moment to come over and squat down next to me and poop. "What do you do about this?" I asked Zola, who seemed oblivious.
She shrugged. "What can you do? What can anyone do? We take them out for walks sometimes, but they seem to prefer to poop and pee in the house. You get used to it. Isn't that funny? The cats do it too, sometimes, well not all of them, but most of them. Right boys?"
"Shut up, Mom, we're watching cartoons."
"Oh Tommy," she said sweetly.
"I'm Timmy!" he shouted.
"I'm Timmy, you're Tommy," said the other one.
"Hmm," I said. "What I meant was what do you do with the end result? What they leave behind?"
"Someone will pick it up eventually. Its not like we can go around all day just picking up their poop. Right? I mean, right?"
"Right," I said, without much conviction. I know I should accept that different people live in different ways, but something about this just felt wrong. Then I heard a roaring growl from the next room.
Zola laughed. "That's just my husband Deano. He has some rage issues, but don't you worry about it one little bit." Then she began talking for an hour and seemed to never stop to take a breath. She was talking about a lot of very strange and unusual topics, ranging from war to jobs, to government to sex. Every so often one of her sons would interrupt to tell her to shut up so they could hear their cartoons.
After an hour, I told her that I had to leave at 5 the next day to get down the road. "So I better turn in early."
"You mean 5pm?"
"No Zola, 5am."
"5am in the morning? Now I know you are teasing me, no one gets up at 5am, that's when people are just getting to sleep."
"That's when I'm leaving, no joke."
"You ain't kidding its no joke, that is seriously messed up. I feel for you. Well, Tommy gave up his bedroom for you, so you can go lay down right now. Let me show you the way." Zola led me down a hallway, and opened a door and turned on the light. Cecil was squatting and answering nature's call. "Oh Cecil, you are so sweet, you're leaving a little welcome gift for Mr. Bill Thomas. The driving fool!" She giggled and ran out of the room.
I looked around for something I could throw on the floor to cover up all of the many brown streaks left behind. Then I cleaned up Cecil's latest pile. There was a knock at the door. "Yes?"
Zola came back in with a yellow and green-sided scrubbing sponge, and a can of Ajax and a towel. "I brought you some stuff in case you want to take a shower in the morning."
"You want me to clean out your shower stall?"
"No silly, you clean yourself with this. It can be used as hair and body wash."
"Ajax. Stronger than dirt. As least that's what they say. Though I don't know who 'they' is."
"Mom, when are you gonna feed us, we're hungry!" came the bellow of one of the boys.
"I'm needed elsewhere. Sweet dreams."
I laid across the bed. The sheets looked very dirty, but I guessed I would just shower as good as I could in the morning.
At 3am, I awoke from a dream feeling as if there was something crawling on me. All over me. I jumped up and turned on the light, and saw that the bed was covered with what looked like mini-cockroaches. I'm not too sure what they were, but there were a lot of them. And some were still crawling on me, so I yelled out as I brushed them off my body.
Zola came bursting into the room. "Are you OK? I heard yelling."
"Sorry," I said, pointing at the bed. She looked and saw all the bugs crawling there.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you, we have a slight insect problem. Nothing too serious. I think maybe the bugs like the dog poop. Go figure, right? You get used to it."
I don't think I could ever get used to it. I got up and took a soapless shower, then hit the road a little earlier than planned. Zola hugged me when I left and said she'd be counting the days until the next time I come through there. "You'll get quite a good story out of this visit, I'll bet. The coolest house with the hippest people ever."
Thursday, October 6, 2011
I haven’t talked about this in over a year. Strange things happen to me on the road all the time, but this was actually bizarre and frightening.
I rarely deliver cars up to North Dakota, but I had one I was supposed to take to a small community just north of Fargo. My research had showed me it was going to be a real challenge to get out of there once the car was delivered. A lot of buses just to get to the next big city. My boss Riff had made it very clear to me that there was a package I was supposed to pick up from Mr. Gilford, the man who’d be getting a new company car. Riff said to get the package and send it to his office via Priority Mail.
The delivery time was arranged, and as I was driving north I kept on thinking of the movie FARGO. I know it was only a movie, but I kept on wondering if there might be any oddball characters that would cross my path there. Of course, odd people come my way nearly every single day. Bill’s people.
I arrived at the Gilford home at 10 in the morning, as instructed. It was a ramshackle house, all the way at the end of a deserted road. No other houses were anywhere near it. Mr. Gilford opened the door quickly after I knocked. “Bill Thomas?” he asked.
“Yes sir,” I said cheerfully.
“Get in here, quick, quick.” I stepped inside and he closed the door behind me very fast. “Sorry to rush you, but I need to keep that door closed. You never know who may be trying to slip inside. You know how it is, right?”
“Come on in the den, I was just watching the Vikings game. You like the Vikings?”
“They’re OK, but I’m a southern boy, so—“
“I won’t hold that against you.” We stepped into the den, and he had a large console TV from the 70's, the kind in a big cabinet. There was an old VCR on top of the TV. “This is one of my favorite games, from back in ’99. I save all of them on the VHS tape, don’t you know.”
“Really?” I found this interesting, because most of America uses either DVR or TiVo now. I remember when I used to record all my favorite shows on VCR, back in the 90’s.
Mr. Gilford seemed jumpy. “I have some paperwork to get for you. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll go find that package. Enjoy the game, the Vikings just might make a believer out of you.”
I sat on the torn up couch and began looking at the game. After a couple of minutes, the game was interrupted. Clearly, someone had used the tape and recorded over it. I couldn’t tell what I was watching at first. Then I could see it was an elderly woman moving along slowly on her walker. Shockingly, someone jumped in front of her wearing a gorilla mask. The old woman screamed. The guy wearing the mask yanked it off his head and screamed “Why don’t you just die, Aunt Ethel?”
The old woman was clearly shaken up badly. “Why? Why? Why Toby? Why do you treat me this way?”
“Because I hate you, Aunt Ethel! Because I want you gone!” Toby rushed to the camera and screamed into it. Then the scene switched to another location at another time. It appeared to be in the garage. Aunt Ethel was moving very cautiously on her walker.
“Hello?” she called out. “Is somebody there? Hello?” Suddenly, darts were being thrown at her, and she looked at the camera and exclaimed. “Why? Why, Toby? Please stop throwing thoe darts at me. Someone could get hurt.”
Toby’s voice could be heard off camera shouting, “I sure do hope so. That's the plan.”
Aunt Ethel began to speed up on the walker, and was going as fast as she could. “Toby, you’re making me go too fast, and this old walker of mine won’t take it.” She screamed as the walker collapsed into pieces and she fell to the ground. Toby stepped in front of the camera and grinned, holding out his hand full of bolts and screws. In the background, Aunt Ethel’s voice could be heard pleading. “Why? Why? Why must it be this way, Toby?”
Once again, the scene changed, and the camera was filming in the room where I was sitting. In the den. The camera point of view walked around the room and finally rested on the closet door. A hand reached out and opened the door, and poor Aunt Ethel was scrunched up on the floor whimpering. “Toby, please help me.”
Toby’s voice could be heard from behind the camera. “Why should I want to help you, you sick old witch?”
“Why, Toby, why? Why do you treat me this way?”
“You should have died a long time ago. Your very existence makes me crazy. Tell anyone about this and I will kill you.”
“I’m sorry, Toby. I love you!”
“Oh, shut up,” he yelled, and his hand came into view and stuffed a rag in her mouth. Toby closed the closet door and then turned the camera onto himself. “I am the man, I reign supreme. I will live forever, no more Aunt Ethel.” Then he let out an evil laugh. And then the tape went back to the football game. The Vikings were winning.
I stared at the closet door. I was transfixed by it. I got up and slowly walked over to the closet, afraid of what I might find. But I had to open it. I threw open the door, and found it full of junk. No Aunt Ethel.
“What are you doing?” It was Mr. Gilford, and I nearly jumped through the ceiling from the surprise.
“I was just… sorry, I mean, I was only… I didn’t…”
“Never mind,” he said. “I got your package here.” As he handed it to me, I noticed a picture of Toby among other family pictures on a shelf near the TV. There was also a picture of Aunt Ethel. Mr. Gilford picked up the picture of Toby.
“That guy looks sort of familiar to me.”
“Really?” he said sadly. “That was my nephew Toby. Tragic story, really.”
“My mother was living here with me. And Toby came to stay for a while. He adored my Mom, thought she hung the moon. Loved that woman so much.” He began to tear up, clearly choked up. “This was just over a year ago. Anyhow, one day my mom, Ethel was her name, she just lost her mind. Somehow she got behind the wheel of my car, and she ran over poor Toby. Dragged his body all over the backyard. It was really horrible. I was able to keep her out of jail, but had to commit her to a Home. She had clearly become a danger to herself and to others.”
I handed Mr. Gilford a clipboard. “Just sign here, and the car is all yours.”
As he was signing, he said, “Now how are you getting out of here?”
“There’s a bus depot a few blocks away. I’ll be fine.”
“Listen, I’m sorry for sharing that personal stuff about my family. It breaks my heart that my Mom just went nuts like that. And for absolutely no good reason.”
I started out the door, then turned around. “How long since you’ve watched this game on tape, Mr. Gilford?”
“I don’t know, maybe a few years.”
“You just missed a really good play while you were out of the room, I suggest you rewind the tape.”
“Thanks Bill, I’ll do that.”
As I walked away, I hoped that he would watch and perhaps gain some insight. Meanwhile, thinking about it still gives me the chills.