I stopped over yesterday at my friend Beth's house in Hammond, Louisiana. I had not seen her for a while, simply because when I stayed with her in the past she always had an odd assortment of houseguests and it was somewhat stressful and annoying. Beth has a good heart, but she likes to find sparrows with broken wings and try to fix them. Or rather, people who are troubled or have problems come into her home, and she feels she can make them "all better." Sadly, it never seems to work out that way.
As I was leaving, she asked me if I could help her out. "My new friend Rita is here," said Beth. Since you are going to deliver this car to New Orleans, could you take her home on your way?"
"I have been here for nearly 24 hours, and didn't even realize she was here. Where has she been hiding?"
"In the attic. Rita is a bit of an odd duck, but she needs my help. So I tried to keep her here and solve some of her issues, but she is beginning to get on my nerves."
"Wow, that's really saying something," I said. "You are one of the most patient people I know."
"Yes, well, she has worn out her welcome for a while. So could you take her home?"
"And Bill... please be careful what you say."
"I won't say anything to upset or offend her."
"Yeah, well the thing is, you never know what will upset her. For instance, never mention THE WIZARD OF OZ."
"OK..One quick question: why is she in the attic?"
Beth held up a hand in the air. "Trust me, you don't want to know."
"Yes I do, and now I really do."
"Don't go there."
I got into the car and waited, as Beth promised to bring Rita downstairs. When Rita got into the car, I saw a frail woman with a tooth here and a tooth there in her mouth. She eyed me suspiciously, and then snapped her fingers. "What are you waiting for? Get going."
Beth leaned into the car. "Bill, this is Rita. Rita, this is Bill. Have fun." Beth shut the door, and I started the engine.
As we drove out of Beth's neighborhood, Rita shifted in her seat to face me. "So Bill is your name?"
"You listen to me, Bill. As long as I'm in this car, I'm in charge. So you don't speed and you don't drink and you don't do drugs while I'm in the car."
"I mean what I say."
"Gotcha. No problem."
"Don't be flip. Don't be glib. Jeez, I can tell already that I'm not going to like you."
"Everyone likes me, I'm a driving fool."
As I got onto the Interstate highway, I turned on the radio. I had the local NPR station tuned in. The announcer said "Next time on Fresh Air, we take a look at the life of Judy Garland." And then we could hear Judy belting out SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW.
Suddenly, Rita got agitated beyond all reason. "No! No! No WIZARD OF OZ! No, no, no!"
""What's the matter?" I asked.
"The yellow brick road! The wicked witch! Flying monkeys, flying monkeys! Turn it off, turn it off!"
I reached down and changed the station. There was an ad on the AM band for Rush Limbaugh, and his distinctive voice said, "Listen to me right here every day at noon on --"
"No! Please God no, not Rush! He's a commie pinko bohemian bleeding heart libertarian Republican with neo-realist views! I can't stand him! I can't listen to him! Turn it off now! Now!"
And so I turned the radio off. I was extremely rattled and nervous by now, and did not know what to expect next. No wonder Beth wanted me to take her home.
Rita turned to me and smiled, then asked sweetly, "So what do you do for a living?"
"I drive cars."
"Really? That's surprising, considering what a lousy driver you are. Oh my God you're doing 55, slow down, slow down. You are a speed demon! You're a complete maniac! You are a monster!"
"Please calm down."
"Do not presume to tell me what to do. I told you that I'm in charge."
"I just need you to mellow out."
"Mellow? Mellow?" Then she became blissful and began to sing. "They call me Mellow Yellow." She seemed to go into a trance and sang this over and over all the way back to her home in New Orleans. I was so glad to let her out of the car and see her leave. "Thanks for nothing," she said as she got out.
I called after her. "Watch out for the flying monkeys!"
She screamed hysterically and ran off into the night.