All posts by richardlowellparker

Rick Parker is an American artist, cartoonist, and humor writer well known in the comics world as the artist of MTV's Beavis and Butt-Head Comic Book (published by Marvel Entertainment 1994-1996). He is also the writer and artist of the self-published graphic novel, "Deadboy", as well as being the illustrator of the Papercutz Slices parody series of graphic novels, "Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid", "Harry Potty and the Deathly Boring", "breaking down", (a Twilight parody), "Percy Jerkson and the Ovolactovegetarians", "The Hunger Pains", and "The Farting Dead". Rick Parker was one of the four artists of The Pekar Project, which brought new original illustrated stories of autobiographical comics pioneer, Harvey Pekar to the web in 2009-2010. Rick Parker resides in Maine with his family where he draws cartoons, teaches cartooning and writes this blog.

The King of Battle

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It wasn’t long before I joined forces with my class and was assigned to Golf Battery Class 7-67. For about fifteen minutes at the very beginning we were all strangers to one another and together we occupied two large wooden barracks which reminded me of the ones I had become acquainted with back at Fort Jackson.

That was comforting.

There were sixty-six of us Lower-Classmen (weeks 1-8) and we were supervised by a host of Middle-Classmen (weeks 9-16) who were at least 8 weeks ahead of us in the program, slept in their own barracks nearby and were indistinguishable from us except for their superior attitude and two small rectangular pieces of green felt which they wore in between their brass O.C.S. insignia and their shirt collar.

 

Upper Classmen (weeks 17-23) radiated a sense of superiority to everyone and were at least 8 weeks ahead of the Middle Classmen and wore two small squares of red felt tabs on their shoulders, one on each side. In the final week, all Upper-Classmen got to wear large horseshoe-shaped metal “clickers” on the heels of their low-quarters. The experience of seeing and hearing a battery of Upper-Classmen marching in formation to the mess hall or anywhere else in their clickers was unforgettable and even as it was happening, I knew I would never see it again after O.C.S. It seemed impossible for me to imagine that I would ever progress to their level.

And I have a pretty good imagination.

Artillery O.C.S. was an intense 23-week course of physical, psychological and artillery training, punctuated by constant harassment from our superiors, in which we attended classes everyday conducted by regular, active-duty officers and non-commissioned officers/instructors from the regular army and Marine Corps. Most of the classes took place in various large classrooms in a building called Snow Hall. As the course progressed, classroom instruction in directing artillery fire was augmented by more and more field training and hands-on live-fire experience utilizing a battery of 105 mm Howitzers.

 

The purpose of O.C.S was to generate a steady stream of small-unit commanders and forward observers for use against an enemy in the field. At the time, the United States was engaged in a war in Vietnam. I assumed that is where I would be going. Part of the reason I had wanted to become an officer was that I thought it might increase my chances of survival, and sometime later, when I embarrassingly confessed this to a combat veteran he just chuckled and said a forward observer had an increased chance of lasting about two minutes.

 

One of the first things I remember during the first couple of days was being taken by truck to a place that reminded me of a football field, but with bleachers only on one side. It had been erected at the edge of a very large open area–a “Firing Range” and there were old car bodies scattered in the distance which had been painted various bright colors.

Off to our right was a battery of six howitzers and their crews. An officer, a captain, with a microphone was down in front of us and he called in a fire mission on “red junk”. It was five hundred yards or so away in the distance, and looked like a 55 Chevy with no wheels.

 

 Off to our right, two 105mm howitzers went into action. In less than a minute, they fired simultaneously, and in ten seconds or so, two large and silent plumes of dirt were thrown into the air near the “red junk”, followed by the sounds of a distant explosion.

Then the instructor, who was looking at the red junk through his field glasses, said, “Drop five zero, fire for effect.”

In another ten seconds or so, the muzzles of six howitzers simultaneously issued their projectiles into the hot Oklahoma sky and about six seconds later the entire area around the red car body erupted as if a volcano had instantly formed underneath it, and bits and pieces of red metal could be seen flying through the air in all directions.

I don’t know about the others, but I was impressed.

Then the instructor said something and all six 105mm howitzer crews sprang into action and as the 105’s were being towed away by big green trucks, more trucks brought in six 155 mm howitzers and the entire process repeated itself with even more devastating force off in the distance on  yellow junk.

It may have been a Ford this time, it was hard to tell.

My contemporaries seated all around me in the bleachers, all looked around at each other with smirks on their faces and began nodding their heads.

 

Then the instructor gave another order and then a truck rolled in towing an 8 inch howitzer and its gun crew jumped off the back of the vehicle even before it had stopped rolling and in less than a minute, had set it set up. For a howitzer, it was short and thick and strong-looking.

Fortunately it was not  pointed at us.

The instructor called in another fire mission, but this time it was directed at a blue car body that was only a few hundred yards directly in front of us. One of the crew frantically turned a wheel and the barrel of the howitzer was soon pointed almost straight up.  

In short order there was a fairly loud BOOM and at the same time, something about the size of an army footlocker shot out the muzzle and was in the air.

You could see the projectile, it was so large.

We all followed its progress directly to the target with our eyes and in about ten or twelve seconds, where, before there had been an old blue Studebaker, or perhaps a Packard, I wasn’t sure of the year, there was suddenly a blinding flash of light, followed almost immediately by an angry rumble and in about twenty seconds, when the smoke cleared there was only a large hole in the ground where the car had been and small pieces of blue metal were still raining down from the clear blue sky for some time afterward.

Some of my contemporaries began to squirm in their seats with excitement.

 

Then, as if all this had not been enough, it was time for dessert.

Our attention was directed off to our left– and then a gun crew of four or five jumped up seemingly out of nowhere–or maybe holes in the ground– and yanked the cover off something large which I had noticed earlier and had incorrectly assumed was just a large pile of dirt.

It was a 175mm howitzer.

It was long and lean and reminded me somewhat of Dino the Dinosaur on a sign at the corner gas station down the street from where I grew up.

 

The instructor then directed our attention to “white junk” that was so far off in the distance that I couldn’t tell whether it was a car body– or a small building.

Our instructor called in another fire mission and just as before, in less than a minute, the long barrel of the 175 spit fire and out came a large projectile and then way off in the distance whatever it was, was no more.

 

I was just beginning to feel pretty cocky when we were all marched out of the bleachers and ordered to get back on the trucks and taken back to our barracks where along with two or three others, I was handed a bucket and a sponge and some scouring powder and spent the remainder of the time before our evening meal cleaning the latrine.

 

March Order!

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The food at O.C.S. was great.

 

We just never got to eat very much of it.

 

We lived on “grotto”, (candy and cheap, factory-made, 20-cent apple pies) the money for which we had given in coin to one of our contemporaries and which he placed in a pillowcase as he went around and took our orders while we swept, scrubbed and waxed the floor and cleaned the latrines, sinks and mirrors prior to lights out.

 

When the cleaning work was done, and in our stocking feet, after we had carefully made our way to our “cubes”, or cubicles without stepping on the floor, we would magically find whatever we had ordered at the expense of a quarter or so, tucked neatly under the dust cover –or blanket covering the pillow on our bunks. It was like a grown-up version of the tooth fairy–only with candy instead of money.

Then we would quickly strip down to our shorts and a T-shirt and try to get into our bunks without disturbing the sheets and blankets too much, so the next morning we could just pop right up, tighten the blankets and sheets with a tug and fall out for reveille. Then the lights went out and the middle-classmen who was designated to supervise us that evening would walk up and down the middle of the floor with his boots on that we had just spent an hour and a half polishing. He would tell us a bedtime story–or invite one of us to. I had never had anything much happen to me before going into the army, so I just lay on my bunk and listened.

That’s when I would start to hear it.

It” was the sound of my contemporaries trying to unwrap their grotto in the dark, without making any noise while lying flat on their backs.

I would live on Baby Ruths and Apple pie for the next six months.

But we were taken to the mess hall three times every day.

Careful to keep my eyes glued to the back of the shoulder area of the officer candidate in front of me, I filed into the mess hall rapidly and hungrily, until I had come to my very own place at one of the dozen or so long tables. There were four of us on each side.  An upper classman, the “Table Commandant” and the “Gunner”, a middle classman, had already seated themselves at opposite ends of the table.

 

The table itself had only just been laid with steaming platters of meat and vegetables and bowls of other types of delicious food which we dared not look at until we were seated. Empty trays, paper napkins, stainless steel knives, forks and spoons and an empty plastic tumbler stood beside each metal tray. There was a large stainless steel pitcher of water at each end of the table.

We stood stiff as boards behind our chairs until we were given permission to be seated bolt-upright, which we quickly did, but only on the first four inches of our wooden chairs.

The Table Commandant, an Upper-classman, seated at the end of the table to my far left, spoke first.

“Candidates–bow your heads for a moment of silent prayer. One of your contemporaries choked to death on a candy bar last night.”

After about ten seconds of my trying to process this deeply disturbing information, he added, “God Bless our fighting forces in Vietnam and all officer candidates.”

My eyes remained steadfastly fixed on the nametag of the officer candidate directly across the table from me. The “Table Commandant” then reached out and picked up the tray with the main course on it, and using the large metal serving spoon accompanying each tray, helped himself to what I can only imagine, as I was not allowed to look around me, was a large helping of something scrumptious and nourishing.

Then he passed the platter to my contemporary to his immediate right, who in turn, passed it to the candidate to his right and so on until it had reached the gunner at the far end of the table.

This middle-classman then helped himself to whatever portion he wanted and proceeded to pass the tray to the by-now drooling officer candidate to his right, my contemporary, (the “assistant gunner”).

“You may now pass the food,” declared the Table Commandant, whereupon the various officer candidates, all underclassmen, barely glancing down at whichever platter or bowl of food was in front of them, gingerly picked up the platters or bowls and using the metal serving spoons or tongs, placed a modest amount of food onto their trays and then passed that particular dish to the candidate to their immediate right. In a minute or two everyone then had a tray of food in front of himself and then table commandant, who had been watching every set of eyes and noting every body-posture gave the command to “Begin eating.”

 

Still, without removing their gaze for even one second from the nametag of the candidate across the table from them, each of my contemporaries slowly reached out toward the white paper napkin nearest his tray.

The napkin had been folded into a neat little triangle and the eating utensils were carefully placed on it with the knife on the outside facing inward and the fork next to it. The spoon was on the inside closest to each officer candidate. If you were right-handed you picked up your fork with that hand and your other hand remained in your lap as you sat bolt upright on the front four inches of your chair.

Then you secured a piece of food, no bigger than your thumbnail of whatever on your tray appealed to you and raised that to your mouth and quickly returned your fork to the right corner of your tray and dropped whichever hand you had just used to your lap to join your idle hand.

Only then were you allowed to chew.

You were allowed only three chews and then required to swallow whatever small bit of food was in your mouth.

Sometimes it was hard to swallow– because it was hard to tell if anything was in your mouth.

Then you were allowed to pick up your fork once again–and in some cases you used two hands to secure food. One hand held the fork while the other hand held the knife which was used to cut off the thumbnail-sized piece of food.

Once the food had been cut, the knife was quickly replaced on the corner of your tray, facing inward, the fork was raised to your mouth, then placed back in the corner next to the knife, your hand was sharply returned to your lap and you took your three chews.

And then tried to swallow.

 If anyone wanted to speak, he extended his fist out in front of him over the table and in short order he was recognized by the Table Commandant.

What is it, Candidate Fourth on my right….?”

 

“Sir, Candidate Parker! Sir…… Would the Table Commandant care for any peach cobbler at this time?”

If his response was affirmative,  as in “Yes, I would, thank you, Candidate,” it was immediately followed by the candidates’ passing the peach cobbler down the table to him.

Or, perhaps he would say, “After you, candidate.”

If his response was negative, the starving candidate would then ask, “….Sir, would the Middle-classman at this table (the Gunner) care for any peach cobbler at this time?”

If the answer was negative, the cobbler-starved candidate would then ask, “Sir, would any of my contemporaries at this table care for any peach cobbler at this time?

If you were lucky, your contemporaries would all answer in unison,

After you, contemporary,” at which time the food would be passed to you and you could help yourself to a small spoonful.

 

For whatever reason, knowing that I wasn’t going to be getting to eat very much of anything under this system, and owing in part, perhaps to my being from Georgia, I determined that if I was going to be able to eat only one thing at this meal, it was going to be peach cobbler.

 

I boldly stuck my fist out over the table and with my arm rigid. I was recognized by the Table Commandant. “Yes, what is it,  Candidate Fourth on my right….?”

I went through the various steps until I got to the step where I asked, “Sir, would any of my contemporaries care for any peach cobbler at this time?”

 

It was if I had called his Mother a bad name. WHAT DID YOU SAY, CANDIDATE??” he demanded to know.

I started to repeat what I said when he rudely interrupted. “ON YOUR FEET, CANDIDATE!!”

“NOW, SAY AGAIN, WHAT YOU JUST SAID!–AND LOUDER THIS TIME!”

 

Standing at attention behind my chair, I shouted out to the other one hundred or so officer candidates in the mess hall.“SIR–WOULD ANY OF MY CONTEMPORARIES CARE FOR ANY PEACH COBBLER AT THIS TIME?

There came a rather satisfying chorus from the starving multitude. The windows rattled with their answer.


“NO THANK YOU CANDIDATE!”

 

I sat back down and with the resounding affirmation I had just received, I felt elated at the attention I had just gotten and momentarily forgot about my growling stomach.

 

“MARCH ORDER!!” Commanded the Table Commandant.

Everyone dropped their forks and immediately began passing their heaping food-laden trays to the fourth candidate on his right.

Me.

As the “assistant gunner” it was my duty  to scrape all of that luscious peach cobbler and other food onto one big tray –and then take it back to the kitchen and dump it in one of the 55-gallon garbage cans arrayed there for that purpose.

 

As I approached the can, being careful not to “dog-eye”--or look around, I could see it was already about three-quarters full of peach cobbler.

I added ours to the pile.

As I did an about-face and stepped back, I could see the forlorn face and sad eyes of one of the cooks watching me.

I wondered what it felt like to make such good food, only to see it thrown away at every meal.

 

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Blow Job Lips

 

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It was the late 70’s in Lower Manhattan.

We hadn’t been going out very long when one of my friends invited me to a party in a fifth floor walk-up in Tribeca. 

I wanted to show her a good time.

She took her time getting ready and we left my place about ten that night and walked downtown a block, crossed Canal Street, walked another block and we were there.

I was wearing black pants and a raw silk shirt with a red leather tie and a vintage 40’s dark blue jacket with silver threads running all through it. She had on tan bell-bottom pants, a white shirt, a dark green jacket gathered at the waist and black high-heel boots.

And red lipstick.

I don’t think I ever saw her without her lipstick.

We found the address on Walker Street easily enough, and I rang the bell and someone buzzed us up. You could hear the music playing from down on the street. I bounded up the stairs and she followed me as best she could in those boots. I think it was one of our first dates.

 

We got to the party, the door was open and we went in. There were eight or ten people there. I didn’t recognize anyone. The couch was empty except for one woman sitting alone so we sat down. I got up to go get us a drink. I was thinking she could talk to the woman while I was gone. Make friends. Then we would know someone. I was next in line for drinks when this guy  walked over to me and said, “Hey, Man–you had better go out there–something’s going on with your date. She’s getting into it with the host’s wife.”

 

I walked back over to where I had left my date on the couch and asked , “What’s the matter?”

The other woman was still seated on the couch casually sipping her drink.

 

“She said I had ‘blow job lips’” my date told me.

 

Just then, some guy I assumed was the host walked over to me and said, “I think you two had better leave.”  

Several people I did not know were now walking toward us to see what was going on. I quickly sized up the situation and said, “Come on,  I think we’d better go.”

 

“I’m not going anywhere, till I’ve slapped that bitch’s face,” said my date.

 

“Excuse me?” I said, while I tried to figure out how to handle the situation.

 

“I’m not going anywhere until I’ve slapped that bitch’s face,” she repeated.

That’s what I thought she had said.

 

“All right”, I said. Whereupon she took a step over to the couch where the woman was still sitting sipping her drink and slapped her across the face so hard that the woman’s head turned all the way to the right and the woman’s glass of white wine went flying.

Before the woman knew what hit her, my date then slapped her face back the other way.

Then I knew exactly what to do.

I grabbed my date by the hand and we made a beeline for the door. As we went through it and I pulled her down the first flight of stairs, someone threw a folding metal chair at us. It missed. Then another.  I held on tightly to her hand and the two of us jumped down eight or ten steps to the fourth floor landing and scrambled to our feet. A couple of half-full bottles of beer crashed to the floor next to us.

 

Just then, another couple coming up the stairs encountered us hurrying down the stairs. The man looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face. “Great Party!!” I told him as we passed by them and continued down the steps and out the front door.

 

When we reached the street I looked at her and she looked at me. Neither one of us said a word, we didn’t have to. At that moment,  at least, I knew she was thinking the same thing I was.

 

“This relationship has potential.

A Small Fortune

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 4.28.49 PMAround 1981, when I was living in New York City, I was sitting on the steps in front of my apartment building one day when I was approached by a disheveled-looking stranger.

To be honest, I probably looked a little dishevelled myself.

The man asked me, “Hey, Buddy–do you know anything about art?’

“Yeah,” I said. “Art is a bunch of shit.”

He chuckled and nodded in agreement.

I saw that he was carrying a large drawing under his arm. It was about 18 X 24 and in a wooden frame. It was rather dirty-looking.

He held it out for me to look at and asked me, “Do you think this is worth anything?’ It was behind glass and very dirty and he explained that he had just pulled it out of a dumpster at the end of the street. Apparently an old building was being renovated and the workmen had tossed it out. The drawing was non-representational and resembled a large fishing net. It was in reddish-brown ink on a faded yellow paper or board. I looked down into the corner and it was signed. “Bourgeois.

Having the benefit of an art education, I recognized the name.

“Yes!” I told him. “I think that it could be quite valuable. Louise Bourgeois is a famous artist. “

I invited him inside with the crazy idea of calling up Ms. Bourgeois on the telephone. She was actually listed in the directory so I dialed the number. A woman answered the phone after a few rings.

Hello, Ms. Bourgeois….you don’t know me, but I am an artist and a man just approached me with a drawing of yours that he found on the street.”

I guess I was expecting her to thank me or invite me up to her studio– or something.

No such luck.

In fact she seemed suspicious of me and was like, “Why are you bothering me—call my dealer!!.

And then she hung up.

Rather rudely, too, I might add.

I told the man what she had said and suggested that he try and find out who her dealer was. He looked at me and for a second or two I thought he was going to offer the drawing to me for fifty dollars. But he didn’t. He just turned and walked slowly out the door with the dusty drawing under his arm.  I sat back down on the steps and watched as he rounded the corner of Thompson and Grand.

I’ll bet he sold it to the next person he met for twenty bucks.

The Washeteria®

WASHETERIA

The Second World War was finally over and all the young men came flooding back into Savannah and all the cities and towns all across America– and you could buy meat again and new tires for the old jalopy–or a brand new car, if you had the money –and there was a feeling in the air of unbridled optimism mixed with great relief.

 

Well, maybe not all of the young men came back.

 

She was 29 then, and beautiful, and smart, and she painted her nails red to match her lipstick and she ran the family’s new business with only one employee. She went to work there every day of the week except Sunday from 7 o’clock in the morning until 6 o’clock in the evening.

 

She and my father and the baby had left Florida the year before and moved in with her mother into the little red brick house she had lived in as a teenager.

 

The Washeteria® as the place came to be known, was open half-a-day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Dirty clothes were washed, dried and folded for a total of nine cents a pound. Plus tax. The same price as bananas.

 

Each of the twenty Bendix washing machines had a number behind it on the wall. The numbers weren’t painted on the wall, but were made of brass. The kind people would put on their houses.

 

“There’s something wrong with Number Twenty, “ I remember my mother telling my father one day after he got off work and stopped by to see how she was doing.

 

The washing machines themselves were small and white and reminded me of big rolls of toilet paper turned on their side. Each machine had a round convex glass door which swung open by turning a grooved, black crescent-shaped plastic handle,  so that you could put the dirty clothes in, and take the clean clothes out. There was a little chute, or opening at the top of each machine through which water softener and soap powder could be added at the proper time, which was after the water came in and the clothes were tumbling. Then, if the clothes were white, a cup of bleach would be poured in. White clothes and light-colored clothes were washed separately from darks. My Mother would go through all the pockets in case there was a crayon or a ball-point pen, which, if allowed to go through the cycle, would ruin the clothes as well as mess up the machine. When the machines were running, the wet clothes made a very pleasant gentle sloshing sound and you could watch them through the glass door of the washing machine tumbling in the warm soapy water.

 

In the very beginning, when they first took over the place from the previous owner, the customers came in and put their dirty clothes in one of the twenty Bendix eight-pound washing machines and said they’d be, “right back”.

 

But, very often they didn’t come “right back”, so my mother, or her assistant, Rudolph, the friendly, outgoing young black man she hired to help her, would take their dripping clothes out of the machine and place them in the metal washtub on wheels and roll it to the back of the place to the big stainless steel and black extractor. I liked Rudolph, but I never quite understood his connection to Santa Claus and how a young black man folding clothes and talking cheerfully to everyone could also be a “red-nosed reindeer”. I guess I just assumed when I got older, it would sort itself out. So I let it go.

 

The extractor, which operated on the principle of centrifugal force, and reminded me of the high-pitched noise of  a jet airplane, would get most all of the water out, leaving the clothes only slightly damp to the touch, and then, when the customer still hadn’t come “right back” their clothes were placed back in their laundry basket. At first, many of the women (almost all of the customers were women)  took their clothes home to dry on the line, but increasingly, they just brought their laundry in and my mother and Rudolph did it all. After washing and extracting, their clean clothes were now tossed into one of two big green dryers instead of taken back home and hung out to dry.

 

When the clothes were hot and dry, my mother and Rudolph would stand at a big wooden table in the back and fold the warm dry clothes before they had a chance to wrinkle (the warm clothes felt good in your hands on a cold Winter day) and then wrap them up in light-weight brown paper and tie them up with string. The tidy bundle was then carried to the front, weighed on a scale, then placed on a shelf to await its owners when they came “right back”. Each customer’s clothes had to be washed, dried and folded separately, for obvious reasons.

If someone came in to pick up their clean clothes when my mother was helping fold, Rudolph stayed in the back folding clothes and my mother sashayed up to the horseshoe-shaped counter in the front to greet them.

 

On the counter was a grey cash register and a black metal adding machine with a handle like a slot machine. Later on, after the vending machine company moved in next door there was a big clear glass bell jar with cheese crackers and peanut butter crackers in it, in neat little packages for sale for five cents a package. Six crackers for a nickel. Later on, after I learned to ride a bicycle and when I visited The Washeteria®, I was allowed take a pack without paying. I liked the orange crackers with the peanut butter filling best. My mother liked the orange ones with the cheese filling.

 

Sometimes, I sat at the counter and drew pictures of deep-sea divers and sharks and chests full of treasure. 

 

Clean laundry cost nine cents a pound, washed, dried and folded in the Spring of 1948 when my mother left me at age 18 months, in the care of my grandmother, to drive off to work there. If my mother and Rudolph were caught up and there was no folding to be done, my mother would sit at the counter on a high grey metal stool and do the crossword puzzle or read a book. My mother always liked to read. She read Pearl S. Buck and James Thurber and Bennett Cerf. And W. Somerset Maugham. I wasn’t old enough to read, but I was old enough to ask who the pictures were on the backs of her books.

 

Most of the time, though, she just let Rudolph fold the clothes and sometimes he’d take them out for the customers and put them in their cars. Sometimes the customers didn’t want to have to tip Rudolph or perhaps wanted to carry their own clothes out to the curb to their cars and those who did not, would sometimes tip Rudolph a nickel or a dime. The nickels had Indians and buffalos on them in those days and the dimes were all silver.

 

When the Korean War broke out, Rudolph got drafted. Business was good, so my mother hired two young women to help her in the laundry. Their names were Lila and Jean. Lila  was short and stout, the more outgoing of the two. Jean was younger and thin with a heavily-freckled face. Jean kept her arms folded across her chest and seldom looked at you when she spoke, which was not very often. I liked them and they liked me.

 

One day, Rudolph came back to The Washeteria unexpectedly, following basic training. He looked very handsome in his uniform. He was about 20 then. Everyone, even the customers who never came “right back” were glad to see him. But he never came back to see us or to ask for his old job back.  My father was not even allowed to mention his name. I’m afraid Rudolph may have gotten killed in the war, because I never heard anything more about him. My mother didn’t like to talk about things that upset her or made her sad. Her father had died unexpectedly when she was ten and she didn’t want to talk about that and she didn’t want to talk about Rudolph.

 

By age six, when I was old enough to ride a bike, and if I was at loose ends, which being an only child with no responsibilities and two parents who both worked and a grandmother in a wheelchair, I often was, I’d ride my bike up Paulsen Street, without bothering to call or even tell my grandmother, to visit my mother at The Washeteria. It was only a couple of miles away and in fifteen or twenty minutes at the most I was there.

 

My mother always acted surprised and happy to see me. So did Lila and Jean. And occasionally even one of the customers who never came “right back”. My Mother would let me go through the lint trap. Sometimes small items, like coins would get caught in there. It didn’t happen very often, but, if I found any, I got to keep them. More often I would get my fingers pricked by an open safety pin.

 

Before long, an area in the front by the window was cleared and a porch glider was brought in. There was a table in front of it with a glass top containing my mother’s shell collection. Mr. Cory,  an old man from the neighborhood in a faded grey suit and fedora came in most afternoons to sit and pass the time after his retirement reading her Savannah Morning News which she had delivered and was waiting in front of the door each morning except Sunday.

 

Up front, on the other side was a Coca-Cola machine with red door on top . When I was tall enough to open the door, I could reach in and get either a heavy green bottle of Coca-Cola or Canada Dry which were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in ice cold water. Customers could buy them for a nickel. The water was so cold it hurt my hand.

 

One Monday morning after Easter Sunday, somebody gave my mother a baby chick and a baby duck. The little yellow chick grew up to be a big white rooster and the duck followed him all around the place. My mother said the duck thought he was a chicken. They both sat in my mother’s lap, no doubt to the consternation of some of the customers, who probably decided to take their business elsewhere. Business continued to be good in spite of the chicken and duck poop which, it goes without saying, was cleaned up as soon as someone had stepped in it.

 

In the center of the space sat a glittering Wurlitzer jukebox supplied by the vending machine company next door with over a hundred of the latest hits. Anyone could push the red plastic buttons and watch as the device selected the record they chose, placed it on the turntable and played it for free. Elvis and Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis and Connie Francis never sounded better. The music blended in nicely with the sloshing and the folding and the crowing and the quacking.

 

The years passed.

 

My father still had his job at the Union Station, but gradually,  over time, most people either had washing machines in their homes or used coin-operated laundries which were scattered all over town and open 24 hours a day.  My father got in on the ground floor of the coin-op business in Savannah and opened five other laundries over the decades which he serviced and kept operational even after he retired from his job after 49 years with the railroad.

 

We never had a pair of dirty socks or a dirty towel or even a laundry basket in our house as my mother did our clothes daily.

 

When I graduated from high school in 1964, she offered to give the business to Lila and Jean. They didn’t want it.  

 

So she closed the place.  

 

Though the price of bananas went up steadily after 1948, the cost of clean clothes always remained at 9 cents a pound.

 

The Disappearing Stairway

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It was in the Summer.

When I was a child and my parents were both at work and my grandmother was an invalid and I was tall enough to reach the chain hanging from the ceiling in the hallway and pull it and lower the door and catch hold of the ladder leading up to the attic and draw it down then climb up it and pull the string to illuminate the naked light bulb at the top of the stairs and snoop around, I came upon an Ouija Board.Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 8.34.43 AM

As I kneeled down and looked at it, suddenly I felt the little blonde hairs on my arms stand on end and I stood back up and, leaving the light on, held onto the hand rail and quickly went back down the stairs and went straight into the room with my grandmother who by now was sitting in her wheelchair crocheting.

She looked up at me.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“Nowhere.” I lied.

Just a Scrap of Paper

phone.numberAfter my father died, my mother lived alone in that same old red-brick house she had lived in since she was 11. Although he was almost 13 years older than she was she only outlived him by about 5 years.

My wife and I (and the kids) would make a point of seeing her at least twice a year. And for at least ten days each time.

She was never a bother or a burden. I was busy with work or busy with the kids and I’ll confess, I didn’t call her as much as I should have. And she only called me if she had a good reason to call–never to chat.

She wasn’t a “chatter”.

She called me early in the evening of the day she died to tell me she was dying and to ask if I could get down there to be with her. (I was an only child). I told her I’d get there as soon as I could, but she died in the middle of the night.

Today, as I was packing up some of my things in preparation for a move, I came across a crumbled-up piece of paper with her handwriting on it. She had always had a beautful handwriting, but the handwriting on the little slip of paper was shaky now. It had obviously been written after my father died and she was well into her 80’s.

At the top she had written “Tel” and then she wrote her sister’s address and telephone number and that of her two nephews followed my my name and number.

I always thought mine was a confusing phone number. Two many 6’s and 3’s. Even I couldn’t remember the number for the first three weeks I had it.

As I looked at the paper I realized she had transposed two of the last numbers in my phone number.

Now I wonder how many times she might have tried to call me with that wrong number.

She’s been gone for 12 years– and can no longer be reached by telephone.

Friends–if you are fortunate enough to still have a mother or a father, call them up, even if you don’t have anything important to say.

Trust me, they’ll be very happy to hear from you.