by Joseph Hanna
I had gathered unto myself, some of my crew. It was the rainy weekend of the Old Whaler’s Festival, now called Harbor Fest. Rain on Lobster Night was a tradition, observed one of my merry band. That started the reminiscences. The recollections began to roll up into a giant ball that gathered girth and speed as it sped down a frozen Memory Lane like a snowball from hell, knocking over mailboxes and frightening the pets.
“Then there was the cigarette lady!” said one of the posse comatose.
“Yes,” I said. “This town used to be alive with eccentrics. Now it has been taken over by men without chests – and women.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Drooly. “There were some chesticles around this summer that were definitely off the rack.” He violated my space to leer and work his eyebrows in what he must have imagined to be a suggestive manner. He had Bud breath with just a playful note of cheddar burger and a side-o-fries finish.
“I was making an allusion to C. S. Lewis,” I said.
“Jerry’s boy?” asked Barnacle. It is always better when Barnacle remains silent.
“Let me illustrate with something that happened in Bridgehampton this summer to one of our own,” I said.
Bunchy sighed deeply and said, “Oh here it comes. You are going to go off on another of your expositions aren’t you?”
“I better lay in some goodly stores. Oh miss? Another round for us and another of whatever the hell he is drinking.” He pointed at my odd shaped glass.
“That’s unfiltered sake, and the fact that you can even order it in the Hahbah,” I said using the ancient pronunciation, “is what I’m talking about.”
“How long is this going to be?” asked Flacco Siegel. “I may have to use the room, you know.”
“You can hold it,” I told him. “It’s getting worse out here on the East End. You remember when I used to have the Annual Rude Off contest after Labor Day each year?”
They nodded glumly.
“A couple of weeks ago Biker, you remember her?”
They nodded expectantly except for Flacco, who once asked her out. The number she wrote on his dry cleaner receipt turned out to be the Building Department. Al was not amused.
“She had just gotten off work at the hospital. She was still in her scrubs …”
“The TV show?” asked Barnacle.
“Yeah that’s right. Go back to sleep. I’ll wake you when we get there. Now, this actually happened,” I said. It really did. This is what we have become. “So Biker decided to stop at Citarella’s in Bridgehampton on the way back to the Hahbah. She’s walking through the store picking up stuff and this lady – a stranger to her – comes up and goes, ‘why are you dressed like that?’ and Biker goes, ‘I’ve just come from work at the hospital’. The lady says to her, ‘We don’t pay a lot of money to come out here to see people in their work clothes. I don’t want my daughter to see you. It will upset her.’ The daughter was somewhere else in the store.”
There was silence.
“That’s your Rude Off winner right there,” I said. “You see, the scrubs represented the real world of suffering. The woman thought she had bought a ticket to paradise.”
“What is it with these people?” asked Drooly. It was a rhetorical question.
“They think they’re entitled,” said Barnacle.
“To what?” Asked Flacco. It was another rhetorical question.
“No, that’s just a title,” said Barnacle, “like the Duke of Earl. Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl as he walks through this world … and she thinks she’s the Duchess … the Duchess of Earl.”
There was more silence. Nobody wanted to touch the conversation until the toxic fumes had dissipated.
“Still,” I said after a time, “the village needs a town character. Paul Sidney has crossed over, the Cigarette Lady is gone, Turk Early, Vicki Gardner, and all the rest of them. They are all gone. Frankie at the Pizza Parlor is getting married and is going to be a poppa. Ted Conklin has gone mainstream with a yacht, yet. Tom Harris is off the radar screen. Debbie Lou – now I don’t know what is up with that one. She hasn’t been the same since we lost Jerry Garcia.
“A Village without a town character is like Mayberry without Gomer. If you don’t have a colorful character or two, you are living in black and white. You might as well be in the freaking suburbs. It is all like respectable, at least that’s what you see. Behind the designer window treatments it’s all Desperate Housewives. Human nature doesn’t change just because you’re driving an Audi no matter how hard you pretend. And the further up the A-List you go, the more desperate the pretense. No! We need some harmless wing nut to pass amongst us giving off humorous aphorisms that nevertheless point to some important bit of reality, a poster person for human nature.
“Like Gomer, it has to be someone who has failed spectacularly at life but still gets up every morning, puts on his greasy hat and goes down to the ecologically suspect gas station to change out bad starters and gap the spark plugs. It has to be someone who has stared at his or her own moral collapse in a mirror and learned from that collapse that people count and that a smile is never out of place. Ideally it should be someone who has just tasted the good life enough to know what it’s all about, but never been allowed to have a place at the trough.
“The person should be goofy enough to be the object and subject of local humor and has to have been involved in one or more local episodes that have risen to the level of myth. There has to be that ability to say something so stupid that it sticks in the brain – you know – life is like a box of chocolates. The person can’t be good looking or too ugly. There should be something comedic in the set of the face and the cast of the eyes. It would be nice if there was an equally eccentric pet and a long suffering spouse …”
My words trailed off and silence came once again upon the table. I found that I was looking at my placemat. My eyes were stuck on the quarter moon wet mark that was all that remained of my unfiltered sake. When I realized that the silence had reached an unnatural intensity, I looked up. Four pairs of eyes and four pairs of raised eyebrows were focused on me like some weird laser experiment to combust neutrons.
“What? Hey! Hey! Hey! What are you looking at me for?”