My Face is on Fire: A Novella (Part Six)
One evening a neighboring resident of the trailer park came over to borrow a cup of sugar. Seriously! It was wild!
Torch Head had not thought that such things happened in real life. He had thought such things were confined to black and white episodes of Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best, and My Three Sons.
Oh yeah, also I Love Lucy. "Ethel" was always coming over in her bathrobe and curlers to borrow this, that, and the other from her BFF, Lucy Ricardo.
He had an insight and wondered why it had never occurred to him before.
Barter, the world's first economic system of exchange. The formalization of being neighborly.
And Mary Poppins. How could he forget Mary Poppins, especially as portrayed by the Immortal Julie Andrews! She is the one who said, "Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. The medicine go down. The medicine go do-own."
Mary Julie Andrews Poppins was not the kind of person who would schlep all the way to the supermarket, if all she needed was a cup of sugar. Her flying, helicopter umbrella notwithstanding. She would do the neighborly thing and "borrow" it from a neighbor.
Anyway, the neighbor asking for the cup of sugar was a young woman. She was casually and briefly attired, as befit the ambience of the trailer park as well as the hot weather.
It is not necessary to provide an exegesis of her appearance. Let us just say that she had the kind of hips that can give a man many strong sons, as Torch Head's country-as-hell granddaddy used to say.
But her coming over for a cup of sugar. He could not get over that. In this day and age!
He wondered if she came over for something other than sugar; or in addition to it. But she gave out no "signals." Apparently, sugar was what she wanted. All she wanted.
Must be losing my touch, he thought. Then again, a man in a committed relationship and contemplating marriage, perhaps, ought not continue possession of "The Touch," as it were. He wished he could bequeath it to a worthy young man just starting out on the road of sex and love. Instead of just evaporate back into the ether.
"Baking a cake?" he said, giving her the sugar. Maybe he could "borrow" a cup of flour from her sometime.
"For my Jimmy," she said.
"Jimmy is your..."
"Son," she said. "He'll be ten in two days."
He hadn't seen a wedding ring. Must be a single mom.
"Does Jimmy have any brothers and sisters?"
"No, its just Jim and me. He's my little man."
He profoundly hoped such was not the case. But he kept silent.
She thanked him for the sugar and left. If she was baking a cake, that must mean that she lived in that trailer full-time.
Too bad. A single mom raising a child. A non-child support-paying, deadbeat dad somewhere in the picture. Does Jimmy even know who his father is? Does his mother?
Sad. Her living like that. Her son having to live like that. Her making a "little man" out of her son. What that meant, Torch Head shuddered to think.
But then again, maybe she liked trailer living. Maybe her trailer was relatively large and spacious and nice. Maybe she was downsizing, rightsizing, and economizing. Maybe she was trying to lighten her footprint upon the Earth. Maybe she was doing her part to conserve the finite resources of Mother Earth.
As for the "little man," thing, maybe Torch Head had misread, misinterpreted, read too much into an innocent remark. Maybe he had a dirty, suspicious mind.
But his line of work could do that to a soul. Make you suspect the worst of people by default. Make you expect it. So that you were not only not disappointed when the worst came; but you were relieved, you felt vindicated. Because you were right. Because your finely-honed instincts had rung true yet again.
You always knew, down deep that man was a sinful creature. Why be appalled? Is it not said, 'If you give a monkey a gun, don't be surprised if he shoots it'?
Torch Head took off his human outfit. He had just stepped in after a convivial afternoon of dune buggy paintball with Liz and some of her friends. "You're in," she said later. "The pack approves of you."
He put on some music, put on his wireless headphones, and plopped onto the bed.
"Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe
And to love you
All I need is the air that I breathe
Yes to love you
All I need is the air that I breathe."
(The Hollies, The Air That I Breathe, 1972)
After that it was the best of the jazzy song styling of Diana Krall.
Television Commercial for The Law's Chili
Making his appeal directly to viewers is the "Meatcutter" himself, Marvin Lawson.
He was a big man. Six-five and two-hundred-eighty pounds. Wide shoulders, barrel chest. He never exercised and nary a fruit or vegetable ever got into his mouth. As a consequence Marvin Lawson was a voluminous human being.
He was fat but not flabby. Nothing jiggled in the wind. He was hard-thick. His great belly which cascaded over his beltline, felt like punching a sack of pool table balls. Consider yourself warned!
He had an ego to match. He was self-delusional. He was the kind of man who could sit at an all-you-can-eat buffet, darn near run the establishment out of business, suck the marrow out of the bones of his fourth plate of barbeque ribs, while mopping up all remaining edible fluids off his plate with double-buttered biscuits, and say, with a straight face, "I have a fast metabolism, you know? I can eat as much as I want and never gain no weight."
But he had a big heart as well. Heart as big as all outdoors, as they say. He was hearty, hale and well-met. He was a glib and mesmerizing teller of tales. The exact percentage of truth they contained was a matter of interpretation, and when it came to that, largely irrelevant. All the fun was in the telling---for him---and in the hearing---for you.
Marvin Lawson is dressed in a suit. He is seated behind a desk and he is reading the Bible. He is wearing reading glasses. From time to time, we see him pause in his reading, take off his glasses, cup his chin as though something he read moved him to reflection.
We are treated to a kaleidoscope of quick-flash images, meant to depict something of the wondrous, Forrest Gump-like life.
We see a gangly-limbed thirteen-year-old boy winning his first blue ribbon for barbeque...
.... then another blue ribbon....
We see Marvin Lawson, a little older, wearing chef's whites..
We see all kinds of images meant to indicate the "fact" that Marvin Lawson studied his craft internationally.
We see the ribbon cutting on his first restaurant...
The Bible flashes on, larger than life. Marvin Lawson is pious, you know.
Flash to Lawson kneeling and praying in church...
Receiving his baptism, thus getting saved in the nick of time....
At one point we actually see him kneeling in prayer, alone, speaking the words, "Lord... give me wisdom."
Then the Bible flashes again.
Then we see a shower of gold (coins) raining down in a place meant to depict a kind of vault room. Then Marvin Lawson's humble, bowed-headed image is ghostly-superimposed over the gold shower scene.
We are meant to understand that the gold, the wealth belongs to him. As a reward for his piety and uprightness.
Now we see him giving money to causes, playing the role of benefactor.
A plaque is going up to him at this institution and a plaque is going up to him at that institution...
Be it a children's hospital, a police benevolent fund, a museum, a library, a university... what have you.
His picture is taken and he is written up in the society column.
All of this flashes by in kaleidoscope.
He is the grand marshal of countless parades. He is given the key to the city.
And he is name honorary police chief of Gabberdean County. He's got a uniform, badge, and everything.
We return now to the dignified, suited figure sitting at the desk. Reading his Bible, the mood is philosophical, contemplative.
When he feels the eyes of the world watching him, dignity is abandoned and Marvin Lawson bounds out of his chair and comes around the desk.
Really big smile! "Hi, y'all. My name is Marvin Lawson. I'm living a full life because God is good! Everything I have, everything I own, everything I am and ever hope to be is because the Lord is so good. He may not come when you call him but he's always right on time!"
"And you know what else is good, my friends? And take it from a man who's been winning blue ribbons for barbeque since I was thirteen. The Law's Chili is good."
He holds a jumbo-sized economy can of the stuff. "And as the honorary police chief of Gabberdean County, I can tell you officially..." He extends his arm holding the chili. "... that The Law's Chili will pull you over with its arresting flavor."
He ends with the inevitable, "Good night and God bless North America" (He's a big supporter of NAFTA).
The Man himself. It was like the Colonel coming front and center to talk about his Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was like The King talking about his Burgers. It was like Chef Boyardee talking about his ravioli. "Mama Mia!"
It was like Sara Lee talking about her cakes, cookies, and pies. It was like the clown Ronald McDonald hawking... well, McDonald's.
But with his own 'Elmer Gantry' twist.
End of Part Six.
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