Storyline - 3: Batesmania - a Limey's Introduction to Washington State (Fiction)
Fancy a touch of Evergreen?
"Go West, young man!'
That's like a warning in my neck of the woods - like going south, as women say about their figure and looks losing to gravity. I'll give an example, "Where's Frank these days? I haven't seen him lately". "Oh, he went west. They buried him last week".
Dad said it again, 'Go west young man!' Who, me?
'Why?' I asked,
'Eh, lad. Why mope around here when you can mope elsewhere?' Tactful as ever. We're not known for being backward in coming forward in 'Tykeshire' - er, Yorkshire to you.
Right Dad, I asked inwardly. Aloud I said, 'Where, like?'
'America?' he offered. 'Alaska. They say the scenery's wunnerful in' summer'.
(And what about the winter, and polar bears?) 'Right Dad, got the fare?'
'Christ lad, earn it, get a job! I won't take your keep for the next six months, so you'll 'ave the fare quicker. If you fly Virgin you could be away in months!'
Thanks Dad. I'll miss you too. Meanwhile the months trickle by, grist to the mill and all. Grimy fingers, oil, grease everywhere from the car workshop! How quick can you get through a packet of Manger's sugar soap?
'Anybody got a monkey wrench?'
'You're the monkey round 'ere!'
Laughter, nuts and small snappers catapult through the air.
The boss yells, 'Oi, you lot! Get some bloody work done!'
I flew out from Liverpool Speke, no more than seven hours to the Big Apple, Economy! Change of planes at JFK out West. Washington looked interesting, I thought. 'You better get a better Atlas, man!' the cab driver told me. I'd thought it was supposed to be on the Potomac.
I was driven by a suicidal cabbie through peak-time traffic in Seattle. This was 'sleepless' at a premium! I sat wide-eyed as we drew up to some Gothic pile.
'This is it, boy!'
'Thanks Dad', I said half-aloud. I'd been in a 'realtor's office' (estate agent to thee'n'me) and learnt of a room in the sticks, out away from Seattle..
'Come again?' the driver asked. I shook my head and waved him off.
I looked up at the house. Flaky blue paint around sash windows, side porch and door gaping as if inviting - daring me. There was a tower that seemed to rocket up as you looked at it, a window half open with net curtains billowing, getting grubby. The top part of the house was flaky white. It looked like an advert for 'PSYCHO'. Alfred Hitchcock must have been here when he got his bright idea for a film. Black and white always looks more threatening.
I was looking for a stiff old lady in a rocking chair upstairs when a woman croaked,
'You gonna stand there all day, or are you comin' in?' It was like listening to Dad with an American accent. 'Office said you were comin'.
I followed her in and nearly asked, 'Which room does Norman live in?' when she turned.
'This is yours'. She clanked the massive key in its lock and pushed the door open. This was the room facing front, grubby net curtains hanging out on the sill. 'Breakfast between seven and eight, any other meals you go out, understand?'
'Aye', I answered.
'What?' she stared.
'Yes', I said in International English. Understood. She scowled and limped downstairs, clack, clack. No stair carpet. I looked around. No telly, radio or 21st Century. Good job I had my laptop and adaptor. No socket in the room, only the ceiling light and a bedside lamp! I'd have to get my laptop charged elsewhere. Would some diner let me charge up in exchange for a bit of washing-up? This was four in the afternoon, time for a bacon butty and a cuppa. I'd seen the telly ads for 'Yorkshire Tea', camper-cum-tea shop cruising the highway into the sunset, disillusioned Brits with their tongues hanging out, ready for 'proper tea'.
'This is a town, buddy', I was told by one local when asked if there was a diner in the village. He pointed me to a polished aluminium (notice the two 'i's' in aluminium, buddy) diner with wavy walls, sunshaded table outside. I needed to sit inside, to get access to wifi. Did they have wifi? 'No, Fifi's in her kennel right now', the man at the counter said, adding, 'They got wifi down at the open market', pointing back down the road. Helpful. I waved back at him, realising using my laptop would be a bit limited.
'No, damn' it, come to my house', he with the yellow T-shirt and ponytail told me. 'Anytime - what's your name?'
'Tony', I said, taken aback by the sudden friendliness.
'You got somewhere t'live, Tony?' I nodded, telling him of my room in the 'Bates House'. He laughed uproariously.
'The 'Bates House'? How much are you paying for the privilege?' He looked cross-eyed when I told him,'God, all that and no TV or radio! You gotta come where I am!'
He told his assistant he would be away for an hour, to get me set up,
'How long're you planning to stay, Tony?' I told him it depended. 'You want a job?'
'Doing what?' I asked.
'Why, making and selling these T-shirts, what else?' He laughed and pumped my hand, 'I'm Chuck, by the way'.
Tall and rangy,he was a double - but for beard and ponytail - for Chuck Connors, I told him.
'Chuck Connors', he seemed abashed by the compliment. 'Why thank you, Tony. He's my hero, too y'know!'
I didn't say he was my hero, but as I was on a roll I thought, 'leave it'.It was all smiles, but for 'Ma Bates' who croaked, 'I ain't givin' you your money back!'
'Oh yes you are, you old *****, Chuck told her (can't tell you what he said, you might be sensitive!) and said for the money she asked I should have more than grubby net curtains to look at. Under pressure - threats of legal action - she relented and thumped my deposit down on the hall sideboard.
'Get your stuff out, double-quick!'
'Take your time, Tony', Chuck assured me she could do nothing if I took all evening.
We left, my 'stuff' over my right shoulder, laptop in my left hand. I spent the rest of the daylight hours under his open 'gazebo', watching him and his assistant, learnt how to work the remote Visa gadget,taking cash from punters who wanted their names printing on the shirts. When packing up time came, Chuck called his boss on his mobile (cellphone) and had a few words. He winked and gave me the thumbs up.
'You're hired, Tony. you won't be a millionaire overnight, but it's a good living. We're in the next town tomorrow and so on around the county, always home for supper You like T-bone?'
'Oh aye, er I think his music's great', I answered. Laughter from Chuck and Billy, his assistant.
'T-bone steak, not T-Bone Walker', Chuck slapped me on my back. With my breath back I asked if there was somewhere I could call home.
'Where's home, Tony?' Billy asked.
'Ilkley', I told him.
'Ilkley?' he was nonplussed.
'Near Bradford in West Yorkshire', I answered in full, getting the same blank look.
'In the north of England', Chuck told him. Billy smiled.
'Nice', he said, vacantly.
'There's not much work, mind', I told them. 'I had to graft away in a garage for six months to get here.
Somebody said America and Britain were divided by a common language. They weren't far off.
'You can make a call in the diner', Chuck told me, pointing. I went in, looking a bit sheepish at the man behind the counter.
'You landed on your feet', he said, winking, and pointed at the phone.
Waiting for my line to Ilkley - not to be done regularly from here - I studied the poster on the wall. My finger idly followed the snaking river to the horizon, a long line of blue and white mountains behind
'Dad, guess what?'
'You've been mugged? Hard luck, can't send you any cash, though!'
'No, Dad, I've got a good job here', I told him a bit about the place, but didn't think it registered. All he said was, 'Time you had a proper job. Will you be back for Christmas, Mam wants to know it's worth getting a big turkey...'
'I said thanks'.
'Oh, aye, see you'. Click, br-r-r.
'You got through OK?' Chuck asked as I fastened my seat belt.
'Aye, thanks Chuck'.
Find your way around Washington State the easy way with this Rand McNally map, one of a series to help the wayfarer or wanderer safe along the road to discovery... not Perdition. I find GPS sometimes takes canals for roads, and as I wouldn't want to get my feet wet in strange places, I rely on printed maps...
This was my response to a writing competition set by 'Billybuc'
A light-hearted, off-the-cuff sort of entry, it follows a character in search of work. He's that desperate - his Dad's been pushing him out of the parental nest - to get away from home, he'll go almost to the ends of the earth. Going to Washington State is like going to the ends of the earth for some of us Limeys* (as in, the last stop going west before Japan).
*Speaking of which, do you know where the name 'Limeys' came from? The Royal Navy insisted on their crews being given citrus fruits to avoid scurvy breaking out on ships over long voyages. Sauerkraut was something else that was introduced by Captain Cook for his crews during his three long voyages across the Pacific. William Bligh, one of Cook's officers on the last voyage, whole-heartedly adopted Cook's policy of providing limes for the crew. Apples were also taken on board, although they were not as effective in warding off the dreaded disease that could decimate numbers.
© 2013 Alan R Lancaster