Adventures No One Asked For: Part I
An old pick-up truck with patches of rust and chipping paint made its way down the old dirt road. The driver, a man who’d proudly proclaimed that he was the most competent driver in the state of New York, was wondering if God himself was trying to make a liar out of him. With the urging of his GPS, Simon had turned down a narrow road with a sketchy-looking sign on a fence post. The sign read “Gator Lane” in what looked to Simon to be letters painted on by hand.
Simon hated to admit it, but these country roads gave him a bad case of the heebie-jeebies. He put on the radio to give the illusion that he had some company. To his dismay, the only radio station that he was able to find was some trendy rap station; the kind that he had to presume all of the hip young kids were listening to these days, but he couldn’t be sure.
At that moment, he began to question everything. What was he doing out here? Who is he kidding? And was it an immense sense of loneliness that drove him, to do such a stupid thing? He resigned himself to the fact that it was probably all three as he began to quietly cry into the steering wheel and wipe his tears on the sleeve of his purple sports jacket.
To Simon’s delight, the dirt roads were slowly being overtaken by blacktop. He began to see street lights and tiny houses, all of which were adorned with brightly-colored shutters. He turned the radio off then.
The sight of the tiny houses blackened Simon’s heart with the strange mix of rage, heartbreak, and self-pity. Salty tears hit the sleeves of his blood-smurf-colored windbreaker.
His muscles ached and twitched. He reached along the floor for his phone charger, but all he found was an old, unwrapped peppermint-striped candy. He had had enough of being lost. Simon decided that he was going to stop at the next place he found. Maybe he could find a local and get out of this mess.
To his delight, Simon saw a bright open sign just beyond some bent palm trees. Upon further investigation, the building was found to be in dire need of some tender loving care. The red and green Christmas lights seemed to offer a kind of eerie contrast to the sad scene which was unfolding before Simon. The building was sporting a giant blue tarp in place of a roof, and there was a green shutter in the middle of the walkway. Gravel crunched under his boots as he moved closer to the building. Simon could see what remained of the green shutters sprinkled across the lawn. Right outside the door, there was a plastic alligator. The reptile with cartoonish eyes was wearing a red, Hawaiian shirt and holding a sign that read “Bayou George’s Down-Home Grub.”
Ordinarily, the sorry state of the eatery would make Simon reconsider going inside. But he wasn’t about to get back in the car again. After all, he had no clue where he was, and, besides that, blue tarps and half-ruined lawn decorations were all the rage in the Florida panhandle this year. The smell of bleach was so strong that it burned the tiny hairs on the inside of his nostrils.
Simon sat in a booth that made his backside hurt worse than it already did. His eyes danced around the small eatery; army greens and shades of brown seemed to cover the entire place.
Simon picked up a flimsy paper menu. He flipped the menu upside down and was able to read the printed words of the small list of foodstuffs. Simon’s nose was now overwhelmed with the smell of both pure bleach and coffee brewing.
Without thinking, Simon ripped off a tiny piece of paper from the corner of his menu and spit the wad of what was once peppermint-flavored gum inside the balled-up cream colored paper.
“Hi there, young man. What can I get for you?” a man’s voice called. Simon jumped a little bit. He hastily stuck the balled-up piece of gum and paper under the table as if he were a middle schooler who was about to get caught with the forbidden chewing gum by a power-hungry principal.
“I’ll take some of that coffee and bacon.” Simon shot a kind of forced smile at the man.
“All right! Cream and sugar?” Simon nodded his head.
The man returned to the table by a large window where Simon was sitting. As the man bent down and poured coffee into the colossal army green-colored mug, Simon got a better look at him. Simon thought that the man standing before him, what has been more at home in a place like San Francisco, Santa Monica, or LA. The man standing before him looked like he could be one of the Beach Boys.
“I’m making myself some grits. You want some?” the man asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee and set it down on the table across from Simon.
Simon nodded his head again while he watched the milk make small caramel-colored designs in the coffee cup.
“What do you like in them?” the man asked him.
Simon asked for a bowl of grits topped with cheese and pepper. The man gave him a thumbs up and rushed off to the kitchen. He came back carrying two bowls of grits and a plate of what smelled like microwave bacon and sausage.
The man used the hot pink bandana on his head to wipe his brow before he took his place across the table from Simon and began to sip the coffee.
Simon was delighted when the coffee hit his lips. It was still steamy and hot, and it was strong; bitter, but not unpleasant. Simon watched the strange man dump nearly half a bottle of hot sauce into his bowl of grits and stir the concoction around with a spoon that was way too large for the bowl
“This is the way my daddy used to eat them,” the man said as a little bit of red and pink mush fell from the spoon.
Simon mixed the under-cooked yellowish-orange cheese, watching as it melted down into a cohesive, orange and black polka-dotted slime.
“Every Sunday morning, after church, we would come to this diner. We would enjoy a big hearty breakfast in the family. That’s what made me want to become a cook.” The man smiled, and his chipped front tooth showed.
“My family is in New York.” Simon smiled as he held his coffee mug.
“What are you doing here?” the man asked, his Southern accent seemed to be growing thicker with every word he spoke.
“To be honest, I don’t know,” Simon said as his smile fell from his face.
“You know,” the man said, sipping coffee loudly. “I almost went to New York once.”
“Times Square?” Simon asked. He figured it was a safe bet. Everyone outside of New York seems to believe that New York City makes up the entirety of the state when, in reality, the seven boroughs only make up 40% of the state’s population.
“No, baby,” the aging hippie said flatly. “I was almost in Elmira, my brother was in prison there. What no one tells you is that there was a serial killer, back in the sixties.”
“I’m actually from the town of Elmira, and I’ve never heard the story.” Simon started listening more intently now as a little bit of orange slime dripped from his open lips.
“Yeah, he was a real sick fucker too,” said the short order cook in the red, white, and blue tie-dye shirt.
“What exactly did he do?” said Simon as he wiped the orange slime from his face with a brown paper napkin.
“He killed and dismembered people,” the hippie said through a mouth full of grits and hot sauce.
Simon’s eyes got big like an owl’s eyes. “Why haven’t I heard of this?!” he asked.
He laughed. Simon could feel his eyes rolling in a dismissive way as he spoke. “You ever heard of Charlie Manson, my boy?” inquired the hippie, in his voice Simon to hear a touch of whimsy.
“Of course,” Simon replied in the same dismissive tone as before.
The Manson family was all over the papers at the time. The story of the Manson family was on every TV channel at the time. They had the attention of all the people in the country. The short order cook continued to speak in that most whimsical fashion.
I mean how could they not? Famous people are so revered in our culture in America, so are beautiful women. Sharon Tate was killed and she was beautiful. She was young and married to a rich guy; her murder captivated the country.
“And she was having a baby,” Simon added. He was suddenly reinvested in the story.
“A bunch of the victims were kids, my boy!” The old man sounded sad as he said those words.
“And your brother was a part of all this?!” Simon backed away without thinking about what he was doing.
“He didn’t know what was in the packages that he was delivering to the people!” The hippie was a bit defensive now. “He was a kid; he was excited to be going to college up there. It was a symbol. With equally simple dreams. My brother had always been smart, he wanted to teach math. He hoped he would meet his wife in college. Shawn thought that he might be a parent someday and live the small town life.”
The aging hippie took deep breaths and began speaking again. “My brother needed some money–financial aid was even tougher to come by in those days, so college students would always live hand-to-mouth. My brother always said that he was the worst hunter since Elmer Fudd. My baby brother ended up taking a job delivering packages. He thought the guy was a lawyer and that those packages contained legal documents and other fancy lawyer-type things.” Sadly, a tear rolled down the stained, greasy cheek of the short order cook. “My baby brother was incorrect.
“Twenty-five children lost their lives at the hand of that piece of garbage.” The aging hippie lit a cigarette for himself and handed another one to Simon. He had never smoked before but he didn’t care. This was not the evening he pictured when he started on this trip. Simon inhaled deeply
“Careful, my boy.” The hippie laughed heartily. “That’s the first cigarette. You’ll feel better.”
The Hippie sat with a big plastic jar of orange cheese puffs.
Simon got up to leave, wiping the bright orange cheese power on his black sweatpants. The hippie smiled and said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!”
Simon shook a little bit as his hand slowly let go of the doorknob. The hippie laughed. “You’re safe here kid, but there are a lot of copperheads out lurking in these woods at night, and with the damage from Micheal there are no gas stations opened past ten. You don’t want to chance to have to walk out there.”
“Snakes?!” asked Simon.
“Yeah!” The hippie said. “My old lady’s brother was jonesing for some fried fish one night and he decided to walk to the bar to get some. He got a bit.”
“Wow, is he OK?”
“Yeah, missing a piece of his leg, though. He was able to create a makeshift tourniquet with his t-shirt and tied it around his leg. My old lady and her brother run the motel out back. You’ll be safe there for the night.”