Sometimes, I doubt Duck, my better half, comprehends the rigors involved in being a full-time writer, house-husband and critter-sitter.
He accuses me of fabricating material. This afternoon's encounter was no exception.
I ran into the big city (Macon) for errands and a few super-sized items from the Mega-Mart. I stopped in the Nu-Way wiener stand for a late afternoon pick-me-up, a couple of all-the-way dogs. The Nu-Way is a landmark, on Cotton Avenue since the nineteen-teens. Even Oprah ate there when she was in town.
The place was crowded, but a counter stool was open next to a bag lady. Bag ladies portend interesting, if incoherent, conversation.
This one looked as though she'd persevered the apocalypse. Vexing an unlit cigarette, earthly possessions spilling from an enormous gold lamé tote between her feet, the nubs of a couple of gnawed dogs on her plate, decked out in a blond fright wig, though it wasn't Halloween.
Not actually that shabby, she looked as though she'd hit Goodwill and made a decent haul.
"There but for the grace of God," thought I. It seemed she was close to leaving and might need help with the bill. I slipped onto the stool alongside.
She picked up the cigarette and thumped it down. She yelled at the waitress, "Miss! Fix me up with another couple of the same! Exactly like the last!"
I figured, "Damn. She's got me pegged as her mark for more dogs. Poor thing must be starving."
I mumbled to the waitress, "Two all-the-way combo. Fries. Ice tea."
The server grunted.
I nodded to the bag lady as she took a faux drag from the unlit fag. This particular unfortunate seemed familiar.
I said, "'Scuse me, Ma'am. Do I know you? Are your people from Sandtrap?" I thought maybe I'd seen her at the U-Save. Or Marge's Hardware. A family reunion? But no one dresses with that je ne sais quoi shabby chic in Sandtrap apart from Queen Tush.
The bag lady belted a brassy laugh, and one eye grazed past me, "You're sweet. What the f^ck is Sandtrap?" She turned and bored a hole through me with the other. That smoky voice. The optical asymmetry. "Of course you know me." She asserted, "I'm Karen Black."
I repeated, "Karen Black?"
She rolled one mascara'd eye toward the ceiling, then the other, "Must be the tiles. There's an echo in here. Christ, I love this place!"
The waitress delivered our dogs. Ms. Black pushed her soiled plate toward the waitress with the butt of her palm, "I couldn't finish those."
She'd only left a nub of dog and pinch of bun.
No sooner had the waitress turned than Ms. Black screeched, "Mustard! I need mustard!"
Everyone was looking at Karen Black then. The waitress bolted around. I hastened the closest yellow squeeze bottle.
Having secured the server's attention, Ms. Black tapped the rim of her drained glass, "'Scuse me! 'Scuse me! Could I have another orange pop?" Then she hissed in my ear, "Tastes like piss."
The waitress whisked the glass away mumbling beneath her breath, "That's 'cause I pee'd in it."
Ms. Black, not versed in Southern passive-aggressive vernacular, missed that.
In slight-of-hand magic, Ms. Black lit her cigarette.
I said, "You can't smoke in here."
Karen Black said, "If one can't smoke in Macon f^cking Georgia, where can one smoke?"
The waitress addressed me, "Is she a friend of yourn? She's 'bout to get her patooty hauled off to the pokey."
I entreated the waitress, "She's from out of town. Cut her some slack. She's famous."
"Famous is, as famous does. Tell the lady to put out the smoke. Or, I'm calling the cops."
Suddenly, I was responsible for Karen Black's behavior.
Ms. Black moaned, "My God, the cigarette police." She stubbed her smoke onto a french fry having snatched a couple of draws.
Through modulated breath and clenched teeth, "I don't smoke. My role demands it."
She turned sizing me up, like calculating how much meat I'd dress out to after slaughter.
Smoke still held, Ms. Black intoned, "What do you do? No, let me rephrase that, 'What do you do?'"
Hot damn! Karen Black WAS an actress. That second reading sounded like she cared!
And if I'd held my breath that long, I'd be blue. I responded, "I'm a writer."
She finally exhaled, "You're a writer. I'm a writer. Everyone's a f^cking writer. And, you're gay."
"Your hair reeks of product. And your wife-beater, designer. Hand-dyed mauve."
I touched my hair, "It's the Avon Lady. I'm powerless over her. And the shirt I got off a Mormon missionary. I used it to strain blackberry wine."
She said, "I'm filming in studios around the corner. On Poplar Street. You should come. Now, I must change for dinner."
"Where's she gonna stuff more food?" I wondered.
"Then, I study lines. Although there aren't so many lines in this film as atmosphere. But, that is what cinema is all about, isn't it? I never sleep when I study lines. Or create atmosphere. But our chat has been charming. Do come to the shoot tomorrow. Let's hang out."
Shoot? Hang out? People I don't know? I think I'll be washing the Avon Lady's "product" from my hair.
In another magic trick, she slapped two twenties on the counter trumping both checks, hers and my own, "Lunch is mine." She stood clutching her gold bag. Hugging herself she glanced around the stainless fixtures and Nu-Way's vintage placards, "I've told people all over the world about this dive."
As it turned out, there was not one, but three movies filming in Macon at that moment. One about baseball, another about zombies closed the carwash for the better part of a week, and the third was whatever Karen Black was in.
So, Duck came in from work, popped a beer, and I enthused, "You'll never guess who bought me lunch, Karen Black!"
He shrugged, "Do we know her?"
"Karen Black? The actress? Five Easy Pieces? Nashville? Whole bunch of stuff? I downloaded half-a-dozen of her movies before you got home!"
He furrowed his brow, "The cross-eyed one, right?"
"Wall-eyed?" He persisted.
"Duck! You wouldn't believe it. It was her! Karen Black. I only mistook her as a bag lady for an instant."
He stroked his beard, "When I was in boys high back in Kansas, my junior year, the English teacher was pretty. But wall-eyed. This one time, she got so mad. She thrust fists onto her hips and snapped, 'I'm looking at you, Mister!' Half the class panicked."
Up next in the Heart of Jawja:
“Lovey Dials the Dead,” it’s not always fun and games in Sandtrap. (Go!)
© Phil Comer
Disclaimer: Although loosely based on reality, characters and events are none you or I know. However, an actress named Karen Black was filming the movie STUCK! in Macon, Georgia, in the spring of 2009.
Text is copyright material of the author. Photo by Phil Comer. Unless stated otherwise, links outside this blog are for information and not the property of the author.