Two weeks after Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as the 39th President of the United States, I moved to Capitol Hill. I was a college kid from a small-town, not quite twenty-one.
Two months after I moved, on St. Patrick’s night, I found myself throwing up the various pints of green beer–consumed earlier at The Hawk & the Dove–into the bushes near my apartment house, Capitol Hill Lodge, on stately Massachusetts Avenue. I hadn’t eaten any supper after work that night. I had never drunk green beer before that night. And as a half-Jewish, half-protestant guy from Bessemer, Alabama, St. Patty’s Day meant nothing to me before that night. However, when one of my co-workers, a very preppy native of Boston, invited my fellow mail carriers and I to go with him to celebrate this green day with like-minded ale, what else could I do?
The H&D was jammed, the beer tasted fine, and the celebration was so heavy that I almost attempted two things that would have changed my simple life.
There was a twenty-nine year old woman at the bar that night, one of the congressional aides I saw four times a day as I made my rounds through the Longworth House building. On these rounds, I pushed a big-wheeled cart that had a high tray for “inside mail”—the stuff going from one congressperson to another within the three House buildings—and the “outside mail”—the letters to constituents that most of us discard unopened in our daily trash. This woman was black-haired with slight wisps of gray, and, I thought, pretty sultry even though she did have lightly-dark rings under her eyes. I knew she was twenty-nine because I had already asked her to go out with me one late afternoon as I was finishing my pick-up.
“How old are you,” she wondered.
She considered a moment my long sideburns, my semi-Fu Manchu moustache. Beards and long hair and blue jeans were taboo in House employment, so I did the best I could. I have long wondered where her considerations took her in those moments.
“No, I don’t think I better.”
My policy was to accept a girl/woman’s response point blank. I never pressed a woman or ever asked a woman who said “No” out a second time, except the woman who later married me and has now stuck with me for the past thirty-two years.
But on this night at The H&D, this woman pressed herself against my side, seemingly ready to laud whatever St. Patty had to offer. So I almost leaned in for a kiss. I almost had either an extraordinary night at her place or mine, or a quick slap in the face. Either alternative, I realize now, would have paid off oh-so-well over the next 240 times I passed her congressional doorway for the mail that most people throw away.
So instead, I called my friend Al Mattern over because I knew he was thirty-two and I considered him suave for a mail carrier because he spoke loudly and well and was the one who got to drive the electric pick-up cart. A few weeks later, Al invited me over to his place in Arlington to watch the NCAA semi-final basketball games, and we both enjoyed seeing Al McGuire’s Marquette Warriors defeat Dean Smith’s NC Tar Heels, making me a southern turncoat or something. After smoking too many joints, Al drove me back to my place, stopping first to pick us up some Jack-in-the-Box in those pre-botulism days. I never asked him what happened after I introduced him to a woman whose name I can no longer recall, and he never said a word about it either.
The other thing that almost happened–and this could only have almost happened to me after I had ingested four pints of green beer–was:
I leaned in to my friend Billy “Nitro” Freeman and suggested that we “just leave because the bartender is so busy, he’ll never notice and if he does, he’ll never be able to catch us.”
Thinking back on that night, I’d estimate that at least 200 people were crammed into the bar, every one of us demanding more green beer.
“I know he wouldn’t catch me, but it’s a bad idea man,” Billy said, and so we kept on drinking and grooving to that traditional St. Patty’s ballad, “The Lido Shuffle.”
Once, or actually several times in our friendship, someone asked Billy why his nickname was “Nitro.”
“It’s because for a fat boy, I sure can run,” and then for proof of something, he’d pull up his shirt and show you the stretch marks around his gut and armpits. “I used to be skinny, too,” he’d say wistfully, “but even now, I’m faster than you.”
My roommate, Peter Hackes—son of the famous NBC newsman—took Billy up on his racing challenge. After work that fine April day, each changed into a pair of shorts, but for some strange reason, they still wore their work boots. Peter’s boots were worn down on the outer edges of his heels for that was how he walked. Still, when someone yelled GO and they took off, running maybe sixty yards, Peter finished first, about three yards ahead of Nitro.
“Not bad for a fat boy,” Billy said as he ambled back, and it was the way he said it that made me feel like Billy had won after all. That was the Lido Swagger.
“So why are you called Nitro,” I asked.
But I didn’t get the real skinny until Billy and I drove one Friday night after work to Frederick, Maryland, with Billy’s older brother. There at a bar where we drank all the Falstaff beer they had in stock, Billy’s brother, hearing one too many “Nitro’s,” said to everyone listening,
Yeah, the real reason we call him Nitro is that when he drinks like this, his farts kill.”
I had never seen Billy giggle before that night, but he even did that with a swagger.
On St. Patty’s night, however, his cool saved me.
“It’s not worth it man.”
So I decided I should pay my bill, but before I did so, I decided I needed some air. As I left to go out into the night, the bartender grabbed me,
“Hey, you have a pretty big tab you know.”
“Oh, I’ll be right back, just have to get a breath.”
A few minutes later, I paid the man his $36 plus a generous tip.
Getting caught would not only have been primarily stupid, but secondarily so. I was living and working in DC with a patronage grant from my own congressman, Walter Flowers, who had contacted a professor of mine at the University of Montevallo—Dr. Jack Hamilton—asking if he would nominate someone from the college who also lived in the congressman’s district. That was me: a Social Work major carrying a 3.6 GPA who had also been chief editor of our campus newspaper—The Alabamian—as well as a SGA senator.
So given that I didn’t succumb to temptation on either count, you’d think that the Catholic God and saints would have taken pity on me. You’d think that at the very least they would have allowed me to make it into my apartment and vomit in my own toilet instead of breaking me down just a block from my destination. But I guess I should be thankful that no one saw me or did worse to my pitiful being.
I can tell you this, too: when you puke green beer, it loses none of its tone.
And in the morning, empty and now starving for some kind of food other than the sliced oranges I normally ate before heading to work, I retraced my path from the night before, back to work, and for the next three hours made my rounds, passing the aide I almost kissed, and waiting patiently for my lunch hour, craving that entire time what, fortunately, was being served as the feature dish in the House cafeteria: slices of premium rump roast, just like my mother made for all the Sunday lunches of my naïve youth. I ate that day with undisguised relish.
I remember when Jimmy Carter’s Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan, was exposed for snorting cocaine. While that act was nothing to relish, it wasn’t as devastating as, say, bugging your rival party’s headquarters, getting routinely high on jelly-confectioned beans and thinking trees caused pollution, appointing your son-in-law to your inner cabinet, or berating department store chains for their insensitivity to your daughter.
Carter was the first person I ever voted for. My college roommate, Keith Brandon, and I headed the Georgian’s campaign on the UM campus, which amounted to distributing “Gimme-Jimmy” buttons (with that caricatured grin), and arguing regularly with our dorm-mate Frank–an Irish guy who sported a full chin-beard, no moustache, and carried a beautiful hardwood cane to aid his polio-ridden legs–over gun control. Frank viewed registration as the slippery first step toward “confiscation.” Every other night, Keith and I could hear him coming, from the minute he left his first-floor room to the second he hit the staircase—no elevator in our modern facility—to the inevitable instant when he appeared in our doorframe saying, “Hey fellas, what’s going on?” If he had called us, I’m sure we would have saved him the struggle up and down those stairs, but I guess it was a matter of pride for him to come to friendly enemy land and argue us to a standstill.
“Why do you care so much about pistols anyway, Frank,” we’d ask. “What do you even need one for?”
“Target practice,” he’d say, though what target he was truly aiming for, we never discovered.
When we set up our campaign wares outside the UM Student Center, we’d engage in other arguments such as expanding or limiting welfare coverage. Some of my fellow social work majors argued vehemently over limiting benefits because, as they’d say, the poor just wanted to have more children and bilk the government for more money.
The poor could always “turn to Jesus,” others added.
There wasn’t much arguing, though, in the days following the Carter-Ford debate when President Ford declared that he didn’t consider Poland under Soviet dominance. It was strange using the Cold War to our advantage, almost thanking the USSR for being there.
Just as it’s funny today to think that one of the great knocks against Carter, or virtually any Democrat then, was that they were “soft on communism,” and too unwilling to face down the Russian Bear. Remember, too, how Carter was slammed for normalizing relations with mainland China, for recognizing that communist state as the true China instead of Taiwan?
Remember which president first visited communist China, though?
Or which president took Osama Bin Laden out of this world?
In any case, it is funny to me about Carter’s Georgia Mafia and Jordan’s cocaine use, because in the first two months of my job delivering mail in the US House of Representatives Post Office in the revered Longworth building, I participated in a cocaine deal, struck in the very basement of that building where our mail carts were sequestered. I, and the others participating, paid $70 for a gram, and my main qualm about this deal was that I had never spent so much money on one particular item before, except for the pair of Electro-Voice stereo speakers I bought for $69 each the previous summer. After taxes, I brought home about $1000 a month from the House PO, and given that Peter and I were sharing the $200 a month rent, utilities included, $70 was no big deal, really. Except that it was, you know, not very legal.
Guilt-induced, I later sold half my gram at face value to one of my cohorts, glad to rid myself of both product and guilt, though not so repentant that I didn’t have fun with what I kept. I’d think sometimes of my poor parents who unknowingly financed me to make such deals in our nation’s capital. Who considered every night, I’m sure, what a trustworthy and virtuous citizen I was.
Still, they’d be proud to know that I never made another coke deal in Washington, and that I never saw another such deal go down in the basement of the House, which is kind of like thinking that after you’ve discovered a rat living in the basement of your own apartment building and exterminated him, you’ve completely rid yourself of the pest problem. Or like thinking that the USSR saw Poland as a beloved, protected son.
I don’t know why I wasn’t paranoid about buying cocaine in a government building. Maybe it was because the cellophane packet was so tiny, that it fit so snugly in my corduroy pants pocket. It wasn’t like the guards sitting at every entrance to the building patted us down. As long as we displayed our ID’s visibly, we were okay to leave or enter. Okay, that is, as long as we weren’t carrying something with us, something opaque that needed to be checked. Something like a valise, a backpack, or…a toilet bag.
Billy lived in a garage apartment behind his parents’ townhouse somewhere on residential Capitol Hill. Once we knew each other better, sometimes he’d invite me for dinner. After a night of getting stoned and listening to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Agents of Fortune” or The Outlaws’ “Hurry Sundown,” I’d make the near-midnight, mile-and-a-half walk back to my place, taking a different route home each time. I remember when I first told my oldest friend, Jimbo, about moving to DC and being mildly shocked at his reaction since he was always the more adventurous one of us:
“Okay, but I don’t want you out on the streets late at night,” he said, as if he were my father or my lover or something. As if I would take such chances or throw up in the bushes or something.
As if I’d walk home alone, very late and very stoned.
On one of the first Saturdays after I moved to the district, I used the Yellow Pages to map out a walking route from the Hill to Georgetown with the aim of hitting as many used and specialized bookstores as I could. I was plush and heady with my first-ever checking account, ready to buy the books that would make me “political;” the ones that would change my life and form me into a Washington Post-style investigative reporter so that I might expose further presidential malfeasance or the drug rings in House office buildings.
Books like All the President’s Men, On the Bus, The Final Days, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.
In that latter classic, author Hunter S. Thompson, stoned on psychedelics or not, praises California congressman Ronald V. Dellums, a true Berkley radical whose House office sat squarely on my daily rounds. Only once, though, did I actually see Rep. Dellums, as I strode through his office door:
“Congressman Dellums, I really admire you. I read all about you in Hunter Thompson’s book!”
He sort of smiled, said “Thank you,” and excused himself to go enact some legislation, or look up my reference, or call the Post Office downstairs. Later, I told my good friend Ron—who mentored me back at Montevallo—what I’d said to Dellums:
“Was he happy or embarrassed,” Ron asked.
“You know, I really can’t say,” I replied. I wonder today at my own lack of viewpoint.
But before that wonder, that experience, before I bought and read that book, there was the Saturday of my designed path. I wandered through downtown D.C., trying to locate an obscure sci-fi bookstore, still hoping to enhance my political education through foreign bodies. But as I turned an otherwise nondescript street corner, other bodies interfered and asked that I give a quarter to pass by.
The four guys were big and, of course, not overwhelmingly friendly. How much was a quarter worth to them back in ’77?
“Sure,” I said as bravely as I could, and then handed the one who asked—a very big guy wearing a billed cap—my coin.
“You can pass,” he said, motioning down the street. And even though I wanted to go straight, I took that left turn and eventually angled back in the direction I originally wanted. I found the sci-fi place, too, and purchased The Man in the High Castle.
As entrance fees go, mine wasn’t too steep really, and really, that instance on a sunny street in the middle of a winter Saturday afternoon was the only time in the nearly six months I lived in Washington that anyone accosted or even stopped me on my way.
Still, I was relieved every time I re-entered my apartment after a night at Billy’s, considering myself smart or lucky or something.
Sometimes Billy would suggest that I spend the night, usually on a weekend. For some reason, though, once, we planned on my sleeping over on a weeknight. All I needed was my toilet bag containing toothbrush and paste, deodorant, and razor. And, of course, my quarter-bag of pot.
Life is funny, and much passion, hubris, and forgetfulness can be blamed on an extremely stoned man.
Except that when I packed that evening, I wasn’t.
When I packed, I wasn’t thinking of the morning, of the entrance to the Longworth Building. Of the guard awaiting me—the one who asked me to
“Open that bag and let me see what’s in it.”
“Oh. This? It’s just my toothpaste and toilet stuff.”
“I still need to see.”
At least I had known by pot-smoker’s instinct to keep the bag buried underneath the more legit goods. But at that moment, all I could see was my congressman, his gorgeous aide Beverly, my parents and my professors back home. All that shame when they’d get the call and when I’d return home months before I was due.
And in that moment, I did the only thing I could do:
I opened my bag.
To his credit and my relief, the guard looked in, saw my tube of Crest, and said,
Thankfully, I’m not the sort who continues making small talk after he’s gotten away with something; not the kind to explain where I had been the night before, what I had been doing. That I, of course, was a small town Alabama boy, here in the capital trying to make good, and not listening to the corrupting influences of rock and roll and smoking the devil’s weed.
Instead, I walked on down to our basement, stashed my bag–with the weed I had bought right here a few days before–into my locker, and proceeded on my appointed rounds.
Of course, I did wander through the district, stoned, on occasion. My co-worker Dave, who at this time was eighteen and either taking a break before college or deciding where to aim his arrow, got us stoned after work one Saturday, and as we sat around his apartment trying to adjust, he jumped up and said, “C’mon.”
I followed him onto a Metro bus riding crosstown, and when we got off somewhere on Connecticut Avenue, I kept following him right into a bookstore that hadn’t made my list before.
That afternoon I bought a copy of The Communist Manifesto, which, actually, I had no idea you could legally acquire, as well as a Socialist Workers’ Party newspaper whose headline read,
“Britain’s Sacred Cow Visits America.”
Those crazy Trotskyites.
Standing in this dark space, I did feel revolutionary, and my feelings only grew deeper as Dave led us to a Cuban restaurant nearby. I had no idea what to expect from Cuban cuisine, but as I scanned the menu, I recognized items that sounded Mexican-restaurant familiar. Enchiladas, only with chicken, accompanied by black beans, a food that we didn’t eat much of back in Alabama, but that, in this seat of western capitalism, filled me with subversive pleasure.
It all seemed so “communist chic.”
The beans were exceptional, and I say that sincerely and not just as one who, that afternoon, was a slave to the munchies.
Recently, a Cuban café opened in our tiny college town, a former mill village, in rural South Carolina. Not bad for a population of 8000 that has shown that it will not support any form of local coffee house. It was not exceptional faire, and matters grew even grimmer when I learned that the mixed-race couple that owned it—she an American, he a native Cuban—also identify as Baptist. Maybe this is all apropos of the post-Castro era.
Back in ’77, though, Castro was still menacing the minds of many in western republics, and the $6.00 I paid for my lunch was, of course, a quarter of what I paid for my ounce of pot. In another few years our next president would declare a War on Drugs, the price of pot would increase ten-fold, and so it would become simpler and more efficient to go ahead and buy coke. But on this afternoon with Dave, the underground rage was still cheap pot, rare black legumes, and sacred cows in tiny dark bookstalls, all within walking distance of the world’s greatest power-seat, which we strolled past on our way back home to my apartment building, which was also near power. But at a cost of $200 a month—utilities included—I should have known the limits of its and my condition.
When I first called Capitol Hill Lodge to ensure that my apartment would be ready for occupancy, I’d have sworn to Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter, and even George Wallace that the woman I was speaking to on the phone, the apartment manager, was a Yankee white woman. Her tonal quality reminded me of Bea Arthur on “Maude,” though much friendlier. This woman’s name now escapes me, though Bernadette or Josephine keeps floating to the surface. In any case, I suppose she’s dead now, but on the late Saturday morning I entered her office in the Lodge (we had driven all night from Alabama), coming in from a snow that seemed to darken the atmosphere rather than lighten it, the person who greeted me was a very stout, bosomy, black woman.
“Must be the assistant manager,” I thought.
And then she spoke.
Damn, I know I was a stupid hick from Alabama and should have known better—like black people who are natives of Britain don’t speak in a Southern American dialect either—but until that moment, I had never heard a black person speak in such a voice.
Even “George Jefferson” sounded black to my ears.
So at that precise moment I knew I was immersed in the North. Whatever her name actually was, Bernadette or Josephine welcomed me in, gave me my apartment and mailbox keys, took my first month’s rent plus deposit, and set me free to ascend to the second floor and my new home. My studio apartment had one long window above the twin beds, which rested against opposite walls. A kitchenette adjoined the one living space, and just in back of it was a closet/hallway leading to the bathroom. My friend Ron and his girlfriend Lynne accompanied me on the move, and because Ron’s car was a Mercury Bobcat—a grandiose Pinto—I had to choose which of my precious things to bring. There wasn’t room enough, finally, for both the portable, 15-inch color TV and the stereo component set, and since I wanted talking heads to comfort me and since I also had the AM radio that my Dad and I formerly used to listen to Alabama football games, I chose the TV, even though when in use, I had to slap its sides every twenty seconds to get the picture back in focus.
In the six months I lived at Capitol Hill Lodge, I met no other tenants, though the ones I passed in the lobby looked much more prosperous than I. Many were much older, too, all were white, and most had The Washington Post delivered each day to their door. It was such a thrill for me to sometimes swipe one of their dailies, and then swoon over such luminous names as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein or David Broder affixed to front and editorial pages.
Other than sharing the Post at 200 Massachusetts Avenue, the other things that we tenants commonly held were the rats in our basement laundry facility and, I assume, the infestation of roaches in our private living spaces.
I didn’t cook that much and always cleaned up after myself if I did. No matter, those roaches were in the cabinets, under the counters, on the ceiling, everywhere. Though I never fully adjusted to their presence, I did sleep better each night after killing a dozen or so.
I couldn’t kill the rats, so after a few weeks, Billy offered his own washer/dryer for my use.
So when I heard our now current president cautioning John Lewis about cleaning up the mess in his congressional district—basically the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta—I wanted to suggest to the man in orange that he look to his own house or tower. Because all is not well practically everywhere. Roaches, rats cocaine users: they don’t care about the condition your conditional accent is in.
When I finally moved out of the Lodge, my parents insisted that I leave all plates and cups and every single iced teaspoon behind. For Peter. Another lost reminder of all my remainders.
My life on the Hill wasn’t solely composed of aides I wanted to date, buxom apartment managers, roaches on my ceiling, and friends who sold me drugs and let me do laundry at their parents’ urban townhouse. I met some famous people, too, like Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, from Texas. Once, a friend and I thought we saw Cy Vance speeding past us in a dome-lit limo. And then there was the day Andrew Young, recently confirmed UN Ambassador, came striding down the hall as I made my rounds on the fourth floor. He smiled at me, too, and I smiled back even though I knew that my Dad thought Young was a radical.
No one I met, however, could compare to the two men I worked for: the assistant postmaster, a guy named Elmo, and my immediate supervisor, Frank.
Elmo mainly sat in his “office,” a glorified cubicle, hoping no one needed him. Sometimes he’d walk through the room, always dressed in white shirt, black pants, black tie, and shoes whose laces were frayed, for all to see. He seemed mainly sober.
When my service was near its end, Elmo called me into his cubicle, the first time we had ever spoken:
“Well, Frank tells me your leavin’ us. He says you’ve done fine work, fine work.”
“Thank you Elmo.”
“Yep, fine work. So, we were thinkin’ that we’re gonna give you your last week off, with pay, to show you how much we appreciate you.”
“Wow. That would be great Elmo.”
“Whatcha gonna do with all that time?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go to New York. I’ve never been, and it would be great to see some shows there.”
“Yeah. You know you can get free tickets to those shows. All ya have to do is write to ‘em.”
“Really? Cause I heard they could be pretty expensive.”
“Nah, write to ‘em. They’d be glad to have you in the audience. “The Match Game,” “To Tell the Truth,” any of ‘em.”
“OK, I will Elmo. And thanks again.”
What would have been the point of explaining? After all, he meant well.
Frank was a Baltimore man, and I never knew men from Baltimore had specific Baltimorean accents. The only way I can describe it is to say that they pronounced their fair city “Bal-TEE-Moah.” Frank considered all of us guys in the mailroom to be his “boys,” and he treated us much like the father in the book I’m listening to now, Shit My Father Says: gruff, but with love. Frank was sixty-five at least, smoked the worst-smelling pipe tobacco I’ve ever scented, and wore flannel shirts and brown slacks every workday. “Grizzled” is the word that describes him best, and that attitude showed if any of us ran late, or got the inside/outside mail confused.
I’m guessing that Frank would have been irate and disappointed about the drugs. Worse, that some of us smoked at lunchtime, which meant that the afternoon mail maybe didn’t quite get to where it should have. Perhaps this explains the slow doom of the Carter presidency. I confess that when I worked at my Dad’s jewelry store, I spent similar lunch hours, which meant that the prices I attached to the jewelry after lunch might have been just a bit off, which I’m sure had nothing to do with the business’s eventual collapse into bankruptcy. Wasn’t that just the way wholesale was heading?
Frank and my Dad were contemporaries, and so out of displaced generational respect, I agreed to Frank’s request that before I leave for good, I train my replacement. Patronage jobs had time limits, and the guy I was training was the definition of a southern prep-school boy, heading to the University of Alabama the following year. He wore blue ivy-league shirts, khaki pants, and Sperry Docksiders to work. I could have told him that he wasn’t a fit, but then someone could have told me that, too, on my first day. As I showed him the rounds, explained the intricacies of sorting mail, and introduced him to the aides in various offices, he proceeded to take notes in the little folding pad he brought.
I mean, he took notes on everything: which elevator to use, whose offices followed whose even though the names were attached to each door, where to stash the mail cart, which aide was the nicest. I wondered if he expected me to issue a quiz on the following day, and I thought about it seriously over night.
I didn’t though, and when I returned a week later to say my final farewells to Frank and Elmo and Al and Nitro Freeman, Frank pulled me aside:
“Tehhy, the new guy havin’ problems. Couldja go with him one moah time?”
“Sure Frank. I’d be glad to.
And so we made our rounds, the guy still taking notes, still asking exactly where the inside mail belonged.
When we returned to the mailroom, Frank looked at me as if I had the power of impeachment. But I just shook my head, grabbed his hand and said goodbye. I never told Frank that I was a Yankees fan, but now, every time I watch the Yanks play Frank’s beloved Orioles, I wince only a little and look the other way if the Birds win.
Two months after I left, I was eating at our favorite restaurant in Bessemer, The Bright Star, and I ran into the guy who replaced me, the guy who cut my time in Washington short. The guy who would be enrolling in law school that coming fall.
“Yep, I’m back home. The job just wasn’t for me,” he said with a grin.
“Guess not,” I replied, thinking about the choices we so callously make, the chances we throw away, the deals we could have had.
The people we choose to defend our rights, and the votes we so calculatedly waste or never use in the first place.
Something else happened to me in those Washington weeks. When, and only when, I had friends visiting me, we often went to the movies. I don’t know why Jimbo and I chose to see Fun with Dick and Jane, but we did. I think it was a light-hearted romp, something of a caper film. Another caper film was Behind the Green Door, the infamous Marilyn Chambers vehicle that Ron and Lynne insisted we see. Being from Alabama and all, we didn’t get the chance to see real and famous hardcore sex films. You know, the ones where men grab women by whatever hair they can grab and where sex occurs in vivid black and white. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to go, but in the end, it was pretty boring, and not so pretty.
The film I remember most, however, was Robert Altman’s Three Women, a picture I saw twice with Jimbo and with Freddy. It’s a film you kind of have to see twice if you’re going to get all that happens, or at least give yourself a chance to. The personalities of the three women in question—played by Shelly Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Janice Rule—morph into and beyond each other within the confines of a remote and rundown Texas motel where Rule’s very pregnant character keeps painting grotesque scenes of alien beings with tremendous penises violating the supposed females of their kind. Rule’s husband, played I believe by Robert Forster, stands behind each woman, guiding their aim, to a great extent, making them what they are: heartbreakingly psychotic. It’s a film I’d see again today, that is, if it weren’t playing out nightly on my news feed. I won’t tell you what happens at the end, a) because I hate to spoil things, and b) because it might get some people’s hopes up, or conversely, reinforce their belief that women should be seen, occasionally, but never heard.
In the end, it’s funny what we remember about a certain time and place in our lives. And what I remember tells me how very fortunate I was, though in my own end, I never became the political reporter I thought I would be. I changed my college major to English, and when the next election arose, I did not vote for Carter.
To my shame now, I voted third party, which didn’t matter so much in 1980 since Reagan truly did win in a landslide, unlike….
Inauguration day 2017.
If I go to Washington at all, it will be under no one’s patronage but my own. By the time anyone reads these words, this cloudy day will be some sort of memory, too: strange or nightmarish or perhaps the word my Nanny used when I was little, when I had been sick with whatever stomach bug was circulating in our collective system; when I had thrown up all my vegetable soup or cornbread, or that lime green Jell-o they used to give me for dessert when I had been extra good:
“I’m sorry darling,’” she’d say. “Does your throat taste bitter now?”
“Yes,” I’d nod, not completely understanding how she knew or why she was asking.
She’d give me some Canada Dry then, to soothe me and wipe the taste from my mouth. If only it were always so easy. If only she were here now to comfort me and, perhaps, you too.
Terry Barr’s essays have appeared in journals such as Full Grown People, Sinkhole Lit, Drunk Monkeys, Hippocampus, Left Hooks Journal, South Writ Large, and Lowestoft Chronicle. His essay collection, Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings from My Alabama Mother, will be published in a second edition this May by Third Lung Press. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.