An excerpt from the novel The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood by Scott Semegran
I was really curious by what Jason meant when he said my other car so I put my pants back on and went into the garage to check it out. When we were kids, Jason's dad had this beat-up 1967 Mustang in the garage and he used to always tell us about how he was going to restore it but he never had the time to do it. It was rundown like everything else and even though he used to always talk about it, he never did work on it liked he said he wanted to, even when it seemed like he did have the time to do it. It just sat there in their garage, all beat-up and shit. But when I stepped in the garage, I discovered that he finally did find the time to do it after all. For the first time since I had seen it back then, it looked like fucking brand new. It was the only thing in the house (as far as I could tell) that wasn't rundown.
And his dad did a real job on it too. It was this bright, pearl turquoise color with white leather seats and shiny chrome everywhere. I walked around it and looked it over and it didn't have one dent or scratch on it. It looked like it had just rolled out of the goddamn factory or something. I mean, it was beautiful. And I was (for the first time since I walked in Jason's house) really amazed. It was like a little pristine oasis out there in the garage in the middle of all this crap in the rest of the house. The driver-side window was down so I popped my head in. Again, the interior was in immaculate shape. And just as I had remembered, it had a three on the floor. The only thing not original (again, as far as I could tell) was the stereo. A completely modern stereo was installed with new speakers mounted in the doors. That was OK considering that automobile makers in the sixties didn't appreciate the importance of a high quality sound system in their vehicles. I could hear the car keys calling to me inside and I knew that I had to drive it. So I ran back inside.
I put a fresh, clean shirt on since Jason spilled my goddamn vanilla Coke on my other shirt, hopped in that beast of a car, and backed out of the garage. There was no need trying to be quiet about it since the Mustang rumbled like a goddamn monster. Jason had to have heard me, it was so loud. It's true. Plus, the garage door rattled and shook as the garage-door opener strained to pull it up the rails. I thought it was going to fall off the goddamn rails, it shook so much. I backed out of the garage past the turd-on-wheels Chevette and took off.
The mustang handled like a dream. It really did. The clutch was nice and tight and responsive and the engine roared like a monster. I was afraid I was going to wake up the whole goddamn neighborhood the way it roared. It even had air conditioning. You know, one of those big air conditioning units that look like small refrigerators. It was mounted on the floor behind the stick shift. It rumbled and gurgled like a rusty window unit at a cheap motel and spit water all over the place when I turned it on but it worked. That's all that mattered. I decided at that moment that I was going to check out some places I never had a chance to go to when I was a kid, being that I was a minor and all. Since it was late, that limited it to bars and clubs but I was OK with that. It must have been close to eleven o'clock. I kept the beast in second and hauled some serious ass past my old house and Darren Reedy's old house and Beth Myers' old house. I turned on the main boulevard outside the neighborhood and took a left towards town. Everything was within twelve to fifteen miles of Country Down Estates. Montgomery was a sprawling goddamn metropolis. It's true.
I couldn't think of any reason why Jason would drive that turd-on-wheels Chevette over this beauty. I really couldn't. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and thought that maybe driving the beast would stir up recent memories of his parents' death; maybe driving it would remind him of his father and how much he loved this car and all. But that didn't seem (to me, at least) to be a valid reason to subject the entire town to the sight and sound of the turd mobile. I mean, it was a goddamn eye soar. And the smell that poor-excuse-for-a-car emitted was horrendous. It smelled like the farts I get after I drink milk. I'm lactose-intolerant, if I didn't tell you before, and drinking milk gives me the worst gas. It's true. That's what that Chevette's exhaust smelled like, my milk-gas. And who would want to drive around with that? But Jason's family was never into looks and class and all. They liked everything rundown. Maybe driving something that wasn't rundown made him feel uncomfortable. And if that was the case, that would be a real goddamn shame. It really would.
Being that I had been away from Montgomery for so long, nothing looked the same to me. I mean, I recognized the main street and some of the businesses and buildings but it also looked quite different too. That happens, you know, when you move away from a place; it changes without your knowing, whether you want it to or not. Montgomery was trying really hard to be a goddamn modern mega-metropolis. It allowed the Home Depots and McDonald's and Starbucks and strip malls and fast food restaurants and convenience stores to invade its city limits. And in a way, that was comforting because there was now a level of familiarity to it that made things simple for a visitor like myself. I mean, the level of unexpected disappointment was lowered because of these conveniences. A goddamn cappuccino at Starbucks here would probably taste pretty close to a goddamn cappuccino from a Starbucks in Austin. But I didn't want that really. If I wanted a cappuccino that tasted like the ones in Austin, then I would have stayed in Austin. It's true. Why travel all that distance to get the same thing you would get at home? It cracks me up when I hear friends of mine say that when they went to Paris, they ate at McDonald's. Why the fuck would you want to do that? Is a French McDonald's better than a plain old American one? I don't think so.
Anyway, I was looking for a place called Dan's Watering Hole. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the sign this place had in front. The place looked like an old saloon, what, with the wood façade and the post for tying up your horse and the old barrels and the swinging door. But the thing I remembered most was the sign. The sign had a picture of a cowboy standing next to his horse in front of a barrel filled with some brown water. The goddamn horse looked drunk off his ass with his criss-crossed eyes with the x's in the middle and his sagging, drooling tongue hanging from his mouth. I was completely fascinated with that goddamn sign. Whenever my parents would drive by, I would always ask them why the cowboy would take his horse to a barrel that was obviously filled with alcohol. They never answered my question and I think that fed my curious imagination with plenty of bizarre scenarios. Maybe the cowboy thought it was funny to see his horse sitting there drunk and drooling. Or maybe that was all they had to drink being that they lived in a desert and water was scarce and all (duh). Or maybe the horse was my Uncle Sherman reincarnated as the drunk horse, being that he was a pretty mean alcoholic. My twelve year old mind just couldn't figure it out. Now that I'm older, I think it's funny that I thought any of those things were reasonable explanations for the horse being the way he was in that sign. I had a fervent imagination. It's true. But now that I was older, I wanted to check it out for what it really was: a hole-in-the-wall serving cheap beer to the locals with a stupid cartoon for a sign. I really needed a drink anyway after that story Jason told me about what happened to Darren Reedy. It was a heavy story like I knew it would be and it really brought me down.
But unfortunately, Dan's Watering Hole was nowhere to be found. No evidence of that old saloon or the sign with the drunk horse on it was anywhere on the main boulevard. And I drove up and down a few times. I pulled the beast over to an old convenience store that I remembered from my childhood: Tyrone's BGP Convenient Store. The BGP apparently stood for Beer, Gas, and Peanuts, or at least that's what old Tyrone used to tell me when Jason and I would ride our bikes down to his store for ice cream sandwiches and sodas after school. And I always got a kick out of the fact that he used convenient instead of convenience on the store sign. That's what it said, it's true. Old Tyrone was really nice to us, especially considering that we were just two white kids from the nice, white neighborhood up the street. He didn't have to be nice to us but he was. I'll always remember his kind smile. I remembered thinking that I would hit the ceiling if he was still there. He would have to be old as hell to still be there. He was old as hell when I was kid. I parked the car and went inside.
It smelled just like I remembered, what, with that sweet candy smell and, of course, the smell of fresh, buttered popcorn. No matter what time of the day you went in, it always smelled like fresh popcorn inside. And even though it was rundown inside and out, it never smelled musty or mildewy like you would expect. It just looked kind of musty and wildewy, like the rest of Montgomery. But the store was laid out the same. The two middle aisles were filled with all kinds of candy from front to back. And the comic book rack was still there on the side by the window. I spent long hours there reading issues of Spiderman while I ate my candy and ice cream. Man, did that bring back memories. And there it was, past eleven o'clock and it still smelled like fresh popcorn inside. I grabbed a beer from the cooler and went to the counter. I wanted a small bag of popcorn and directions to Dan's Watering Hole. But old Tyrone was no where to be found. In fact, there wasn't anybody in there except for me. The counter was unmanned and the store was unpopulated. There was a small sign with a bell on the counter. The sign said: Ring the bell for service. So I did.
Pretty quick, old Tyrone came from a back door and hopped behind the counter. He didn't look as old as I thought he would. In fact, he looked pretty goddamn good. Well, you know what they say? Black people always age better than white people, at least in the looks department. He looked pretty goddamn good for his age, what with the pitch black hair and no wrinkles and all his white teeth. I was pretty sure he wouldn't remember who I was. I mean, it's not like we were friends and all. He was probably more a fixture of my memories than I was of his. But he plopped on his stool just like he used to and gave me a look of indifference and kindness simultaneously. He was chomping on a smashed up cigar, just like he used to. And he was wearing the same kind of Dickies overalls. Back then, he'd chew those cigars until they disintegrated.
"What can I do ya for, sir?" He used to call me sir when I was a kid. It's true. He looked really good for his age too. He didn't look a day over forty except for his tired, yellow eyes. That's what gave his age away. And he still chewed that cigar like he was a cow chewing cud or something.
"I used to live in Montgomery when I was a kid ..."
"Oh really?" Old Tyrone, he never used to let you finish a sentence. He would always butt in with some kind of question about your day or where you were from or where you were going. That's just the way he was. He hadn't changed a bit. And he chewed that cigar like a madman. "When'd you move away?"
"Oh, about sixteen years ago."
"It's been a long time, huh?" he asked. "Things have changed quite a bit 'round here, I'd say. Where'd you live? Country Down Estates?"
"That's right. That was my old neighborhood."
"That's where all you white folks like to live," he said. He was a real fucking genius. I thought he was going to choke on that cigar, the way he was chomping on it. "That might as well be a country club or some shit, huh? Sixteen years ago, huh? You remember the Browns? They tried living in old Country Down Estates about that time. You remember what happened to them?"
I remembered the Browns, all right. Who wouldn't? Dr. James Brown and his family moved into Country Down Estates right after we did. They moved into a big house right on the main thoroughfare of the neighborhood. As far as I remembered, they were the only black family in the neighborhood. Dr. Brown was a successful cardiologist and his wife was a family practitioner and they had two kids that were a little younger than I was. But I remembered being relieved that a black family was moving into the neighborhood. There was just too many white families around. But not everyone else felt the way I did about the Browns. Apparently, the Browns were not very welcomed in our neighborhood. Their neighbors didn't welcome them in like they did the other white neighbors. Eventually, I started to hear things like the garbagemen wouldn't pick their trash up and the utilitymen wouldn't come out and turn their utilities on. A big stink ensued and even though I was a little too young to understand the situation, my parents would talk about it at the dinner table. My parents were really upset by it, especially since my dad was a Jew and he said he even caught some flack and stares from some of the neighbors. I don't remember exactly what happened to the Browns but they did eventually move away and there was some articles about their lawsuit in the paper. It was a really big deal back then.
"Yeah, I remember the Browns," I told him, kind of embarrassed that I was still a white guy. Sounds stupid but it's true.
"Well, anyway, what can I do you for? Need gas for your fancy car?"
There was something about old Tyrone I couldn't quite put my finger on. There was something different about him. I mean, he looked the same, what, with the overalls and the cigar and all. I caught myself staring at him. I stopped that pretty quick though. There's one thing you don't do, as a white guy, and that's stare at an old black guy. It's true. They take offense to it. But I didn't want to offend him. I wanted to ask him a question.
"Is your name Tyrone?" I asked. It was a long shot, I was sure, but I had to ask him if he remembered me. He kind of eyeballed me back, chewing on his goddamn cigar and scratching his head. I could tell he was trying to figure out who I was but he wasn't trying too hard.
"Sure is. Who are you? Barnaby Jones?" he asked. That was pretty goddamn funny, if you ask me. It really was. I liked it when black men used those kind of racial slurs, just like good old George Jefferson did. It really made me laugh. It's true. I thought it was hilarious.
"This may sound really stupid but do you remember me? I used to come in this store a lot when I was a kid and I read the comics and ate my ice cream over there by the window. You know, those days of reading Spiderman in your store really inspired me to do what I do today. I can pretty much say that I wouldn't be a published writer today if it wasn't for your store." I thought it might be pretty goddamn neat if he did remember me, especially since I was a writer now and obviously had moved away from this town to actually do something really important with myself. Man, was I wrong.
"You know, to me, all you white kids look the same. But to be honest, you must be looking for my pops. I'm Tyrone Jr. My pops don't work here no more."
I knew there was something strange about him. Something just wasn't quite right about old Tyrone but I couldn't put my finger on it. Now I knew why. He wasn't the same old Tyrone at all. He was a cruel imposter. I was really disappointed.
"Oh really? What's your dad doing these days? Is he retired?"
There it was again, that blunt Montgomery attitude about death. He just blurted it out like it was nothing. It kind of got to me. It's true. And he wasn't effected by it at all.
"Oh," I said, kind of speechless for a second. I really wanted to change the subject but for some reason, I didn't. "Your dad used to tell me that BGP stood for Beer, Gas, and Peanuts. Is that true?"
"Nah, it stands for Be Getting Profits. He just used to tell other people that because it didn't sound so greedy. He was real smart like that. He was a smart businessman. And I'm sure he wouldn't remember no white kids reading his comics in no window. It used to piss him off when kids would read his merchandise without paying for it."
I was kind of getting the feeling that old Tyrone Jr. wasn't as fond of our common past as I was. I decided to really change the subject this time. Young Tyrone was starting to get on my nerves.
"I was looking for Dan's Watering Hole. Is that place still around here?"
"I haven't heard about that place in a long time. It's gone now. The owner sold it a while ago. But you can go to the new club now. It's called Cinnamon's. It's in the same building down the street. It just looks different now but it's the same building."
"Back that way?" I asked, pointing in the direction I came from, back toward my old neighborhood. He was really sucking on that cigar now. It was about to disappear down his throat.
"Yeah, just turn back and go that way. You'll see it on the left. You can't miss it. It has the real big boobies on the neon sign."
I got a small bag of popcorn and paid Tyrone for it and my beer. I didn't bother telling him it was nice to meet him and how his store brought back a bunch of memories and all that shit because it was obvious he didn't care about who I was. And I'm OK with that. It's true. I just left and got back in the Mustang. I took a swig from my beer and placed the popcorn between the seats. I backed out of the parking lot to old Tyrone's BGP Convenient Store and dropped the beast into first gear. I peeled out of the parking lot and didn't look back. I decided to leave old Tyrone, young Tyrone, his stinking cigar, the candy, the comic book rack, all the other white kids who didn't pay for their comics, and that goddamn store in my past, where it should be. Sometimes, reliving the past will do you no good. It's best to just leave things the way they were. It's true.