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Location: marengo, il, United States

Friday, November 26, 2004

FIRST GUESTS

Tony and Carrie take the winding two-lane road that connects the community of Fob Town to Hoohooville.

“You better behave yourself this time, Tony. I’m warning you.”

She looks up at her rear-view mirror.

“Will you look at that asshole? Get off my tail, you dumb jerk wad!”

She thinks better of flipping off the impatient driver of the car behind her.

Tony glances back over his shoulder.

“And you best be careful you damn self, woman. You know we out in the middle of hang-me-high country here.”

Carrie’s eyes dart between the road in front of her and the mirror as she speaks prettily. “Yes I know, sweetie.”

She pets his knee as he raises a bottle to his lips and takes a long sip of beer.

“And crap, will you keep that beer down, you big goof? It’d be just my luck he’s some off-duty hick deputy-dog sheriff back there just looking for an excuse to try and get laid.”

The car riding their bumper suddenly zooms past as both cars hit a stretch of open road.

“And good riddance to you, butt head.”

Carrie turns her head sharply and stares as the car pulls up along side, and as the driver goes by she gives him a quick flip of her blonde hair, along with a gorgeous cross-eyed smile and a fluttery finger wave.

“Bu-bye.”

Tony sits at ease in the passenger seat next to his wife. He holds a handful of jewel cases in one hand and the half-empty Corona in his other. The bottle goes up in mock salute at the same time the other car speeds away.

“See you! But I wouldn’t want to be you.”

Carrie shakes her head while Tony again takes the beer to his mouth.

Some twenty minutes later the car pulls to a stop in front of the Bon Adventures’ home. Carrie reminds Tony one more time as they leave the car.

“I mean it. You behave tonight. And don’t be giving me grief when it’s time to go, because I had a long day at work and I’m beat.”

The pert blonde holds a flowering plant in one hand as she rings the doorbell. Tony lags behind in the yard.

“Hey, somebody come let us in!”

David nearly knocks Carrie over as he barges out the front door. He runs right past her holding a live frog tight in one of his hands, and he flies off the porch heading straight for Tony. Way steps out to hold the door, and he grins at Carrie as he accepts her house-warming gift.

Tony lurches backwards a step, raising both CDs and his beer high into the air as young David comes charging at him.

“Jezebel dying, boy! What do you got there?”

David chortles gleefully while he and the frog runs circles around the man.

Tony courageously holds his place without running away like the last time when the boy came at him holding a handful of plastic spiders, but the terrified expression on his face looks as if he might.

Tony has known David since the child was a toddler. He christened the boy Sampson the first time they met, for both his long curly locks and what Tony called his amazing super-strength. The name has continued to stick, and they both love nothing better than tormenting each other to a frazzle.

So as soon as the attempt of trying to frighten Tony to death fails, hugs get exchanged by the women and rowdy high-fives between the two men, and then Trixie takes Carrie inside on a quick tour of the house. Tony and Way amble along behind them, and they all go straight into the kitchen. David sticks close to Tony.

“Where’s you stereo, Way?”

He sets the empty Corona bottle on the kitchen table while Way fishes two more beers out of the fridge.

“Take that frog and go put it back in your room, son.”

The boy disappears. The two men go into the den where they get involved with music while the women examine the house.

“Oh, this is lovely, Trixie. And all these cabinets -- Oh my! Just look at all the space you have now.”

They head down the hall to see the bedrooms. Otis Redding wails out blues from the den.

“Hello, Eli. Say, your room looks really neat. Mind if I come in?”

Eli nods an affirmation. He sits at ease on a stool next to his desk, holding a cell phone to one ear.

“I got to go. Yeah. We have company. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, I know. Okay, bye.”

He follows the ladies out of his room but turns and heads for the den.

Carrie peeks into the other two bedrooms and then checks out the bathroom.

“Bad as Nick, I swear. He’s either on the phone every minute, or he’s begging me to take him over to one of his girl friends houses. I get them so mixed-up anymore. Oh, I just love your shower curtain. That is so nice.”

They return to the kitchen where serving dishes on the table are full with fresh-sliced tomatoes and onions, crisp leaves of lettuce and dill pickles. A covered bowl of potato salad waits beside a package of buns. Carrie steals a bite from a plate of sliced cantaloupe while Trixie removes a carton of hamburger patties from the freezer.

“Way needs to start the grill already. I reminded him to do that over thirty minutes ago.”

Carrie nods as she walks to the sink.

“Well as usual Tony had to comb his hair for an hour, or we’d have been here on time. But you know how we are.”

She rinse her hands while looking into the den through a window above the kitchen counter, and then she yells.

“Hey, you guys!”

Eli is keeping rhythm to the music on an African udu drum. Way leans back sitting on the floor while Tony spins and sways to the sounds blasting from the stereo, lost in his own world, so she raises her voice and barks loudly.

“Hey! Turn that down, will you? Crap, we can hardly hear ourselves think in here, much less talk.”

“Jezebel dying! Let’s go out on the deck and get away from them two. They a place out there to plug this thing in?”

David darts from the kitchen and into the den, holding a new Lego creation, and he trails after his pal.

“Check this out, Tony.”

“Go do the grill, Way! Everything‘s ready and Carrie and I are both starving.”

“Eli, go out to the garage and get that bag of charcoal, son. And find me the lighter fluid, too.”

Tony tangos through the opened patio doorway and dances onto the deck. Way follows behind, dragging an extension cord and the stereo.

Eight hamburgers later lay and sizzle outside on a hot barbque grill as Bon Adventure flips them one by one. Drops of grease begin falling and land on the glowing coals inches below. There they sputter while little flames begin to rise and dance. Thick smoke billows out from the fire. It floats above the fanning cook's head and across the yard where David is chasing madly after a grasshopper.

The butterfly net whacks the ground right after the insect springs away.

“Get him, Davy! You got to run faster to catch that sucker!”

The net misses twice again before the child captures the bug.

“Woo-wee! You got that sucker!”

That’s when Tony gets up from his seat on the step. He turns and goes higher to the deck where he can stand a safe distance away from the boy and his net. There he yells to David.

“You keep that thing away from me, Sampson. I mean it too, boy.”

But David never listens to Tony.

Tony then goes charging the other way, almost tripping over a flower pot and a coal bucket before he hurls himself down the steps on the opposite side of the deck. He lands to hit the grass running, with the out-stretched arm of David and the caught bug hot on his trail.

“Jezebel dying, boy!”

Whoops and hollers of both Tony and David can be heard mingling with the sounds of blues playing on the deck, along with traffic noise out beyond the tree line.

Tony darts by the grill. David and his grasshopper come by next.

“Go inside and get me a clean plate, David. These are done now, so hurry.”

The racket of the two runners fades as Tony sprints around the east side of the house to the front yard, both ignoring the anxious Way.

Moments later the deck screen door slides open. Trixie steps outside, carrying a package of hot dogs and an extra plate.

“Here, can you put some of these on for the boys? And where is David?”

“Let me have that plate here quick. And where’s Tony, you mean. The last I saw either one, they were both headed around to the front yard. David caught a big bug for Tony.”

They suddenly appear from between two garages, Tony first, and then David right behind him. Neither one has slowed their speed. Tony runs back up to the top step where he started from, and there he stops and turns around. He crouches down to stare directly at David and the grasshopper. A gold tooth sparkles as he holds up his bottle of beer and cries out while he gasps for air.

“Somebody stop me!”

David creeps up the four wooden stairs one delicious step at a time, holding the grasshopper firmly between his forefinger and thumb.

Trixie orders him to go wash his hands.

“And leave Tony alone too. You’re going to give him a heart attack one of these days.”

Tony stands up straight and proud. But he keeps one suspicious eye on David and wipes at his forehead as the boy scoots by.

Trixie grabs the boys arm just before he runs through the doorway.

“Uh uh, mister. You turn that thing loose before you go inside.”

Tony comes into the kitchen breathing hard. He balances a plate in his free hand that is piled high with hot-off-the-grill burgers and announces loudly.

“Yummy!”

“Mom, can I eat my hot dog outside? And can I have chili and cheese on it?”

“Yes and no, David. That’s called a chili dog, and I'm not making any chili right now. Do you want ketchup this time, or mustard?”

Tony takes two cold beers from the fridge. Chairs scoot up to the table. Way bows his head to say a brief blessing over food and friends. Then the four adults and Eli dig in to the meal.

“These baked beans smell delicious, Trixie. Tony, you want some?”

“I want some of everything! Man, I miss you guys.”

The hamburgers quickly all but disappear. Trixie moves the near-empty dish to the counter to make more room on the table.

“Say, I heard Jed finally moved. It must be a lot quieter in the old neighborhood now.”

Carrie shakes her head and glances toward the ceiling.

“It’s changed so much you’d never recognize the place anymore.”

Tony sets his beer down and picks up one of two burgers from his plate. He licks a few baked beans from one side of the bun while holding his sandwich with both hands. Then he looks at his friend Way and laughs.

“Carrie called the cops on those nut-nuts across the street last week.”

Carrie almost chokes on her dainty mouthful of beans.

“I did not!”

She lays her fork down by her plate and thumps her chest gently.

“I did have to call the Health Department on those jerks, though. And it was about time somebody did.”

“What in the world for?”

“You should see all the junk those nasty people left out at the curb. And not only that, they put it over in front of that vacant house next door. Right! Like they thought I wouldn’t know the difference.”

She picks up her fork back up and reaches over to stab a section of cantaloupe.

“I am getting so sick of living there. It’s really went downhill since you guys left.”

Trixie slides the bowl of baked beans towards Tony‘s plate.

“Tony, try some more. So why don’t you guys move out here? There’s a house right across the street that’s up for sale now.”

“Oh, I wish we could.”

“Yeah, hurry before Jed finds the place and moves in.”

Everyone laughs at Way's idea.

Trixie offers Tony another helping of potato salad.

“Let me finish what I got first. Man, this is really good, gal. Hey, Ya'll remember when he mooned those two girls up at the Seven Eleven that one night? Man, was he drunk out of his mind, or what?”

Carrie spat out a laugh.

“That ass never needed being drunk for an excuse to be crude.”

Trixie gets wound up over the old stories from the old neighborhood. So does everyone at the table. She takes a piece of ripe melon from the container. Then she lays it on her plate and begins cutting it into smaller bite sizes as she continuies, while her fork tap-taps against the dish.

“I still like the one about the bicycle wreck, and that whole episode. It was like anything that could possibly go wrong that day, did.”

“Was that when your nephew came up to visit?”

“Yes, him and my mom both. And then Ellie Mae came over from across the street to visit while they were gone.”

“Oh, his wife was a something else alright.”

Tony clears his place and picks up the bottle sitting near Way’s plate.

“You ready for another? Man, this is still half-full, dude.”

“Yeah, that was one crazy weekend. What, your nephew got lost or something, didn‘t he? He was like seven years old back then, I think.”

“Uhuh. His mom found out and drove all the way up from downstate to get him. Boy was she ever mad at the world. Especially my mom.”

“The whole thing was all Jed’s fault, though.”

Way takes a sip of his beer.

“Now if I’d known Jed wanted to ride his bicycle clear into Stinking Onion that day, I’d stayed home. He told me he just wanted to go across the river and pick up a check somebody owed him. That part sounded fine to me, so I went along with him.”

Tony grins but sits quiet.

“Now, you know that big hill on the other side the river? We get down it and cross over the bridge with no problem. In fact, that was the best part of the trip. But here we go up the other side when Jed cranks down hard on his pedal and jams up his chain somehow. I mean, it got jammed tight, too.

Next thing I know he’s cussing and swearing and kicking at the thing with his big foot, trying to get it back on the right gear. Course, that didn’t work.

So here comes a city dump truck with four men riding side-by-side in the front seat. They stop across the street from where we are standing, and they all get out. One goes to the back-end of the truck and takes out some shovels and rakes. Jed sees all this and hollers out if they have any kind of tools he can borrow.

Then he struts over to the truck just like he owns the thing. And then he comes right back swinging what looks like this huge pipe wrench. I just stood there next to my bike, and I’m not saying a damn word.

So he starts banging on his chain and that entangled back sprocket like he is some expert mechanic. Then the next thing I see is that Jed standing there on the sidewalk, his arms raised in the air and looking for all the damn world like he's Conan the Barbarian. He’s got half the frame of that tore-up bicycle in one hand, and he's got the rest of it in the other, waving it all at the heavens.”

The ladies both convulse with laughter at the image.

“And he roars out like a barbarian, too. So I turned my bike back around then, and told him I’m going back to the house to get my van. Stay here, and I’ll come back and get you and your bike.

Then I make it all the way up to the top of the hill across the river, and here I am huffing and puffing by the time I get to the light on Main. I cut across that intersection and head south on Main. Then the light behind me changes, so here comes a bunch of traffic. That’s when I decide it would be best to go up on the sidewalk. I didn't want to get run down, you know.

I look and up ahead is a good spot where the curb looks pretty low, so that’s where I aim for. I'm pedaling hard and moving pretty fast by the time I get there, too.

Now, jumping curbs is usually easy. Thing was, my back wheel must have caught or hit something -- I still don’t know what-- but next thing I do know, I am flying through the air just like Superman. I got no idea where the bike is at this point, but I know for damn sure I ain't on it.

All I can see below me is the grass going by. I fly above it for a ways thinking in slow-motion, ‘I am about to’ when I slam against the ground, chest-first.”

He picks up his beer for a sip, so Trixie takes up the story line from there.

“We are all sitting in the living room having a good conversation, my mom and Ellie Mae and me, when here comes Way, staggering up to the door by the front porch. He’s totally winded, plus blood is dripping from his elbows, and the poor thing, he can hardly talk. He looks in through the screen door before he says, ‘Jed. Me. Bike. Accident’.

And as soon as she hears, Ellie Mae springs up off the couch and shoots out the door right past Way, who’s now leaning up against the porch railing for support, still trying to catch his breath.”

Carrie giggles. Way just smiles and finishes his beer.

“So she runs out to the street and hops in her car and takes off without ever bothering to ask where in the world her husband is. All she can think about is that he’s laying out there somewhere looking worse than Way.

But then about a minute later, here she comes again, tearing around the corner on two wheels. Her car slids to a stop, and then she cranes her head out the window and yells, ‘Where is he at?’ before she peels out again. It was just insane.”

Carrie interjects.

“Isn’t that how the nephew got lost, following after her?”

“Well, sort of. All the bigger kids had left to go off for a bike ride somewhere. Who knows? But Blake decides during all this confusion to take off and follow after them. That poor kid. The big ones were already out of sight by this time, so after he gets three blocks away without finding any of them, he thinks for sure that he has become lost.

He stops out in front of some strange person’s house, and he starts wailing, so the people there felt sorry for him, and they take him inside so he can call up his mom on the phone. But they had no idea that she lived three hundred miles away.

Boy, his mom went nuts when she got that phone call. Drove up here in record time, chewed out my mom for not keeping a closer eye on him, and then she took the boy and drove right back home again. Mom was freaking out; Elly Mae was freaking out; Way had me freaked out -- and all over that freaking Jed -- what a day that was.”

Tony gets up and goes to the fridge again.

“Way! What about that night the three of us went out and played pool? And we suckered Jed into playing that old guy, the dude that won all those tournaments?”

Carrie looks at her watch.

“It’s time to go, Tony. I have to be up early.”

“Aw, man!”

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