"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I’m Blessed

“I’m blessed”, said Herman Babbage, all pink and flushed from the steam room. “Truly blessed”.

Babbage was not truly blessed. Rumor had it that his wife, Marge, was screwing the Ford dealer at lunchtime; and every one knew about his son, Billy, who was a spastic.  Marge’s dalliances with Ryder Henley became more and more open, and anyone who passed his house in Arcadia could hear the ruckus of their banging away on his old four-poster and her wild banshee screams.  The two of them didn’t even bother to close the windows.

Billy had a strange kind of palsy which affected him irregularly, and at strangely predictable times.  When he went to Sunday morning services at the United Methodist Church about half-way through he started to twitch and jerk, and when it got too bad, he and his parents had to leave. Herman was a real trooper about going to church, rarely missed a Sunday, and at many services read from scripture and led the congregation in song.  He left Billy in the back row with his wife, but often stumbled over Bible verse because he was paying more attention to his twitching son than to the words of Our Savior.

The Babbages always made a good show of family harmony, and he and Marge walked into church holding hands; but he hated it because when he went to fold his hands in prayer, he either smelled Ryder’s cheap cologne or his wife’s crotch. “Going to Sunday market” was her flimsy excuse for a ‘bucking bronco’, the town’s term for what she and Ryder did, since his flailing away on top of her, waving his arm, and whooping looked for all intents and purpose like a rodeo ride.

So Herman Babbage was not at all blessed.  In fact he was cursed.  No one knew how he took his wife’s flagrant infidelities – especially at the hands of a fat car salesman with a toupee – or put up with his son’s twitching and jumping.  Most people had sympathy for the young man, but palsy aside, he was a jerk.  He sat around the house all day long reading sexy manga comic books and whacking off; and despite the fact that the city’s Department of Human Services was quite willing – with generous and unspent Federal Disability Act monies – to find him some kind of employment, he always found some reason to turn them down.  In desperation Herman took him on in his bridal shop on Main Street, one of the few retail stores still doing business in the dying downtown.  It was a depressing place – bad lighting, racks of cheap dresses, and a raggedy clientele.  Herman banked on the assumption that even poor families like to break for white dress weddings, and he stocked up on Chinese sweatshop garments that fell apart after one wearing – which was OK, because they were only meant for a single use.

Billy gave it his best, but when he pulled the white crinoline dresses out of their boxes and held them up for a customer’s inspection, he jumped and jerked so much, his face became so contorted in horrid grimaces, and the frilly, stiff dress so shook like a wild bush in the wind, that he looked like an African witch doctor with a totem throwing a curse.  No one stayed around after that.

Every morning at the gym Herman continued to say that he was blessed, but it was easy to tell that his wife and son were eating him up inside.  The poor bastard worked his ass off selling cheap shit to across-the-tracks trailer trash, and his family never gave him the time of day. No man could take this abuse forever, and something would have to give.

I asked him out for a few beers one day, and he completely broke down. No one had asked him about his problems, and no one, he rightly surmised, cared in the least. He had been pushed to the margins of Belleville society – not formally kicked out, banished, or ridden out of town on rail, just ignored.  If this pussy-whipped cracker wanted to let himself be pushed around by a red-dirt cunt, then let him.  And fuck the spastic as well.  Not kind, but a small town’s way of dealing with unpleasant issues. I was the first person who had the kindness and the interest, he said, to get to know him as a person.

The more he blubbered, the more I wanted to agree with the townsfolk who hoped that he would throw his wife into a quarry and dump his son in the Tombigbee.  On the other hand, I began to think that he was becoming dangerously unhinged, and this being the South, and everyone armed to the teeth, he might do something he would regret.  I advised him to get away from his problems for a while.  Go to Biloxi and have fun at the casinos. They treat you well there, I said.  Gulf Coast casinos were known to lavish food, drink, and women on high rollers, and all he had to do was to look good and flash a roll with a beaner on the outside.  Let the wife and kid take care of themselves.

The good news was that he hit the jackpot and won $5000 on a stupid bet that paid off.  The bad news is that when he returned to Belleville, buoyed by his good luck and ready to take better charge of his family, he found his house a total wreck.  Apparently Marge had invited Ryder to spend the weekend, and in a drunken, coke-fueled orgy, they broke just about everything that could be broken.  Billy’s palsy erupted full-time, and he flailed around enough to smash whatever crockery and porcelain that had managed to escape Bucking Bronco and his mare.

Herman was a worse wreck than the house.  The only person he could turn to was me – a Connecticut Yankee on sabbatical and staying in Belleville to do research on kinship patterns in the Deep South. The South is interesting because not only do cousins marry cousins up in the hills, but they do in the plains as well.  The lineages of any of the older families are so intertwined that their family trees look like tangled webs or birds’ nests. Every time I disengaged a familial twig, I found out more secrets, skeletons, and bones than I could ever have imaged.  Following these twigs up the broad family tree was tracing a Baroque melodrama.

In any case, Herman knew that I was an interloper; and at worst I would write him up as an anomaly in the more august family histories of Belleville.  He could tell me anything and not worry that I would tattle or use the information against him. 

Sadly, there was nothing to tell.  I might have had more sympathy for him had he been a child of hardship, made wrong turns in his life, done time, suffered poverty and illness, scratched by on nothing, and kept his chin up like so many of the people I met in Belleville.  Herman, however, was neither rich nor poor; neither privileged nor disadvantaged; neither smart nor dumb; neither fortunate or unfortunate.  He was plain and simple, dull and uninteresting – except for his virago wife and penitential son.  Not even the most inbred hillbillies could have produced that twosome. 

“You are a religious person”, I said.  “Have you thought of talking with your pastor?”

“The bugger is the brother-in-law of Ryder Henley, the guy fucking my wife”, he replied.

I knew that his marriage was way beyond counseling even if there was such a thing in Belleville. When I inquired a few years ago, I just got a dumb look and the reply, “We just whack each other around until one of us ends up in the corn crib.  That’ll sort most things out”.

I left Belleville soon after the tête-à-tête with Babbage, and when I returned a year later I asked what had happened to him.  “He went postal”, said one of my buddies down at the local bar“, but the dumb fucker couldn’t shoot straight and just blasted up the crockery and chandeliers worse than ol’ Marge and Buckin’ Bronco did that weekend that Herman was getting lucky on the Coast.  Most people figure Herman was trying to miss, what with him emptying a full magazine in her direction.  He winged his kid but didn’t know it because Billy was hopping around just like he always did when he got a spastic fit.  The cops came and hauled Herman off.  He pleaded guilty and got sent to the federal pen in Tuscaloosa.  We all figured that going to prison was about the only way he could get away from his harpy wife and creepy kid; but knowing what it’s like over there in Alabama, he’s going to wish he never started shooting; or at least never learned how to shoot straight.  Them boys can treat a fat white cracker pretty rough”.

The harridan wife sold the house and took pity on the kid.  Last reports were that they were living in Indianola. 

“Now that’s a town with mighty slim pickings”, said one Bellville local.  “No bucking broncos over there, that’s for sure.  A few pig farmers and share-croppers but nobody to ring her bell.  Hell, she probably just wore her cunt out with Ryder Hanley.  In any case, everybody knows everybody down here, and unless she goes back up into them hills where she came from, she’s what they call a pariah – an ol’, mangy, worn out dog with three legs.

“Well, she ain’t nothing to me, and good riddance to her.  I never cared for Herman Babbage much, but figured that most men would have done what he did, except they would have done it right.  So he ended up a kind of hero, getting rid of that vixen one way or another.  As I said, he’s going to come out of Tuscaloosa a changed man; but hey, twenty years anyplace will change all of us. 

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