“Scratch and Skip: A Tale of Havoc of Heartbeat”
Grant, Saturday Afternoon: How Green Is My Valley
A day long pity party where I served myself nothing but Vicodin and vodka left me near comatose last night, so this end of the world shit happened without my knowledge. But my soul-sucking tantrum did me in and I slept through the morning and the beginning of the damn Winter Festival and, oh yea, what appears to be a clusterfuck of major proportions.
I should explain. I’m not always like this. I just had a bad day. Well, a bad week. My girlfriend left me, my art is not selling and, well, you’ve probably heard stories like mine before. Up until last week, my life was moving along rather smoothly. Monday came and suddenly the world had it in for me. It was a gang killing. Tuesday stabbed me, Wednesday shot me, Thursday hog-tied me and made me watch Celine Dion videos.
And now, Saturday. The world has gone to hell, it seems. My street is on fire and I think the old Brown house imploded. Trees have sunk into the ground, cars are spinning in mid-air and the children – my GOD, the children – they are like roving gangs of attack dogs, stalking up and down the street, seemingly oblivious to the flames and whatnot. Whatever happened last night or this morning while I was in my pity-me stupor has given the neighborhood children an evil dose of rabies.
My first thought is to turn on the television to see what the hell is going on, but I guess when your town is aflame and the sidewalks have buckled, the cable will go kaput. Same for the Internet, which is a moot point, as my computer slid off the desk and is on the floor in a heap of plastic shards and wires. The F4 key shot straight across the room, into the eye socket of my poseable Spider-Man and he appears to be winking a hint to “save as” before it all goes to hell. Too late, Spidey. I step on B, curse a little and that’s when I hear the pounding at the front door.
It’s the kids. They look feral and hungry and, well, scary. I’m a grown man. A grown man with a hangover and the dulling effects of Vicodin still lingering in his brain, but a man nonetheless. I will not let some children, rabid or otherwise, make me afraid in my own home. Right. I stamp my foot down for good measure. No one is here to see my indignation except me and the fruit flies that have gathered over my kitchen sink. It’s like a convention over there and I forget the deranged children for a moment as I imagine a fruit fly convention, complete with entertainment and little name tags and a registration desk. What kind of lectures to they have? Will they be dining on my rotten bananas at the lunch lecture? Is babysitting available?
I might still be drunk.
The pounding at the door starts up again. The kids are still there and I think one of them is gnawing at the door handle. I decide to be brave.
“What? What do you want?”
Ok, so they’ve lost their ability to speak. This is wonderful. Grunting, rabid children who appear to be very hungry and not at all unlikely to eat a fellow human. I slide the deadbolt closed, realizing how futile it is. It does give me a brief moment of feeling like I’ve done something to protect myself, though. I take what I can get.
“Mr. Grant! Mr. Grant!”
Oh, lord. It’s Mrs. Beasley, that bat who lives next door to the Browns (who, apparently, no longer live anywhere) and who has an unnerving habit of putting a Mr. in front of my first name. I hear her voice above the cacophony of grunts and groans and fire and crumbling buildings. Her voice is shrill and tinged with a bit of panic. I look out the small window in my door and I see Mrs. Beasley standing on my walkway, holding this morning’s paper and looking for all the world like the universe is not imploding around her.
“Mr. Grant, my Sasha peed on your newspaper!” Sasha being her little fucker of a dog – some small, yapping, obnoxious white piece of fluff that’s supposed to be descended directly from royal dog blood or some shit like that. Mrs. Beasley does not seem to be aware that the Fetterling boy is tearing at her housedress, teeth bared and eyes blazing. This annoys me more than alarms me. I expect that if I’m going to go into full panic mode about a situation, everyone will panic right along with me. It’s like going to the doctor, alarmed that you’ve developed a strange growth on your back and the doctor, instead of looking as alarmed as you did upon discovering the growth, seems to think it’s all a run of the mill annoyance. It’s infuriating. Hello? Panic? Alarm? Are you with me or not? Because if you’re not going to settle into my mode of hysteria, then I’m going to label you an immediate enemy.
So now I’m staring at Mrs. Beasley like she’s Satan himself.
“Open the door, Grant. I know you’re home!” She’s staggering up the walk – staggering because she’s dragging the Fetterling boy behind her and he’s gnawing on her baggy-stockinged leg, spitting out pieces of hosiery as he tries to get to the meat. “I just want to pay you for the newspaper and apologize for Sasha’s incontinence.” The last syllable of incontinence goes up a notch in pitch and Mrs. Beasley disappears from my view. Alarmed, I slide the deadbolt and open the door just a crack. That’s enough to see that the Fetterling boy has pulled Mrs. Beasley to the ground and is about to latch onto her face with his mouthful of baby teeth. I contemplate this for a minute, wondering why he would go for her gaunt face, which is nothing more than wrinkles held together by a slab of foundation. Why not the midsection, or leg, somewhere meaty where a growing boy could get some nutrition? This gives me an idea for a drawing, but the idea is lost when my reverie is broken by a high-pitched wail. It’s coming from the boy, not Mrs. Beasley. I fling the door open, forsaking my own safety (sorry, I feel the need to point that out, because I look like an ass up until now). Sasha is dragging the kid off of Mrs. Beasley, her teeth firmly set into the boy’s arm. There’s blood, there’s screaming, there’s growling and there’s Mrs. Beasley looking like she just woke up from a ten year coma and is surprised to find out gas is four dollars a gallon. She looks around at the boy, her dog, the crumbling houses and spinning cars and asks, “Did something happen here, Mr. Grant?”
She pulls Sasha off the boy and kisses the dog’s nose.
“It would be polite to ask me in, Grant.”
“Would you like to come in, Mrs. Beasley?” She smiles at me. You know how sometimes you will glance at an old lady, like your grandmother, or your aunt – the one who smells like death – and you see something in them, just a small, brief glimmer, that makes you think they must have once been beautiful young women? Yea, not so much with Mrs. Beasley. Something in her smile makes me think she was an ugly, sour kid, the kind who was destined to become an old lady walking her incontinent dog in her bathrobe every morning.
I clear the couch of plaster that has been raining down from the ceiling and offer Mrs. Beasley a seat. Sasha is dripping blood out of her mouth, and I think she peed on my rug, but the resale value of this house has gone to shit in the past few hours anyhow.
Another high-pitched squeal from outside, not as feral as the boy’s. Before I can figure out the source of the scream, the front door flies open and there’s Terri Brown, the neurotic, medicated high school kid from next door. She’s babbling about vampires, aliens, robots, the rapture, nuclear war and something about never getting on Facebook again. She’s freaking out at a million miles an hour and I let her go until her freak engine has run itself out. She collapses on the floor and curls up into a little ball of Armageddon sorrow. Sasha runs over to her, licks her face a few times and pees on the girl’s leg.
“Mr. Grant?” Mrs. Beasley stands up, smooth’s out her housedress. “Do you think you could take me dancing tonight?”
I take stock of the situation. Outside: end of the world, feral, flesh-eating children. Inside: An old lady with sudden onset dementia, a teenage girl with several mental health issues and Sasha the Incontinent Wonder Pup. I have all the makings of a failed sitcom.
“Terri,” I say. “What in god’s name happened out there today?”
Terri takes a break from her sobfest to inform me “A lot of stuff” happened. Gee, thanks. I let it go for now. I don’t think I want to know what happened yet. My head is fuzzy and my brain’s not quite working and I don’t think I can handle whatever tale of Armageddon she’s going to tell me.
It’s not just the drug and alcohol hangover that makes me unable to process all of this. It’s that bad things never happen here. This is Green Valley. The happiest place on earth. The place where everything is outwardly perfect.
Let me tell you a bit about this town. It will make you understand my thought process. Maybe. Also, you might now be thinking “how the hell does this bachelor artist dude know all his neighbors? People like that don’t mingle with suburbanites. Hell, people like that that don’t even live in the suburbs. What is this guy’s deal anyway? Hey, are you gay?”
Sorry, I get that a lot. Thought I’d get it out of the way.
Anyhow, this place. You know that bar where everyone knows your name? Green Valley is that town. It’s the sort of place one passes through and says “Oh, how quaint,” but rarely stops to investigate the quaintness. It’s charming and cute and old-fashioned, but tourists on their way to wineries or beaches don’t like charming and cute unless it’s complete with faux boutiques selling designer jewelry and specialty clothing stores where you can purchase a $400 tie designed by some aging rock star, with all proceeds going to PETA. We don’t have that here. We have stores that sell second hand Precious Moments and plastic frogs with felt eyes, little froggyhands holding up a sign that says, “I’d croak without you.”
Green Valley is old-fashioned not because it wants to be a tourist trap for people missing their youth, but because it never changed. At least not outwardly.
Back in the late 60’s, a developer planted some grass seeds and broke ground on the hopes and dreams of thousands of nuclear families. As the grass took root and poked out of the ground, houses did the same, cookie cutter enclaves rising up from freshly dug foundations. The streets were paved and made to wind and curve and flow into each other and given names of flowers and trees and dead presidents. The green in Green Valley was all newly grown or shipped in and there was no valley to speak of, but the powers that be who named the place thought it sounded peaceful and idyllic and quaint and people really dug that stuff in the late 1960’s.
So families like mine moved into Green Valley and it became one of those places where people make root, which is another way of saying they never leave. Kids grew up, graduated, got married and bought houses three blocks from their parents and had children who went to the same schools they did. I went to school with people named Fetterling and Freeman and Weiss and Hoffman and then there would be a Freeman-Hoffman merger, making little Freeman-Hoffman children who would grow up to buy the same kind of house their parents owned, in the same town. Or they would be like me and actually buy their parent’s house. My folks did the proper old person thing and moved to Florida when Dad retired. That’s their story, anyhow. I think they just got tired of dealing with the “Is Grant gay?” questions.
Some houses expanded; larger kitchens were added on, sky-high dormers were plopped down on top and driveways were widened to fit the Suburbans and Navigators that dotted the roads of Green Valley like dinosaurs. But mostly, everything remains the same. The Shelley house still has the wishing well out front and the Paulson house still has the shag, olive-green carpet in the family room and the Robertsons still have their Dodge Dart with the AM push button radio. Well, last I looked. For all I know they all went the way of the Brown house. Which is to say, gone.
Inside the homes, behind the walls, life is current and kids hover around the TV playing Call of Duty and married men pick up lonely housewives in chat rooms and the dishwashers and central air conditioning are all state of the art. But on the very surface of Green Valley there remains a thin layer of nostalgia, as if the residents can’t quite escape the grasp of the past.
On Saturdays, Green Valley works and plays in unison - at least from 10 to 6 - to the sounds of Scratch and Skip with Stu McLundy. He’s what Green Valley has in the form of celebrity – unless you count Sharon Weiss, aka Sharon Cummings, who went on to become internet famous by performing sins upon herself on video for the low, low price of $14.95 a month. Visa, Master Card, Diners Club. Stu’s radio show is nothing but oldies; cheesy pop records from the 60s and 70s about love and loss and bubble gum. Everyone in Green Valley listens to his show and they love it all in a completely unironic way. Stu’s voice and those records are everywhere on Saturday. Stu also does the weeknight 6-10 shift but the Saturday gig is special. From every garage sale, every store and home, everywhere you go in Green Valley, wafts the smooth baritone of Stu and the soundtrack that keeps Green Valley firmly cocooned in a world that has yet to outgrow bellbottoms and transistor radios. You can go from store to store and home to home without missing a beat, starting with “Oh ho, ho, it’s magic” at the corner of Main and Petunia and ending up with the fade of “never believe, it’s not so” at the open air flea market at Main and Kennedy. I stay here because of this is. The life of an artist is never stable, never consistent. But here in Green Valley, stability and consistency are the hallmark of living. What seems stale to an outsider is pure comfort to me. You know how some people eat grilled cheese and tomato soup when they want to feel comfort? That’s what Stu McLundy and the rituals of this town give me. They feed my soul when everything else about my life makes it want to shrivel up and die. Ok, sure. The alcohol and Vicodin also provide that, to an extent.
If you come out to Green Valley on any holiday, you’ll understand. The Fourth of July town picnic with its oompa bands and corn shucking contest; the way Main Street is dressed up for Christmas. It’s the Halloween parade and the fall square dance and New Year’s Eve ball that make one feel lured in by the simple life; the place in the past where people weren’t so busy and inattentive that they couldn’t all get together on the Friday after Thanksgiving to decorate Main Street and drink the gallons of hot chocolate and marshmallows provided by the Green Valley Women’s Civic Club.
The motto of Green Valley – emblazoned on a hand carved wooden sign at the entrance to town – is “The Happiest Place on Earth.” That the town has yet to receive a cease and desist letter from Disney always amazes me. Is Green Valley really the happiest place on earth? Are the shag rugs and Christmas pageants and Dodge Darts in the driveway enough to swallow up whatever loneliness or despair or frustration goes on behind the drapes and mini-blinds?