I'd only been home for about an hour on Wednesday when the phone rang. My sister answered and yelled for me to pick up. I figured it would be Rich. He's the only one that ever called me.
"Hey!. Jeet supper yet?" It was Ken. I was happy to hear him, and excited that he had actually called me up.
"Hey, welcome back!. I didn't eat. Mom's not home yet."
"I got lobsters. Come on over. Bring your mother and sisters."
"Yeah. I got a whole carful. Everybody's comin', so come on down."
"How was Maine?"
"Tell ya later. I got a lot of calls to make." He hung up.
When my mother came home I told her, and she got all excited. Lobster was her favorite thing, but she didn't get to have it very often. She thought she should bring something but didn't know what, so I talked her into just asking Ken over for dinner some day instead. We all got into the car and drove over.
There were already quite a few people there, and a lot of activity. Ken and Don were putting water into a garbage can with the hose. I went over to them and could see it wasn't a regular garbage can, it had a spigot almost at the bottom and kind of a raised platform inside to put the lobsters on. They hoisted it onto some kind of burner thing that had its own gas tank, then decided it was too heavy and had me go get some bricks from near the shed. Once it was all steady, they lit the burner and Ken dumped a bottle of lemon juice in the water and put the lid on. Then they went to Ken's car and tried to pull this humongous Styrofoam box out of. the back seat, but it was just falling apart. He opened the trunk and there was another box. They couldn't move that one either, so he just drove the car over by the lobster pot.
Don's wife and Barry, and a couple of people I didn't know, were taping plastic table cloths to everything. Whit and Jerry were hassling a picnic table off a truck and I went to help them. Some other lady was taking plates out of a cardboard box and stacking them up everywhere she could find a spot. More cars drove in. Some with just one or two people, some with whole families. One of them was Richie with his parents and little sister. I went over to talk to them.
"Dave! Where ya been?" Rich asked.
"Here, mostly. I been helpin' Barry with the garage."
He slapped his forehead, "Oh, right. I forgot. I went over your house a coupla times, but nobody was there."
His father told us to scout out a table and stake a claim. He was guessing that there wouldn't be enough places for everyone to sit. I got my mother and sisters, and we sat at one of the picnic tables with Rich and his mother and sister. My mother didn't really know Richie's Mom much, but they started talking about things like old friends. Rich and I went to find something to drink for everybody. We got beers for our mothers and sodas for everybody else. Then we went back and snuck a couple of beers for ourselves, and went around to the other side of the house and started drinking them.
I made a face after taking a big sip, "Yuck! What's anybody see in this stuff?"
"I think it's good for you." Rich said, "Bud always says it is. Mom says he's fulla shit, but she drinks it, too. I like it."
"It does taste better after a coupl'a sips." I started drinking it like it was a soda. "Is Ken rich or something? Howcum he's always feedin' everybody?"
"I thought so too, but he says he's not. He likes to eat and can't just do it in front of everybody without offerin' them some. He got the lobsters, but lots of people bring stuff over." We finished the beers, then hid the cans and walked back around front. I was feeling slightly woozy.
There were more people, and the lobster pot was steaming like crazy. Ken yelled for me and Rich to come help him. We had to get the lobsters out of the car one by one and put them in the pot. I got into the front seat and started reaching over into the back, trying to get them out of the box. I was having a hard time because the box was so high I couldn't really see into it, and it wasn't a lot of fun just sticking my hand in and trying to grab one lobster at a time. Ken asked me what was taking so long, and when he saw my problem he just ripped an end of the box apart and let lobsters fall all over the place. I handed them to Richie, who handed them to Don, who put them in the pot until it was full. There were still a lot of lobsters in the car, and another whole box in the trunk. I guessed we'd be eating in shifts.
I was standing with Ken and Barry when I saw Tim Atkins walking up the driveway. "Here comes the faggot," I muttered.
"Who?" Ken asked. I just pointed and walked away.
Pretty soon the first batch of lobsters was ready. It was first-come first-served, but we got in line quick with our plates and got some. A lady I didn't know brought us a couple of bowls of butter and a big bowl of salad and some bread. I didn't know what to do with the lobster, but I watched Rich's father for a minute, then tried to do what he was doing. It wasn't working very well, and he just grabbed mine and broke the tail off, then pushed the whole piece of meat out. Barry came over with a lawn chair and a plate and sat at the end of the table. The food was really good and we were all making appreciative noises, but not talking much. With some trial and error, I managed to get the rest of the meat out of my lobster and finally finished up. Barry said I should have another one, but I was full.
I dumped my plate off in the garbage can and set it on top of some others on the grass. I was going to go back and help cooking, but Tim and both the D'Allesandro brothers were there, so I waited for my chance and snagged another beer and went around back. I didn't know what to do about the other kids. I wished they weren't there, but they were, and they'd been coming there before me. I wondered if they'd told Ken that they got beat up and who did it. I was thinking I should just start hanging around with Richie and stay away from here. I'd just brought the beer can to my mouth when Ken came around the corner. He didn't say a thing, just went over next to the shed and took a leak. I hid the can a little, and when he turned around he just asked, "Have enough lobster? There's still a bunch left."
"Yeah, I'm full."
"Why you out here by yourself? Don't like parties?"
"I guess not."
"Come back out front. Me'n Don are gonna play some tunes."
"Banjo and guitar. Come on, you'll like it."
I followed him back around. He went in the house and came out with a guitar and a banjo. They made some people move and sat on top of a picnic table tuning up, Don on the banjo and Ken on the guitar. Ken hollered for somebody to get them beer, then they started to play.
It was some kind of bluegrass thing and they sounded pretty good, and they looked like they were having fun. They played a few more songs, and Don sang a few after that. He was really funny. The songs were, I mean. I don't remember them now, but he had everybody laughing. Then he sang another song sounding exactly like Donald Duck, even sneezing like Donald Duck. I thought it was hilarious. They were drinking beer like it was water, and I went and got another one for myself. It was dark by then, so I just drank it right there listening to those guys, who'd given up playing and were telling some great jokes.
When people were starting to leave, Ken asked if I wanted to take a ride with him. I thought he meant in the dune buggy, but he had to go to his office and drop off some stuff so he could take the next two days off. I asked my mother and she said it was okay, so we unloaded all the Styrofoam from the car and took off.
"Lobster good?" Ken asked.
I rubbed my stomach, "Yeah, real good. Everything was good. You and Don were so funny I thought I was gonna piss myself."
"Probably the beer."
"You noticed that?"
"Yeah. You drunk?"
"A little, I guess."
Ken glanced at me, "Howcum you called Timmy a faggot?"
"He is one," I said defensively. Everybody thinks so."
"That why you beat him up?"
Uh oh. He did know about that. "I guess. I mean, he's such a sissy."
Ken shook his head, "I like him. He's a real good kid. Think you could beat up Barry?"
"No way, why?"
"Because Barry is gay. I don't know why you think Timmy is. It's a good thing you walked away when you did or your ass would have been crammed so full of lobsters you'd have claws comin' out your nose."
I was stunned, "Barry's queer? But he's so normal."
"Nice guy, too. Does it bother you?"
"Yeah, it does."
I didn't know, or didn't have an answer. I'd just spent three days working with Barry, and I really liked him. He showed me a lot of things, and had a good sense of humor. He was big and strong, just a regular guy. Now Ken's saying he's gay.
"Are you serious? I mean, Barry's queer?"
"Yeah, he is. Nobody ever beat him up for it, though."
I didn't say anything. We were pulling up to a modern building. It was all dark inside. We got out of the car and Ken locked it, then went and took a lot of papers out of the trunk. He went to the door of the building and fumbled around until he found the key, then we went inside. It was a beautiful lobby, all paneled and expensive looking, with a marble floor. We went through the lobby and made a few turns in hallways, then went into a big office with a window wall at the far end. The long side on the right was one big built-in drafting table all covered with blueprints. There was a desk and a chair, some other furniture, and a typewriter.
"Is this your office?" I asked, impressed.
"Yup." He was putting the papers on his desk, then he sat down and read a few things and signed them and put them in a tray. In a few minutes he said he was done and we went back outside. I started to go to the car we came in, but he grabbed me and pulled me the other way. He walked up to another car, an older Dodge, and got in.
"Who's car is this?" I asked.
"Who's is the other one?"
"Company car. It smells like fish. This one's better." When he started it up I figured out what he meant. It wasn't real loud or anything, but you could tell it had a powerful engine. "426 hemi," Ken said, "Me and Donny squeezed it in here. You're gonna be a hard kid to like, Davy. Callin' everybody names, beatin' on 'em for no reason. I don't like that shit. How'd you like to get beat up because your father died, huh? Somethin' you got no control over. Or for bein' Italian. Would you like to get your ass kicked for that?"
"Well, I wouldn't either. What the fuck's in your head, man? What makes you so superior?"
His words surprised me, "I don't think I'm superior."
There was some anger in Ken's voice, "Yes you do! You called Richie a jerk because he's got a little accent. You beat up Timmy because he's quiet. You beat up Joey because he laughed at something you didn't think was funny. Who the fuck do you think you are? You're no better than anybody else. If you think you can make anything better by hurting somebody else, then you're worse than most people."
"Don't apologize to me, Davy. I'm givin' you one chance, but if I ever hear you saying bad stuff about somebody else I'll kick you into the middle of next week. I don't wanna hear about niggers. I don't wanna hear about spics. I don't wanna hear about queers ... Do I have to give you the whole list or do you get my drift?"
I was starting to cry a little.
"Don't start cryin', David. You have to take a look at what you've been doin'. You gotta picture yourself as the perfect little asshole, which is how you been actin'. You can't be any worse than that, but you can get better. Make yourself a better person. I know I'm a nut, but I never hurt people. You need to stop thinking the way you do. If you really don't like someone, then stay the hell away from them. Don't go callin' 'em names behind their backs, and don't go trying to hurt them. People got a lot to offer, like the things you learned from Barry. Then you go hurtin' his feelings by saying faggot in front of him."
"But, I didn't know."
"Right. You didn't. But you still said it. You called Richie a jerk, but you didn't know he felt bad for you and was trying to find you help. You can't just keep going on sayin' rotten shit about other people. You have to think what you're sayin' and doing. Words mean things, and words can hurt. When you got somethin' useful to say, say it. Otherwise keep your yap shut."
We were pulling into his driveway. "You think I'm an asshole?"
"You're actin' like one. What else can I think? If you want me to change my mind, you gotta show me somethin' different."
There were still a lot of people there. We got out of the car and I started to walk away. Ken ran and snagged me, leading me to a dark area of the driveway. He put his hand on my shoulder. "Davy, don't let me down. I know there's a good person inside you, you just gotta let him out. I'm giving you a project for the summer. By the time school starts, I want you to have at least one good friend. Somebody around your age. Somebody you understand and that understands you back. You gotta be able to share your private feelings. You gotta trust each other. Think you can aim for that?"
"I guess, but who?"
"There's enough kids around, be good to all of 'em and somebody'll find you."
"They'll find me?" I asked, shocked.
"Good people are drawn to each other, Dave. They'll find you."
"But how do I be good?"
His look softened, "Just help somebody up when he falls, show sympathy when he fails, worry when he's hurtin'. It ain't rocket science, Davy. Start actin' like a real human being and it all gets easy. And for God's sake, have fun! I'm not trying to get down on you, I just want you to have a better life than you're aimin' for right now. Think you can try it?"
"I'll try," I said, apprehensively.
He slapped me on the shoulder. "Good! Wanna go to New York Saturday?"
"New York? What for?"
"Choppin'! Fourth of July's comin'. Gotta get ready."
"Come on ... you never chopped? Let's see if Richie wants to come."
I was beginning to think I spoke a foreign language. Everyone in this neighborhood was hard to understand.
We found Rich and he wanted to go to New York, so it was settled; he'd stay at my house, and Ken would pick us up early in the morning to get into the city before traffic got bad.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see Barry. He was glaring at me. "So, you wanna go a couple of rounds?"
"No, please Barry. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry." He just looked at me. I couldn't read his expression.
Finally, "Keep your tongue in your mouth, Dave. If I ever hear you say that word again, so help me I'll rip your eyeballs out and feed 'em to the moles. Capiche?"
I cowered, "I capiche. I capiche big time!"
Barry's look softened, "Timmy's still here somewhere. Go find him and let him have another go at you."
"You mean fight him?"
"Whatever. Just get it over tonight." He walked away.
It was really pretty dark, and there were still quite a few people sitting around, but it was hard to see who was who. I finally saw Tim sitting in a lawn chair, apparently alone. I didn't want to do it, but I went over and sat on the grass facing him. He didn't look very happy to see me there.
"I'm sorry, Tim. For what I did. There was no call."
Anger flashed in his eyes, "Why'd you do it, then? Why'd ya call me a queer?"
Because everybody said so, but I didn't want to tell him that. "I don't know. I just said it is all."
He didn't say anything.
"You can knock me around if you want."
"Will it make you feel better?"
"Not me. You."
"I don't want to hit you. I just wanna be left alone," he muttered.
"Why alone? Don't you wanna have friends?"
He shrugged, "I guess I do, but nobody likes what I like, and I never really had any friends."
"Me either," I said.
"Bull! You had lotsa friends 'til you started beatin' on everybody."
"Not friends, Tim, not friends. Just people I hung around with. I never really talked to anybody 'til last week. I just kept 'em laughin', but I might as well have been on tv. I think I'm just like you, only I'm standin' inside the crowd and you're outside. Anyhow, I'm sorry I hit you. I mean it. I'm really, really sorry."
"It's ok, I guess. You could pay my Mom for the new shirt you wrecked. She was really mad about that."
"Find out how much. I'll pay for it. Um ... what kinda stuff is it you like?"
"Like history and that?"
"Sorta, but mostly old things. Like newspapers, bottles, radios. I collect a lot of junk."
"Finding things is fun. Learnin' about 'em is interesting. Wanna see it all sometime?"
"I'd like that. But I don't think I can before Sunday. I'm helpin' Barry with the garage, then goin' to New York on Saturday."
He finally smiled. "Choppin, or beer run?"
"Choppin. What's that mean?"
He started laughing. "It means shopping, buying stuff. Kenny says it funny is all. I wonder if I can go. I love New York."
"If it's ok with your Mom." It was Ken's voice from right beside us. He was sitting with Barry, and they were both looking at me. I wondered how much they'd heard. "And what's so funny about the way I talk.? Peerhops eets moy acceedent?" We all laughed.
"Timmy!" I cried, "if you can go with us you can stay at my house on Friday. Ken's pickin' us up from there."
"Really? Let me go call now!" He ran off towards the house.
"Not bad, Davy. Not bad." Barry was smiling.
"I did ok?"
"What do you think?"
"I don't know what to think. I tried."
"How do you feel? How do you feel right now?"
"Better," I shrugged.
Ken said, "Dave, you just made a connection. I told you it's easy. Now you're workin' on havin' three friends. You'll make more if you act like that with everybody. You had good little talks with Richie and Jerry, now Tim. Now show a little interest in them and they'll be better friends. Don't forget to let them know how you feel, too. It all goes both ways."
I actually felt real good right then. And I felt that I really had made at least a tenuous connection with Timmy. He had laughed, and I liked his laugh.
... to be continued
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