I’ve come to distrust memories, which, if you want to get technical, are basically chemical/electric configurations warehoused somewhere, somehow in the brain. Over the course of my six decades, I have not always consumed the recommended daily allowance of vitamins.* I also plead guilty to attempting to blunt the pain of my existence by drinking more than the recommended daily allowance of malted beverages — a combination of behaviors that I suspect over the course of a lifetime might fray synapses, make brain chemicals go bad — might muddy memory, desire, dream, daydream.
*My mistyping of vitamins was auto-corrected to “citizens.”
For example, it seems that every time I tell a story, my wife Judy has a different, more prosaic memory of the events, like the tattoo on the palm of the hand of the panhandler not actually being on the palm of his hand but on his wrist.
When I’m telling the story, I’m sure I’m right — can see the swastika clearly slashing across the wrinkles of his palm — but I’ve been proven wrong so many times I’ve lost virtually all confidence in my recollection of events.
This lack of confidence in the reality of my memories is more pronounced the further back I go. For example, did I dream this up, or was there in my hometown of Summerville, SC a [what in those days was called] colored man who travelled the streets in a mule-pulled buggy equipped with automobile tires? In my mind’s eye he’s wearing a slouching felt hat. But who knows? Maybe I’m confusing him with the image of Mississippi John Hurt on the album cover.
Then there was a [what in those days was called] retarded man whom everyone called Pepsi Cola, because he’d come up to you — in this case me, an 8-year-old — and ask you to buy him a Pepsi Cola. I think even though he was a grown man, he lived with his mother, so he didn’t roam around the town but might accompany her to the Piggly Wiggly where he’d wander off. You could tell he wasn’t “right” by his head bobbing and slurry annunciation and the repetitive, obsessive poverty of his diction.
But the absolute king of the Summerville town [what in those days were called] idiots was a man whose Christian and surname I’m not going to repeat for his family’s sake but whom everyone called Beakie.
Although he seemed much younger than my mother, she told me that they rode the same school bus and that he would try to impress the girls by sticking pencils so deep into his gums that they would embed and stick out.
In my junior high days, Beakie rode a bicycle back and forth along the sidewalks of Summerville, and he wore national guard fatigues — or was it that he only wore a national guard hat, the kind that Fidel Castro wore back in the day?
Anyway, what earned Beakie his notoriety was that he would trade firecrackers to naive newcomers to town for a pair of their underwear and a photograph of them. He would say, “I’ll give you 50 pack of firecracker for your drawers.” If successful in the transaction, he would tie the underwear (always tightie whities) behind his bike, place the photograph of the victim in the underwear, and pedal his bicycle all over town.
There was a band in town who actually played a version of “For Your Love” with these lyrics:
For your drawers, for your drawers,
I’ll give you 50 pack . . .
It sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Is my memory of Beakie coasting by on his bicycle dragging drawers and a polaroid of some sucker a legitimate memory or concoction?
Frankly, I have no idea.
4 thoughts on “[What in Those Days Were Called] Village Idiots”
Truth not only is stranger than fiction, but also a lot more tolerable around you for some reason. I love your views on the world and think you did an amazing job of letting Ned absorb the sense of humor gene inherited from your mom. Life’s better on the opposite side of cynicism spectrum, and that seems to be the preferred side with which he views life. The most soothing quality he was exposed to from you bi proxy would have to be the instilled moral compass whereby he guides conversations to a comfortable place. I can safely assume you and Judy did just as great a job with your other son and really hope she is feeling more healthy this weekend.
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You got it all correct, Snag-nasty. (Isn’t that what the guy who ran the little store across from the old high school used to call everyone?)
I’d forgotten that, but yes!