Here’s a very short excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Today, Oh Boy.
An accident in the chemistry lab the period before lunch at Summerville High School on a Monday in October of 1970 has required that the entire student body be released early. Ollie Wyborn, a brainy, super rational, and dutiful transplant from the north who has yet become acclimated to the ways of the South, is on an errand to fetch poolroom hotdogs for three girls who have offered to give him a ride home. Ollie has a crush on one of the girls, Jill Birdsong. For weeks he’s been trying to summon the courage to ask to the homecoming dance, though he’s never been on a date and doesn’t know how to dance.
Like his parents, Ollie is a Doubting Thomas. To him, fire and brimstone are natural phenomena, not the elements of an infernal furnace. Yet when Ollie steps into the smoky gloom of the pool hall, he finds himself thinking of illustrations he’s seen of Hell. It smells weird in here, sour and sweet, body odor mixed with fryer grease, stale beer, and cigarette smoke. Some of these people look damaged. Now he understands why girls won’t come inside.
There’s a cacophony of too-loud raucous voices with those strange vowel-rich inflections – Whatyousaybo, a greeting sounding more like Swahili than English. An older man with sergeant stripes on his uniform talks to and rocks a pinball machine plastered with curvaceous cartoon women. Lights blink on and off – ding ding ding ding ding. The metal ball rolls up the incline but now down again. Flippers flip. Up the incline and down again. Beneath the ding, ding ding ding dinging, the din of clacking pool balls, laughter, blended conversations. Recorded music blares from a jukebox, a familiar song spelling out a girl’s name: G-L-O-R-I-A. Someone hollers “Rack!,” and a young black boy around ten or so, scurries past Ollie with a wooden triangle in is hand.
About fifteen red swivel stools line a bar/lunch counter, every stool occupied by a male. There’s that old, grizzled character with a white cane and seeing-eye German shepherd, the Old Blind Man Ollie’s seen a couple of times at football games. Next to him in paint-splattered overalls sits a middle-aged fellow with a cigarette dangling from his mouth moving up and down as he talks. Others, all strangers, push their way between the stools to get a server’s attention.
Ollie might as well be in Mozambique as far as knowing the etiquette involved with ordering. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern. Only two people taking and cooking orders for twenty. They should have a line where customers receive numbers like in a deli instead of this dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest. Ollie spots four guys wearing SHS shop overalls sitting adjacent to one another, so he decides to lean between two of them to place his order.
Who this is here sticking his head here? Gotdamn round ol’ timey hippie glasses.
“Excuse me, excuse me.”
Ain’t his turn sumbitch. Gotdamn round ol’ timey hippie glasses.
Ollie tries to make eye contact with the older server. Why the dimness? Behind the bar a tin sign in fading red capital letters warns NO PROFANITY. There are carved coconut head monkey faces staring vacant-eyed from shelves next to a large jar of rubberized eggs suspended in a murky solution, also prints of dogs smoking cigarettes and playing poker.
“Well, X-cuse you,” a shop boy growls.
“Sorry, but it’s crowded in here.”
“Kiss my ass, Yankee.”
Circumspection. Circum = around; spec = to look, as in spectacles.
Looking down the bar, Ollie sees a perhaps more convenient place to order, not as close to the door.
He thinks maybe he could dance to this song. G-L-O-R- eye-eye-eye-eye A!
J-I-Double L B-I-R-D-S-O-N-G
Jukebox: Knock on my door
Come in my room
Make me feel alright . . .