Sweet Demon-Possessed Freedom (first chapter of Thirty Five Days in Key West without a Towel)
It was the final drive out of town that forced from me the response so cruel that I could not control. The town that had caged me and beaten me down for so long were with me no more, and I, normally the sweet, nice and easy-going guy, for some involuntary reason, was not gonna have any of it and further,was gonna let 'em know it. Something indeed had snapped.
"Yeah, and fuck you too, Quik-Stop Willie! Heh-heh." I howled out the window of my open-windowed blue Probe, laughing for all the freedom that raced through my veins. For the first time since I had been at college, I felt good, felt right. And I didn't feel tied down to the God-awful town that had kept me steadfast for my childhood! I extended my middle finger in exhortation out the window of my flowing chariot, my finger a salute to the wretchedness of the man called Willie.
"Hey, fuck you! Didn't you hear me?" But, alas, Quik-Stop Willie, the graveyard shift flunky who worked Tobias's one major gas station did not stop his hauling of trash to the dumpster. Whether he had heard or seen me I could not tell, but when I saw coffee spill out of the trash bag, soiling the center of Willie's morning shirt,that was answer enough for me. The bastard that charged me a quarter for a cup of ice would plague me no more. The gods were with me. They were listening. And today, on my way out of town to brighter futures, they were answering.
"Heh-heh," I laughed again out the window, so he might hear me. I continued my mad drive down Wideswamp Road towards City Hall. The sun was beginning to come up in the dusty North Louisiana town of Tobias.
At City Hall I hit the jackpot. The ridiculously obese Mayor Hoggenstoff was getting out of his old Plymouth when I came crashing into his day. I slowed my vehicle and pulled into the parking spot on his passenger side, so he could hear me but not see me as he turned to get out of his car (one must understand the enormity of such an undertaking for such a horrendously bovine individual).
"Hey Mayor! Fuck yourself," I yelled in my best Irish accent. Why the accent I was not sure, only that it sounded more hilarious, more laughing, more brutal.
The middle-aged fat and balding mayor turned his head as far around as he could from the car out of which he was trying to wedge his chunky body, but his legs were already touching the pavement. His massive body was wedged in the doorjamb! And he could not see me no matter how far he turned his head.
The scene dazzled me - in my mind, the gray Plymouth was bowing and seemed only able to take a very little more of the Mayor's fat ass. The Plymouth wanted to cry, wanted desparately for the corpulent body of the Mayor to turn into the chocolate pudding he ate so much, so that he would just kind of plop out the bottom of the open door, without damaging the car the way he was doing now with his oh-so-fat body. The car, of course, could muster no real cry - it was in too much pain.
"You gonna go into your office today, ya fat fuck-face?" I tauntingly shouted out the window. (The devilish meanness of my words surprised even me.) The fat Mayor's face writhed and became angry at my shout. Unlike with Willie, this time someone had heard me. And this time the Mayor, though far too obese to overtake my car running briskly, wanted to beat my ass.
"Who's out there?" the Mayor said, still struggling to get out of his car. He began to wriggle his way out of the auto in a way I could only describe as waddle-like.
"Heh-heh-heh. One of your minimum-wage proletariat," I said laughing, hoping my large vocabulary would throw him off guard, "You stuck?" I continued mockingly.
"Proletariat hmm. You must be a college kid to use a word like that," he reasoned. The Mayor was beginning to realize how stuck in his car he was at 6:54 in the morning, long before any of the other three people who worked at City Hall would be there to help him. The situation threw me into uncontrollable laughter.
"Your Momma, Daddy and Sister aren't going to be here for awhile, chief. You might as well get comfortable in that Plymouth doorjamb."
"Lookyherenow," he began with a favorite Tobias phrase of mine, "there aren't many college kids in Tobias. And the ones that are go to the Parkville Community College, where they don't teach the Godless writings of the inane communist Karl Marx! You're a no good American, son, and I'll find you! Urrnnpphh," the glutton groaned in his final attempt to wedge himself out. No success.
And then I decided to let it out, to drive the fire from the town's Mayor. Why I couldn't say. The awful truth just poured from my lips, as if there was a devil inside of me, a truth more awful than the miserable situation the Mayor was in right now. A truth that really needn't be said. But there was nothing I could do. It came. (And somewhere inside me, where the nice Bobby Johnson was, I grimaced at this possessed evil side come out.)
The whole town knows the only reason you get here so early is because you like to try on women's underwear."
There was a pause, not for a second or two, but for what seemed like an eternity. A mighty pause, one that changed worlds.
"I...I...I do not." The Mayor tried to calmly add, only betraying himself further with his words fumbling, "The whole town knows?"
I chuckled at his having become a child. "The whole town, all 546 of 'em."
In the Mayor's next sentence I knew that it was time for me to keep driving on down that road. I knew that it all had never really registered with him, that the only world he would ever really know would be Tobias. I knew that his shameful truth was not something he wanted to get out, but something, that if it did, he would live with openly here in Tobias, maybe even using in his next campaign. After all, no one ever ran against him. The thought of a "John Hoggenstoff - City Mayor - Wears Women's Clothes" campaign nearly brought tears to my eyes. I listened carefully to the next sentence.
"What do they think about it?"
"Good-bye,Mayor," I said rolling my vehicle out of the parking spot.
"No, wait. I've got to know. You've got to tell me! Will it hurt my platform?" the Mayor shouted desparately, as I shifted into Drive to roll out of the town where it never clicked. For the Mayor, I did not extend my middle finger, for again the gods had answered in yet an altogether different way and so would I; this time the truth with which I had set him free was my exhortation. The miserable man at the top of unquestioning Tobias was forced to sit in his car and just think for once, think until his kin would arrive an hour later.
I rolled on, past the Honest Abe's Used Car-A-Rama, past the Donut Hole, and past the town newsstand, till I came upon the inevitable end of the Town of 546 Lost Souls. . . or almost. The road on my way out seemed like a nightmare that kept recurring. The same beaten and faded yellow lane divider going on and on and on until I was almost about to go insane. I began to wonder if I would ever escape. As the sun began to come fully up on the road, so early in the morning, I could swear I saw an army of mindless zombies waving at me from the swampy roadside, the beautiful, wide sun on the road only making the situation more implausible, more unreal. I only tell you that it is. The "swamp people" took the faces of people Tobias and waved their arms with such a mechnaical regularity one would have thought they were machines. Their eyes stared open at me, as if wondering why I was leaving and why I was so happy to leave. These were the townspeople of Tobias, and they were happy.
There was Farmer Zachanah, who seemed to wave at me with extra zeal, possibly because he could never stand the idea of a young person having left Tobias for college - the man had actually tried to call a town vote on the matter (my scholarship did not seem relevant); the bastard zombie was apparently glad I was leaving! There was Lefty Zirkowitz, who had founded the First Lutheran Memorial Assembly Church or Tobias and Neighboring Populatory Districts. While a following for his movement had never caught on, Lefty had never stopped preaching, even after the terrible grounds-keeping mishap that had taken his arm after a Tobias little league game. His little shack "church" stood an ironic momument to change. Rounding out the Z's of Tobias was Butch Hunter Zebulon, whose wave was particularly mechanical, as if practiced. Besides being one of Tobias's more famous wise-men, Butch Hunter spent his weekdays as Track Coach at the Tobias General High School. Butch was also widely known as a pain-in-the-ass who had made the author, during high school, run more useless suicides than one could care to run in a lifetime.
There was Movie Mindy with all the warts of her English white skin glistening in the morning sun; Mindy was the proprietor of the local Beta VCR Rental place, Tobias's major source of entertainment (aside from watching the plntiful mosquitoes copulate). Waving next to her was Abe Buford, owner of the sleazy, yet locally famous Honest Abe's Used Car-A-Rama about which many in Tobias liked to boast their houses' proximity, its being a landmark and all. Finally and fittingly, there was Margot Johnson - the clingy, desparate check-out clerk in Tobias's only food store (we were not big enough for a "super" market). Margot's wave was perhaps most frenzied, seemingly wanting to communicate some higher feeling she felt for her dark-haired cowboy leaving town. Of the disgusting sexual advances, wiry thin frame, and blown-up Fifties glasses of Margot and all the reprehensible characteristics of the others, I would have no more.
These shining examples stood out in the swampy roadside as the fog cleared at an early 7:18 in the morning. They stood waving, hundreds of them! They all stood waving at me, the poor soul who was really lost (or at least, so they thought), wondering why I wasn't happy in ole Tobias. Wonderng why I had the urge to get out so bad. Wondering why I seemed to feel so good holding my middle finger out the window at all of them.
But, for once, I breathed. All the way in, the way you might if you were on a roller-coaster doing a loop-de-loop and the seat-belt comes undone. You know, take it all in, before the end, and then let it go. Nice.
I drove and drove, hoping to get out of that "city" and on to some greater paradise, before I even realized I was going the wrong way.
"Shit," I said pulling the car over to the side of the road. The sun was rising higher now and the zombies were fading away, seeing that I had no intention of coming back anytime soon. I decided to take a "scenic route" (never a good idea in Louisiana) that took me a good ways out of my way, but around Tobias, so I wouldn't have to deal with them or the caging anymore. No, I was gone, at least for awhile, and I was gonna be free.
Turning the car back onto the main road, I popped on my aviator sunglasses and ran my hand through my bushy black hair. I looked in the mirror.
"You look like hell," I said to myself then paused. My whole body seemed to have begun to take the shape of every majority member of Tobias, and I was not liking the looks of it. Fat genes must be in the water. Through my t-shirt, I felt the small tire beginning to form around my stomach.
"No more," I closed, "no more," and with that I was off on my road to adventure. "Freebird" came on the radio right on cue (the one Southern influence I can say I am for sure glad to have) and I was jetting towards infinity. Key West was somewhere out there, and it was calling me. My college degree and all the people at home could fuck themselves. It was time to get down to it, to start living, to do what I wanted to. This Captain Kirchner to whom I had talked apparently was the way to do it. I would see.

Joey Harris