Everyone Goes South, Every Now and Then
Judy Vance is leaving me.
She hasn’t said the words, but I know it’s coming. She is under a lot of pressure from her mother, Pat, to change course, cut her losses, move on. I don’t blame her. Pat, I mean, the mother. Face facts. My family is a nightmare, and my life is a mess, and I am not what Pat Vance wants for her daughter. Good call, Mamacita.
As for Judy, that part of the story is still a long way down the road, and you’re going to have to do without her for the time being. I did.
I am also flunking my freshman year at Florida State.
Dumping classes, ignoring assignments, and missing exams. I am sliding downhill toward dismissal from the University. The only thing keeping me from just floating away is my commitment to Antigone, the mainstage production in which I am playing Haemon, the son who dies. Well, everybody dies, don’t they? It’s Greek tragedy, for fuck’s sake! But Antigone had been over for a week.
I have just spent a couple of nights in the Tallahassee jail.
Mother convinced the police to pick me up on an assault charge. Motive? That morning I had packed a few things, stormed out of the house, and headed in to town, having announced my plan to move in with a cool hipster friend named Ken Kobre, a pretty good saxophone player, photographer, and possibly . . . . (shhhhh) . . . Jewish. Mother went nuts and called the cops to pick me up. “Sorry, mam, moving in with a Jew is no longer against the law in Florida. We need you to charge your kid with a crime before we can arrest him. Assault? He hit you? That’ll do.”
The flat truth is this; I never, ever, in my life, laid a hand on my mother. It’s not what Southern boys do, and my stepfather, the Marine fighter pilot, would have killed me, and that’s not a metaphor. Mother’s charge was pure fabrication, and I’m still amazed that she was able to come up with it on the spot.
Eventually the Police Chief realizes that the accusation is bogus, that Mommy Dearest is out of her mind. With unexpected, but appreciated, gentleness, he kicks me out of his jail, where, frankly I am warm, well fed, and safe. I don’t want to leave. The eye of the storm.
I’m walking down Monroe Street with the clothes on my back. No driver’s license, wallet, or money. Not a penny. My inventory consists of, from top to bottom:
- shirt, button down collar, short sleeve, wrinkled, odorous
- slacks, one pair, wrinkled, filthy
- belt, with buckle, cheap
- skivvies, slightly used
- socks, two, damp
- boots, one pair with a secret pocket on the inside of the left heel
That’s it. Not a comb, toothbrush, jacket. I’m feeling . . . vacant. Not quite the right word. Invisible. But not to Larry Casseaux, a high school buddy, who spots me and pulls over in his family truck. I climb in.
“Where you going?”
“Nowhere, man, nowhere. Just drive.”
He turns on to the Apalachicola Parkway and heads out of town. After a couple of miles we hit the city limit. I tell him to pull over to the side, next to the sign that says “Perry 49 miles.”
“Where you going?”
“What’s down south?”
“I don’t have any idea.”
“How much money do you have?”
“Not a penny.”
Larry takes out his wallet and retrieves a snappy, new five dollar bill.
“Take this. Wish it was more, but it’s all I got on me.”
I fold up the fiver and slide it into the secret compartment in my boot. We shake hands and I climb out of the truck. Larry waves, pulls a U-turn, and drives away. I watch him until he is out of sight.
Well, well, well. So this is the world.
A Ford pickup comes over the hill.
I stick out my thumb.