Friday, April 23, 2010

Chronicles of a Life in Linden: Lacy's Bridge

Lacy was dead, to begin with. That's all I can really tell you because I don't remember the true story behind the ghost that allegedly haunted Lacy's Bridge. Variants of it have something to do with a young girl, a suicide, maybe an unborn kid, maybe a lover scorned -- who can tell?

Rumor had it that if you crossed Lacy's Bridge at night, all manner of things could happen to you. Your car would stall. Your lights would go out. Faces would press up against your window while you stared out into the dark night.

If you wanted to reach the witch's grave, you had to cross Lacy's Bridge, and that's just what we were doing one Halloween night when I was about 15 or 16 years old. The car was stuffed with teenagers dressed as slut-whore bellydancers, slut-whore cheerleaders, and slut-whore nurses. The guys smeared gooey fake blood on white t-shirts, halfheartedly playing along with the charade. We turned the car engine off at Lacy's Bridge to call her out. You don't know quiet until you reach the country in East Texas at night. Bullfrogs turn to vampires. Bellowing cows become the moaning dead. I surreptitiously put a handprint on the humid back window and tapped my friends to show them that Lacy was trying to push the car over the edge into the black water. Someone, undoubtedly Carrie, maybe Lauren, gave me a good smack for pulling my old antics.

Let me pause a second to tell you that smack was entirely justified. One night, at a sleepover, I forced my friends to watch the Exorcist when we were entirely too young to do so, then crept outside and, at the scariest part, raked my fingernails down the dark glass that looked into the livingroom. Thereafter, my friend Steph slept in the bathroom wedged between the toilet and the wall. This was a stunt topped only by the time Melinda & Carrie tried to pull one on me by planning (a little too loudly) a sneak attack on me after I'd fallen asleep. Since I'd overheard the plot, I unscrewed all of the light bulbs in the room and hid, so that when they pounced on my bed, they found it empty. When they went to turn on the lamp, all they heard was CLICK. And then, my favorite part: CLICK CLICK.

So I'm saying I deserved the smack. At any rate, I was about to try something else to elicit a scream when we heard a gunshot. Everyone slipped and stumbled and scraped, a flutter of gauze and sequins and fake wigs and high heeled shoes, trying to cram back into the car and speed away. Lacy must have been preoccupied because the car started -- did it do so weakly? -- and we skidded away on the dirt road back home.

We say, to this day, that somebody's daddy was firing at us for trespassing near his house. In Texas, you don't step on someone else's land uninvited in the middle of the night -- especially Halloween Night -- and expect a glass of sweet tea. Maybe it was Lacy, trying to teach me a little something about fear.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

If Necessary, Use Words

Every day on my way home from work, I pass a used car lot, and that used car lot has a sign that hasn't changed in the year I've lived here. It says, "Go forth and spread the gospel. If necessary, use words."

I've always thought that was a ridiculous sign, mostly because evangelicals who might follow that advice are probably already too full of words and too short on action. But for some reason today, the sign struck me. It made me think of Lillian Smith's Killers of the Dream, which says the South is marked by signs with words and signs without words, and while she was talking about state-mandated and social segregation, it still has resonance with me today. Everywhere I turn, I see a message.

Take, for example, the other day. I was sitting at a red light next to a homicidal maniac who decided that, when the left-turn-only arrow turned green, he'd shoot out of the go-straight lane I was in and attempt to careen into the cars veering left on their protected signal. Seconds after the maniac made his attempted suicide, I sat at my own red light, wondering how in heaven's name he hadn't been smashed to pieces. Suddenly, the car behind me sat on his horn and gave me an ugly hand gesture. Beeeeeeep. He wanted me to run my red light, too. His message was, "I'm more important than your safety," "I have somewhere interesting to be," and "You don't matter very much."

I was recently engaged in a service opportunity with a woman I didn't know well. A man walked in after all of the food had been cleaned up and approached me. He'd missed breakfast and the access pass he needed to obtain clothing for the month. "Do you have any shoes?" he asked. It was 95 degrees on the pavement outside. Summer was approaching with fury. "The clothes closet surely does; let me get you the ticket you need to get them," I said, turning to the woman in charge, expecting her to give it to him. "You're LATE," she said sharply at the man with no shoes. To add emphasis, she looked at her watch and blew out a huff of air, rolling her eyes. "I'm sure they don't have anything. Because you're SO LATE. But I GUESS you can look." He was eyeing the 13 loaves of bread she was preparing to toss in the trash can, and she noticed it, and she took them away anyway. "I am important here," she was saying without saying it. Her sign read: "I matter here. I feel powerful when I deny you what you need. I am in charge and you are not."

I thought about my own signs without words. What have I printed there for everyone to see?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chronicles of a Life in Linden: The Drugstore

I didn't know, at the time, that spending every day after school at a real, working drugstore would one day be an unusual thing, but it would be.

A drugstore in a small town is about more than just pharmaceuticals. Like the Country Store, it's where old guys go to drink coffee in a drab room in the back. And it doubled as a video store with neat rows of plastic VHS boxes. I always wanted to rent the ones that had titles like "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" but I was a creature of habit. I would always pick Labyrinth even though I knew every word from the beginning to the end.

The drugstore also had rows of neat white Whitman's chocolates for men who forgot their wives on anniversaries and valentine's and didn't have time to make the hour drive to a big city to pick up a present. It was the best place to pick out cards with bad puns before stepping down the street to Capital Florist, which let you charge your flowers to your account because they'd know where to find you if you didn't pay your bill. I didn't want chocolates, however; I was most interested in the Wetslicks Fruit Spritzers Lipgloss which I was convinced would make boys want to kiss me. It didn't.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Chronicles of a Life in Linden: The Legion Hall

Sure it's "Music City" now but the Legion Hall used to be this big dusty auditorium with concrete floors, peeling paint, and musty-smelling velour curtains. I loved every inch of it.

It's where the Lions Follies, a show featuring local talent, took place, and my dad and Mr. Penny (male adults in small towns don't have first names) were the emcees. Mr. Penny always wore a red shirt and red pants and suspenders; he could wiggle his hips and feet in two different directions at the same time, which I found remarkable.

I used to perform at the Follies too. When I was little and it was OK to sing off-key, my mom dressed me up in a poodle skirt and put my red-headed boyfriend in front of me in a sailor suit and told me to sing "Soldier Boy" to him. The only thing I can remember is that his face turned as red as his hair and when he kissed me on the cheek at the end of it, the crowd started to whistle, which I didn't understand. When I got older, my mom sat me down and said, "Kacy, I have to tell you something. You're not very good at singing." Which was true. So she strapped a two-headed styrofoam dummy to my back and put boots on my hands and feet and I did a weird puppet show to a song I can't remember. That was the end of my career as a stage performer at the follies.

The best part about the Lions Follies was the underground "green room" which wasn't green at all but solid cement and cold. Follies participants would party there after the show; everyone brought food to stash in the kitchen for the celebration. My friend Lauren and I would tiptoe downstairs and steal one of Miss Billie's sandwiches, which she made with ham and crack, and my mom would always catch us and fuss at us for being the little piggies we truly were.

When I got older I watched the show from the audience, usually balancing on the yellow handicapped railing at the back of the building, practicing gymnastic flips over the bar and barely escaping smashing my head into the concrete floor. Later, when the fun of the follies was long over, the building was used as a gym, when a husky guy from out of town came to teach wouldbe cheerleaders backhandsprings. One night, he took everyone's payment for that month and skipped town without so much as a kiss-my-foot. I wonder whatever happened to that SOB.