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Dancing to Ray Charles: Ch 05, Trash Is Easier To Handle Than Life

After surviving his 'Peace Talk' with Amy, what next?

 

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Hauling trash isn’t that bad a job, thought Mark, as he drove away from the now-deserted American Legion Hall. Unbuttoning his sweat soaked shirt, he let the wind blow across his big, sweaty chest. Of course, loading and unloading all that stuff in this heat comes close to resembling real work. But hauling it away, that’s a snap.

While grinning at his own joke, he double-clutched and downshifted before stopping at the junction with the main highway. After waiting for two loaded pulpwood trucks to pass, he turned left and headed for the town dump.

The pickup, a 1947 Studebaker, was his dad’s prized possession. Jake Cahill was protective of the old truck and made sure it stayed in good running order. But he wasn’t the type who’d turn a useful piece of equipment into a “restored” classic.

The body had more than its fair share of dents and scratches. The radio didn’t work. And the back window had several cracks. In Mark’s opinion, these and a few other minor imperfections made driving the truck even more appealing. Besides, how many trucks had a live-in mascot? From a place of honor over by the glove compartment, Alfred the Spider waged an endless war on the insect population.

Getting a chance to tool around in the old truck almost made up for getting roped into folding and stacking all the Legion’s tables and chairs in addition to this trash detail. But any cruising would have to wait until later. It was almost twelve, and on Saturdays, the dump closed at noon. Not one minute sooner, or later. The Bugg Man would see to that.

In Mark’s opinion, Sydney O. Buggs was a self-important, self-righteous jerk whose initials were a perfect fit. The Air Force retiree took his title of City Sanitation Manager way too seriously and always insisted on going by the book.

Buggs was sure to be in the small shack near the front gate that served as his office. Arriving late would mean having to take a rutted fire lane around to the far side of the dump. And since the back gate would also be locked, Mark would have to toss the bags over a rusty, barbwire fence. No problem, of course, except just leaving them there and driving away wasn’t an option.

It wouldn’t be long before Buggs found the unauthorized mess, figured out where it came from and made a big fuss. If he got his way, the headline in next week’s Standard would read, “Jr. League Accused of Landfill Littering”.

Mark didn’t want to think about the hell he’d catch if that happened. So showing up late would mean he’d be tossing a truckload of bags into the dump, then climbing the fence, then hand-carrying all those bags through a field of tall weeds and thick briars. He glanced down At his bare legs and vowed to beat the deadline.

After unloading the truck, he planned to pick up a couple of cheeseburgers at the Dairy Barn. Then head over to the Dixie Pride and have lunch with Bob and Willie out back on the loading dock. If he were forced to hand deliver a load of overstuffed trash bags, they’d be back inside bagging groceries or stocking shelves before he could get there.

While looking forward to lunch with his friends, Mark also wanted to talk to someone other than Amy and Jan about his upcoming date with Bebe. He hadn’t counted on having to deal with Jan, of course, who never gave any quarter. But Amy’s reaction, while quieter, had been even worse.

Not knowing what to expect, he’d been braced for anger, scorn, or even sarcasm. Instead, at times she’d seemed almost hurt or disappointed.

What he couldn’t understand was why. It wasn’t like she was in love with him. Of course, they did make out that night on the levee. That sure as hell changed how he felt about her. But then she picked a party on the Gulf over staying in Baton Rouge with him and, well, that said it all, didn’t it?

That last crack of hers about Sims had been a real low blow. But maybe she was right, as usual. If all Bebe wanted was to party, Sims now worked for her father and would always be available.

So why’d she all but invite him to ask her for a date? Was she just playing with Sims’ head, or had she somehow become interested in him? And if that was the case, why now, after all these years?

Mark’s opinion of his personality reflected that of his looks. Both were little more than passable. And he wasn’t aware of either one having shown much improvement since the last time Bebe shot him down.

The problem was a lot of girls, Bebe included, seemed attracted to the James Dean, Rhett Butler, “bad boy,” types. Meanwhile, like he’d told D.C., he was stuck being a Jimmy Stewart, Ashley Wilkes, “nice guy.” Those girls might decide to marry a nice guy, but first, they wanted to party with the bad boys.

No way could Bebe be thinking about marrying him, of course.So she must be using him to make Sims jealous.

It wasn’t the reason he would have preferred. But if it meant getting to date Bebe while pissing off Sims, it was a bit of female double-dealing he could enjoy. Besides, if anyone could help him get over falling for the unattainable Amy, it would be Bebe.

Far ahead an armadillo scurried across the road. Mark decided they had a lot in common. Neither was sure where they were going and risked getting blind-sided on the way.

A car swerved to avoid the armadillo which finished its crossing and plunged into the protective roadside weeds. Mark smiled at the animal’s triumph. Like the armadillo, he’d come away with no visible scars or bruises from this morning’s dangerous encounter at Amy’s house.

Right now she might keep giving him a hard time, but she’d ease off, someday. Sure she hated Bebe, but how upset could she stay over one date?

Bob, on the other hand, might be a tougher nut to crack. Few guys had ever been shot down in such a total and public way as he had by Bebe. Coming out of that deal with the luscious Libby wrapped around his arm was a humongous bit of compensation. But Mark knew Bob still felt the sting of that public humiliation. If he got his old friend to sanctify this upcoming date with Bebe, even Amy might tone down her negative attitude.

His ace in the hole for all this diplomacy was, Willie. Unlike Bob, he’d never been humiliated by Bebe. Well, there’d been that time at the store when she asked for Bob to carry her groceries instead of Willie. But that was the one time they'd even come close to speaking. And according to Bob, Willie seemed to take it all in stride.

Willie had this incredible gift as a peacemaker. Maybe it came from being the son of a preacher and a teacher. Whatever the source, Mark was counting on that special talent to help him keep things smooth with Bob, and maybe help with Amy and Jan.

But what would happen if Bob got bent out of shape? What if he said anyone who’d date Bebe was no friend of his? Even worse, what if Willie and Amy were just as hard headed? That would, Mark realized, leave him with a real lose-lose situation. That’s what D.C. kept harping about last night.

But there was almost no chance of that happening. Of the three, Bob was the leading candidate to have some serious heartburn. But he’d always known how Mark felt about Bebe. Before asking her to the prom, he’d first checked with Mark.

After turning off the highway, Mark guided the old pickup through a small stand of scrawny, second growth pines while doing his best to avoid most of the potholes on the dump’s narrow, access road. At the top of a short rise, he saw, much to his relief, the wide-open front gate of the Pinefield Municipal Landfill.

How many people, he wondered, ever drove into the dump thinking lunch would soon be served?

 

 

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