PREVIOUSLY ON POP CULTURE MYSTERIES…
AND NOW THE POP CULTURE MYSTERIES CONTINUE…
Bayonne, New Jersey
Two crazy kids sat on a bench, holding hands and waiting for a train that would whisk them away to a city they’d dreamed about all their young lives.
Fame. It was an obsession that began brewing in their hearts ten years earlier, when they would swipe their parents’ pocket change and spend all day long at the movie house taking in the likes of Greta Garbo, Eddie Cantor, and the Marx Brothers, just to name a few.
The girl could sing. The flock at her father’s church who gave her a standing ovation every Sunday was proof positive of that.
The boy thought he could act. Overly polite townsfolk who gave him a pat on the back after his school plays just because they didn’t want to be rude filled him with a whole lot of undeserved hope.
After years of sitting out under the stars, talking about the lives they’d have one day as a Hollywood power couple – the houses they’d buy, the fancy cars they’d drive, the high class folk they’d hob knob with, they decided to make a go of it as soon as they came of age.
Needless to say, they did so against the advice of all of the adults in their lives.
The girl was Henrietta “Hettie” May Blodgett, though if any of you 3.5 readers happen to be a Jazz fan, you definitely know her by a different name.
The boy was yours truly, Jacob R. Hatcher. You know me as a private dick for a blog with 3.5 readers.
Hard not to point out that Hettie walked away with the long end of the stick in this plan, but that’s a story for another time.
Perhaps “boy” and “girl” are the wrong words to use. We were both eighteen. Legally, I was a man though looking back on it now, I don’t believe I came anywhere close to understanding what that meant back then.
We were in our Sunday best, me in a moth eaten hand me down suit from my father, Hettie in the same black and white polka dotted dress that she wore to church. Back then, people used to dress up all the time. It’s not like today where people walk around all day long in their pajamas and nobody cares. Whether you were going to the movies, the drug store, or clear across the country, people gussied up.
“It’s late,” Hettie said.
“Sure is,” I said as I checked my pocket watch. “Should of been here over an hour ago. That whole ‘We’re Always On Time’ slogan they’ve got is a bunch of malarkey if you ask me.”
“We should have said goodbye,” Hettie said.
“They’d of just tried to stop us.”
“Can you blame them?”
“I wouldn’t blame your pops, doll,” I said. “You’re surely something worth hanging onto. Me? I’m doing the old folks a favor.”
“I need to write Daddy a nice long letter as soon as we get there,” Hettie said.
“I left my folks a note,” I said. “They’ll clue old Jed in.”
“Yeah,” Hettie said. “‘Gone to LA.’ You’re a real poet, Jake.”
“Short. Sweet. To the point. It works,” I said. “Hell, had I known our train was going to take a detour to Waikiki, I’d of nixed it. If it doesn’t get here soon they’re liable to…”
Speak of the devil. My old man pulled up in his studebaker. Pa, Ma, and my little brother Roscoe, 5 years my junior. It was a veritable Hatcher family reunion before there was even a parting of the ways.
Pa was in his oil soaked overalls, stains fresh from the filling station he owned. He was a serious man with a weary face, one that looked like it’d seen too much and was ready for a rest.
Ma was a bit of a hefty gal, though she had a sweet face and old family photos indicated to me she once was a real head turner until Roscoe and I folded up her insides worse than an origami swan.
Roscoe, that little twerp, he was my spitting image. One look at him and I saw my former thirteen year old self staring back at me.
Thirteen. Such a lousy age. You want to be grownup before the world will let you, but your mind still gravitates sometimes to childish things like toys and comics and all sorts of stuff that adults will remind you you’re too big for. Utter confusion all around.
“Hettie,” Pa said.
“Son,” my father said as he put his arm around me and walked me back to the car. “Let’s have a word.”
“Nothin’ doin!” I protested loudly. What a jerk I was. “I’m a man, see? And a man’s gotta’ make his own decisions and this one is mine!”
“I know,” Pa said. “We’re not here to talk you out of it. We’re just here to say goodbye.”
“A family that monologues together stays together.”
That was an expression my father used to say. I wish it was true. I wish we had stayed together. But if there’s one thing I inherited from the Hatcher clan, it’s my penchant for speaking in long, drawn out monologues rife with overly exaggerated similes, metaphors, and other assorted comparisons.
Don’t even get me started on the cliches.
“Son,” Pa said. “They say that the grass is greener on the other side but I’ll tell you I saw a lot of this world in the Great War and no matter where I went, it was just as green as ever. I’ve seen brown grass and less green grass but I’ve never seen grass more beautiful than what’s growing on the ground right here in Bayonne.”
I checked my watch. This was going to be a long one.
“You love the moving pictures,” Pa continued. “Of course you do. I love them too. They’re a good distraction from the real world but that’s all they are. A distraction. There’s nothing real to them and the people who want to be in them? Why, there’s nothing real to them either. Each and every wannabe actor out there will step over you and gut their own mother if it would bring them closer to earning a part in one of those pictures and that, my boy, is what you’re going to be competing with.”
“I can hold my own.”
“I’m sure you can,” Pa said. “But for the life of me I don’t understand why you’d want to try. Jake, I’m no fortune teller. I don’t have a crystal ball. I know I’m your father and I don’t wish you any ill will. When that train comes, if you step on it, I hope it will be the start of a course of events that ends with you starring in the best Hollywood picture there ever was. You know your mother and I will be there on opening day with our ticket stubs in hand to cheer you on.”
Mother of God. Is that what I sound like? You can thank Pa Hatcher for that, 3.5 readers.
“But son, I’m a man of reason. I’m a careful, calculating man. I don’t like to play the odds. ‘Slow and steady wins the race,’ I always say. And I wouldn’t be much of a father if I didn’t point out to you that the odds aren’t in your favor here. Yes, I hope the name, ‘Jacob Roscoe Hatcher’ goes down in history as the greatest actor there ever was, but I fear the odds are more likely that the Sodom and Gomorrah of the West Coast better known as ‘Los Angeles’ will chew you up, spit you out, and leave you a bitter, angry, shell of your former self.”
What’s that phrase people say now? “Spoiler Alert?”
“I can’t talk you out of this,” Pa said. “I know that. If I try to get in the way of your dream, you’ll despise me the rest of your life and always sit around and sulk, wondering what could have been. Kids are like baby birds and sooner or later they have to be allowed to fly out of the nest and if they fly too soon and land on their head, well, there’s nothing Ma and Pa bird can do but be there to pick the little guy up and dust off his feathers. And that’s all I want you to take away from this, son. If this LA foolishness of yours doesn’t work out, you’re always welcome to come straight back home to your mother and I and you’ll never once hear us utter so much as an ‘I told you so.’ We’re your family, no matter what.”
Would that I could hop in a time machine and tell my past self to hug that man. Instead, I just gave him a paltry handshake.
It was Ma’s turn.
Unlike Pa, Ma didn’t let me go without a hug. She squeezed the ever loving giblets out of me.
And of course, there was another monologue. I wonder if all hardboiled private detectives have a family like mine? Maybe that’s why we all sound the same.
“Son, to tell you life in the big city isn’t easy would be the understatement of the century,” Ma said. “Now, I know there are a lot of folks out there who are ignorant. Pa and I love Hettie. We think she’s a real sweetheart. And lord knows we know that life is so short that if you meet someone you love who loves you back then it makes less sense than a three-legged dog on a ferris wheel to not be together just because you’re two different shades of people that God put on this Earth to share and share alike with one another in the first place.”
Ma spit into a handkerchief and wiped a smudge off my face. I hated when she did that.
She made a motion for Hettie to come over and join us.
“Now, I know Bayonne isn’t some kind of den of forward thinkers, but here, you’ve got your family and friends. There are at least some people who accept you two being together. True, there’s plenty of not-so-nice folk here that will try to keep you apart but at least you’ve got people here that will stick up for you. Once you get on that train, it will be you two against the world with no one to rely on but each other. You need to promise me that you’re going to look out for each other, or else I’ll sleep less than an insomniac squirrel with a coffee addiction.”
I’m just going to confess, right here and right now. Most of the time, we Hatchers just pull these oddball comparisons out of our backsides.
Hettie and I promised and it all degenerated into a three-way hug/blubber fast. Not me. Of course not me. Just the women folk.
It was little Roscoe’s turn for a speech.
“Brother,” he said. “I want you to know that what you’re doing here stinks worse than a rotten egg in a skunk farm.”
Ma was none too pleased.
“No, Ma,” Roscoe said. “Jake, you and I are brothers and last time I checked, that’s supposed to mean something. We’re meant to be the bridge that will carry this family into the the future, only now you’re being selfish and leaving me behind. So now I don’t even have a future.”
Hate to admit, but I hadn’t even considered how Roscoe would fare without me. I should have.
“You’ve got dreams?” Roscoe asked. “Bully for you. Run off to the land of sun and beauty while you leave me to take care of Ma and Pa all by my lonesome. They aren’t getting any younger you know. While you’re out west being a pathetic phony, I’ll be stuck back here filling cars with more gas than a flatulent door to door salesmen and rubbing a pair of old geezers’ bunions until I’m old and gray myself.”
“Roscoe,” I said. “It’s not going to be all that bad. As soon as I hit the big time, I’ll send for you and you and Ma and Pa can all live in my mansion. Why, I’m gonna’ buy the biggest spread around and…”
“Ahh, stuff your dreams in a sack, toss ’em in the river and see if they float,” Roscoe said. “Either way, you’re all wet.”
I attempted to shake Roscoe’s hand but he pulled his away, stormed back to the car and slammed the door.
“Roscoe Jacob you get back here right now and apologize to your brother!” Ma commanded.
“Roscoe, you don’t want your last words to be unkind…”
“It’s ok, Ma,” I said. “He’s stubborn. Probably gets it from me.”
To clarify, I should explain to you 3.5 readers that Ma’s father was Roscoe, and Pa’s father was Jacob. Both grandfathers were so revered by my parents that they named both their boys after them. Twice. I’m Jacob Roscoe. My brother’s Roscoe Jacob.
Maybe we Hatchers skimp on creativity when it comes to baby names because we’re saving our imaginations for our monologues instead.
“Mrs. Hatcher,” Hettie said to my mother. “Can you tell my father where I am? I don’t want him to worry.”
With perfect timing, a rickety, rust bucket of a pick-up truck pulled up and an old-timer wearing a pair of suspenders stepped out.
“I already did, dear.”
Copyright (c) Bookshelf Q. Battler 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Image courtesy of a shutterstock.com license.