I wanted to throw the phone across the room.
"Yeah... no problem Tim... I understand. No, it's fine. Yeah, I'll drink one for you. Alright talk to you later."
Gently I hung up the phone.
"Well, fuck me to tears, Agnes. Just fuck me to tears!"
As I walked into the kitchen the preheat buzzer on the stove went off in mocking laughter. I turned off the oven, picked up the four slabs of ribs that I was about to season, and placed them back into the refrigerator with a shake of my head.
Glancing over I couldn't even look at the pool table covered in a stacked tower of fireworks boxes. A thousand dollars worth of just mortars, with two hundred more spent on rockets. The massive amounts of gun powder sitting there however was not even close to the most explosive thing in the house now. Before I started to punch walls, I headed outside.
Storming out the back through the screen door I only just resisted slamming it shut behind me but it was a close thing. Going over to my grill, I opened it up. The need to cuss rose again as I saw that the pecan wood had just begun to burn good. I could tell by the way it looked that it would have been the perfect bed of coal in two hours when the ribs had slow cooked in the oven to tender.
Disgusted, I shook my head and went over to the faucet to get the hose.
"Hey, Carl," I heard a sweet voice say.
Looking over the fence I gave my neighbor as much of a smile as I could manage.
Mrs. Sally Williams, was the friendly silver haired lady who lived next door. She had been the first one to come over to welcome me to the neighborhood the day after I got full moved in. She had rang the doorbell, the first time I had heard it ring in fact, with a delicious banana pudding in hand and a smile.
"Hey, Mrs. Sally. How's your day starting out?" I stopped what I was doing and watched her carry her clothes out to her line in a basket. The slight breeze had her short gray hair blowing into her eyes.
"Oh not bad," she said, brushing back her hair. "By the way happy Fourth of July. I didn't think about you grilling out, all my clothes will smell like wood smoke. Though the wood does smell good." She leaned the basket more into her hip and lifted her nose to take a deep smell of the air. "Hardwood?"
"Yeah, my brother brought some of the pecan wood over from where the storm brought down his tree." I sighed. "I don't think you'll have to worry about your clothes though."
"Why? What's wrong? Oh my phone is ringing!" I watched as she sat her basket down and walked hurriedly to her backdoor.
Rolling the hose out to the grill, I went back to the faucet to turn it on. Still cussing under my breath I walked back to the grill. Just as I was about to turn the water on and drown the fire I heard Mrs. Sally's screen door whack shut. Looking over, I saw her expression had changed dramatically. She now looked very depressed.
"Something wrong?" I asked.
"Yeah, things just went to... heck!" She gave her foot a stomp. Picking up her wicker basket, she went back to hanging up her clothes.
She gave a defeated slump of her shoulder and stopped what she was doing. Sitting her clothes back down, she walked over to the fence and leaned on the rail. I moved over to join her taking the hose with me . Her eyes held a lot of sadness as I looked into them.
Her sigh sounded a lot like mine from earlier.
"Well, the seniors group I'm in... we have a big party planned every fourth. This year the senior center is having renovation work done on it so we rented a place. We pooled all our money and got everything bought up. Well Pamela just called to tell me the place we rented from had the room doubled booked. The other people were there first so we're out of a place. She's calling around but everything is either too expensive or booked up this late. It's just too late." She looked terribly dejected as she turned to go back to her laundry.
"How many?" I asked.
"What?" She turned around blinking.
"How many people were coming?" I asked more clearly.
She paused and tilted her head thinking about it. "Oh... well, it's about twenty five of us I think." I could see her counting names in her head, then she nodded. "Yeah, it's twenty five."
My anger at my friends and their last minute change of plans faded.
"Tell them to come here." I lay down the water hose and walked back over to close the grill. When I got there, I looked back over my shoulder.
She was just looking at me blinking. I smiled at her confusion, then explained.
"I was planning a big party today with some old buddies from my college days. They all called to say they're not going to show. I've got plenty of food, a ton of fireworks and a house made for large parties. Tell them to come here." I closed the hood so the wood didn't burn up too fast. When I glanced back over at her she was watching me with a strange look of shock.
"You sure?" she asked.
Grinning, I nodded. "Let me go put the ribs back in the oven, you go make your phone calls."
Her face brightened like the sun. "Oh thank you, thank you Carl! Oh I could hug you! That is so wonderful... I've got to go call Pamela!" She all but skipped to her back door like a young girl.
Grinning, I headed back inside. I popped the ribs back out the fridge and got the oven turned back on. Rubbing on my seasoning, I was just about to set them inside the oven when I heard my name being called.
I walked to the door and stuck my head out.
"Yes, Mrs. Sally?"
She huffed and stomped her foot.
"Carl, for Lord's sake I have told you just call me Sally!"
Laughing, I nodded that I would.
"Most want to know if they need to bring anything?" she asked gesturing with her hand.
"Same thing I told my no-shows. Themselves and whatever they want to drink," I answered smiling.
"Well, that will work well for most of them but not William. I'll tell him that and he'll show up here with five bottles of whiskey and spend half the night trying to get him some gray hair."
It took me a half-second to realize what she meant, then my face split into a grin.
"I think he's sounds like a man after my own heart."
She blushed beautifully.
"Tell them to bring whatever they want to bring," I said after a moment "but for the most part... meat and snacks I've got covered."
"Okay, Carl. Thank you." I noticed she was still blushing when she went inside.
Smiling, I went back inside.
Washing the spice rub off my hands in the sink, I dried them as I headed to the living room and went over to my stereo system. It sat there looking like something NASA would be envious of a truly massive monetary investment that I have at times regretted with many a shake of my head. I turned it on with a noticeable dimming of the lights.
Okay... it was a big stereo and it holds thousands of songs set up in sound files for different people. I pulled up my Mom's favorites figuring my guests would be more appreciative of that than my own collection of eighties hair metal bands. I set it on shuffle. There was probably nineteen hours of music it could go through before it would start to repeat.
And that was just Mom's file. Like I said NASA... envious.
I was about to go back to the kitchen when I heard my doorbell ringing. I opened it to the strongest sense of deja vu I have ever felt.
"If you say welcome to the neighborhood, I'm gonna need medication," I told her while grinning.
She laughed,and the little wrinkles by her eyes crinkled. She held out the big bowl in her hands and I took it from her, already smelling the vanilla and bananas.
"Was planning to take this with me to the party today. I know how much you loved my banana pudding,"She shrugged clearly flattered that I so liked her cooking. "Everyone said they would come. I hope you're ready for a house full of hippies to beatniks."
Laughing, I gestured her towards the dinning room. My grandmother's old wooden dining table was covered with big bowls full of unopened bags of chips, popcorn, and nachos. Small paper bowls and napkins sat in their plastic bags ready for guests.
"The fridge is filled with salsa and dips. I've got five bags of ice in the chest freezer. Got two watermelons chilling in ice water in my cooler. Plus I've got enough meat to feed an army. I think I'm ready," I told her as I somehow made a spot for the big bowl. I had to seriously fight the temptation to go get a spoon and dig into the pudding.
"Well, Carl, don't let it be said you don't know how to prep for a party." She looked over at my pool table and the stash of fireworks. "Good lord, you're going to blow up the neighborhood!"
Smiling, I took her elbow turned her towards the living room.
"This place looks so different now," she told me as we walked into the living room. Her eyes went to some of the things I had put out since she had last been here. "Clara had this room so full of lace and pink it was ridiculous. Now you've made it so masculine it's not funny."
I smiled and gestured her towards the large leather couch.
"When I bought the house I had planned on it being the party get together place for all my friends to come to. Now it seems they are all too busy to come see me."
"Y'all used to get together a lot?" she asked, sitting back in the sofa. The soft leather hugged her.
"When I was in college we would get together every weekend. Parties would start Friday afternoon and run all the way to Sunday night. After college, we maybe got together every other weekend. Then it got to be once a month. Then every New Years and Fourth of July," I sighed. "Then it got to be where less could make it. Seemed every year we would lose one more. Our last really big party was five years ago. For the most part all of us were there and had a great time catching up."
"So what happened this time?" she asked.
Sitting back in the chair I shook my head. "I started calling people and planning this three months ago. Figured I maybe could get enough of us together to, I don't know, maybe get the old traditions going again." I shrugged, my disappointment clearly showing.
She reached over and patted my knee. My eyes dropped to her hand when she left it resting there.
"I hate to be the one to break this news to you, Carl." I looked up to see her smiling. "You're getting old."
Laughing, I nodded.
"And it will get worse," she said smiling, and patted my knee again. "Soon they won't be able to come to the party cause they're dead."
It was not really funny but I chuckled, understanding what she meant.
"So who all is coming?" I asked after a moment.
* * * *
We sat and talked about mostly nothing for maybe an hour. Then I got up and went to turn the ribs in the oven. While I was still in the kitchen I heard Sally at the front door. She called out as I was closing the oven.
"Over here, Pam!"
I stripped off the oven mitts and went to see my first guest.
"You said next door, Sally; you didn't say which side," I heard a slightly nasally voice mildly chastise my neighbor. "Oh, thank you. Yeah, I'm good. I've got the rest."
Stepping into the living room, I saw a woman who kind of reminded me of Mrs. Ouiser Boudraeux in Steel Magnolias. She was carrying a huge stack of Tupperware boxes. I went to help.
"Oh, you must be Carl! Sally said she had the most wonderful young man living next door to her. You must be him. Oh, thank you," she said when I took the top boxes off the stack. "That's deviled eggs and olive cheese balls."
"Pam, you didn't have to go to that trouble," Sally said as she took one of the boxes off the top of my stack and sat it on the table. "Carl, this is Pamela. Pam is the single most organized person on the planet."
"Sally, if I didn't know what your house looks like I would take that as a compliment." She gave Sally a light swat on the shoulder.
"Good to meet you Pam," I said with a smile. She took the last of the boxes from me and sat them on the table.
"Thank you. We were all in such a tissy after that place called. Now you're sure this isn't going to be too much trouble for you?" she asked looking around at the house.
"I already had a party planned for today. None of those people could show up so you are all very welcome." I opened one of the boxes and seeing something that looked good, popped a cheese wrapped olive into my mouth. The taste of bacon, cheese and olives flooded my mouth. "Damn, those are good."
Pam smiled and patted my arm
Leaving them to talk, I went back outside to check on the progress of my coals. They were nearly there, and I walked to the back porch to get the cooler with the hotdogs and hamburger patties. A man with a gray Irish flat cap on came walking out the back door. He gave me a grin. "Hey there. I'm Marcel," He held out his hand to me.
"Carl." I told him, taking it.
"Thank you for the use of your home for today." He glanced around my backyard. "None of us really have a place made for parties. Here let me help you with that."
He took one side of the cooler as I bent down to pick it up. The gray in his mustache must not affect him much as he lifted the other side of the heavy cooler with ease.
With his help I got the hotdogs, hamburgers, and chicken out on the grill. As I took a pack of hot dogs from him, I noticed his hands were stained all kind of colors.
He saw my eyes and smiled. "I'm a painter. Landscapes, nudes, portraits."
I chuckled "I was a painter for awhile. Cars," I said.
Marcel laughed. "Haven't done cars," He tilted his head then a smile split his face. "Although I did do the side of a van back in about eighty four. Was doing airbrush work at the mall. T-shirts, car tags, that kind of thing. Guy paid me two hundred bucks to put Conan on the side of his black van."
"Blond or black haired?" I asked, grinning.
"Black! No SwartsaConan. Straight off a book cover. One of Boris Vallejo's, I believe." He leaned towards the grill and smelled the growing scent of meat over the wood. "That's going to be good in no time."
A dishwater blond with waist length hair walked out the backdoor and looked towards us.
"Marcel, don't bore him to tears out there. He's being a wonderful host. We don't need him crying on the coals," she called from the porch.
"Oh, go cluck with the other hens!" he yelled to her, smiling.
I heard Sally from inside the kitchen . "I heard that, you unemployed house painter!"
Marcel's face split into a huge grin.
The lady on the porch smiled back.
"Calvin's here," she called to him and turned to go.
"What?" he called after her.
She turned and was about to speak then she stopped and gave him a hard look. After a second, she stuck her tongue out at him and went back inside.
I looked at his grinning face. Seeing my expression, he laughed.
"Our friend Calvin is deaf as a post. I tease Willow that I'm losing more of my hearing every time I'm around him."
"Willow?" I looked towards the door when he pointed.
"Yeah... that was my wife just there." He looked to the door and waved when an older looking man with a long white ponytail came walking out. As Marcel spoke to the man, I watched him clearly pronouncing his words.
"How are you doing, today? This is Carl," he pointed to me with his thumb.
The man looked over to me and smiled.
"Pleasure to meet you Tarl. I'm Calvin," he held out his hand to me smiling.
I couldn't help but laugh "Nice to meet you."
Over the next two hours I was introduced to over two dozen people. Sally finally took matters in hand and led me around making introductions. I got a running play by play from her on the people just before I met them.
Marion and AnneMaude. Two little ladies with walkers who fussed and clucked at me just like a pair of hens. That was what Sally called them in my ear anyway. She made sure they had pillows behind their backs and something to drink.
Then the little group that I met for all of five seconds before they were asking me to go to church with them. Jan and Sandy, the two sisters, Bob and Margie, their mom and dad, and a cousin Teresa.
Then it was the pot heads, again Sally's description, Edina and Silvia. If they were not lovers I was blind. Then I met Chloe and Andrew, also pot heads.
Sally tried to introduce me to Lamar but he was asleep on the couch.
There were several among the group with caps on that had things like Vietnam vet, or a ship's call numbers. They were all friendly for the most part.
Then I met William. Oh, good lord.
He appeared like a balding tornado of energy. He scooped Sally up and spun her then danced away and gave Pam a kiss on the side of her neck that had her shivering and swatting at him. He shook my hand, grinned, and handed me a brown bag with two bottles of Jack Daniel's.
"Damn glad to meet you, Carl. We've been needing to get some young blood in this group of old fuddy duddies. Lamar, wake the hell up!" He gave the sleeping man a shake that startled him awake. A woman in a very short skirt and a very tight top came over and started swatting at William with one of my couch pillows.
"Will...you...settle...down!" she popped him for every word.
"Hey, hey, hey." William dodged away from her, grinned, and winked at me. I saw him head over towards the churchgoers.
The woman with the pillow watched him go, shook her head, then looked over at me.
And I mean, looked!
I got this piece of meat feeling after about a second. She licked her lips like a snake tasting its prey in the air.
"Sally, you naughty girl. You didn't tell me you have this hunk of a man living next to you." She moved a step closer to me. "I would have come over more often."
"That might be the reason why. Carl, this is Karen. Ever heard of a dirty old man? She's the female version." Sally rolled her eyes.
The woman huffed. "So I like me some young flesh. Last I checked that wasn't a crime. Oh lord, let me go stop William before he kills Curtis!"
I watched Karen go hustling off towards where I saw William pouring a drink for an older man in a beige sweater.
"That's Curtis. He's not allowed to drink alcohol. It messes with his heart medication. Come on, I've got a few others for you to meet." She took my arm and went back to leading me around making introductions. Several of the people didn't really stand out to me all that much at that first glance. The guy with the old faded blue tattoos on both arms wasn't one I would likely forget soon.
Then I met Fay. I knew her and she me. I could see it in her face for a half second then recognition hit us both.
"The Golden Lady," we both said at the same time, then grinned at each other.
I saw Sally look back and forth between us.
"Do you know him, Fay?"
The woman nodded.
"I used to. About fifteen years ago he was one of those young men that helped me get my retirement fund together."
"Carl! You naughty young man." Sally looked at me with mock horror. "Hanging out in strip clubs."
The three of us laughed. It was cut short when William came sliding back into the middle of us with my pizza pan being used as a serving tray. He had also found my shot glasses I saw.
"So Fay, we getting you to dance tonight?" he asked, handing her a glass.
"I've told you, William I'm retired." She took the glass and eyed it suspiciously. "Got tired of stepping on my own nipples when I danced."
Sally turned twenty shades of blush red and I about choked on the half drink I took.
"I'll hold them up for you," William offered.
Rolling her eyes heavenward, Fay walked off, shaking her head. Grinning, William turned to Sally.
"How about it, Sally?" he wiggled his bushy eyebrows at her. "You up for a bit of bump, grind, shimmy shake?"
"William, you are an incorrigible nuisance you know that? No, I'm not going to dance. Not with my clothes on, let alone with them off!" She looked over to me. "This poor young man has to live next to me. Imagine the irreparable harm it would do him to see an old lady like me naked."