In 1995, legendary comedian Bill Cosby hosted a show on CBS called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” In it, Cosby would simply ask children questions and carry on a conversation. He would masterfully revolve the conversation around whatever the young child might say.
Cosby: “Of your parents, who is the boss of the family?”
Chlid: “My mom.”
The audience audibly groans and Cosby gives the small boy a blank look.
Child: “Because my mom bought most of the land.”
Any parent knows this happens when you have conversations with children. They can say things that adults most of the time can’t get away with. Their innocence and honesty at an early age is endearing, sometimes embarrassing, and oftentimes hilarious–no matter how hard we try to hold our laughter.
My brother has a little girl named Dorothy (I’m giving you the name she sometimes likes to be called after Dorothy on The Wizard of Oz instead of her real name). She has a bubbly, ebullient personality that brings joy to anyone who comes into her presence. She is very smart (my brother says it is because she has half of my brain) and has a HUGE imagination.
She can turn any room and situation into one of her favorite movies: either the aforementioned Wizard of Oz or Frozen. She can act out all of the scenes from the movies and recruit others to fill other roles. She knows all the lines, all the songs and can show genuine emotion during any recitation. She is a phenomenal little girl and I love her so much.
However . . .
There was this one time I thought she was going to get us killed. Briefly. Because of something she said in a restaurant.
My brother and I live in the same North Carolina town outside of Charlotte. When our parents come to visit us from out of state, one of our traditions is going out to eat as a family. Occasionally, our sister from nearby Greenville, SC travels up I-85 to come join us.
We let our parents pick the place they want to eat, and they’ve developed a few favorites over the years. The place we went this time was a local, family-owned barbecue place called Troutman’s in Concord. Many of the patrons at this place were either large families. older couples or retired farmers and vets dining by themselves.
It was one of the latter whom I believed wanted to kill us.
As we had a large group, we were seated in the middle of the dining area at a big table. We had placed our orders and were catching up on current news and gossip with our parents while waiting for our food to be served. It sometimes takes a long while between the time an order is placed and the time the food actually comes out at this place. We knew that beforehand. It’s worth it because A) my dad enjoys the food, and B) we get time to catch up with each other.
Dorothy was probably three-years-old at the time and full of questions, comments and one-liners. Like most children, anytime they have to be in public and can not do what they want to do, they get restless. She asked repeatedly if we could go outside and play while we waited and only played briefly with my brother’s I-Phone before losing interest.
Not finding something in her immediate vicinity to keep her occupied, she got quiet and started to look around.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a people watcher. I love being at a busy mall food court and just watching the interesting waves of humanity that surrounds me. I believe young Dorothy is a lot like me in this manner.
There were some older couples sitting along the wall, one small family and one man dining by himself. It was this singular man that caught and held her attention. Because Dorothy and I seem to share this “people watching” gene, he grabbed mine as well. The others at our table went about their conversations, unaware of the situation unfolding around them.
He was hunched over his table facing in our direction, cradling a steaming cup of coffee. He looked like he was probably in his sixties, had a red bandana over his head and wisps of grayed hair fluttering around the edges of it. He didn’t have a beard, but you could tell he had not shaved in days. He wore a camouflaged military jacket that had sleeves going just past his elbows exposing his forearms. On the exposed skin were looking tattoos of snakes, skulls and other scary imagery. His most notable feature was a black patch over his right eye.
As he stared blankly at the table in front of him, eyes never leaving the steam rising from the bland coffee, his lips flared in an eternal snarl, I wondered what events in his life had brought him here. His face was a map of deep set wrinkles, leaving me to believe he had had a hard life and had seen many bad things. His hard expression simmered with hate, loathing and everything in between.
Everything about this man said “Leave Me Alone.”
Dorothy did not sense the abhorrence of mankind coming from this solitary man that I did. Her eyes studied him for several minutes as she sat on her knees in the chair, facing in his direction. She wasn’t bothering anyone. No one paid her any attention. She was just looking around. The old man had not looked up from his coffee. He was seemingly unaware of her interest.
Then it happened.
She sat up straighter in her chair. She was ready to reveal the thought that had been forming in her young, innocent mind.
She grabbed her daddy’s–my brother’s–sleeve to get his attention.
He turned to face her. “What is it, sweetie?”
She gave him the most beatific smile, pointed at the old man, and said in an innocuous, happy voice loud enough for everyone in a five-mile radius to hear, “Look daddy! It’s a pirate!”
My whole world went silent. All my focus was on the old man. She was right. He did resemble a pirate. I literally pictured him pulling out a knife and murdering everyone in my family. For the first time since I started watching him, he reacted.
He took a sidelong glance at Dorothy. His head did not move. Just his eyes. He stared at her for a hard second. It felt like an infinite amount of time to me. Then, he did the thing I least expected (because I fully expected to die): his eyes moved back to his coffee mug, took a sip, grimaced and went on as before.
He made no sudden moves. Did not look back in our direction for the rest of our meal.
Soon thereafter, our food arrived. We ate. We conversed. We left.
Dorothy thought nothing of it again as her chicken strips kept her occupied for the rest of our meal. She just smiled as she always does.
Kids say the darndest things.
My mom had a reputation around the neighborhood as my brother and I were growing up as being the “Dragon Lady.” She was a strict disciplinarian and any violation of her rules ended in being yelled at for five minutes or being spanked with her hand, belt, switch, paddle, etc. That discipline extended to our visiting friends as well.
They knew that when they came over, they needed to be on their best behavior, otherwise the Dragon Lady would attack. You obeyed the rules, went to bed when she told you to and kept the house clean.
To those that know my mom now, they would never think that. She is the sweetest woman anyone will ever meet. Back then, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, she was not to be crossed.
When we accompanied mom to the grocery store every other Friday during the summer—dad was paid bi-weekly—we would sometimes get rewarded for good behavior while she shopped. One of those rewards oftentimes was a quarter for use in the in coin-operated toy vending machines, where all of the toys were contained in little plastic eggs. They held an assortment of items: rings, jewelry, little cars and football helmets to name a few. They selection seemed to change every time we went.
One of our favorite things to get—and our mom’s least favorite—was the slime. We could play with it for hours by sticking it on things, throwing it at each other, and trying to make different shapes out of it. There were probably other uses that I can’t remember. That was probably twenty-five years ago. They came in a variety of colors: red, green, blue.
My mom hated it because it got into EVERYTHING. If we stuck it to fabric, it would get intertwined with all of the fibers and was nearly impossible to get out. It was a pain to clean off of hard surfaces. But the worst was if some got into hair. Just shampooing your hair wasn’t enough. To get the slime out of hair usually involved a session of sitting on the sink while mom took a dull pair of scissors to remove the slime.
If that happened on a weeknight, we would have pieces of our hair missing for days while we waited to go to the barbershop. I sometimes think mom could have taken us to see our barber the next day, but would rather wait until the end of the week, just so we’d have the messed-up haircut and have to explain to our friends why chunks of our hair was missing.
This one time, both my brother had been on our best behavior at the grocery store, and we both chose to get slime. I think I had blue slime and I remember he got the green. The reason why I remember him getting the green slime will be apparent in a second.
We were in my brother’s room late in the evening. It was dark outside during the summer, so it was probably after nine. We were roughhousing and playing around. Making a lot of noise. We kept the door shut to both muffle the noise and so our parents couldn’t see what we were doing.
My dad was probably asleep in the next room. He often worked twelve to fourteen hour days running an in-loader at a coal mine. He was a heavy sleeper and could sleep during anything. I don’t know if serving in Vietnam helped him to be able to sleep any chance he had or not.
We made a couple loud noises that ended with a THWAP!
A few seconds later, mom threw open the door and asked what was going on. She was mad already.
I looked over at my brother sitting in the floor from where I sat on the edge of his waterbed by the door. The look in his eyes likely mirrored mine: pure fear.
We were both shaking nervously, unable to say anything. He was eight-years-old and I was nine.
She looked at both of us. “Come on! What are you doing in here! Your dad is trying to sleep!”
At this time, I looked up, and my fear increased rising to a panic. Above me, and just in front of my mom, was a green blob of slime clinging desperately to the popcorn ceiling. The little popcorn balls of paint seemed to be helping the slime stay in place.
“We’re just playing,” my brother said courageously.
She eyed us like an FBI investigator. I wilted from her stare. I felt like my life could end soon.
She looked around and realized something was missing. She saw the slime in my right hand, but she couldn’t see Noah’s. I prayed that she didn’t look up.
“Noah, where is your slime!?”
He looked at me, speechless, searching for an answer. Waiting for his older brother to step up to the plate and come to his defense.
I knew where his slime was. It was on the ceiling. My slime was in my right hand. I am left-handed. The THWAP that caused her to come running came from me throwing my brother’s ball of slime at the ceiling.
“Well, mom—, “I started to say.
Then, in what seemed like slow motion, the grip that his green slime had had on the ceiling ended. It made a valiant effort to hang on for as long as it could, but at last, it lost its fight.
It fell in slow motion. I remember staring intently at my mom’s face as her gaze cut into us. She caught the slime’s fall just as it got to the top of her head. She watched it fall to the floor no more than six inches in front of her face where it landed with a resounding—in my head—SPLAT!
I don’t remember anything after that. The Dragon Lady struck, and I assume the beating that followed erased my memory of the aftermath.
That was the last time I recall being allowed to get slime from the little vending machines.
Cam Newton got hurt at the start of the season for the Panthers. They looked for someone to fill in for him near Charlotte. After a tryout, they found their starting quarterback for the next 30 years in Kannapolis: 6-year-old Matty Davis.
He came in and took the NFL by storm. He was a good passer, but he loved to run like a running back.
He led the Panthers to Super Bowl 44 against the Buffalo Bills. His older brother and enemy, Dylan, played on defense for Bills.
Matty was the smallest player on the field by far. All of the other guys were five times bigger than Matty. They were huge!
That did not bother him. He was brave.
He could do a few things they couldn’t.
He could pass better than anyone, but mostly he was fast. So fast he could run circles around and through all of the Bills’ players except one: the freckle-faced Dylan Davis.
It was down to the last play of the game and the Panthers needed to score a touchdown to win.
The center hiked the ball to Matty, and he dropped back to pass. He couldn’t see any player to throw the ball to, so he ran!
He went left and around one of his players and was gone. The other team didn’t know where he was!
He started running through the big guy’s legs. ZOOM! Left then right and left again. No one could catch him!
The crowd came to their feet to watch.
Matty ran through one guy’s legs and saw the goal line in front of him. He had one more player to beat: his brother Dylan!
He looked mean! Dylan picked on Matty at home, but not here. This was Matty’s game. He wanted to win against his big brother.
Matty smiled and put his head down as he drove to the goal line. Dylan ran at Matty and tried to tackle him. Matty held onto the ball with his right hand and stuck his left out in front of him.
He and Dylan met with a big hit. Matty knocked Dylan on his back and jumped over him into the end zone!
The Panthers won the Super Bowl and Matty scored the winning touchdown. The crowd cheered loudly and his team mates put him on their shoulders and took him off the field to celebrate with ice cream.
He was a hero to all in North Carolina. He used the money they gave him to buy the coolest and fastest go-cart ever.
What follows is the prologue to the novel I have been working on in bits and pieces since last fall. I’ve had a lot of good feedback from conversations with others concerning the plot, and thought I’d share the opening pages of it with you.
Enjoy, and let me know what you think. Thanks!