Mt. Pleasant, NC
Mama and I ride into town to get supper at the What-A-Burger. It's a hot, early August night. The air conditioner in the our single-wide has been working all day to cool the house and can't keep up. Daddy's in Charleston painting an apartment complex. Mama drives the sky blue Ford Pinto into town. My Happy Days lunch box sits on the back seat.
Mama orders us two Witch Doctors and we watched Felicia get a large white Styrofoam cup, drop in a lettuce leaf and pour in some pickle juice and ice before quickly tapping a little of each soft drink -- cherry soda, Sun Drop, and Cheerwine. Felicia throws in a few pickle slices on top before putting the lid on. Mama orders a big cheeseburger all-the-way with mustard, chili, and slaw. I order a chuck wagon. Levita yells, "One big! One wagon!" back to Johnny in the kitchen. We sit down at one of the booths along the front window.
There are two men in the next booth talking about country music. One man is wearing a white work shirt with a Sentry Fire logo on one side and "Bobby" in blue cursive on the other. He's wearing a "Hill & Sons" hat and smokes a cigarette. I can see from the pickles that he's drinking a Witch Doctor too. The other man has his back to us but he's wearing a plaid shirt and a off-white fedora hat.
Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" is playing on the radio behind the counter. Felicia and Levita talk about Steve Perry. Felicia thinks Steve Perry looks like a girl with his long hair. Felicia and I are in eighth-grade together. Levita is her older sister and Johnny is her older brother. They both graduated from the high school two years ago. Felicia, Levita, and Johnny's mama Jeanette manages the What-A-Burger. Jeanette opens in the morning with Merle (Muriel) and her kids close. Johnny works from lunch to close in the kitchen.
Felicia brings food to the two men in the next booth. "Mr. Avett, how's your wife?" Mrs. Avett was a teacher at my elementary school.
"Susie's fine. Were you one of her students?", the man asks.
"I was. She was my third grade teacher." Felicia says.
"I'll tell her you say 'hello'," Mr. Avett says as he smiles politely.
I see a stark naked man cross Main Street and walk down the sidewalk past Moose Pharmacy towards the What-A-Burger door. The What-A-Burger parking light is flooded with light. The man's skin was pasty white except his arms, neck, and face. There is a cigarette hanging on his lip.
The man walks through the front door and up to the counter to order. Felicia smiles, not sure what to say to grown man with no clothes placing an order like it is any other day. Levita turns around, stunned, "Billy, what the hell's going on?"
Billy, "Not much. How you tonight, Levita?"
"Billy, you feeling OK tonight?", Levita asks.
"Hot as hell. Thirsty."
"I can see that. Don't you think you aught to put on some clothes?", Levita asks.
"Can you just get me a drink, Levita? I'm awfully thirsty."
"Sure. Witch Doctor?"
"Yeah." Billy takes another drag from the cigarette.
"Johnny, can you come around here?"
Johnny looks through the kitchen window and sees Billy standing at the counter. "Why?"
I realized that, from Johnny's perspective, he just sees Billy from the waist up so it looks like he's shirtless but that's all.
"Cause Billy don't have on any clothes. That's all." Levita retorts.
"Well it's hot outside tonight. He's probably been working at the fillin' station in the heat. What do you want me to do?
"He don't have ANY clothes. No pants, no nothing." Levita looks back through the vacant kitchen window for Johnny's response.
"Dang it, Levita! I can't cook these orders and deal with the customers too. Call the cops if Billy's naked."
The entire time Billy's just staring at the lighted menu on the wall, high behind the counter like it was any other night.
Looking at Billy again, Levita calmly asks, "Billy, why don't you have on any clothes?"
"Without adjusting his gaze, Billy replies after taking another drag from his cigarette, "What do you mean?"
Levita turns to the wall phone and calls the police. "Peggy, this is Levita at the What-A-Burger, can you send someone down. Billy from the fillin' station's in here, butt naked."
"Order up!," Johnny shouts through the kitchen window. Felicia grabs the plates and walks them to our booth. Billy's still waiting on his Witch Doctor.
Felicia puts the plates on the table. Mama asks, "What's up with Billy?"
"I don't know. He ain't ever been like this." as Felicia turns and returns behind the counter.
"Levita, you gonna make that Witch Doctor for me?" Billy asks.
"Sure thing, Billy. Do you want anything else?", says Levita.
"Some onion rings." Still waiting like anyone else would.
The Mount Pleasant Police station is just two blocks down from the What-A-Burger so it doesn't take long for officer Barringer to arrive. Barringer smiles as he sees me as he walks through the front door. Officer Barringer comes into the middle-school sometimes to tell us how drugs are bad for us and things.
"Billy, you feeling OK tonight?," Barringer asks.
"Fine, Ryan. You?"
"I'm OK. Levita called me down here cause you ain't wearing any clothing. Did you know that you aren't wearing any clothing?"
Reaching for where his work shirt pocket would have been, Billy realizes that his Marlboro's aren't in his shirt pocket as usual. His hand slips down his chest as he tries to find the non-existent pocket.
"Must have taken off my shirt in the heat," a still dazed Billy says.
"You don't have on any pants either, Billy. We can't have you in here in front of women and kids butt naked. Let's take you back to the fillin' station and find your clothes."
"Levita ain't give me my Witch Doctor and onion rings yet."
"Billy, I don't think you have any money to pay for them. Let's go back to the station and get your clothes so you can pay for the food. Levita will get your order while we get your clothes."
"But I'm awfully thirsty. Can I get my Witch Doctor before we go?"
"Billy, we need to get some clothes on you -- now. You're making a scene in front of everyone."
I could see something in Billy's face change. Up until now he was dazed or talking normally. Now he looked upset.
"I'M NOT MAKING A SCENE, RYAN! I just want my food!" as he quickly turns towards officer Barringer, pushing the officer back with his hands.
With his left hand, Officer Barringer grabs Billy's right hand as Barringer reaches with his right hand for his handcuffs. "Billy, I don't want to do this but you can't act like this."
The two men are pushing and grabbing for each other as officer Barringer tries to get cuffs on Billy who clearly still doesn't see how anything is out of the ordinary. They tussle with each other before barging out the front door. Officer Barringer pushes Billy's face into the large front window as he finally gets both of Billy's hands cuffed."
"Order up!" from the kitchen window. Everyone in the place but Johnny is watching Billy and officer Barringer.
"Dammit, Ryan! I'm just trying to get a fuckin' Witch Doctor!" comes through the front window.
"ORDER UP!!," as Johnny glares through the kitchen window as he places the next order on the counter. Johnny now sees the naked Billy pressed, face-up against the front window. Everyone is still watching Billy and officer Barringer. Billy's pecker and balls are now pressed up against the glass, Billy's cussin' up a storm. A minute later and the two are in the patrol car pulling out of the parking lot.
Mr. Avett stands up out of his booth and looks at Bobby, "I guess the What-A-Burger #13 doesn't welcome naked customers." Bobby shakes his head and laughs, "Jim, you ain't right."
Billy had been working on a gas leak at the filling station and didn't realize he was getting high from the fumes. No charges were pressed.
For Aunt Fran.