Doug C. and the Belle Drive-In

Countdown to Kianna

10, 9, 8, 7, 6 … Our granddaughter continues to incubate. Kishia is ready for Princess Kianna to hatch.

And so we wait.

Doug C. and the Belle Drive-In

Note: The Journal dedicates Mondays to a memoir-in-progress journey back to the 70s. This is the second part of a four-installment, 2,000-plus word short story that weaves songs of the 70s and one particular 1980 hit with a look back at memorable encounters with Doug C. while I worked at the Belle Drive-In from June 1979 to October 1980.

Doug sang and sounded just like Bob Seger …

“And I guess I lost my way

There were oh so many roads

I was living to run and running to live

Never worried about paying or even how much I owed …

… Against the wind

We were runnin’ against the wind

We were young and strong, we were runnin’

Against the wind.”

Against the Wind, Bob Seger, 1980

Pizzaburgers were a popular menu item at the Drive-In. At $1 they were a bit pricier than the regular fare of cheeseburgers, French fries, onion rings and fish squares, all of which were deep-fried in heavy oil. And $1 was one hour’s wage for most workers at the local pool hall/eatery. (By the summer of 1980, my wage “spiked” to $1.50 an hour).

Doug was especially fond of pizzaburgers and seemed to always have a few dollars in his pocket. I long suspected that he distributed “unlicensed pharmaceutical items” and also used part of his product. Finally I spied him slipping a tiny plastic baggie of pills to Carla, one of my troubled classmates (not her real name), in exchange for a 10-dollar bill.

Carla wrote a lot of poetry and she knew I kept a daily, sometimes hourly, journal of my high school experience. She felt comfortable asking me to critique her work; and she once shared with me an essay she wrote about tripping out on LSD. Another time she called me when she was hallucinating. I never understood where her pain and demons came from.

A couple of years after graduation, after I’d left college early to become editor of The Belle Banner, the local weekly newspaper, I found Carla walking toward town on Highway 28. She asked if I’d take her to the Drive-In.

“You’ll hate me now,” she said after getting in my car. “I went to St. Louis.”

She was nervous – looked so much older than 21 or 22. Her hands shook. “I need a smoke.”

“Can’t help you there, you know that,” I told her. She avoided eye contact. “Why will I hate you?”

She began to cry, spilling her soul-deep, unseen pain, as if pushing the air out of my little red Chevette.

“I got an abortion.” We were just a block from the Drive-In.

“Doug gave me the money.”

I pulled into the gravel parking lot and asked if I could do anything for her.

“Just pray,” she said. Tears seeped from empty, sorrowful eyes that still avoided mine. I lifted her lowered chin with one hand and stared into her emptiness.

“I don’t hate you,” I whispered. She hugged me quickly and got out of the car.

A few years earlier — it was early August, 1980 — Doug was my only customer when closing time approached on a Sunday night at the Drive-In. It was the most unpredictable shift, because I was expected to keep the deep-fryer on and the grill hot and ready until 9 sharp. Usually, though, the place cleared out by 8. If I had the grill scraped down (appetizing, huh?) and already swept and mopped the game room, all I needed to do was shut down the deep-fryer and I’d be locking the door at 9:01.

But that plan rarely saw reality. The school year was still a week away from starting, so there wasn’t exactly a rush to get home, and I lived less than two blocks from the Drive-In. Doug had been the only customer for the past hour while a few other late customers shuffled in and out or came up to the order window, mostly for ice cream cones or root beer floats.

I still needed to sweep and mop and had a finger on the deep-fryer switch when the phone rang. I should have expected it. Every Sunday night right at or just after closing, Mr. Banks called to order food. A lot of food.

“Jodie, we’re bringing some friends by in about 20 minutes. Four full chicken dinners. And some mozzarella sticks. I’ll make the coffee when we get there.”

That was two whole chickens, what was left of the slaw and potato salad, the deep-fried mozzarella sticks, dinner rolls and probably two or three other items that E.J. and his crew would order after they arrived. It also meant that I’d probably be there another couple of hours unless my boss offered to close up, which he sometimes did – when he was by himself or with his wife, Mary.

I returned to the kitchen to prepare the meal.

“Boss man hungry?” Doug shouted from his perch at the counter in the dining area. “He could prob’ly stand to miss a meal. Or two.”

I shook my head and chuckled. No matter how crude his language was or how high he’d get, Doug’s observations were spot on.

“How about a pizzaburger, Little Preach?”

He says, Son can you play me a memory

I’m not really sure how it goes

But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete

When I wore a younger man’s clothes

Piano Man, Billy Joel, 1973

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #31

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but naps are good.

Of course, you’ll need to take lots of naps when you come home, and you’ll keep taking good, regular naps for a few years. Enjoy those naps. Savor your naps.

And if you’re wired anything like Grandpa, you’ll continue to not only need but will learn to cherish naps. I gets a second wind around 9 or 10 p.m. and usually have the most creative energy between that time and 1 a.m.

Grandpa had only a one hour nap on Sunday, but it was so deep and sound that I actually dreamed.

About you.

Grandpa napping on the sofa with his 5-week-old baby, Kishia. (Grammy was snapping the photo). Grandpa sometimes refers to that period as "The Unfortunate Mustache Period."

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Filed under Family, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

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