Fiction Issue - Third place
Awkward Racial Overtones”“Wednesday January 9, 2008 12:04 am EST
Brian Bannon is an Atlanta comedian. He’s written for various sketch shows around town and has a blog that recently celebrated its 10th hit. He also has several allergies.
Martha White rose by herself every morning at 4. She powdered her nose and walked to the Bojangles’ Chicken and Biscuits near her flat, unleavened apartment. Martha was her middle name and frumpier than Lilly, but sounded better in context and looked good on the application. It made the manager think to put her in the back making biscuits instead of up front or in drive-thru. She’d avoided applying to the Bojangles’ because of its awkward racial overtones — a white woman named White looking to make biscuits at a place named for a tap dancer in some Shirley Temple movie. In the end, convenience won her over and she applied.
She liked making biscuits, the snowy field of a floured counter, the solid metal mixing bowl and the dry goods all in crisp paper sacks and cardboard cylinders. She even liked the tedium – the daily doing of nothing new. She aspired only to what she’d achieved the day before with time marked in pinches of salt and teaspoons of soda. She was no better than the past; she was humble.
The Extraordinary Individual had no time for humility. His extraordinary activities were already held back by wasteful government bureaucracies and the incompetence of his lessers. History would judge the Extraordinary Individual well, he knew. Not academic historians, of course, but future extraordinary individuals and students of commerce looking back on great innovators in the field of prepaid cellular communications from multiple vendors. Ego was a necessity for a man so willing to buck convention, as evidenced by his different kind of car.
He parked the Saturn and went inside. Who but an extraordinary individual would think to park and go in when there was a line of five cars in the drive-thru? Plus, he needed a receipt and it was easier to pay with Visa at the counter. He ordered a pork chop biscuit and Diet Mr. Pibb in an active voice with no helping verbs. Bojangles’ didn’t sell Diet Mr. Pibb, but the clerk just rang up “soda” and gave him a cup. He could figure out what he wanted from the beverage area.
The Extraordinary Individual swiped his card and grasped the stylus firmly. His natural signature was a smooth sine wave gently flowing above and below a given axis, but he had worked hard to add a lot of jags and jitters to better represent his idiosyncratic liberty. He folded the receipt and placed it in the special plastic holder he kept in his shirt pocket. Later he would enter the transaction into Quicken, which he had configured to track both the purchase itself and any sales taxes separately. Once a month he’d look at pie charts representing the vast cost of wasteful government bureaucracies and their inept services to his lessers.
He liked Bojangles’. He particularly liked its awkward racial overtones. This was not a place for pansies obsessed with propriety and a castrated view of history. This was a place for realists who saw the world as it actually was and dared to make it their own. He decided to eat in and sat down at one of the little orange tables to enjoy his pork chop biscuit. Only an extraordinary individual who’d long ago rejected religion could feel free to eat pork in defiance of Abrahamic Law. Only extraordinary individuals, reformed Jews and most Christians.
“Anais” Nan couldn’t believe there were still places like Bojangles’ in Atlanta in 2007. Yet something about the awkward racial overtones made her think it might stimulate her muse. There were already five cars in the drive-thru, so she decided it’d be quicker to just park and go in. After getting her order, she sat at a table by the window and poured two half-and-half creamers into her Diet Coke. She’d wanted a Diet Mr. Pibb, but since most places didn’t have it, she found that adding cream to a diet soda made a workable substitute.
After stirring her drink with a straw and taking a bite of her pork chop biscuit, she opened her pink notebook labeled “Erotic Poetry” and flipped to the poem she’d been working on, “My Lee Press-On Pressed in Me.”
I lick my longest nail
And limn it along my labia leaving a line of
She studied it a moment and decided having “me” in both the title and the last line was redundant. She took out her sparkly green pen and drew a slash through the words “Pressed in Me,” cutting the title to just “My Lee Press-On.” This made the title more mysterious and gave the last “me” greater dramatic effect. She flipped the pages to the back. Her “Erotic Poetry” notebook also doubled as her “Things to Do” notebook, and under today’s date next to “edit poem” she drew a large, florid check.
She wondered if the original Bojangles’ had a lawn jockey in the drive-thru with a speaker in its mouth. She decided to leave.
G.G. and Pop met for breakfast once a week. They preferred meeting at Bojangles’ because it served breakfast all day and they usually met after noon. They also liked its awkward racial overtones. They both bought a couple Blazing 8s tickets from the Lotto and Groceries farther down the parkway and used pull-tabs to scrape away the gray coating. G.G. used a tab from a malt liquor can he was drinking from his coat pocket while Pop used one from a Diet Mr. Pibb he’d smuggled in. Neither of them won anything.
“You hear the Masquerade is gonna be turned into condos?”
“They’ve been saying that for years now, I doubt it’s gonna happen. Every generation of fucked-up kids keeps finding a way to make that place their own. From punks to goths to metal-heads. Next it’ll be some kind of hardcore conjunto scene or something. It’s like an exquisite bloated corpse.”
“I’m telling ya man, it’s gonna be the Heaven and Hell Lofts – ‘From the 270s.’ With a fucking CVS in the parking deck. That’s all they ever do in this city now. Nobody in Atlanta has any respect for history. Someone should just burn it down and start again.”
Rascar esperó el autobús en la parada delante de Bojangles’. Él nunca comió allí. Él no tuvo gusto de las insinuaciones raciales torpes. Él comió en el Chick-fil-A por el sitio del trabajo. Honraron el Sabath y tenían Diet Dr. Pepper.
Z.D. hadn’t played washboard since Katrina. His board and all the best zydeco gigs had washed away, leaving him nothing but memories and a thimble — like an old Monopoly game. But now in this new city, some Mexican band was looking for a harder sound. Something metallic and percussive to cut through the accordion. They practiced at an apartment near a Bojangles’. He discovered Bojangles’ was pretty much the same as a Popeyes but with a more racially awkward name. He ordered jambalaya from the drive-thru and held his new board — all set to try again.
Martha finished her shift and walked home. She envied the cars in the parking lot, even the three Saturns. At home the classic movie channel was running Gone with the Wind again. Scarlet was yelling, “Tomorrow is another day.” She switched to a soap opera and sat down. She wondered what it’d be like to wear tap shoes while making biscuits.