The Boy Who Loved Jawbreakers

Juli Kearns Everyday Stories Leave a Comment

I’ve been going through my files today looking for several pages of writing that I now fear are lost, probably dumped in one of my purges. But I found this, which I’d forgotten about, which I wrote a few years ago.

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Mom. I always find it refreshing when somebody can talk about how great and wonderful their mother is or was, without their demeanor causing me to sit up a little straighter, adrenalin-ready and alert for whatever the poor, sick bastard might happen to do next.

The last time I was around such an individual, I happened to be stuck on a band tour bus with him for four weeks. The first two days, we had the coach all to ourselves (and the driver) hauling across country to rendez-vous with the band in Minnesota. The bus was a steal of a cheap rental for the singer’s management (one of those singer, back-up band kind of things) because it was part of a fleet the interiors of which were scheduled to be redone. Dubbed the “disco” bus, the decoration recalled (or maybe it didn’t recall at all, maybe it was just that old) an era that’s about as horrific as all that plutonium in Washington State dribbling out of its containment area, threatening the Columbia River. Disco is the someone you throw a really good wake for because you’re glad they’re gone, but they mistake it as a loving tribute and several years down the road you feel a tap on your shoulder, turn around, and there’s Burt Reynolds dressed up in his ice cream man suit asking you to dance. “Go away,” you say, “go away.” He laughs and trundles out the disco bus. “Come ride with me in my traveling, nuclear-powered Serendipity carriage! Step with me, Alice, through the wall-to-wall vanity mirrors carved with flamingos–or that mirror on the ceiling ringed with tracer lights that actually conceals a Star Trekian cosmic generator–into the eternal never-never, the angelic trills of BeeGees escorting us on shimmering comet hair to Heaven’s Gate.” The walls, counters, cupboards, blinds, carpet and sleeping area were all varying shades of dark gray and the seating upholstered in blue-violet-black velveteen. What I didn’t get was why both pillars that framed the entrance behind the driver’s seat were black; had one been white we could have held Thelemic rituals.

All I had to do was step on the bus and I’d be ready to fall asleep; it wasn’t a place for living.

So when I roused from road stupor it would often be when the bus was bouncing into another 24 hour truck stop. Tug on boots and a jacket, run a brush through my hair, grab a few dollars for something to eat and find a real toilet instead of the bus’ pee-only chemical toilet. Living on a bus, you always look like you’re just crawling out of bed. And live on it we did thanks to a few greedy someones who said one couldn’t believe how much money was saved not getting hotel rooms for the band. If anyone wanted to shower they were told they could do it at the gig.

The particular night I’m thinking about, we have pulled into a small globe of white light hollowed out of the Minnesota wilderness. Nothing wants to linger on those plains to stop the Canadian wind and it is freezing. Beyond the feeble arc of incandescence there is blank black. I’m in Roman Polanski’s mind. And a truck stop is no place to regather any sense of reality. They’re a fluorescent shock fibrillating raw echoing noises off all that tile that must be really easy to hose down. I habitually donned my sunglasses as a defense against the nasty light and the leers, and always wondered why in the world anyone would ogle a forty-one year old woman carrying a baby on her hip, especially one who looked like she’d been shaken about in the mouth of a mad dog for the past 48 hours.

I’m a night person, have always been. I find night hours comforting; they’re a good time for thinking and writing. But at 3 AM in a truck stop everyone, without exception, is a roach escaping from the kitchen light.

The driver, this man who loves momma and I step inside. All heads turn. The eyes of a very hairy, burly guy rest with intent interest on this man who loves momma, and he makes a motion and steps into the bathroom. This man who loves momma is now about to bond with my back like I’m his opossum mother. “Did you see that?” he asks, voice wavering. “What was that about?” I think he’s got to be kidding but instead mumble, “Dunno,” because I’m so freaked-out by all the tile and the light and the people after being so long ensconced in the disco coffin. The man who loves momma, his voice high and thin, whispers, “This is creepy. Stay close to me.”

Real substance inside a truck stop has a slogan on it or a lewd joke; food is the after-thought and damned if you’ll find any, so grab a package of cellophane-something which doesn’t look like it’ll kill you outright, pay for your cup of scorched coffee and get out of there, back on the dark refuge of Dante’s bus. Limbo-land, as it may be, it is home.

I’m sitting there and here climbs back on the man who loves his momma. Sits down next to me. He’s got a clear Mason jar full of big cherry-red jawbreakers. What’s up with those?

The previous tour, all day and all night he watched Andy Griffith tapes, and has been holed up in the rear lounge doing so again, because that’s what he does. One of the major pieces of furniture in his life. The bus is so loud you can’t hear the tape, but it doesn’t matter because he knows every line of dialogue. Old Andy, he can tell you all about old Andy, and Floyd, oh yes that Floyd gets him every time and he’ll start to tell you a story but always break it off to slap the bunk, hoop and hollar at an upcoming line of dialogue, and exclaim, “Isn’t that just like old Floyd? Now, isn’t that just like old Floyd?!”

But now we are alone, the driver is still inside the truck stop, I can hear the Andy Griffith tape running in the back lounge of the bus, and the man who loves momma has it in for me for some reason, and he’s going to sit next to me and stare me in the eyes in a peculiarly fixed but distant manner so that when I refuse to look away what I see is like looking down a dark tunnel in that 50’s movie about the giant ants. It’s not a matter of you going in to meet them, because you’re both on the same bus; in the same sewer system, you can hear the giant ants chirruping. But you don’t want to be seen by the ants which means you stay hidden around the corner from them, and watch their movements by way of the shadows of their antennae on the wall.

The man who loves his momma stares me in the eyes, pops a big cherry-red jawbreaker in his mouth and starts going on, out of the blue, in his sooooo looooong Southern drawl with its endless vowels about how much he loves his momma, and how much he loves his jawbreakers.

You know, he tells me, staring me in the eyes, most men are ashamed to call their momma momma, but not him. And he’s not ashamed to sit on her lap either. He’ll just plop right down in her lap, ’cause she’s his momma. His Momma! Who’s closer to you in your life than your momma? Your momma is the one who looks after you, at least his momma looked after him. And he loves his jawbreakers too. Do I want one? No, he knows they’re not good for you–and he holds the Mason jar up in front of my face. Do I see all those jawbreakers? See all those jawbreakers? He’ll have eaten every single one of them by morning, yes he will. It’s terrible for him, isn’t it, he says. Horrible. Bad as can be, but he’s got to do it. Gotta do it. Horrible for his teeth, but he has to eat all those jawbreakers until there’s not a single one left. It’s always like that; always has been. And he has always loved his momma, and she’s always loved him. He’s the youngest and his daddy’s jealous of him and doesn’t understand the relationship he has with his momma, and his brothers are jealous of him, but she’s his momma and he’s her baby boy. “Can’t stop eating these jawbreakers.”

“Mmmm,” I smile vaguely and nod. “Mmmm.”

“I’m my momma’s baby boy. Have I told you that?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think that’s strange?”

“Noooo.”

“I watch Andy Griffith all the time, have you noticed that?”

“Yeah, I know you watch Andy Griffith all the time.”

“Oh, I do. Every year I make a pilgrimage to the town that’s supposed to be Mayberry. Its not. It’s not Mayberry, you know. Not really. They didn’t film there. But I go every year. They know me there.”

“Mmmm, they do.”

“I thought I was doing real good with this woman last night, she was really into me, but then she made a joke about my leather biker’s jacket. I’ve been devastated. This is a real biker’s jacket, you know. You know? The real thing. Expensive. Real expensive. Look at the tag, see? Real.”

“Yeah, I see.”

“Not just some punk fake. What she did had me so upset I was shaking. Literally shaking. Because if I know how to do anything, I’ve always known how to dress cool, you know how important clothes are to me. And what she said, it like to totally destroyed my confidence. I thought I looked so cool, man. I knew I looked cool, and here she was coming down on me. I don’t look like a fag, do I? Not that I care who thinks I’m queer. I have a lot of gay friends, but I’m not. I love women. I’m a dog around women. D-o-g, dawg. Can’t get enough. My father and my brothers think it’s queer I’m so particular about how I look, and how I love my momma. But you gotta love your momma, you just gotta love your momma, and I like to wear nice things. Yes, ma’am, you know I like to dress impeccable, what’s wrong with that. But people think there’s something odd about it when a man pays that much attention to how he looks, when it’s that important to him. I’m always thinking about what I”m going to wear.”

“Mmmmmmm.”

“Did I tell you I’m a momma’s boy and I’m not ashamed of it?”

“Yes.”

“I bet you think I’m strange, don’t you? I am strange, you know. Really. Really, strange. Do you think I’m strange?”

Because things had gotten very weird, I said, “I don’t think anything about it.”

“I am strange. I’ll prove to you how strange I am. Do you know anyone else who would eat a whole jar of jawbreakers? I’m a compulsive, compulsive about everything. Can’t stop. Look at me, I’ve finished with a jawbreaker and now I’m going to pop another one in my mouth. Isn’t that awful? Don’t you think that’s awful? But you wait and see, by daylight there won’t be a single one of these jawbreakers left. Do you believe me? I bet you don’t believe me, do you?”

“No, I believe you.”

It was around then that one of his teeth broke in two.

When you’re on tour, and in Minnesota one night and in Chicago the next, and in Maine the next, you don’t have much time to find a dentist.

I’m not sure what was up with him, but we didn’t speak much the rest of the tour.

* * * * * *

By the way, Marty tells me Jawbreaker Guy is, these many years later, doing just fine. And I’m glad to hear it. He was actually quite a lot of fun to be around before everyone on the bus started going crazy.

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