"World's Fair" is the raw and witty true story of a dysfunctional Southern family's harrowing motor-home roadtrip from South Carolina to the Montreal World's Fair in 1967 (aka "The Summer of Love"). Told from the point of view of the author -- who was 15 at the time -- this intimate coming-of-age story shines a bright light on the issues of alcoholism, adolescent sexual confusion, family violence and the universal need to love those who hurt us, despite their frailties.
CHAPTER 10: Heaven Is a Terraced Beer Garden
When we got outside the dome, the sunshine appeared so much brighter. Maybe it was the flash from everyone lighting up their cigarettes. While Daddy wasn't looking, I snuck drags off Matthew's. He hated it when I did that and always complained that I made the filter hot, but he let me do it anyway. Matthew smoked his cigarettes like they were some kind of nectar from the gods. He took drag after drag, one right after the other, lapping the smoke up so the hot ash at the end was always long and pointed. It was like each was his last -- like he was a condemned man.
I was constantly being reminded of cigarettes because the logo for Expo '67 was these cigarette-like stick figures. Everywhere we looked we saw them: cigarettes holding hands, dancing, in a circle. The logo was supposed to represent different people coming together in the circle of life, but the people looked like cigarettes.
Because I had bummed and shared so many cigarettes with Matthew, he needed a fresh pack. So I followed him over to the little corner kiosk where he could buy more smokes. When we got there, Matthew asked for a pack of Marlboro's. Matthew smoked Marlboro's because of the advertising campaign: Marlboro Country with the cowboys and all. I figured he wanted to go to Marlboro Country and have sex with the cowboys.
This short, fat guy with bug eyes and stringy hair who was selling the cigarettes told Matthew how much they cost. I wasn't sure what the actual amount was because I was wondering what it would be like to be a cowboy. But it sounded like he said, "Seventy-five cent American." He meant American money and not Canadian money. Matthew raised his eyebrows in surprise. We could get a pack of Marlboro's in South Carolina for "twenty-five cent American." I'd heard of highway robbery, but this was World's Fair robbery. Cigarettes were cheap back home because they were made in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, almost in spitting distance from Spartanburg.
Matthew looked over at me as if to say that this creepy-crawly was trying to rob us because we were from the United States. Then he asked the salesman, "Do you have any cheaper cigarettes? You know, that's a lot to have to pay for a pack of Marlboro's."
The bug-eyed munchkin (he would have made a very scary Wizard of Oz character) said, "Look. I don't set prices. You want a pack of Canadian cigarettes? They're cheaper."
Matthew still didn't make a purchase, and I was about to begin screaming "Fuck! Sperm!" I wanted a cigarette so much. But Matthew asked in his most polite Southern-gentleman accent, "Yes, sir. I understand that you don't set the prices, but why are the American cigarettes so much more than the Canadian cigarettes?"
The weirdly undersized but overweight insect said, "It's the law. You're in Canada. American cigarettes are imported. It's the government that controls these things. Do you want a pack or not?"
Matthew thanked him and said that he would buy a pack of the Canadian cigarettes. Finally! Once he had the smokes he started packing the tobacco by thumping the top of the pack against his palm, ever so leisurely. Then, looking over, he pointed out some people he thought were bizarre looking. At this point I knew he was teasing me by dragging the whole process out. In which case the only thing I could do was to act like I wasn't in a hurry to smoke. Which in turn irritated him because I wasn't begging him for a cigarette. He finally tore the cellophane off the pack and then removed the silver-lined paper on one end to expose the cigarettes. I watched as he took a cigarette out and, without offering me one, lit it, inhaling deeply. Suddenly he looked over at me with increasingly bulging eyes, like he was actually going to morph into that creepy-crawly lizard who had sold us the smokes. It was all he could do not to cough, and it was all I could do not to laugh. Matthew was gagging because Canadian cigarettes were harsher than American brands.
Well, what did he want me to do, make them smoother? He brought his eyes back to normal before squinting them at me, telling me in essence that it was my fault he'd bought the damn cigarettes and that I was to blame for his inability to smoke them without coughing. He ended up walking away without even offering me one.
This really pissed me off. I was not going to regret farting in that small, cramped camper, and stinking it up to high heaven. Not now. I was going to hold my farts in all day and let it rip tonight when we got back. Matthew was going to regret not giving me a cigarette, thank you very much!
While Matthew and I had been gone, Daddy had been complaining about Canada allowing Korea to have a pavilion. "The bastards killed our boys," he'd told Gee. "Why the hell are they allowed to be here?" Any enemy of the United States was not a friend of our father's, and the Korean Pavilion was right next door to the United States one. Daddy didn't care that it was likely from South Korea, the part that had been our friend, and not North Korea, our enemy. But then, Canada hadn't gone to war with Korea, so what did the Canadians care? All we needed now was for Daddy to find either the German or the Japanese pavilions, and the manure would start spewing out of the barn.
Speaking of spewing, I was about to expire from a nicotine fit, so I was reduced to grubbing one of Mark's Parliaments. They tasted terrible because of their recessed filter. The advertisements claimed that if you smoked Parliaments, you were supposed to be very smart. So what if they were named after the government in England? Did that really make you smart? I thought you had to be desperate to smoke them. But at least they took care of my need.
Daddy's need was alcohol, and we learned that almost every pavilion served it, either in a restaurant or a bar. If you wanted, you could sit outside under a big umbrella and drink till the cows came home. In other words, you could drink damn near forever. And that's what Daddy wanted to do next. While we kids were looking at the map and discussing which pavilions were of interest, he was eyeing the landscape for a watering hole. While he looked around, I said, "I'd like to go to the Russian Pavilion. It'd be fun to compare it to ours."
"I'd like to go to the International Scout Pavilion," said Mark. "We passed it on our way here."
"I want to go to the Scout Pavilion, too," Matthew chimed in. "But I think we should choose the ones we want to see based on their architecture. I'd think there'd be fantastic things inside those that strike our fancy visually."
Gee, meanwhile, had kept her eyes on Daddy, who was now smiling and licking his lips. It hadn't taken his nose long to smell alcohol. In fact, not too far from the United States Pavilion was, of all things, the Canadian Brewer's Pavilion. Daddy had a nose for hops because he started off in that direction. Gee motioned for us to follow.
Matthew, Mark and I were slowly following behind when Mark leaned over to Matthew and said, "I want to go to the Scout Pavilion. You said you did too. Let's cut out. We don't need to stay with Daddy. Let Gee babysit him."
"I'll go with you if you agree to stop in one of the more interesting-looking pavilions," said Matthew. "I only said I wanted to go to the Scout Pavilion to get away from Daddy and his drinking."
"It's a deal."
And the mutiny was sealed. "Hey, wait up," called Mark as he caught up with Gee and Daddy. "Matthew and I are going to the International Scout pavilion. We'll find you later." They turned around and started off.
Gee jumped into gear, taking charge. "Stop!" she demanded. "Come back here. Matthew and Mark, ya'll please come back here." As the twins turned around, looking anything but pleased, Gee spun in Daddy's direction. He, too, was walking away. "Daddy," she called. "Daddy. Come back. We need to talk."
Once we had all regathered, Gee said, "It looks like we're going to split up. I just want to make sure everyone remembers our plan in case someone gets lost."
I was listening intently to every word. I didn't want this island we were standing on to morph into Gilligan's Island. Sure, that may have been a funny show, but I didn't want to live it.
The twins were all but moaning. Mark quickly said, "We know where ya'll're going. Only Matthew and I want to see the Scout Pavilion, so we'll meet you later. We'll be fine."
"I'm sure you'll be fine," replied Gee. "That's not the point. If one of us gets separated, we're supposed to meet back at the camper in the parking lot at the end of the day. Okay?"
"Fine," both twins said in unison.
Daddy smiled and said, "That's a good idea, Genevieve." And to the twins: "Ya'll have fun, now hear?"
"You remember where the camper's parked?" Gee asked. When the twins didn't reply, she called out to their retreating backs. "Okay, James and I'll stay with Daddy and get something to eat. We'll see ya'll at the Brewery Pavilion in a little while, or back at the camper."
Mark turned back around. "Don't ya'll worry about us. We know where ya'll'll be."
It was now clear to me that if anyone got separated and was alone, they were to go back to the camper in the parking lot and wait for the others to show up. Unable to convince the twins that someone needed to be with Daddy at all times, Gee and I had gotten stuck with him. Now for the hard part: How to keep him from drinking too much? And what exactly was too much?
But hunger was an immediate need, so Daddy, Gee and I headed off to find a restaurant. "I'm positive there's a place to eat in this pavilion," said Daddy. "Ya'll follow me." We knew drinking was more important to him, because Daddy had once told Gee, "I don't live to eat, I eat to live."
I had no interest in touring the Canadian Brewer's Pavilion. Pabst Blue Ribbon, Daddy's favorite beer, tasted like fizzy dishwater to me. So why would I care to know about beer? Neither Daddy nor Gee wanted to see the pavilion either, so Daddy headed straight to one of the terraced beer gardens. Gee preferred going to the restaurant, La Brasserie, but Daddy wanted to sit outside. It was sunny yet cool during the middle of the summer, and we couldn't argue with him on that score. Besides, we discovered we could eat outside.
On the menu were dishes made from beer, a discovery which made me gag at first. There was a meat pie called "tourtiere," which was pork and beef cooked in ale, and there were pork and beans cooked in beer. Who knew what beer tasted like after it was added to pork and beans? I might actually like it. So it looked like I'd get to drink too, even though it wouldn't be from a beer stein.
Our waitress told us that the Canadian Brewer's pavilion had been designed to look like beer barrels. It contained a section showing the ancient Greeks and Romans drinking beer, and information about how beer was made and flavored with the barley, wheat, ale, ginger and hops. There was also a 200-seat puppet theater to entertain children while their parents sampled the more than 60 types of beer available. They sure knew what they were doing when they designed the puppet theater.
Daddy ordered the Alberta rib-steak and a draught beer. Gee was the brave one and chose a meat pie. I asked for the pork and beans and a Coke. Mine tasted like all the other pork and beans I'd ever eaten. I think the whole cooking with beer thing was a gimmick.
Even though Gee had noticed the Japanese Pavilion on the map, she said nothing about how it was two pavilions away, separated from us only by the Vermont Pavilion, which resembled an A-frame ski chalet made from what looked like old wood. Thank God for the Vermont Pavilion, or else once Daddy got a few beers under his belt we'd have had to hear all about the killing, the fighting, the blood, the gore. His anger would've poured out like an erupting volcano. That much fury we did not need.
By the time we finished eating, Daddy had consumed four beers. The twins joined us; they'd had no trouble finding us, which could have had something to do with Daddy being rather vocal about the people who were passing. "She looks like she could use some help," he'd said about an overweight woman. "Now that one could use a real man," he'd said about a woman who appeared to be pulling her man along. Every time he said these things, he'd glance over at Gee. Usually he wouldn't cut up like this in front of her. But Gee was showing no emotion. It was as if she had shut down.
All of this made me think about how Granddaddy Stack had been a terrible bigot. He wouldn't even watch a TV show that had a colored person in it. Up to now I'd never thought of Daddy as a bigot, because I'd never heard him say anything bad about colored people. (Sure, he'd had a separate waiting room in his office for colored people until sometime in 1964. But that was kind of normal for the South.) Now, though, when he frowned upon a white man with a light-skinned colored woman, I knew that my daddy's daddy had certainly taught him, like most Southerners, to be a bigot. The Supreme Court decision in June to allow mixed marriages evidently had crossed a line for him.
What difference did it make if two people who loved one another were different colors? Our maid, Naomi, had a white daddy from an upstanding Spartanburg family. But then, he hadn't married Naomi's momma, but had forced her to have sex with him (or so Momma had said). If they'd been allowed to marry back then, I thought, maybe he wouldn't have had to force Naomi's momma....
Sober, the sight of mixed couples wouldn't have fazed Daddy. But after a few drops of the uninhibiting alcohol, his bigotry rose to the surface like scum in a bathtub, and the rings that scum left were around all of our hearts.
Once the twins sat down, Mark couldn't stop talking about all the things that were going on at the Scout Pavilion. After all, it was as a Boy Scout that he had attended the 1964 New York World's Fair. As Eagle Scouts, both of the twins had been inducted into the Order of the Arrow, the national honor society of the Boy Scouts. Sure, Mark was older and an Explorer Scout now. But Explorer Scouts were also part of the Scout exhibition. Mark told us, "The entire pavilion is huge, about the size of a football field. In the center is a big tent supported by cedar beams called masts, like ships have. The tent has a stage in the center for demonstrations and games. And there are booths around the tent where they're showing everyone how to do the things needed to earn the different merit badges, and how to get from Tenderfoot to Eagle..."
"Tender my fucking foot," fell out of Daddy's mouth.
Gee frowned at Daddy as Mark continued, more slowly. "And they've built a pool. Yeah, a pool in the pavilion, where they're demonstrating different things..."
"Like twiddling a stick," came from under Daddy's breath. I thought he'd said "dick," which made me laugh. Gee now frowned in my direction.
Mark, thinking that Daddy had asked a serious question, replied, "No, like lifesaving. You know -- if someone is drowning."
"Someone should have drowned you," Daddy said between sips of his fifth beer. "Where's the goddamn waitress? Ya'll look for the waitress so I can get another beer. Nice 'un now!" (This last comment was directed at the legs of a passing woman.)
Gee, Matthew and I were stunned. Looking down at the table, Mark continued, even slower, "And canoeing and other water activities. Showing everyone how to have fun, yet be safe, while in the water...."
"Someone's gonna be in hot water if I don't get another beer," Daddy said.
Mark was heartbroken that Daddy not only had no interest in what he was saying, but was also belittling him. He went silent and stared at the menu. I don't know what I would have done if Daddy had treated me that way. All I know is that he never did -- or if he did, I never noticed. But how he was treating Mark broke my heart. It was hurtful and mean. That's what alcohol did to our daddy.
As soon as Matthew opened his mouth, I started holding my breath. "You know, the pavilion called 'Man the Explorer' is right next to the Scout Pavilion," he said. "We could all go there after we eat. All except Mark, who could go back to the Scout Pavilion."
I thought this was a great idea and began to breathe again. But Mark snapped, "Matthew, just shut up! I'm not going back. It's a kid's place, anyway." Here Matthew had come up with a clever idea, but Mark decided it was stupid and started taking his anger out on Matthew.
"Well, I'm not going anywhere," Daddy said. "Ya'll go on, now. I'm staying right here." He had settled in for the remainder of the day. But he did have to go to the bathroom. Beer had that effect on him.
While he was gone, Gee said, "Okay, it's James's and my turn to go see a pavilion. It's ya'lls turn to stay with Daddy and keep him out of trouble."
Well, you would have thought that Gee had turned into a space alien the way both Matthew and Mark reacted. I thought World War III was going to begin right there on the terrace of that beer garden, what with the Japanese and the Korean pavilions being in such close proximity.
"Hell, no!" Mark erupted. "We're not going to sit here the rest of the goddamn day with Daddy while he drinks!"
"Mark, please keep your voice down," said Gee. "Somebody has to. He can't be left alone."
"Well, goddamn it, it's not going to be me," Mark shot back.
"Nor me," Matthew quickly added.
"Please, keep your voices down," said Gee again. "Now why won't both of ya'll be fair?"
"Fuck fair," Mark hissed.
"Look," said Gee. "James and I spent time with him so you two could go to the Scout Pavilion. Let us go somewhere and then we'll come back and relieve you."
"Fuck, no!" said Mark.
"Please, if you must curse, please don't be so loud," said Gee. "Everyone can hear you." She seemed to be giving up.
"It's only fair," I interjected. "Why can't we just help each other by taking turns?"
"I'm going," Mark said. He began to rise.
"Me too," said Matthew.
Gee reached across the table and took Mark's hand. "Please wait. James is right. This is just not fair. We should take turns. It's not that big a deal."
"Fuck you," Mark said to me. He jerked his hand away from Gee. "We're leaving," he told her.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked. She was on the verge of tears.
"Yeah, what's the big deal?" I asked, trying to help.
Lowering back into his seat, Mark slowly said through clenched jaws, "Did you see how he fucking acted when I told him about the goddamn Scout Pavilion? You tell me I should stay with him and let him abuse me? No fucking way!"
Not knowing what else to say, Gee said, "Please don't curse."
"We're not going to take his shit," said Matthew.
"I don't know why ya'll won't cooperate," Gee said dejectedly.
"It's not like we're asking for some big fucking deal," I tried to explain.
Gee was exasperated. Turning to me, she said, "Please don't use foul language. Everyone, please stop."
"Fuck ya'll," said Mark. "Don't try your tears on me!"
"Watch out, you little shit," Matthew said to me. Then he took Mark's arm. "Let's go."
"Let me the fuck alone," Mark said, jerking his arm away. He was now directing his anger at Matthew.
"Look, here comes Daddy," whispered Gee. "Now please stop arguing. Please. We're in this together, whether we like it or not. Let's try and support each other, okay?"
If looks could kill, there would have been a slaughter in the beer garden that very moment.
Holy shit, all I wanted to do was get away from all the fighting. But no, I was in the thick of it with the rest of them. It wasn't like being at home where I could get in a car or on a bicycle and ride away from all the fighting. No, we were all stuck, anticipating an eruption.
COMING UP IN CHAPTER 11: Stuck in the "white trash" level of Boy Scouts... Gee's secret for having fun... no place to hide.
Want to read "World's Fair" from the beginning? Click the following links....
Prologue, Part 1
Prologue, Part 2
For more on becoming fearless, click here.
Follow James Stack on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@SkygateStack