"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.
Warning: Contains strong language; may not be suitable for all audiences.
CHAPTER 13: "Old Times Dar Am Not Forgotten"
Daddy had been so far into his cups the night before that he had turned into a goblet himself, spilling all over everything and staining our lives with his unhappiness. But there he and I were, driving the truck to the main parking lot on our second day. I wasn't sure if I should say something about what had happened in the shower room, or ignore it. He was the hero this morning after being the villain last night. I genuinely believed that he meant well, though. So it was nice being in the front seat with him. He was considerate and a gentleman when sober, unlike the animal that crawled out of the bottle.
We listened to the radio, which was telling us that race riots that had broken out in Washington, D.C. I knew we had driven either through there or nearby on our way to Canada, so I hoped we'd be able to get back home. It would be terrible if the riots had ruined the highway.
Gee later told me that while she and the twins were in the camper, she'd tried to convince them to run as fast as they could to the Canadian Telephone Pavilion and save us a place in line so we could be the first to see the Walt Disney film Canada '67, and not have to wait in line most of the day to see it.
"So what's the film about, again? Canada?" Matthew had asked, picking at his fingernails.
"It isn't so much what it's about as the experience," Gee had said.
"Kind of like You Are There, with Walter Cronkite?" Mark had asked, mimicking the announcer.
"No, this is different," Gee had replied. "You're made to feel as if you're in the picture."
Looking over at Matthew, Mark had said, "I think it's that show I heard about at the Scout Pavilion. It's supposed to be like a ride or something. Like you're actually in a boat."
"Yes," Gee had answered, smiling excitedly. "That's the film!"
"Yeah. We want to see it," Matthew had said. He'd become animated.
Then Mark had asked, "What're we supposed to do if we get there and we can go right in?"
"Wait at the front of the line," Gee had told him. "Don't go in without us. We'll be right behind you. James and I will stay with Daddy. I don't think he could run there right now. Not after last night."
But wouldn't you know that every other family had had the same idea? When Daddy and Gee and I found them later, they were in line, but they weren't close to the front. The twins had run as fast as they could, remaining civilized even though other people were trying to push them out of the way or make them stumble. They'd gotten bumped and jostled and tripped and treated terribly. But through it all they'd remained Southern gentlemen. Momma would have been proud.
Daddy wouldn't get in line, but stood apart as if he wasn't waiting. He kept moving ahead of us and then behind us and didn't want to stand around, most likely because of his hangover. But Gee and I were thrilled to be so close -- thanks to the twins.
While we waited, Matthew suggested that we sing -- and not just any old songs, but "Dixie" and some Negro spirituals. It was a hoot! There we were, four Stack children, singing about the land of cotton and old times not bein' forgotten, along with songs about that old-time religion, the sweet soundin' amazin' grace, and those saints who go right on marchin' in. The people around us were all clapping. Daddy didn't sing with us, but he was smiling. You'd have thought we were at a revival meeting even though we weren't wearing our Sunday-go-to-church clothes.
While we were laughing, another doctor from Spartanburg -- and his family -- came up to us. The doctor was in a suit and tie, and his wife was in a smart little Betty-Homemaker-makes-a-cocktail-from-her-new-refrigerator outfit, even though it was early morning. Their three daughters were in delightful pastel summer tea dresses. And here we were in our cutoff blue jeans and untucked shirts and Wejuns without socks, looking like white trash come to town in our white truck and camper. All, of course, except Gee, who was wearing a very fashionable flowery summer dress. I could no more have told you who this family was than what kind of cheese was on the moon. But Matthew introduced them as Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence and their daughters.
"Well hi there, Matthew," Dr. Lawrence said, addressing my father. Now, Daddy's friends and family called him MD, short for Matthew Daniel, because his daddy was Matthew Daniel Senior and his son -- my brother -- was Matthew Daniel the Third. Therefore, I figured Dr. Lawrence wasn't a close friend of Daddy's. But Daddy smiled and shook hands with him. Dr. Lawrence continued, "We couldn't help but hear 'Dixie' being sung, and wondered who it was." His daughters were tittering like chickadees as this exchange was taking place. His wife granted us a half-smile and gave us the once-over, one eyebrow raised and critical eyes looking over the top of her glasses. "Good to see ya'll," Dr. Lawrence added. "Have a nice time, now, hear?" He put his hand on his wife's waist and moved her away as their daughters followed.
I had no idea if we'd once been friendly with them, or if they were members of the Spartanburg Country Club, like us. But I'm sure there was anxiety on both sides. We, a once-prominent but now fallen family from Spartanburg, with all the skeletons from our closets hung out to rattle; they, a pristine family from Spartanburg with bolts on their closet doors. So what if we looked like country-come-to-town and they like they were on their way to meet with the Queen? At least we didn't act or look like we were going to be doing something we weren't.
Daddy got antsy and went to ask the ticket taker how long the wait would be. The man informed him that, based on where we were in line, it would be a good hour to an hour and a half. Daddy came back and told us he was going to the bathroom. In actuality, he moseyed his way to get some of the shaggy dog -- you know, the hair of the dog. We figured this out after he'd been gone for over 30 minutes. Sure, Daddy spent a long time in the bathroom, but this was far longer than anyone would want to sit in a public toilet. Daddy came back feeling no pain. I figured Dr. Lawrence and his family had shunned us because Daddy drank. But Gee, the twins, and I knew that no other doctor in Spartanburg was as good as our daddy.
We finally got into the theater and went to find seats, but there weren't any. No one had to stand up in the theaters in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Not even at the drive-in ones. If we were going to have to stand in all the theaters in the different Expo pavilions that showed movies, then I wasn't so sure I wanted to go to any more. Besides, we were huddled close in with everyone; I could feel the people next to me brushing against me, even hear them breathing.
But the film was incredible. At one point during the show, we felt like we were actually moving through water on a speedboat. The things in the distance were coming towards us while to our sides we could see things passing. And if we looked to the rear we could see the boat's wake. We felt the boat going up and down on the water like when it hits waves from other boats. We felt it in our stomachs. It was really weird, but, oh, what a ride!
The best part was when we were supposed to be in a plane flying over Niagara Falls. When it tilted on its side to keep the waterfalls in view, Matthew felt jolted and screamed, grabbing hold of Mark because it felt like he was going to fall out of the plane. I was in awe. How that film could play with your mind was amazing. In 18 minutes we had gone from one end of Canada to the other. All this and not one actor -- only a narrator and soundtrack. My career as an actor was going to be obsolete before it even began.
After the movie, we went into the exhibition area and saw the phones of the future: a picture phone where you could see the person you were speaking with, like on The Jetsons. They claimed that one day we'd even be able to shop and bank by phone. We got our suits and had them tailored at Price's and Greenwald's, so I didn't think either place would like that idea. And Grandma Stack had told me that no one trusted banks, so why would anyone start trusting banks when using a phone?
When we left the Telephone Pavilion, my bladder was about to burst and there were no empty Coke bottles lying around (or private place to use them). They had these stick-figure signs for men and women with arrows pointing in the bathrooms' direction. More stick figures making me think of cigarettes. At least when we went to pee, Daddy didn't go with us -- so I could grab a smoke.
What is it about men and public bathrooms? First, no one speaks in there. It's some unwritten rule that all men seem to know about, and they don't break it for fear of their lives. And then no one ever looks you in the eye -- it's deemed a federal offense. Speaking and making eye contact are allowed for immediate family members only, especially for fathers and sons. But then as you get older, even family members don't speak to or look at each other in public restrooms. God forbid that Mark and I should speak while relieving ourselves. Matthew ignored these rules; he would talk and look at people. But neither Mark nor I would answer back. Oh, no. The fear of God was upon us in the men's room.
And what about those urinals? There is nothing separating you from the guy relieving himself next to you -- impersonal yet very personal. Most men stand in fear, staring straight ahead with both hands on their penises so the guy next to them can't see how small their dick is. It's only the men who seem to be comfortable with themselves -- or those who have big penises, or think they do -- who use either one hand or no hands, letting it flow freely.
Men are disgusting when they go into the stalls. All I'll say is that they must think that because they are in a stall, there is no one else in the bathroom with them. They don't even think to give a compassionate flush. What is it about grown men and smelling their own shit?
I kept comparing myself to other boys and men, constantly trying to catch a glimpse of what their penises looked like. And of course it was always such a relief to see a dick that was smaller than mine. Of course I never wanted any of them to know I was looking. I didn't want them thinking I was like Matthew. (Not that I didn't wonder what that would be like.) I didn't want people calling me names and picking on me. Then again, whoever chooses to be picked on or called names?
When we all met up back outside, it was almost time for lunch, so Daddy asked, "Are ya'll thirsty? Anyone want a Coca-Cola?"
"I do," I answered.
Gee firmly took hold of my elbow to keep me quiet and said, "Is it already time for lunch?"
Matthew said, "I'm not hungry. I think we have time for another pavilion."
"Let's head over to the Russian Pavilion," Mark suggested. "Maybe we can eat there."
"That's all the way over on the other island," said Daddy. "It'll take us a good hour to get there. I'm going to get something to drink."
Realizing that a conflict was brewing -- and not a brew that Daddy could drink -- Gee said to the twins, "Why don't James and I go with Daddy to get some lunch, and ya'll check out a pavilion or two? Just don't go to the Russian one today. It'll be more fun if we can all go together tomorrow."
"Now that sounds like a plan," Daddy said.
Not believing what he had heard, Mark asked, "Are you sure?"
"Why, yes, I'm sure," Gee replied. "Just remember: If ya'll want to go to the other island, it's called..." Gee hesitated while opening her map, then continued in a French accent, "...'Isle Notre Dame.'" In her normal voice, she added, "Please wait to go to the Russian Pavilion when we're all together. Okay? Ya'll promise?"
"Sure," Mark replied. "We'll see ya'll back in the parking lot before it gets dark."
"Get there earlier if ya'll can," Gee said.
As we went in search of a place to eat, I thought it was terrific that almost every pavilion served food. We could eat nearly anywhere in the whole wide world right here at Expo '67.
Daddy ever so nicely suggested, "Why don't we go to La Brasserie? Isn't that the name of the restaurant where ya'll wanted to eat yesterday?"
Gee said, "Daddy, why don't we try a different place to eat each time? Don't ya'll agree?"
"Come on, now," Daddy pleaded. "We didn't eat at La Brasserie yesterday, so it'll be new and exciting."
"We've already been to the Canadian Brewer's Pavilion," said Gee. "Let's try a new one so we can go inside after we've eaten." Turning to me, she said, "Come on. Let's see if we can find a fun place to eat." Putting one hand through Daddy's and the other through mine, off we went.
We were right around the corner from the Austrian Pavilion, and as soon as she spied it, Gee suggested we eat there. The restaurant, called "Wienerwald," was like a sidewalk café with green umbrellas, and the waitresses were dressed in Austrian costumes. The restaurant served what they called "authentic Viennese dishes." That sounded so sophisticated to me, in a way. Like Vivian Leigh, the star of Gone with the Wind. "Viennese" and "Vivian Leigh." If you say it fast enough, it sounds about the same.
Daddy ordered a beer as soon as we were seated, and a second one before we had ordered. He was on his fifth by the time we had finished eating. As he tapped on his empty glass, Gee said, "Daddy, I think you've had enough. Now, why don't we decide where we want to go next?" Opening the map, she continued, "I'm glad we stayed on this island at Expo, because there are so many countries I'll probably never go to on this one. Most of the European countries are on the other island, but the more exotic ones are over here. What do you say, Daddy? It's time we got going."
The waitress didn't smile as she put Daddy's sixth beer on the table. Instead of thanking her, he said, "Nice 'un now." To Gee and me, he added, "Ya'll go on ahead. I'll be fine right here." It was unusual for Daddy to cut up in front of Gee. But during this trip it was apparent he was going to dive headfirst into the deep end.
"Daddy, what does 'nice 'un now' mean?" I asked.
"Well, now, let's see. It means different things at different times. Just now it meant, 'Thank you, sweet thing.'"
Gee wasn't happy. "Are you sure you won't go with us?" she asked him. "There are people waiting to be seated." When Daddy didn't answer, she said, "Well, we'll make sure and come back and get you."
"That's right. Ya'll go on, now," was all Daddy said.
Gee said, "If you'll excuse me, I'll be right back," and got up to go to the bathroom.
She hadn't gotten but a few feet away before Daddy started commenting on the women in the restaurant. The couple sitting to our left could hear him, and were laughing. Daddy heard them laughing and said, "Why, hello there. Can I buy ya'll a drink?"
"Thanks. That would be nice," the man replied.
When Gee came back, Daddy said to the couple, "This is my daughter, Genevieve, and my son, James. They're just leaving. Would the two of you care to join me?"
As they got up to sit with Daddy, Gee told them, "It's nice to meet you." To Daddy, she said, "Please don't wander off anywhere." Before she and I had made it to the door, we could hear them laughing about something. Gee said, "I don't know why I let him embarrass me." Then, realizing that she hadn't wanted to say that in front of me, she quickly added, "But we'll be fine. Let's go have some fun, okay?"
This morning, Daddy had been terrific. But after only a few hours and some liquid refreshment, he had turned into a real creep. I was beginning to believe that he was two different people: one who started the day with a smile and then shed his skin -- like a snake -- as the sun progressed across the sky. But there were no snakeskins left behind, only the sadness in our eyes.
As Gee and I went through the Austrian pavilion, my mind was preoccupied with the worry that Daddy would be repeating yesterday's performance. We were headed down a path that could only get worse. I knew it was inevitable that Daddy was going to drink, but for some reason I couldn't get it out of my mind. Daddy would have continued to drink even if Gee and I had stayed with him.
I kept asking myself why he continuously hurt himself and, ultimately, us. He had insisted that Momma allow us to come with him so he could spend time with us, but all he wanted to do was spend time with a bottle. When had drinking become more important to him than spending time with us? And how big a wound would be added to our hearts tonight?
COMING UP IN CHAPTER 14: Man the Explorer... can we build a better world?... "Beer on whisky, mighty risky."
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.