"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 some mild sexual content; may not be suitable for all audiences.
CHAPTER 7: A Tip of the Hat
The only good thing about being in the camper with the twins was that they would let me smoke. I had to be careful not to let Daddy know. Gee smoked in front of our parents, but she was in college. And the twins smoked in front of them, but the twins were 18 so they were allowed. But not me. "No sirree, Bob!" That's what my momma said when I asked if I could have one of her Winston cigarettes. It always made me laugh. She knew my name wasn't Bob. I guess she was pretending I hadn't asked for a cigarette, but someone by the name of Bob had. You have to love my momma.
The worst part about this trip was that there was no privacy. And my dick was screaming for attention. It was constantly hard. At 15, my priorities were driving around in cars, smoking cigarettes, and playing with myself -- and not in that order. Besides, I hadn't had a girlfriend since Molly back in the seventh grade (when I felt forced to have a girlfriend so no one would think I might be like Matthew and like boys). We'd gone steady for about two weeks, but she never went anywhere near my dick.
I knew I wasn't the only boy who couldn't get enough of his dick. Allen Morehead played with himself as much as I did -- I knew because we used to do it together when I was 10 and 11 and he was 12 and 13. Besides, he taught me how. So I knew I wasn't weird or anything. At least not any weirder than Allen, who everyone thought was handsome, and who was always on the side that won the touch-football games in our neighborhood. Everyone wanted to be his friend. Anyway, like Hamlet, all I could think was, "To beat off or not to beat off?" In my mind, there was no question.
While lying on the bed in my safe place with a hard-on I couldn't touch, I thought back to the first time I'd ever seen a hard penis. We had a playhouse large enough to hold two sets of bunk beds. Some of our neighborhood friends were over playing a game where one team locked the other team in the playhouse. The team inside had to break out. I was thrilled to have been chosen to be on the same team as Teddy, who lived several blocks away. He was the tallest, strongest and best-looking boy around. He was also the oldest and already in junior high school. Mark (who was 10 at the time), our neighbor Cathy (who was a year younger than Mark) and I made up the rest of the team.
After we were bolted inside, Teddy -- who could've gotten us out in no time -- went and plopped down on one of the bottom bunk beds while Mark, Cathy and I tried to figure out how to break free. It wasn't long before Teddy called out, "Hey, Cathy. Come on over here." When we turned to look at him, he had pulled his dick out of his pants and it was standing up straight about a foot in the air. He moved it a little from side to side. "Come on, Cathy, come on over here. See what I have for you?"
My eyes had bugged out of my head and my mouth had dropped open. I couldn't believe how big his dick was. I had wished it were me he was asking to come over.
Mark was angry and, while staring at Teddy, ordered Cathy, "Don't go over there. You don't have to go over there."
Teddy simply laughed, since he could have flattened Mark without even getting off the bunk bed. Teddy looked at the three of us and his eyes landed on me. He saw that my eyes were glued to his huge dick, and by now my tongue was unconsciously pressed between my teeth and lips. While his hand stroked up and down on his penis, Teddy whispered softly to me, "Well now, what do we have here? Why don't you come over and lick my dick? Lick it like a lollypop. Come on -- give it a kiss. Just one kiss."
As my body leaned in Teddy's direction, Mark grabbed my shoulder and squeezed. "Stay where you are," he said. Something wasn't quite right, but at age 7, I wasn't at all sure what.
It was at this point I noticed that Cathy had started to cry. I had no idea why Mark was so mad, or why Cathy was so upset. I simply stood there staring at Teddy and his enormous dick, wondering if it really did taste like a lollipop. After we made it out of the playhouse, Teddy never came around again.
Suddenly I was brought back to the present by the rocking of the camper as it moved off the road. Dropping to the floor and onto my stomach, hiding my hard-on, I stuck my head into the passageway and asked, "What's going on?"
"We're taking a short break," Gee replied. "That's all. Don't worry, sweetie."
We all got out so we could stretch. Daddy went a little ways off so he could pee, and I followed him to do the same, thankful that my erection had gone away. When I got close to him, I asked, "Do you think we'll get there tonight?"
"We should, if we make double time and don't run into any Yankees," he said, shaking his penis to get the last drops out. He zipped up and pointed at the camper. "You see our license plates? They say 'South Carolina,' so we've got to be extra careful."
I put my dick back in my pants as soon as I could. It was too soon, because I felt a few drops missing my boxers and going down my leg. I couldn't help but feel a little scared, a Southerner above the Mason-Dixon Line, even though the others thought Daddy was joking. To me, it was still kind of spooky.
Back in the camper, I climbed up on the bed over the truck cab and stared out the window. At first I was looking to see if there was going to be any trouble, but I soon forgot all about that. From the highway, as the light was beginning to fade, you could see that the side of the road was filled with miles and miles of beautiful pine trees. We were in the Adirondack Mountains, which rose high up against the orange and pink sky. These were the same Adirondacks that made up the Appalachian range, with Spartanburg at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It made me feel as if we weren't that far from home and had more in common with Northerners than Daddy said.
I must have dozed off, because it didn't seem as if much time had passed before Daddy decided he'd had enough driving and retired to the camper. During the switch I heard him say to the twins, "We'd be there by now if it hadn't been for the two of ya'll. What good are ya'll?" I was sure he would nip into that bottle he had.
Gee and I ended up front, with Gee taking over the driving. We had been on Interstate 87 in New York State for a long time, and the light had faded to where we could only see the road directly in front of us. Suddenly there were flashing lights behind us. As Gee started to slow down, Daddy's voice came through the passageway. "Now Genevieve," he said, "I want you to be careful about what you say to that officer. Remember, we're in Yankee Land and they don't like Southerners like us up here."
Gee laughed. She and I both had been born in Detroit, so we were officially Yankees -- something we'd had to live with every day of our lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where many people said, "The South will rise again."
I kept looking back through the passageway as Daddy raised himself off the floor. He turned to the twins and said, "Now why didn't either of ya'll think to speak to us through the goddamn passageway? It was there all the time." Daddy wouldn't let it go. He'd evidently had a "pop" or three from his liquor bottle.
I put the flap down and looked over at Gee. The patrolman seemed to be taking his time getting to the truck. If Daddy had been driving, he would have gotten out and met the officer back by the end of the truck, as all gentlemen did. But ladies didn't get out of the car when they were pulled over. So we waited patiently for the patrolman to make his way up to the window.
"Hand me a cigarette, will you sweetie?" Gee asked, checking her reflection in the rearview mirror. "And honey, can you find my lipstick and hand it to me?"
I searched in her pocketbook, handed her the lipstick, and got a cigarette. After she had applied the lipstick and found a tissue to blot it, leaving a perfect red imprint of her lips, I handed a cigarette to her. Using my Zippo lighter I was so proud to own, I held out the flame so she could light the cigarette. She took a deep puff and inhaled. I was getting more worried the longer the patrolman took, but Gee calmly exhaled that first drag. I noticed that a healthy portion of the lipstick was now on the filter of the cigarette.
Suddenly he was there, at Gee's window. He was a big man and his frame took up the entire width of the window. He bent down to get his face closer to the glass. As Gee rolled the window down, he said, "How are you this evening?"
"Why officer, we're fine," Gee replied. "It's mighty nice of you to ask." She added a little syrup to her already sweet Southern drawl.
"May I see your driver's license, please?"
"Why, yes sir, you certainly may." Gee opened her purse and began looking for her wallet.
"Would you mind telling me where you're headed?" the officer asked.
Turning to look him directly in the eyes, Gee answered, "Why, we're going to Canada. We're on our way to Montreal. To the World's Fair. Expo '67." Then she smiled a little larger before turning back to her pocketbook. "Here it is." She batted her eyes as she handed him her license.
The officer looked at it, then peered at Gee. "Thank you, Miss Stack. Do you know how fast you were going?"
"I believe I was going right around 65," she answered. "Isn't that the speed limit during the evening hours, officer?" Gee knew full well that she had been speeding "like a bat out of hell" (as Momma would've said).
The patrolman ignored her question. "I'll be right back," he said.
While we waited, Daddy stuck his head back through the passageway. "Everything okay? Did he tell you why he stopped you?"
"Everything's fine, Daddy. Don't worry," said Gee.
The officer's "right back" turned out to be the longest "right back" in the history of "right backs." And then suddenly there he was, at Gee's window tapping on the glass, scaring the shit out of me.
"Everything seems to be in order," he said. "Here's your driver's license." He handed the piece of paper back to Gee.
"Why, thank you, officer," Gee replied. She smiled, handing me her driver's license without taking her eyes off the highway patrolman.
Smiling back, the officer said, "Drive carefully. You might consider slowing down from time to time."
"Yes, sir," was Gee's soft reply.
"It's late and we don't want you falling asleep on the road," the officer added. "Pull over if you get tired. It's better to arrive in one piece than not at all."
"I will," Gee said, still smiling. "Thanks ever so much for your concern, officer."
The patrolman stood there smiling back at Gee for a few seconds. It seemed like he wanted to say more, but looking over at me and then back at Gee, he tipped his hat and walked away.
Gee rolled up her window and I handed back her license. As she put it in her wallet, she said, "Well, that scared me half to death."
I'd had no idea. Even while the patrolman was in his car, Gee had given no indication that she was afraid. After all, she had fooled around with her face powder, combed her hair and played with the radio dial while I twitched in my seat. I was impressed. I was also relieved.
"At least I didn't get a ticket," Gee said, smiling over at me as she turned the ignition. "Now that's something, isn't it?"
"Do you think he's going to follow us?" I asked.
Pulling out onto the interstate, Gee said, "Well, I think he'll have to for a little while. Light me another cigarette, sweetie, and one for you, will you? Shoo, that was close."
Daddy once again stuck his head through the passageway and asked if everything was all right. When he found out Gee had gotten off without a ticket, he said, "That's my jellybean!" That's what he sometimes affectionately called Gee.
Meanwhile, I kept checking the rearview mirror on my side of the truck by leaning up and looking into it so I could see the highway patrolman's headlights. At some point he disappeared, and Gee felt safe once again to pick up speed to make up for lost time.
It was during moments like these that I found myself in awe of my sister. She was so cool under pressure. She was popular. She was beautiful. She was perfect in oh, so many ways. She was smart. She was everything I wanted to be. Well, almost. I mean, she was a girl and I was a boy. I didn't want to be a girl. I may have dressed up like a girl with things I'd found in Momma's closet -- and Bunnie Ann's closet after I took over her room -- but I hadn't done anything like that in forever. At least, not since I was about 6. Or 8. Or 10.
We drove through the darkness with no more than the dashboard lights illuminating Gee's face. The only noise for hours was the sound of the truck's motor and the radio, with an occasional request from Gee asking me to light one of her cigarettes. Each time, I would also light one for me. I wanted to sleep, and my eyelids seemed to be trying to force their way closed, but I stayed awake.
And then we were there, approaching the border between the United States and Canada. As the truck crept closer to the one lighted customs booth, it dawned on me that we might be asked to show our papers, like in World War II movies. As far as I knew, we didn't have any papers. I'd never known what was on the papers, but I knew they enabled you to pass from one checkpoint, or country, to another.
So, with excitement and anxiety, we gradually made our way to the customs booth. It was stark white with glass surrounding the top half, through which the white walls seemed to glow. A man inside was watching us as we approached. After we'd come all this way, would they even let us into Canada without our papers? And what were the Canadians like? How different from us were they? Were they friendly? Would they even smile? I couldn't remember if we'd ever had any wars with them. Had they been on the side of the Indians? Or the French? Or the British, when we fought for our independence? What if they'd been our enemy? We might need Daddy's pistols after all.
The man in the booth reminded me of our neighbor Cathy's daddy, Mr. Regimbauld, with his stocky build, bushy eyebrows and sculptured face. His badge identified him as a Canadian border guard. Our first encounter with a Canadian! And he smiled at Gee. Just like that, Gee and I smiled back. He then asked Gee what the purpose of our trip was. Which I thought was odd. Didn't he know that Expo '67 was in Canada? Evidently not, because Gee had to tell him.
After he asked for it, Gee handed him her driver's license. While examining it, he suddenly asked, "Are the two of you traveling alone?"
"No, sir," Gee answered.
"How many people are traveling in your party?" I held my breath, hoping he wouldn't need to meet everyone -- or at least, not Daddy.
Gee replied, "There are five of us."
"Are you all from the same family?"
"Why, yes sir."
"What relation to you are they?"
"Well, there's our father and our two brothers."
"Are they in the camper?"
"Yes sir. I believe they may be asleep."
"Well, we don't want to wake anybody."
Gee smiled at him and he returned the smile. It was then that I began to breathe again. It was weird that no one spoke for what seemed the longest time. Suddenly the border guard said, as he handed Gee back her driver's license, "Welcome to Canada! We hope you enjoy your stay. Please drive carefully." That was it. Gee's driver's license had served as our papers.
The border guard seemed sweet on Gee. All men did. It made me wonder what kind of power there was in a girl's smile that made men let her get away with almost anything. I mean, I didn't get it. Girls could smile at me and it didn't make any difference. But for some reason, men were powerless when it came to a woman's smile. It was Gee's smile that had gotten us into Canada.
After driving past the booth, Gee pulled over to the right side of the road and parked. She had noticed a sign for bathrooms. Daddy had evidently finished off the bottle of booze, because he nearly fell out of the camper. The twins had come up with the bright idea of turning off the camper lights as we approached the border. They thought that if the border guards knew Daddy had been drinking, we might be refused permission to enter Canada. We'd all had a part to play. The twins had kept Daddy quiet so we would be allowed to enter. So we wouldn't have to turn around and go all the way back home, stopping at Bunnie Ann and Dan's again with our heads down, having been rejected by Canada. Could there have been a worse fate?
One thing was clear: Daddy shouldn't drive. He wasn't acting mad about anything, but he did say something about World War II, which he sometimes did when he'd had too much to drink. It was up to us to be the adults and do the grownup things. So Gee did. She made it seem like she did this sort of thing all the time.
Back on the road, we still had 35 more miles to go before we got to Montreal. I loved being the copilot and not in the cramped camper. I quickly forgot about Daddy while looking over the road map, which I'd gotten so much better at reading. It was really kind of neat if you thought about it, what with all the lines and distances and things indicated. The map showed that Montreal was on the other side of the Saint Lawrence River, which kept going until it became Lake Ontario.
According to the map, we were on road number 15 going north in a foreign land. It didn't look any different once we crossed the border. "North of the border" wasn't something you heard in movies or on TV, but it was still neat to be there. Besides, "south of the border" was where gangsters and outlaws in the movies always went and was all dry, dusty and dirty. So being north of the border was fine by me. It may have been late, but I was twitching in my seat with excitement. Momma would have said I had ants in my pants.
I must have been irritating Gee, because she asked, "Darling, won't you please sit still so I can focus on the driving?"
She looked tired, so I asked, "Would you like for me to drive?"
"I don't think so, darlin', seeing as how we're now in Canada, and we don't know what their laws are," she said. "Even back home you can't drive at night unless Momma or Daddy's with you." To make me feel better, she added, "Besides, I need you to help keep me awake. You've been doing a terrific job so far. Just keep it up for a little while longer, without jumping around so much, and we'll be there before you know it."
Finally Gee found a campsite for Expo '67. It was quiet, with the only noise coming from the streetlight outside the campsite office and the bugs buzzing around it. Gee and Matthew went inside to find out where we could park.
Once parked, we sleepwalked around trying to figure out how to connect the electricity, water and gas. We found the propane tank; it was tiny. I couldn't help but wonder if it really would have blown us up if we had gone through the tunnel. It was too dark to do much, so we decided we would hook things up in the morning.
Inside the camper, we found Daddy passed out in the bed over the truck. It was agreed without anyone arguing that Mark would sleep with Daddy in the bed. I had to sleep on the floor.
It should have taken us one day to get to Bunnie Ann's and then one day to get to Montreal. We should have arrived on the 30th, with our first full day at Expo '67 being July 31 -- a day that was barely a few hours past. None of us had remembered that July 31 was Daddy's birthday.
What else would be forgotten during this trip -- or after it was over?
COMING UP IN CHAPTER 8: Three close shaves... how to find a parking lot... a train with a brain.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.