"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 and violence; may not be suitable for all audiences.
CHAPTER 21: The Golden Rule
Being awakened by flashing lights was becoming a recurring nightmare: Daddy had been picked up by the police again. Instead of taking him to jail they'd brought him to us. Gee, still in her nightgown, went outside while Matthew, Mark and I quickly put on pants. We three hung by the camper door so we could see what was going on. There was barely any room for me, so I stood on tiptoes and peered over the twins' shoulders.
Two policemen were standing outside their car, and Daddy was visible in the backseat. I'd thought it might be fun to ride in a police car with the siren going. But I couldn't tell if Daddy was having any fun. His face was a blank.
Gee approached the policemen and said, "May I help you?"
"We hope so," said the officer who stood on the driver's side. "Could you tell us your name?"
Pointing to Daddy, that same officer asked, "Would you tell us if this man's your father?"
"Why, yes sir," she said. "That's our daddy."
"How old are you?"
"I'm 19. Soon I'll be 20."
The officer pointed toward the camper. "Are those your brothers?"
"Yes, sir. That's Matthew and Mark. They're 18. And our youngest brother, James. He's 15."
The officer who appeared to be in charge said to the other officer, "I believe we may be in luck."
Turning back to Gee, he said, "Your father's been drinking heavily. He's had enough... well, enough to harm most men. Do you believe you and your brothers can keep him out of trouble for the rest of the night?"
Gee hesitated before answering. Then she said, "Yes, sir."
Pausing for a few seconds as he looked from Gee to us, the officer turned to his partner. "Okay, get him out here and take the cuffs off. He should be docile enough now. I'm going to call this one in."
He got in the front seat while the other officer opened the back door of the police car and offered to help Daddy get out. "Why, that's awfully kind of you, officer," Daddy slurred, struggling to get out while his hands were handcuffed.
I wanted to run out and start hitting the two officers. How Gee didn't haul off and slap them I'll never know. Daddy was drunk; he wasn't a criminal.
Gee moved towards Daddy. Once the officer had removed the cuffs and stepped aside, she said, "Daddy, we were so worried about you. Come inside and get a glass of water."
Daddy rubbed his wrists. "These gentlemen were very nice to give me a ride," he said. "And looky here what they did. I'm home!"
As he weaved slightly into Gee and then away from her, she took his arm at the elbow and started moving him towards the camper. After they'd taken a few steps, the second officer said, "Here, let me help you."
"Keep your distance, damn it, now hear?" Daddy said to him. Then he leaned his head slightly towards Gee. "See how they listen to me," he said. "They know they damn well better."
"Let's just get inside now, Daddy," Gee urged.
After another step, Daddy again lashed out at the officers. "You pussies. Now get the hell away from here before I call the cops." Laughing, he said to Gee, "Get it? I'm going to call the cops on the cops."
"If you prefer, Miss, we can take him back with us," said the officer standing closest to Gee.
Before she could answer, Daddy yelled out, "Get the fuck back to the goddamn playground where you pussies belong."
"We'll take it from here," said the officer closest to Daddy, and he quickly moved in.
"It's okay," Mark sang out as he jumped down from the camper and went to help Gee. "We can take him. Everything will be all right, officers."
Another stride. We could hear the officers' shoes crunching the gravel, and the whispers from the other campers who'd come out to watch. All I kept thinking was, Please don't take Daddy back to jail. Please!
Out of what one might have thought was a sober man's mouth came, "Yes, officers. We will be just fine, my children and I. Thanks ever so much for your... your kindness."
"Yes. Thanks so much," Gee called back to the officers over her shoulder.
"Yes. Thanks. Thanks a lot," Mark added.
Then Daddy erupted again. "Where the fuck am I?" Noticing Matthew in the doorway, he said, "What the fuck are you goddamn cocksuckers doing?" Then, focusing on Gee, he shook his head and quietly said, "I didn't mean that, honey. You know I didn't." This meant that he either might simply come into the camper and pass out, or else that he wasn't that far along and would raise holy hell once inside.
"You're with us at the camper, Daddy," Gee explained. Turning back to the officers, she said, "We'll be fine." She sighed, then repeated, "We'll be fine." As if she wasn't quite sure.
Daddy stood there, weaving in place, while the police left. Then suddenly he began carrying on. "I knew ya'll'd be here. I told 'em you'd fucking kicked me out -- just like Bunnie -- and not one of you assholes would open the door. Well, fuck you and Bunnie. I'm a man, goddamn it!"
Starting to get upset, Gee said, "Please, get in the camper. You'll wake everyone. Please Daddy, just get in the camper."
"I don't give a shit about... I'm a man, goddamn it! I can do what I.... If I want to get in the mother fucking camper, I'll get...." He started to weave around and stumble, then fell to the ground. Mark tried to help him, but Daddy pushed him away. Daddy then seemed to recognize Gee again, so he stopped yelling. But the next second, he swiveled his head towards the camper door and said, "What the fuck are ya'll pussies looking at?" Recognizing me, he smiled. "Nice un now, Bubba."
We quietly moved out of his way, looking at him pathetically as he got up and groped his way into the camper. "I'm a man, goddamn it! A.... I'm going to be the richest fucking man in the world, in the.... No cocksuckers can do a thing to me. Those sons a bitches! That goddamn bitch, Bunnie. Fuck her! Fuck 'em.... Ya'll hear? Fuck 'em all!"
Once he had staggered inside the camper, we could see how filthy he was. "Daddy," Mark said, "a shower might make you feel better."
"Fuck you and the shower. I'm a...." He halted and looked down at himself, unable to focus. "I'm a man, goddamn it!"
I didn't want to have anything to do with him, so I got up into my safe place. Instead of the ring, I should have had Daddy buy me one of those tiny bells from Thailand, so we could ward off his evil drink.
"Daddy, I think a shower's a good idea," said Gee from outside the camper door. "I'll wait out here."
Trying to fix his eyes on the camper's bathroom door, Daddy yelled out, "There's no fucking room in that goddamn shithole. I bought a piece of shit, goddamn it. Fuck it! Fuck it all!"
Apparently thinking that if the twins went with Daddy to the campground showers, he might behave, Gee suggested, "Maybe the twins can go with you...."
"I'm not going to take a shower with them. I'm a man, goddamn it. Fuck you and your shower. I'm getting out of here. I'm going to walk the fuck all over that bitch, Bunnie."
"Okay, Daddy, you don't need to take a shower," Gee said.
"You're goddamn right, you, you...."
No longer recognizing Gee, Daddy had transformed into a vile creature. His face was that of a monster and his body had become something wild, flailing around as if he were spastic. From some deep pit inside him, all this hatred had been smoldering. Now it surfaced.
Mark tried to take Daddy's arm. "Come on, now, Daddy," he implored. But Daddy was too strong and swatted him away.
Gee had now entered the camper. "Daddy, we should all go to bed," she said. "We have a full day tomorrow. Please. Calm down."
"Fuck tomorrow, and fuck ya'll. I'm a goddamn man!" Daddy howled.
"Matthew," Mark called out, struggling to get a hold on Daddy's arms. "Help me out here!"
"What am I supposed to do?" Matthew replied. "This is just wrong."
"Let me fix you a glass of water, Daddy. Would you like that?" Gee asked.
"Fuck water!" Daddy ripped out. "I'm a man! I want a drink! Give me a goddamn drink!"
Frustrated, Matthew cried out, "You shouldn't treat us this way. This isn't supposed to be happening!"
Sensing a weakness in Matthew, Daddy started to cackle. "See what a fucking pussy you are. You fucking cocksucker." He swung his arms violently to get Mark away from him and yelled at the top of his lungs, "GODDAMN YOU! I'M A MAN!"
Matthew was now crying -- tears for a father who didn't know how to love him. As soon as he saw that Mark had a firm grasp on one of Daddy's arms, Matthew reached out and took hold of the other one. All the while, both twins were begging Daddy to either get ready for bed or to go to the showers with them. Daddy started yelling again, freeing his arms as he whipped them wildly through the air, every now and then striking one of them. Gee had moved away and was back against the door. It was Daddy and the twins in the middle of the camper fighting and screaming at one another.
Daddy grunted and swung at Mark, missing and hitting the wall. Mark yelled to Matthew, "Grab his other arm. Get him around the waist." To Daddy, he screamed, "We're just trying to help!"
Gee yelled out, "Daddy, this is no way to act! You have to stop! Stop now! Please, stop!"
Daddy was contorted, bending backwards, screaming at the top of his lungs, shaking the hand that had hit the wall. Matthew came up and grabbed him around the waist, yelling at Mark, "I've got him. Now do something!"
Daddy began twisting like a caged beast, bucking like a horse that didn't want to be tamed. His expression was twisted with fury and madness. Suddenly the fiend in him focused in on the drawer beside the sink. With his one free hand, he reached over, opened the drawer, and pulled out one of the pistols. "I'm going to kill ya'll sons of fucking bitches. I'm going to fucking kill both of ya'll," he bellowed as he began waving the gun around.
Gee moved to the center of the camper, grabbing at Daddy's wrist, trying to get the gun away from him. He pushed her away. "Get the fuck away from me. I'm going to kill that rat-fucker. I'm going to kill that cocksucker. Goddamn them. I'm going to kill them!"
"Stop, Daddy, please, stop! Don't shoot!" Gee pleaded over and over.
The scene being acted out in front of me was one of horror. I, too, started yelling, "Daddy, stop! You don't want to kill the twins! Daddy, stop!"
"I hate the sons of bitches," he spat. "I'm going to kill them! Then they'll know what kind of man I am. I hate them! I'm a man! I'm going to fucking kill them both. Goddamn it!"
Gee got one hand on the gun -- they both had hold of it. Even drunk, Daddy was much stronger, possessed as he was by some invisible demon. "I'm a man, goddamn it! I'm a man," he kept howling up at the roof of the camper as loud as he could.
"Drop the gun, Daddy," Mark kept yelling. "Drop the gun!"
"What are we going to do?" Matthew cried out. "Someone get help."
"Daddy, for God's sake, please, give me the gun," Gee screamed.
Everyone was shouting. No one would let go. So I jumped from my safe place. I landed smack on top of Daddy, and everyone went down. Gee stumbled backwards, falling on her butt; the twins' arms and knees smacked into the floor; Daddy's whole body -- and then his head -- smashed down hard on the linoleum.
Gee let go of the gun to try and brace her fall; when Daddy's hand hit the floor, he, too, released it. The gun scuttled along the floor, stopping near the door. Gee quickly crawled on hands and knees and grabbed it. At first, she simply looked at it. Then she slowly turned to face us. She raised the gun and pointed it in Daddy's direction. "Okay," she demanded. "Now get the hell out of here. Get out, damn it." Gee had cursed, which meant only one thing: She was mad as hell and didn't give a flying fuck who knew it. Taking a deep breath, she continued in almost a whisper, "Just get out and don't come back."
She was breathing heavily, sitting on the floor, holding the gun with both hands extended in front of her as far as possible, as if it was putting off some sort of heat and would burn her if she'd held it any closer to herself. None of us had gotten off the floor: Mark still had hold of Daddy's hand, Matthew still had a bear hug around his waist, and I was still lying on top of them all. Apparently Daddy had had the breath knocked out of him. The twins were looking at Gee as if she had lost her mind. But she was doing the only thing she could: saving our lives.
"Just get out," she repeated softly. Daddy didn't move, so she said it again, louder. "Do you hear me? Get out! Or I'll shoot you. I'm not kidding." When Daddy still didn't react, she yelled, "DO YOU HEAR ME, DAMN IT? I SAID I'LL SHOOT YOU. NOW GET OUT!" Gee had a dead aim on Daddy and surely couldn't miss.
Moving slowly, we all got to our feet. I climbed back up into my safe place. Matthew stepped into the corner immediately below me. Mark shifted over to the side of the banquette and sat down. Daddy slowly stood, alone, in the center of the camper. We were all staring at Gee, who had managed to get off the floor by shimmying up the door without taking her hands off the gun. It was pointed directly at Daddy's heart.
Gee's hands were shaking. Would Daddy notice that and try to take the gun away from her? Would she shoot him if he tried? If he got the gun, would one or more of those bullets have our names on them? There was no place for me to run. I could sense the camper shaking from how scared we all were. All except Daddy. He was wiping his face with his pocket handkerchief, holding on to the table with his other hand and trying to regain his breath.
Still pointing the gun at Daddy, Gee slowly took one hand and reached around behind her for the doorknob. She couldn't find it right away, but finally she turned it and backed out of the camper. She was alert to any movement.
Daddy started towards her as she descended the steps. Matthew and Mark got up to follow, and I climbed down behind them. It was eerily silent. It was as if all hearing had ceased. I couldn't even hear our footsteps.
Gee's whisper pierced the silence. "Come on. Get out. Now! Please, get out."
"Ah, jellybean, come on now," Daddy said when he reached the door.
When Gee didn't reply, he descended the steps. "Go on," Gee said, ever so softly. "Please go. And please, don't come back."
Here she was, saving our lives from a madman, and she had the decency to use the word "please." That was Genevieve. My sister. Our hero.
Now what would we do?
COMING UP IN CHAPTER 22: James swallows the capsule... crossing the border... ladies don't smoke Cuban cigars.
Want to read "World's Fair" from the beginning? Click here and start with "Prologue, Part 1."
For more on becoming fearless, click here.