Read an excerpt from Some Go Hungry by J. Patrick Redmond
Some Go Hungry is a fictional account drawn from the author’s own experiences working in his family’s provincial Indiana restaurant — and wrestling with his sexual orientation — in a town that was rocked by the scandalous murder of his gay high school classmate in the 1980s. Author J. Patrick Redmond was recently interviewed by The Advocate on the shocking real-life events that inspired the book; click here to read the full story.
from Some Go Hungry
by J. Patrick Redmond
My first Sunday back from South Beach I was greeted by our customers at Daniels’ Family Buffet as if I were a long-lost prodigal son. He’s returned to God’s country, it seemed they were saying. I was met with good wishes from many of our regular customers: welcome back. We’ve missed you. The place wasn’t the same with you gone.
Our restaurant stood next to the Walmart Supercenter on a three-acre commercial out-lot in a thirteen-thousand-square-foot building with seating for 430 patrons. It had a main dining room where each of the three buffets—hot bar, salad bar, and dessert bar—was located near the kitchen, with an additional banquet room for private parties. On Sundays both rooms were packed. The line to enter wrapped around the north perimeter of the main dining room from the front entrance to the cashier’s desk. Customers paid before they entered. Oftentimes the line extended out the door and around the corner. On Sundays it was not uncommon for customers to experience an hour’s wait. Daniels’ Family Buffet was a well-oiled machine cranking out fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans, along with other meats, vegetables, casseroles, soups, various salads, and desserts, not to mention homemade pies and cobblers topped with ice cream. Our restaurant was the epitome of southern Indiana home cooking and hospitality; waitresses in black slacks, black aprons, and burgundy polo shirts served up smiles and the occasional sarcastic remark in response to randy old men. Most importantly, they dished out platefuls of Midwestern charm complimented by tall glasses of sweet iced tea or ice-cold Coca-Colas.
Managing the restaurant had fallen upon me. Dad’s health was declining, Mom was consumed with his care, and my little brother Cameron was attending the University of Southern Indiana. Growing up, Cam had bussed tables and run the cash register, but he never managed the entire operation. He didn’t understand it, and he didn’t particularly want the job. Neither did I, but I didn’t feel I had a choice. Dad had undergone surgery on his left lung only a year earlier, after having been diagnosed with asbestosis, a result of his naval service during the Vietnam War. I felt obligated to stay in Fort Sackville and manage the restaurant for him. Our financial well-being and the fate of the restaurant now rested on me.
A customer I did not expect to see my first day back—one who’d never been a regular, ever—was Daryl Stone. Daryl and his family must have arrived in Fort Sackville while I was on vacation. I hadn’t seen him since high school. Now he was sitting in my restaurant with a wife and two kids at a four-top on the opposite end of the expansive dining room. Over the years, I’d heard Daryl had become a born-again Christian while studying theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. I’d heard somewhere that he’d married and had children. I’d also heard he was returning to Fort Sackville with his family to take the position of youth pastor for the Wabash Valley Baptist Church. Apparently he’d become aware of the position during a Christian musical theater conference conducted at Liberty—the same conference one of our bussers, Trace Thompson, had attended. Daryl applied and got the job. Trace, who’d only met Daryl the one time, was thrilled.
A youth pastor at Wabash Valley Church? It didn’t seem possible. He was male-model handsome, as if lifted by the Falwellian Empire from the centerfold of a glossy men’s magazine and primed for his own Christian television network. Beneath his pomade and polish, however, I could see the athletic teenager I’d once fallen head over heels for—the one that had come to my basement window in the middle of the night. He’d matured from black Ray-Bans, a bare chest, and board shorts to stylish silver spectacles, a turtleneck, and a taupe tweed sports jacket with corduroys. I headed toward his table.
“Daryl!” I said, somewhat startling him. “I heard you were moving back. I haven’t seen you in ages. How’ve you been?”
“Hey, Grey.” He stood to shake my hand. “Grey, I’d like you to meet my wife, Rebecca. Rebecca, this is Grey. Grey and I were classmates at Harrison.”
Daryl sat down and placed his hand on the back of the chair next to him. “This is Isaac. Over there is Jacob.”
Did he really just say classmates?
“Nice to meet you, Grey,” Rebecca said. She had plain features, wore little makeup, and was dressed in a conservative consignment shop kind of style. She reminded me of that girl in every high school classroom who blends in with her surroundings. The kind of girl, years later at the class reunion, one never remembers. Their twin boys looked seven or eight years old. They were unresponsive to the introduction. Each had his teeth sunk deep into the dark meat of a fried chicken leg.
“Looks like the boys are enjoying themselves,” I said, trying to clear the word classmates from my mind. He could have said, “We were best friends at Harrison,” or, “We were best friends once.”
“Oh yes. Chicken legs and noodles are their favorite,” Rebecca said.
“So, last I heard, you were living in Virginia,” I said to his wife. “Have you adjusted to Fort Sackville? Must be quite a change.”
“It’s lovely. Everyone’s so friendly. The church welcomed us with open arms,” she said, taking a napkin from the table to wipe pieces of fried chicken from her twin boys’ cheeks.
Our conversation was interrupted by the restaurant’s public address intercom telling me I was needed in the kitchen.
“Excuse me. It’s the same old grind here. This place keeps me hopping.”
Once in the kitchen, I got stuck helping the cooks catch up on frying chicken. The vegetable oil in one of the fryers had burned, which required that the fryer be boiled out and replenished with fresh oil. Boiling out a fryer was a process and often forced the fry cook to fall behind. He did. I was unable to return to the dining room for some time. When I did, Daryl and his family had finished their meal. He was waiting near the front door for Rebecca and the boys to come out of the restrooms, facing the wall of photographs.
When Dad bought the restaurant from Grandpa Collin, he and Mom began framing and hanging pictures that captured the fifty-plus years my family had been in the restaurant business. Because the restaurant was a prominent patron of the Harrison High School Athletic Society, there were many pictures of high school heroes and local sports moments. Daryl seemed to be gazing at a photograph of Robbie Palmer and himself, both seventeen years old, at a county high school golf tournament sponsored by the restaurant. In the photograph, Daryl and Robbie stood side by side, Robbie’s left hand propped upon his golf club, Daryl’s left forearm resting on Robbie’s right shoulder. Both wore big smiles. The photograph date: July 1985.
Robbie had been in my accounting class at Harrison High. I was a junior; he was a senior, skinny and always smiling. We weren’t friends, but we were friendly. Daryl’s girlfriend Shanni sat behind Robbie in the row next to mine. She was blonde, with ’80s MTV hair and shoulder pads under her bold print sweaters. She was a curious girl, always asking him questions. One spring day she asked Robbie about the necklace he was wearing. He’d turned in his chair to face her.
“Shhh. Come here,” he said. Shanni leaned closer to Robbie. “It’s from this guy I’m dating.”
“A guy? You’re dating a guy? Really?” Shanni asked. Talking about homosexuality in the 1980s was a frightening and potentially dangerous prospect—especially at school. In October, Rock Hudson had died from an AIDS-related illness after disclosing he was a homosexual, and Rock Hudson AIDS jokes were rampant in our school’s hallways and locker rooms. The nation was swept up in AIDS panic, and local folks referred to it in a barely audible whisper as gay cancer. In Fort Sackville, being gay meant one had AIDS, and having AIDS meant one was gay.
“Where’s he from?” Shanni whispered, looking around to see if anyone had heard her.
“Greenfield, Indiana,” Robbie said.
“Where’s that?” Shanni asked.
“Outside Indianapolis. He just finished his freshman year at Fort Sackville Community College,” Robbie said. “He’s going to stay for my graduation, maybe for the summer. If he can find a job.”
“What’s his major?”
“What do you guys do?”
“Mostly just hang out at his apartment. There’s a party the weekend after his finals. He’s taking me to that.”
“Have you guys kissed?”
“Shhh. Yes.” I sensed irritation in Robbie’s voice.
“What was it like?”
“Jesus, Shanni, enough with the inquisition,” I said. Robbie smiled, then turned forward in his chair to face our teacher.
Robbie lived with his mother and two sisters on the north end of town near the Wabash River, in a poor neighborhood of square prewar houses—three, no more than four rooms. Dad said some of them still had dirt floors. Robbie was in elementary school when his father abandoned the family. Robbie, his mother Ruth, and his sisters had been regular customers at Daniels’.
Ruth was a craft lady. During the months of October and November, our restaurant served pumpkin pie baked in disposable aluminum pans; our cooks saved the used tins for her. Once a week, she would knock at the restaurant’s kitchen door to collect the silver discs in a trash bag. She cut the used pie tins into the shapes of moons, stars, snowflakes, toy soldiers, and other holiday favorites. Manipulating the metal and applying texture, then color, she created unique and popular Christmas ornaments to give as gifts or to be donated and sold at Wabash Valley Baptist holiday fundraisers. Everyone in school assumed Robbie was gay, but he was not ‘out.’ A handful of hairstylists—hairdressers, Shanni called them—were the only other gay people in Fort Sackville she knew. I concealed my own struggle with my orientation by trying to fit in with the school’s jocks, the popular kids. I dated girls. When dating didn’t work, I took close female friends to proms or cotillions. I watched the boys, the athletes like my best friend Daryl Stone—he was in Robbie’s senior class—walk down the halls of Harrison. I wondered what it must be like for them, for him. I fantasized about having sex with a guy, but I spent my time trying to disguise my feelings, fearful of being found out while also trying to keep control of my raging hormones.
Robbie, at least, seemed to be figuring out who he was. No apologies from him. Yet he did not force his sexuality on his classmates. They, in turn, kept him in his place with their homophobic comments. For the most part he remained silent. Yet he felt safe with Shanni. I understand now he was struggling with the same issues as I was. But I never befriended him, that guy in accounting class, fearing I’d be called a faggot by association.
Too much of my time, it seemed, was spent thinking about the past, my family’s past, the restaurant’s past, my hometown’s past, and Robbie Palmer’s murder—replaying various events over and over in my mind, analyzing them, dissecting them. I spent only as much time in the present as required, and rarely did I think about the future. The future scared the hell out of me. The framed photograph in the restaurant was the only reminder, it seemed, that Robbie had ever existed. I often wondered what customers thought when they saw the picture—if they thought of him at all.
Robbie’s murder was the biggest scandal Fort Sackville had ever experienced. Folks rarely spoke about it. And if they dared to, the allusion was quick, and whispered, like saying gay cancer, or AIDS. Rumors of threats that had been made against his life often accompanied the stories about Robbie Palmer. And now here was Daryl, standing before this photo of himself with Robbie, his face a pale, inscrutable mask. I wondered what Daryl thought. Did he ever think about him?
“Seems like a lifetime ago. I guess many of these are,” I said.
My voice startled Daryl. He quickly regained his composure. “There’s quite a history here,” Daryl said, turning to me. “I figured you’d have left Fort Sackville by now.”
“No. I’m here. Dad’s health has been declining. He had a pretty serious lung surgery this past summer. So, you know, you do what you gotta do.”
“You do what God calls you to do.” Daryl’s face was stern, the same angry expression his father had worn that summer day, when we got caught driving his Corvette.
Rebecca and the twins reappeared, joining Daryl near the photographs.
Trying to disregard Daryl’s pronouncement, I said, “I think we might be coming to church for Christmas service. Trace says he has a solo.”
“He’s such a good Christian boy. A lovely voice. God has called him,” Rebecca said.
Daryl placed his arm around her shoulders. “Yes. We have big plans for Trace.”
“He’s a damn good worker. I know that. We could use more like him on the floor,” I said.
“Trace has a future. He will serve the Lord,” Daryl replied.
“Right. Well, I look forward to hearing him sing. It was nice meeting you, Rebecca. You too, boys.” Isaac and Jacob still did not acknowledge me. Little brats.
“I’ll look for your face in the pew on Sunday,” Daryl said before he followed his wife and boys out the front door.
Once a year at Christmas is enough, I thought.
Trace Thompson—a lean sixteen-year-old busboy, blond haired, fresh faced, and one of our best bussers on the floor and in the dish room—was working that Sunday too. Not long after I hired Trace the summer before his senior year at Harrison High School, he expressed his desire to study musical theater somewhere close to New York City. His dream was Broadway. He certainly had the talent. I’d heard him sing with the Wabash Valley Baptist Church youth choir. Folks all around town raved about his voice. He was an intelligent kid whose parents had homeschooled him until his third grade year. When he took the public school placement test, he scored high enough to skip third grade. Now he was the youngest senior at Harrison High School and following the AP and honors track. By the end of fall semester, he said he’d have enough credits to graduate midterm. Not long after I hired him, he asked if I’d let him work full-time in the spring and perhaps next fall, so he could save money for his east coast university dream.
“Absolutely, Trace. Anything I can do to help.”
“Well, now that you’ve mentioned it, I’d like some help with my college applications.”
“Sure. Where are you applying?”
“Where aren’t I applying?” he asked, somewhat exasperated. “I’m starting with the Boston Conservatory, SUNY Purchase, the Hartt School, and the New School.”
“Wow! You’re not messing around,” I said.
“I’m getting to Broadway one way or another. I’m going to apply to as many musical theater programs as I can. Thing is . . .” Trace paused for a moment. “Well, I need some help with the applications ’cause my parents don’t want me to apply. They’d prefer I attend a Baptist college like Baylor, Texas, or even Liberty University. So I’m gonna apply to those, too, just to keep them happy.”
“What happens when you get accepted to one of your dream schools? What’ll you do then?”
“My plan is to wait until I’m eighteen—then they can’t do anything. I really just want to work and save as much money as I can. Mother and Father won’t mind if I start a semester or even a year late so long as I’m working and saving money for school. Please, don’t say anything to them, okay?”
“I don’t want to cause problems between you and your family.”
“I won’t tell them you’re helping me,” Trace said, his eyes pleading his case. “I just know you do a little bit of writing, and I thought, maybe you could help me with grammar, punctuation, stuff like that. I want to make sure I don’t have any mistakes. All the applications pretty much ask for the same thing. It’s my auditions I’m worried about. They’ve got to be perfect!”
“Well . . . I suppose that won’t be an issue. But you need to make sure your parents understand I’m just editing your applications, not suggesting which universities you should apply to. Besides, who am I to stop someone from pursuing his dream? I think it’s admirable. God knows I wish I would’ve pursued mine, whatever it once was. You’re going to be great, Trace. I’m more than happy to help. When you feel they’re ready, just drop them off.”
“Thanks, Mr. Daniels. I really appreciate it.”
“Call me Grey, Trace. My dad is Mr. Daniels.”
Our conversation had taken place several months ago, and Trace was patiently awaiting responses. When the restaurant began receiving university flyers, pamphlets, and such in the mail addressed to Trace, I realized he’d used the restaurant address for his dream school applications. I let it slide. What harm could it possibly do? All teenagers keep secrets from their parents. Besides, I always enjoyed working with Trace. He was tidy and quick. He did his job and didn’t play around like the other bussers. He was serious but always smiled. His parents were also regular customers at Daniels’, and just from local gossip and observing their manner, I knew they would not be happy with Trace when they found out he was applying to non-Baptist universities. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson had a reputation as helicopter parents, always circling about the high school and Sunday school, keeping an eye on Trace, and more importantly, those who interacted with him. Teachers at Harrison High, I was told, purposely avoided the Thompsons. Yet in spite of his parents’ constant attention, or perhaps because of it, Trace began his musical ascent as lead in Harrison High School’s glee club, along with the youth choir at Wabash Valley Baptist Church. He sang often at weddings and funerals.
As he cleared a four-top, I asked him to make his way to the banquet room when he finished. “I’m sure they need help in there,” I said. He tucked the chairs under the table and looked up with excitement.
“Did you see Pastor Daryl?” Trace asked.
“Yes, yes I did.”
“Isn’t it cool he’s come back here? Our rehearsals at church have never been better. He’s got some great ideas for our youth choir. He’s even promised more solos for me. Mrs. Boil rarely gave me a solo,” Trace said, a gleam in his eye.
“That’s fantastic, Trace. I know you’ll be great.” And with a bounce in his step, Trace then pushed his bus cart toward the adjoining banquet room. Watching him leave, I noted he was one of the few bussers that not only stacked dishes neatly in his cart, allowing for easy unloading in the dish room and therefore less breakage, but he also wiped off the chairs before moving on.
“Grey, you have a call on line one. Grey, line one,” the cashier announced via the intercom. Opposite me, on the dining room wall of the restaurant office, above the dinner crowd, hung a silver circular neon clock. Its turquoise glow drew my attention; its hands pointed to one p.m. I knew it was Rosabelle. She called every Sunday at the same time to get the scoop on my Saturday night.
J. PATRICK REDMOND was born and raised in southern Indiana and recently returned to his home state after sixteen years of living in South Florida and teaching for the Miami-Dade County Public School System. He holds a BA in English from Florida International University in Miami and an MFA in creative writing and literature from Stony Brook University in Southampton, New York. He is a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post, and his writing has appeared in the NOH8 Campaign blog, the Southampton Review, and in the Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic. He is also the 2012 recipient of the Deborah Hecht Memorial Prize in Fiction. Some Go Hungry is his first novel, and when asked about it, Patrick says, “It’s about God, guns, gays, and green beans.” Additional information is available at jpatrickredmond.com.
Posted: May 19, 2016
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