Dirty, Sticky, Shiny
By Javaughn Fernanders
(note: if you are reading this and you are a relative on my paternal side–please don’t trip. It was truly how I felt long ago. I am glad to know and love all of you, but this is part of my life journey–love, javaughn)
The man driving the car wants me to call him Dad. Every time I feel I’m having a good time, I remember this. My name is Javaughn. My mother lives in California and is waiting for me. Her name is Donna Baker. She will get a ride from her best friend Joy and pick me up from the airport on July 17th and we will go shopping for school the next day. I recite this every time I catch myself singing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which is playing on a continuous loop on this road trip from New Jersey to North Carolina.
“Too high to get over.
Too low to get under
You’re stuck in the middle
Yeah, Yeah.” My name is Javaughn.
It’s not enough that the man driving the car barley knows me, and that he’s
attached to a woman who doesn’t know me at all, but the man is my father. He is my father, or daddy or whatever you want to call it. I really don’t know what to call it, since I have rarely spoken to him.
Before this summer I usually communicated with him by letters that started out like, “Dear Dad, How is life in New Jersey. I am fine.” Some how, during the Spring there was a call, and it was my Dad, and he wanted me to meet his family and we (Mom and I) were happy because he was going to pay for the plane ticket. He was going to pay.
Now I am in a car nodding my head to Michael Jackson and sometimes forgetting about my mother. I have never driven in a car for over two hours, or seen dry farms or pale red barns with rusty farm equipment outside. As the road and its inhabitants pass by like fast flipping pages of a picture book, I am really happy about the newness of it all.
We finally stop because the man driving the car also calls himself a history buff. He is intrigued by a large brown dome with the words “Indian Museum” hand painted above the door.
The funny thing about the driver is that he talks about history and politics to me without taking a breath. I usually try my best to listen to him and expect for him to explain why he never calls me in California, why my mom cries in the middle of the night or that he loves me just as much as his other children he just forgot to tell me. But my brain becomes peanut butter after about an hour of the history and politics and I miss whatever comes after that.
Before we get out of the car the driver starts about talking about Indians and the Carolinas and it seems that the peanut butter is starting to form faster than usual. The only thing I can make out is that he is going to the museum and whomever else wants to come will have a blast. Clara, the driver’s wife, isn’t convinced and she decides to stay in the car.
“Eddie, I’m not goin’ in there. I’ll wait right here.” then she puts her head up against the window.
I envy her independence from the outing, but I’m curious to see if I can actually stand up after sitting down for six hours. A door opens and two other kids who’ve been related to me for 72 hours scoot out and greet the driveway of a dome, a.k.a., the museum. When I get out I see that the driver has a dad face. A face like the dads who pick their kids up after school and get excited about all the inked smiley faces on the wrinkled papers. He grins more than smiles, and waddles a bit out of the car. The driver turns around and we all follow him like ducklings. Then I remember.
My name is Javaughn and I have a mother who lives in California and is waiting for me. I stop because something is coming out of my mouth.
“ Can I go in there real quick.” My left arm is sticking out of my shoulder and I am pointing to a sign that says “Antiques.”
The dad face slides off.
“Well don’t forget to meet us in the car,” he says, while he and his children begin a slow march into the museum.
The antique store is an escape and I recite my entire mantra while I am walking towards it. It is a small wooden shack and reminds me of the TV show Little House on the Prairie. The wood is painted brown and I imagine that people dressed up like pioneers will be showing me a lot of antiques which is great because I don’t know what they are anyway.
Once I cross the door’s threshold I realize that I am in a land where banjos, watches, spoons and teacups glisten with sunlit dust, and are stuck with paper price tags. A hubcap from a 1948 Chevy pick-up truck is fifty-six dollars. Now, I get it. Antiques are creepy, old things. Guitars and bugles barely hang on the walls. I take the time to read each price tag and remember each item. I’ve never seen things this old.
“Can I help you?”
I discover that my head is hung way back and my mouth is wide open as I read “Polish Accordian circa 1920, $40.00 ” I bring my head back to neutral, and shut my mouth.
“ No thank you.” I slightly holler to the back of the store. The man standing in the back is NOT dressed like he’s from the prairie. He has on faded jeans and a black t-shirt with a matching black baseball cap. I’m disappointed that he’s not playing a part. I’m sure there are men in feathers at the Indian Museum. Then again, which part would he play in a store of dirty, sticky, shiny objects. I decide he fits the bill.
I am still amazed by junk that lie underneath layers dust. I have only been alive eleven years, but if I study this junk hard enough I will be able to touch something from before my mother was born. This thought teleports me to the back of the store in front of the display case, in front of the man in black.
The glass case almost reaches up to my nose and I have to tip toe to get a birds-eye view. People actually collect knives! The handles seem real important. Polished wooden handles are light brown to black and some have silver or gold rings around them. Some knives have huge leather pouches with letters burned into them. One says, ‘P.O.W.’ another says ‘Skynard.’ The slower I move, the faster the man in black looms over my head. My brain gets ready for words but he remains silent.
I stop at a collection of ivory handled knives.
The man in black is becoming a shadow, which is irritating. In the glass I see our reflections. His hands have left his sides and his arms are now crossed. Since reflection of my face overlaps his arms, I take the opportunity to check my nose for snot and my cornrows for antique dust. I look like the driver. Big, brown eyes, low eyelids, round lips and a generally sleepy face. Still, I still have the cornrows my mother put in my hair before my flight left for Newark. I admire myself until a carving on a knife handle interrupts my vision.
Three familiar figures carved on the handle are superimposed on my reflection. Robbed figures with pointy hoods lift a cross on fire that rises from the bottom of the handle . The words, “Klu Klux Klan,” form an arc around the cross. My own reflection is gone.
Still, The man in black is still staring into my braids.
My name is…I can’t remember the rest. Peanut butter brain is churning and I know that this is the end of the antique tour. I can’t lift my head up. I remember my mother at Macy’s telling someone she got jipped at the cash register, and won’t leave until she gets correct change. I see her again at my school telling the principal that I have been tested and Marie Curie Elementary will make room for me in the gifted class. I know I have to lift my head up before I leave.
I use my neck to crank my head up like a crane. I have to get it up high When I do, the man in black and I talk in stares.
Do you have any questions? Maybe there’s even a, ha ha. He knows about the knife and who I am.
I stare back. Do you have any questions? Because I know about the knife and who I am.
With my head still up I leave without looking at anything. I hate antiques. Outside everyone is waiting in the car, but no one is worried. The kids collapse their faces into clouds of pink cotton candy, the smell of which makes me sick. I hate adults, with their KKKs and their deadbeat dad’s. I wish the tape player could start and make cotton candy appealing again but I’m sure it’s all gone. My father’s gaze traps me in the rearview mirror and in a half an hour I get car sick out the window.