Have you ever been told that you resemble Tom Hanks, the actor? It is humiliating.
I left my extremely low-paying, phone-pumping job en route to the airport in order that I might be with my wondrous family at that oh-so-fat-dumb-and-happy Yuletide time. I left my job at noon. On the way out a coworker, passing me in the hallway, turned 180 degrees and latched on to my shoulder, saying, “I’ve got it!” eyes going wide and happy wrinkles forming in her forehead. “Oh yeh?” I said. “Yeh,” she said. “You look exactly like Tom Hanks! I mean, well, the resemblance is totally uncanny.” Just then my boss walked by and pursed his lips, nodded in agreement. “She’s right, man,” he said. I nodded dumbly at them. How does one go about responding to such a statement?
You look like Tom Hanks!
You look like Tom Hanks!
Oh yeh? I have a Ford Taurus too! It’s true! It’s falling apart!
Suffice it to say that I have been thinking about my coworker’s proclamation ever since. Still, the landing was swift and smooth. Oh ! sweet, sweet Charlotte! How big you have become in my absence!
My brother met me just outside security. Behind himself and rolling hills in the foreground, skyscrapers loomed. We slipped back through security by taking a hallway marked PERSONNEL ONLY and had a beer in the wonderful Meet Me at Cheers Charlotte, a bar with many pictures of the actor Ted Danson adorning its walls. Soldiers with M-16 rifles posed outside the bar’s doors.
Leaving, I looked toward one of the soldiers, and written across his left breast was just the single word: Hanks.
My cousin married a Naval officer today: his name is Hank.
My cousin is happy and distant at the post-nuptial reception, an up-country-SC classic of barbecued chicken and spareribs and hashed pork in a fellowship hall attendant to the Baptist Church where Hank’s brother is Minister. No beer in sight. Consequently, me and my brother sit in a corner and sulk. Of this passel of our white kin, only Uncle Jim-Bob has the courage to meet our eyes. “Well boys,” he says. He wears a bright yellow tie with his black suit. He carries a yellow plastic plate piled high with meat. “Your cousin has done done it,” he says, forking a ball of hash. We shrug. He chews.
But I love Jim-Bob. I do. An hour or so later he motioned us outside where sat empty the nuptial chariot (an old bucket of a now-pristine white ’67 Mustang Mr. Hank had fixed up himself over the years into a glistening Southern rocket) covered in paper streamers and silly foam-written slogans. Jim-Bob motioned our sulking shapes then again around the corner of the fellowship hall into a small, shaded stand of trees. He pulled from some inner pocket a glistening chrome flask. “You boys looked like you needed a little cheering up.” God bless you, Jim-Bob. God bless you.
He poured liberally into our Pepsis.
Go Hank! we screamed, when finally the bride and groom roared off in that fine automobile. We raised our plastic cups and winked at Uncle Jim-Bob, who then raised his. My parents eyed the three of us suspiciously, and on the way home me and my brother got a damned fine lecture.
Let the Christmas proceedings begin. Me and my brother were carted off this morning to a church to which we haven’t been in damn near forever. Three old women who you’d think hadn’t seen me in 10 years or more — though this happened last year as well — literally pinched my cheeks with their stubby old fingers and then set to arguing about who I looked more like, that actor who played Gump or the old Luke Duke fellow. I stood and stared blankly at them as they chortled and whined. They decided, of course, on Gump, and I was then forced into a humiliating recitation of “Life is like a box of chocolates,” forced into it again and again as the old women turned back and motioned to their old friends to come and hear. My brother stood in back of them the entire
time, pointing and laughing like a 12-year-old. I blanked every vestige of emotion from my face. “Life is like a box of chocolates,” I said, deadpan, over and over and over. It kills them, I swear. A girl I once had sex with in the church sanctuary (and who now is married to a New York City lawyer) witnessed the whole thing as well. “They’re right,” she told me. “You look just like him.” It was humiliating.
“Serves you boys right,” my mother told me later, as I complained about it over a post-Church lunch of bulbous, glistening pork chops and heaped-up string beans and creamed corn and bread and broccoli casserole. I assumed she was referring to my and my brother’s brief escapade with Jim-Bob. I quit talking then, shoving forkful after forkful of meat and heavy veggies into my mouth.
I then made plans with my brother to spend at least five hours of each day for the rest of my stay in the only bar in town that is open on Sundays — today we were there from 3 PM to 1 AM. A not-so-elaborate front for a cocaine-trafficking operation, the Silver Dollar circumvents South Carolina’s liquor laws by calling itself a “private club,” membership to which seems contingent normally on only whether or not the man at the door knows you or someone you’re with. Today it’s a black guy who was on my baseball team in junior high. Back from Chicago? Indeed. My brother and I talk all night of Chicago and Columbia and New York. Anything but family. We drink $1 PBR until our heads explode.
I figured Christmas was the only thing that would ever bring us together again. I thought this — thought it hard — in the crowded confines of my grandmother’s trailer. Five cousins, four uncles and two aunts, my mother, father, myself, my brother and Grandma and all crowded inside. We were there in the trailer, again, minus my newly married cousin and her Hank. And for once it felt a little right, family. Jim-Bob sat on the edge of the couch and his gut bounced as he told a stupid story about a man who bought his twelve-year-old daughter a Corvette. Jim-Bob spun the tale wild and high and got us all hopping mad at the man, jealous of his little girl who ! Chrissakes ! couldn’t even have driven a Corvette to save her life, much less be said to have deserved to own such an automobile. Turns out of course Jim-Bob’s talking about a Barbie corvette and we couldn’t be angrier with him, that is until me and my brother broke away from the other passel of younger cousins and busted outside for a quick nip. Then we were just very shy of being in love with old Jim-Bob as he rested his arms across the top of his gut, leaned way back against the railing by the wooden front steps and told a big loose one about a three-legged Blue-Tic Walker hound that he knew, back when a kid, could outrun every dog on the coon hunt. I nearly died laughing.
We all got shitty presents and it was wonderful. My brother is twenty-two years old and he got a copy of one of those Nancy Drew dectective books. I got an old video of Hazzard episodes, which, I thought, suited. The older I get, the more videos. It’s like a default gift for the man in his mid-twenties. You’ll need them, son, trust me, they seem to be saying. I think it was Barry Hannah who said there was nothing more lonely, yet soothingly beautiful, than an old man surviving on saltines afloat in his living room on a worn-out couch and with a bunch of videos. I have decided, this will, one day, be me.
Back home, my mother and father and brother and I exchanged gifts. I got a copy of Castaway, the film, from my father. “Tom Hanks is in it,” he said. I shot him the evil eye, though I felt bad about it later and made like to apologize. I approached him and he was holding the video a full arm’s length away from his face, eyeing the shot of the full-gutted, bearded Hanks on the cover. “Hey Pop,” I said. And he said, “You know, those women were right. You look just like him. You know we almost named you Hank? Except that your mother wouldn’t have it. She figured you’d grow up mean as hell if we did. So we decided on…”.
Me and my brother made the Silver Dollar for the end of this Eve’s party. I cried with an old friend over a lost love. I kissed briefly with a lost love in the women’s bathroom, and did all those things that nostalgia and prodigious amounts of alcohol can bring about, before getting kicked out.
Silver Dollar dreams, once more. Every jackass I knew in high school is in the bar by five in the afternoon on this sunny Christmas day — me and my brother got here at three. The party lasts well into the morning hours, a hometown Christmas tradition.
When finally we stumbled home the sun was nearly up. I figured aloud to my brother that we were just crackers, all of us, me and him and my old girlfriends and Jim-Bob and father and mother and the aunts and uncles and military men and those shadowy terrorists out there, if they’re out there. And even the blacks across the proverbial tracks in our little town, though they’d go by a different name, surely.
My brother laughed.
“We’re not humans,” I said. “Who has the time to be human? We’re all dodging bullshit all the time….” …work, play, bills, love, hate, everything evening out into what that other person over there thinks about your shoes, or who you look like, certainly.
Because, I told him, we don’t have the memories to be human anymore, none of us. Can you remember being a child? I asked him. I mean, it’s Christmas, it’s Christmas for Chrissakes and what did we used to do when little white children?
He wasn’t really laughing anymore. “Last year we did the same shit we just did,” he said, meaning we went to the bar and stumbled home like this and I very-well-nearly had said the same thing.
I had a damn time of it trying to get our side door open. Somehow it was stuck. And I blazed just stout-angry at that damn door. I kicked it like to break it, then, when suddenly it flung open and there was my poor short mother staring at me. “Sorry, mom,” I said. “I guess it’s the Hank coming out in me.”
She just shrugged and then smiled and pulled me to her. Family will save us, after all. Not family values. That’s a big lie. Like Lou Reed said, “In the name of Family Values, we must ask, ‘Whose family?’”
I’m talking Family in its very real, sticky, and gummy heat. It will be the redeemer to save us from crackerdom.
I am full of foolish good-byes, let it be known. I did not reply when my mother and father told me they loved their poor little child. I do not know why, except that maybe I’m just too damned hungover to think, and there was a gorgeous blonde standing about four feet away, at the back of the security-check line. “Bye,” I said. Both my folks winced like they’d been kidney-punched. I stood behind the blonde and very quickly lost any sort of courage I may have had and turned back to where my folks had been. They were gone.
I was two hours early. And this is neither New York nor Chicago, let it be known. This is Charlotte-Douglas International, and it took me a mere ten minutes to get through the check, so I went back to the well-guarded and famous Meet Me at Cheers Charlotte, the bar with many pictures of Ted Danson adorning its walls. I nodded to Corporal Hanks with his M-16 as I entered, proceeded to down two of the biggest draft beers I’ve ever seen, 32 ounces of piss-colored liquid in each, bubbling like mad. I got into a conversation with the Editor of the Florida University student newspaper. She was on her way back to Gainesville and couldn’t wait to get there. The conversation was dead. Completely. I’m from here. I’m from this other place. Oh yeh? Oh yeh.
Then she told me I looked like the singer from the band Matchbox 20. I did not respond, for I had absolutley no idea who she was talking about.
What am I looking for? What, in this huge, dirty, disgusting city, can I possibly want or need? At present, I have no idea. My phone is ringing, people are talking to me through the receiver, I am responding, and then I am hanging up. Like clockwork. I do not know why, any of it.
I went to a bar and the people were there. As was I. We talked and got drunk. It’s doubtful I will remember what was said, as I don’t remember it now. Suffice it to say that there is a roach on my desk. He is crawling up my beer can, into my beer. I think I will drink him.
I have a box of chocolates in my luggage somewhere, still unpacked, from one of the old churchwomen. I love that old lady right now, I do. I think I will find the chocolates and, well, I will eat them. I will turn on the T.V. and prop my legs up on the little stand. I’ll maybe pop in some of my new videotapes. I will really eat them.