Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Gospel According to Paul's Grill

“Why do you lie to me?”
Simple question. Impossible to answer. If an answer exists, I don’t know what it is.
“I thought you’d believe me,” I think. But I know better than to say it. So I just sit there, moping, sweating, melting.
“You have nothing to say, young man? You’re just going to sit there?”
So, I choose to commit hari-kari.
“Well, Mom, there was a sign on the side of the building that said, ‘Drive Thru Window.’ So I did.”
She was not amused. Who can blame her? That night, I’d driven my car through the plate glass window of Paul’s Grill — a few hours after I’d called her and assured her that I was home and exhausted and headed for bed.
“Good night,” she told me. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Morning came much too soon. Just after 3, I had to slink into Good Shepherd Hospital in Longview where she was an OB nurse, trudge up to her floor, drag her away from her job and inform her that I’d driven my '67 Ford Fairlane into an all-night diner. I’d knocked an old man out of a booth, terrorized waitresses and forced a police officer to threaten to drag me to jail if I didn’t stop cursing.
“Son, have you been drinking?”
“No sir.”
“Have you been smoking pot?”
“No sir.”
“Then, what on Earth happened?”
Even now, 40-plus years later, it’s hard to explain. After assuring my mom that I was in for the evening, I rustled up my two younger brothers, hopped in my car, picked up a couple of buddies, grabbed a stick or an ax handle or something, headed toward the Sabine River bottoms and played an hour or so of mailbox baseball.
Around 2, I pulled into the front parking lot of Paul’s Grill, and we piled out of my car and crammed into a corner booth. Around 3, we paid up and piled back into the car. I shifted into reverse and touched the brake, which then set off a chain of events that produced the second or worst day of my life. On the way out of the car, someone — I’m fairly certain it was my younger brother, Jerry, though I can’t prove it — tossed the club into the floorboard, and it landed perfectly between my brake and accelerator. When I hit the brake, the club pushed the accelerator, sending the car jolting backwards toward Highway 80, which, even at 3 in the morning, was fairly dangerous, mostly because of the drivers who were drunk.
Rather than slipping the transmission into neutral, I panicked and jerked it into drive, then stomped the brakes, which sent the car crashing into the diner. It was as bad as dropping a baby.
I can laugh it about it now. Mom can't. She is 83 and has mellowed on just about everything except her love for Jesus, and her anger at my long-ago deceased father, and that night.
Somehow, the topic of Paul’s Grill came up not too long ago, and I suggested something along the lines of “all’s well that ends well.”
Mom was — is — buying none of it.
“I could have murdered you,” she said.
After “Drive Thru Window,” no one would have blamed her if she had.