Mama vs. Starbucks.
It was a nice autumn morning in Ray-Town. As the sun came shining in amidst the oak and maple trees, wives and mothers were just putting the finishing touches on breakfast. Young men were preparing to go out to their jobs in offices, farms, or retail stores. And in the Harper household, all was beginning to come to life.
Mama Harper had just finished a batch of her good old-time coffee, which was Foldger's mixed with a shot of Vodka and served with a beer. She sat herself down in the 70's style kitchen which she refused to have updated. She liked it that way. "Those damn brats" she muttered as she sipped down her frothy beverage, "they're all off their wagon, especially Venton and that bimbo wife of his..." A few seconds later, she fell into silence as the alcohol took effect.
"Uhh-ooh!" as she looked at her watch. "It's 8:15. I'm almost late for my beauty appointment."
The real dread was not the appointment or even being late. Mama knew that how to make a graceful entrance. The last time someone chided her for being late to an appointment, it was a secretary at Bill Johnson's travel agency, 1968. Thelma Harper came in, beautifully decked in her Sunday best with her husband Carl. She wanted to take a cruise with him to the Mediterranean as was his dream. She knew he was sick, and they didn't have all the time in the world.
"Fuck" yelled Carol, Mr. Johnson's secretary.
"Yall are late, and we supposed to be closin in 20 minutes. Yall better hurry it up, damn old coots or just get the hell out of here."
Carl's feelings had been bruised. He was not only embarrassed, he had been yelled out by a 23 something year old slut who, by virtue of her sleeping around, lived a life filled with cars, jewels, and new appliances as he struggled to pay the bills. It seemed she could talk to anyone anyway she wanted as long as she was being fingered by the police sergeant. It also didn't help the office was in a shared building, and "gossip travels around Ray-Town" Carl was thinking.
They went home. Carl was hurt. Thelma was mad. She wanted Carl's last years to be his happiest, and when she realized his dream might not come true, she couldn't hold back the tears.
"Don't worry, Carl honey, I'll take care of it."
The next day she went back.
She told Carol the secretary that a gentlemen with alligator shoes and a black Stetson hat was waiting outside for her. She also apologized for the inconvenience of being late yesterday. Thelma played the sweet old lady card, and Carol fell right in. They both went outside, turned into an ally. Then, Thelma raised her purse, which she had filled with 2 bricks, and slammed it into Carol's head.
Blood was streaming. Carol was in shock. She never had to defend herself before and couldn't stop shaking. Thelma took advantage of the situation and bound her arms. Then she blindfolded her. Years of volunteering at the church's soup kitchen had given her some contacts. Hence, she was able to obtain a used syringe from one of the homeless who came to her for a hot meal. As she poked it into Carol's quivering body, she kicked her once, hard, and swift in the knee cap. Then, she said, "If you tell anyone I was here, I know where your poor broke daddy lives, and I WILL make him a eunuch. You can put me in jail, you little tramp, but you might lose something more important than you bargained for."
Apparently, the threat worked and so did the needle. All her partners contracted a form of the AIDS virus, before, of course, it had become widespread in the American mind. Doctors didn't know what they were treating, and then, important men began to die in hospital beds. When the mayor of Ray-Town passed, everyone was relieved. He was a bad man,who had rigged every election for the past 12 years. He was involved in drugs, and numerous women had been taken advantage of by him. Still, no one knew for certain it was Thelma.
Unfortunately, she lost Carl the following summer as well. At his funeral, the Reverend Meacham said that Thelma and her husband did a wonderful service to Ray-Town. They had "cleaned it up."
That's when everyone knew. From then on, she became Mama Harper - to everyone.
"Allrighty... I guess I better get Iola" Mama said staring at her watch. She stumbled out of the kitchen into the living room, a mixed result of old age, drinking, and still being sleepy.
Knock, knock." came Iola's shreeking voice.
Mama answered the door as she always had for her loud neighbor.
"Wake up sleepy head, are you ready? I'm so happy they're going to fix my hair this morning, and mother said I don't have to help her with breakfast."
"Well, good Lord, Iola, would you give me a minute."
"There is some kind of new building project up in the north part of town, just a few minutes away from Sally's. I want to go see what it is."
"Allright, let's go."
Meanwhile, at the Harper household, Bubba, Venton, and Naomi arrive at the breakfast table. There was nothing on it save the hideous yellow tablecloth, and the salt and pepper shakers.
"Dang it, Grandma" Bubba uttered in an audible whisper. "Now where's breakfast?" It was a hopeless situation. Venton could barely tie his shoes, save trying to fry an egg. His wife, who was accustomed to luxury until her recent job at the Food Circus, would not touch the frying pan out of principal, although she knew, as Mama put it, "damn well to put her hands to something useful." Bubba remained an adolescent, without the thought ever entering into his own head that he could prepare his own food. And it didn't help that cereal was an expensive commodity, which rarely lasted. Finally, everyone noticed that a basket of day old croissants and some fruit was left on top of the fridge.
"I just don't see why Mama always has to go to these dang appointments so early." Venton said.
"Well, it gives her something to do at the start of her day." Bubba replied with his face stuffed with orange slices. "By the way, I need to go shopping for some cologne. There's this cute girl working at the Bigger-Jigger, and I want to get a little acquainted. She's uhh Sarah, you know, old man Jesse's girl down by the docks."
"Well, I think she would make a fine one for you, Bubba" commented Naomi as she fixed her make-up. She still believed in things like young love, although her life sometimes made her lose faith. She sighed and then drew herself back into a world of vanity.
In truth, Bubba wasn't going to try to win the girl's heart over. He was going to the library. In most cases, young men his age, would reverse this situation. But Bubba was confused. His twisted childhood, his time in the juvenile prison, and his life in small Ray-Town had left him with questions. But he couldn't ask anyone, so he wandered his journeys alone. He had been going to the library every Thursday. He had read much of the Bible, some of the Bhagavad Gita. He had struggled with an anthology of modern philosophy. It left him feeling stupid and half-witted. Still, he tried to find answers. His kind heart even led him to a new interest, and this one he had to keep a secret: politics.
He was reading brochures by the American Communist Party, the writings of Mao, and the Socialist Worker, which his pen pal in England would send him once a week or so.
Behind the Twisted Sister poster he kept in his room, there was a poster from the Great Leap Forward. Underneath his bed, there were the usual things, a half pack of Winston cigarettes, a little moonshine he bartered for at school with one of his records, and a worn issue of Penthouse. He didn't find his comfort in these things anymore. He had to find purpose in life, and he knew eating, fucking, and raising hell were not it. Everyday he thought of leaving, and, as he tried desperately to learn Russian also with the help of his library card, the better another country looked on the map. He wanted to be the next Che Guevara, in a place where his ideals would always be scorned.
Everyone got up to leave. Bubba to his wanderings, Venton to the key shop, and Naomi to the Food Circus, after visiting Joe's Café on 3rd Avenue, where she flirted with the handsome young clerk.
However, this morning was different. There was a crowd of people inside and out. Instead of sipping coffee, reading the newspaper, or chatting normally, an uproar filled the whole place. Apparently, today was the coffee house's last, and the announcement was sudden. Joseph Baptiste III was trying to explain why a tradition started by his grandfather was coming to an end.
"I've been tryin to fight it for 3 months now in the courts. But my place is being closed. A Starbucks is going to use my former shop as a parking lot, and they have eminent domain. It's supposed to be the biggest one in the state. Since Ray-Town is a stopover from so many rural areas, they thought they'd 'experiment.' The bastards got the order last week from the judge, but I didn't think they'd actually go through with it. I didn't think they'd really rea…"
At this point, he broke down. Then, he lost his balance, and stumbled to the nearest table. Naomi, unlike the angry rabble, felt more sorry for him. She helped him up. Was the cute clerk out of a job now? The baker who made so many of the pastries which Ray-Town loved? What about everyone else that worked there?
"That's terrible, Mr. Baptiste. Is there anything I can do." Naomi asked almost startled.
"Get me the hell away from the crowd."
Naomi decided to use one of her sick days and took him, shaken with fear, back home, as soon as his son came to close the place down. They arrived to the Harper house with Mama sipping a beer and playing cards with Iola.
"Well, what a surprise, Joe, come on in." said Mama in her almost rare good mood.
-"Good afternoon Mrs. Harper… er and you are?" as he was pointing to Iola.
"I'm Iola, Thelma's neighbor" as she stretched forth her lotion and perfume scented hand. She always had to make herself known to any new man that came wandering in despite the fact she would never have the courage to ask him out.
Normally, Joe might fall for her, but he was still to anxious.
"I'm not doing good yall. We've got a mighty problem in our little town."
He explained the situation. Mama invited him to dinner afterwards, and Joe decided he could leave his cares behind for another few hours.
Later that night, everyone was gathered around the family table, Iola included. Lasagna, French bread, and iced tea were plentiful for everyone. Mama Harper still had the gift of stretching a budget to feed numerous mouths.
Mama remembered and then pointed out that earlier she had seen the new building complex by her salon, near Joe's place. It turned out not only was there going to be a Starbucks but also a Macy's and some sort of new restaurant.
Up to this point, Bubba had faintly been paying attention. Now, he felt a little anger mixed with excitement. "Here's my chance" he thought. I can do something with this.
Later, Joe gave thanks and left to pick up his broken life. Iola went home, and everyone else went to bed, except Bubba. He had a plan. He had been locked up before at juvenile hall. He knew how to be dangerous, and now he needed to prove himself. He picked up his latest new read, which he had been reading all afternoon: Mao's Little Red Book.
"We are advocates of the abolition of war, we do not want war; but war can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun."
He hated the idea of these businesses, and he had been hearing rumors for far too long that this damn coffee place was going to take over. He was sick of his friends' complacency or even happiness with what was going on, as he felt the little community, however alienated he was from it at times, going down in flames. He thought of violence, revolutionary violence that could keep the town from being bought out. Maybe he could "clean up" like Mama did. After all, out of something as small as an apple seed, grows a blossoming tree. He didn't sleep. He refused to sleep.
And finally he ended up in the kitchen, making a sandwich, and reaching for a glass of orange juice. At the same time, Mama, despite her age, was keenly aware of her surroundings, and she noticed the noise. She wandered downstairs in her nightgown and her hair up in a little bonnet.
"Well, good lord, Bubba. What are you doing down here?"
"I can't sleep Grandma. I've been thinking about the Starbucks, the new buildings, the courts that ruled against local business…"
"I had no idea you were so concerned. The last time you were down here it was because I told you to stay away from the neighbor's daughter. Speaking of which, didn't the little thing got knocked up?"
"Yea. She's at her mom's now. But it's not about a girl or a motorcycle or a computer or anything else. Its just about this world. I mean, I'm sick and tired of all this nonsense. I want to help."
Mama Harper had just the idea. "You know old man Hobson's tool shop?"
"He might have some things you could use to scare the living day lights out of these thugs."
Mama and Bubba made a pact that night, grandmother and grandson. The time for negotiation, if there was any, was long gone. Something had to be done. Something drastic.
No one in the sleepy town of Ray-Town could have guessed, but two days later. something happened.
It was 9 a.m. Saturday morning. The Harpers were watching television.
"This is Gus Smiley from channel 9. We have a recent development here on 3rd avenue near the new building complex. There was an explosion here this morning, leaving the new complex in terrible condition. A building manager was injured from falling debris when he arrived just a few minutes before the firefighters."
6 hours earlier, Bubba and Grandma had snuck out of the house, "borrowed" Venton's truck, and taken twenty pounds of Green Thumb fertilizer and some gasoline.
There was a generator amidst the construction site. Bubba, shaking from fear, padded it down with the contents of the bags and proceeded to pour gasoline all over it. Mama was keeping watch from the truck, now parked a block away, hoping no one would be out. She was right, as everyone was either asleep from Friday night partying or too drunk too notice anything. For the final touch, some fireworks had been scattered throughout. He lit one, specially placed at the edge, and he ran faster than ever before, almost tripping, feeling his heart race. He went behind the half finished complex to Mama's truck. They drove off.
Right then, Bubba remembered something Mama once told him about how one time she and Joe were playing. They used to collect different things behind his coffee shop when they were young. One time they caught some crickets, only to let them loose again, when they couldn't find any butterflies or ladybugs. Mama had noticed since they began building, there was no more chirping. Nor was there the occasional fox or rabbit running around. They had been driven out. It was Bubba's disgust that forced him to yell out, as they drove off "This is for Ray-Town; This is for Joe's Café; This is for freedom; This is for the fucking crickets!"
The Harper family sat watching the news, Venton and Naomi were in disbelief. Iola, also present, began to gasp. Mama and Bubba just smiled.
"Well," said Mama, "You know they say these new places do explosive business once they open up."