JUST FOLKS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Ricky was so tired coming home from a day’s work that by the time he was halfway up the sidewalk to his house, even though it was beginning to snow, he had his shirt half unbuttoned.

Oh, for a night’s relaxation-nothing to do but read a book or watch the television. Maybe he’d even order in a pizza so Carol wouldn’t feel compelled to do anything when she got home either. Nothing to do for the two of them, but relax, hang out and be mellow.

Then the voice of doom spoke.

“Ricky, Ricky, did you get all your stuff?” called Roland as he trotted up the sidewalk, His slim, dark figure was outlined in the falling snow before Ricky’s tired eyes.

“Stuff? I didn’t get stuff,” Ricky said. “I am feeling stuffy after a day at work, just sort of worn out. Why don’t we talk another time, Roland?”

“I got mine. I got some rosato Italian imported wine, maybe not as good as grape juice, Coke or beer, but romantic anyway,” Roland said. “And the movie-it’s so gushy-gushy I don’t know how I’m going to stand it. But Nancy will like it, and I’ll look touched by it for her. It’s a real chick flick, real love story. The guy’s even an Englishman with slick-backed hair, and I don’t know if I can abide an Englishman getting gushy-gushy with that foreign accent. I don’t know why they can’t have actors that speak good English.”

“Roland, Englishmen do speak good English. For cripes sake, they are English.”

“OK, OK, I mean American then. I want to hear everything in American English. Ricky, I won’t even chat with a telemarketer if he or she is a foreigner. Even the guy I called for help on my toaster warranty turned out to be an Indian, and some of them can sound like Englishman Asians.

“How’s your movie? Did you get your bonbon again? I got the same bonbon you got last year, only they’ve gone clear up-chocolate crisis in Africa or some such thing. Can you believe $12 for a bonbon? Does your bonbon have pink swirls over the chocolate, too?”

“What bonbon, Roland? Is this your night to go nuts? Come on in a minute if you have to, but don’t expect much from me. I’ve had a rough day,” Ricky said brushing at his forehead below the close-cropped light-colored hair as though he’d been sweating.

“What do you mean, what bonbon, Ricky? Now, this is serious. Look at me, and try to understand. You do remember a year ago, right? You do remember how you learned to get and do all the right things for Carol on Valentine’s Day don’t you?”

“Valentine’s Day? This is Valentine’s Day? Good night, Roland, no. I haven’t done a darned thing. I clear forgot Valentine’s Day. I’m still in mourning because New England beat the Eagles. I have friends who are football fans back in Philadelphia, Roland. I share their grief. And even more important, I lost 20 bucks in the office pool on the Super Bowl that I wouldn’t want Carol to know about. Not believing in me gambling is one of her weaknesses of character.

“But this is even more serious than her finding out about my bet. This is Valentine’s Day, and last year I gave her the best Valentine’s Day she ever had with me. I got a precedent to live up to, and she’ll be here in less than a half-hour. That’s another of her weaknesses of character concerning me, that she thinks it matters whether I pre-plan things. I don’t have time to get all that stuff together so it looks like I pre-planned.”

“Oh, this is serious, Ricky. I can’t just let you fall from last year’s exalted height. Carol will talk to Nancy, and some of the gain I make will be pulled right out from under me because Nancy will think I should have pre-warned you. She’s got some weaknesses of character on my part, too. We have to come up with something right away that will make it look like you were thinking.”

“Think, Roland, think. Come on, buddy. You can think of something to tell me to do, but hurry. This is doom we’re looking at here.”

“OK, Ricky. How’s your car? Is it all cleaned up?”

“I just washed, and vacuumed it yesterday, so it’s pretty decent.”

“Good, that’s good, it’ll help that you thought to have the car clean enough for formal attire.”

“Formal attire?”

“Do you have a tuxedo, Ricky.”

“No, I always rented one if I needed it. I’ve only worn them twice in my life-at my wedding and at the prom so I could look like everybody else playing cards over in a corner while the popular kids danced.”

“But you do have a black suit that’s clean. Right?”

“Yeah, I have a suit and tie-wear it every Sunday except for when I wear a sports coat while it’s being cleaned. And it just got cleaned last week.”

“Good, that’s good because it looks like pre-planning. I got a big red bow tie I’ll run home to get for you to wear with the suit. It’ll look special Valentiney, like you pre-planned it instead of wearing a tux. You get dressed, and while you’re doing that, I’ll make reservations for you at a French restaurant too. French is always romantic, Ricky. In this case French is pre-planning, especially if I can find French with a dance floor and music to go with it. Hurry, hurry, she’ll be here soon. Why don’t you lay her formal out, too.”

“No, I couldn’t do that, Roland. Up until now, you’ve been making sense, but I don’t touch Carol’s clothes unless she’s in ’em. Just think gushy-gushy, OK?”

They had Ricky all dressed up in a record 20 minutes, complete with a 6-inches-across big red bow tie that looked like Valentine decoration.

“I got a restaurant called too, Ricky,” said Roland. “You’re in luck. You have reservations even if it is 50 miles away.”

“Fifty miles is no problem. I’m not as tired anymore, Roland. I’m good to go. I got my adrenaline up in the crisis of emergency pre-planning. Is it French for sure?”

“Is it French for sure? Of course it’s French. I picked out the Frenchiest sounding restaurant in the area-wide yellow pages. It’s called Pierre LeBeau’s. Is that French enough for you? They don’t have dancing, but they do have a place with a dance floor just next door, Ricky. They said you don’t need reservations to dance. You just pay at the door. You’re going to look like the master of pre-planning for your loved one’s Valentine event, Ricky. First, you tell her, ‘surprise, surprise,’ and then you lower your eye lids kind of sick-like as though someone kicked you. Then you tell her to get her formal on, that you’ve something even more special than you did last year.”

“Roland, you are a genius. Someday Carol is even going to forget that one time I bought her a toilet plunger for a gift.”

Just after the genius left, Carol drove in. Ricky met her at the sidewalk in his black suit and big red bow tie, calling, “Surprise, surprise, surprise, Carol. Happy Valentine. I’ve planned us a big evening.”

“A big evening, Ricky? Oh dear, I was kind of tired. I kind of hoped we’d have a Valentine’s just like last year where we were home together, but you look like you’ve planned an outing.”

“I sure have. You run up, and get your formal on just as quickly as you can because we have reservations. I’m sorry I didn’t leave time for you to primp much, but you look so beautiful anyway, I don’t know why you would need more.”

“Boy, you are outdoing yourself aren’t you? Well, I suppose if you’ve gone to the trouble, I’d better try to cooperate. Where are we going anyway?”

“It’s a surprise. Didn’t I say it was a surprise? Just don’t you worry, I planned everything far in advance.”

While Carol went to dress, Ricky went to the telephone. “Hello, Roland, this is Ricky.”

“You shouldn’t be bothering me now, Ricky,” Roland said. “I’m lighting the candles for supper while Nancy slips into something comfortable.”

“I’m just calling to tell you it’s working. She bought it that I had something big planned, and that it’s a surprise. I’m taking my cell phone along in case I need to call you. Is there anything else I should be doing?”

“Yeah, like leaving me alone. You’ll be fine. You have the places to go, and now all you have to do is look good.”

Roland was right again, part-way. The drive to the restaurant was great with many an adoring look passed between Ricky and Carol, shining in their best clothing. But nearly two hours later, Roland’s phone sounded, Brrrring.

“Hi, Roland. This is Ricky.”

“Ricky, why the heck are you calling me? We’re eating slices of bonbon together. Heck, she even fed me a couple of them. Do your own thing, man. Isn’t it swell to be in a French restaurant?”

“Well, it’s kind of French, Roland, but I’m afraid it could be a problem. Carol’s out there waiting for the maitre d’ with the big yellow tulip in her hair to call us to our table. Roland, this is a place with barrels of peanuts in the shell for you to scoop out, and eat while you wait. There’s barrels of Cajun spiced peanuts, and just plain peanuts. You just throw the shells on the floor when you’re done. I sort of like the Cajun ones, but Carol-well, she just ain’t eatin’ much of them Roland, and she’s got one eyebrow raising like when she isn’t entirely happy.”

“Cajun?”

“Yeah, real Cajun, Roland. The full name of this place is Pierre LeBeau’s Ragin’ Cajun Restaurante and Bar. What am I gonna do, Roland? I’m not entirely sure this place is romantic, and the other women here are wearing slacks and blue jeans, and there’s one with a low-cut shirt with the mole on her chest pushed up to her chin. I don’t think Carol likes her looks, Roland.”

“It’s OK. It’ll be OK, Ricky. When you get back there, pick up a peanut, and start munching. Then you lean toward Carol with goo-goo eyes, and say, ‘Surprise, darling. I bet you never thought I could bring you to a place as original as this one.’ Then you act as though this is a romantic place, and you’re there for her alone. Now, let me off this phone.”

Brrring.

“Hello. Ricky, this better not be you again.”

“But it is, Roland. Roland, the Cajun pepper steak and chicken and soup and whatever that gumbo mess they have all over the rice aren’t too bad. We have been liking eating it all. They even had some rosato wine just like you’re having.”

“Good, that’s good, Ricky. Then why are you calling me, man. We’ve just started the chick flick, and it’s about time for me to look gushy-gushy at Nancy over what the Englishman is doing with the pretty girl who’s about 2,000 times too nice for him. Why are you calling me, man? Tend to your own romance.”

“I don’t know if it’s romance, Roland. There’s a little brown man in a pirate’s scarf with a big black mustache playin’ a fiddle. Usually, they say he plays ‘Happy Birthday to You,’ but this time he’s sung ‘Happy Valentine to You’ about three times to Carol. And sometimes she’s smiling at me while he does it, and sometimes she’s raising her eyebrows. She’s been rubbing the side of her nose like she does when she’s about to be perturbed. Is this a good Valentine’s, Roland?”

“OK, Ricky. Go back. Give the little guy a $5 tip, and tell him to go to the other side of the room while you court your sweetie. Take her hands across the table. Look your gushiest. Kiss her forehead and say, ‘Hasn’t this been wonderful?’ Order something special for desert-oozing with chocolate and cherries if they have both. After you’ve eaten, ask her if she’s ready to go dancing. And don’t bother me again, Ricky.”

“Roland, you are a genius.”

“I know, Ricky. And you’re lucky to know me.”

Brrring, brrring.

“Leave me alone, Ricky. I know it’s you again. I’ve suffered through the chick flick, and we’re about to have another sip of wine. I’m about done with this stuff, and it’s wonderful.”

“I’m happy for you, Roland. But, Roland?”

“Yes.”

“This is a country music place. Carol’s in there line dancing in a formal with a bunch of people in blue jeans and western hats who smile at us too much while I go to the rest room. And outside it’s snowing, and getting deeper. Roland, I think we’re not only going to get miserable instead of romantic, but we’re also going to have to spend the night in a motel here. We’ll be out so late, I think we’ll miss work tomorrow. What am I going to do.”

“Wait a minute, Ricky. Uh huh, uh huh. Yes, Dear, I understand. Ricky, are you still with me, man?”

“Yes.”

“Then go in there, and hand the cell phone to Carol. Nancy wants to talk to her.”

“Nancy wants to talk to Carol? I don’t know, Roland. I’m afraid that isn’t sounding too good.”

“We got no choice, man. Just hand the phone to Carol.”

Ricky watched Carol standing in the hallway saying, “Uh huh, uh huh, yes, I understand,” while a recording of Tom T. Hall belted out a drinking song over the loudspeaker, and he played with the red bow tie.

It was 4 p.m. the following day when Ricky and Carol pulled into the driveway again from their trip to Pierre LeBeau’s Ragin’ Cajun Restaurante and LeBeau’s Longhorn Lounge and Country Dance Hall. They were both smiling at each other-and at Roland, who was walking down the sidewalk.

“I tell you, Roland,” said Ricky as Carol walked on into the house. “I never had such a good time at being romantic on Valentine’s with Carol before. She came back in from that phone, and told me what a hoot it was that I’d surprised her by dressing formal for all this kind of stuff. Then she kissed me right there in front of all those country dancers. They hooted too, and everybody saluted each other with some of LeBeau’s Cajun spiced rum and honey. Roland, that stuff turns your eyes gushy-gushy with no effort at all.”

“I know, I know all of that.”

“You do?”

“Yes, I heard them discuss it all on the phone. Next year we all have to go to Pierre LeBeau’s on the weekend before Valentine’s Day so we don’t miss work, and we all dress as formal as we can without renting anything because you were cute-yucky cute.

“Then on Valentine’s night, we all still do the bonbon, chick-flick thing at our own homes. I tell you, Valentine’s Day is gonna get as bad as Christmas.”

“So, you really were a genius, and I pulled it off?”

“Naah. Nancy told Carol she knew we were both big fools, but at least we are their fools. Carol told Nancy it’s a lot of fun to dress up for where people least expect you to.

“It’s already marked on the calendar for me to remind you 10 days in advance next year. You need to buy your own red bow tie.”

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