Freedom Lane: Training Day
The Sunday morning sun shone on the home of the Masters family on Freedom Lane in New Haven, CT. The elderly couple of Helen and Rose are adjusting to their new roles of parents to young Da’Quarius Lobsterclaw Sherman. Da’Quarius also struggles to his new life being raised by two women well in their seventies.
“Get off that couch and get to work!” Helen shouted as she came out of the kitchen and into her den, where Da’Quarius was watching cartoons with his feet on the coffee table and a bowl of cereal sitting on his lap.
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “I know you old, but you do know dey made slavery illegal, right?”
“Don’t you sass me!” Helen said. “If you want to live under my roof, you’ll do as your told. You have one chore, and then you can go out and play. All you have to do is clean out the gutters.”
“Aight,” Da’Quarius said. “I’ll make sure it gets done real good.”
“Good,” Helen said, pleased with herself.
“You made him clean the gutters yesterday,” Rose said, walking past through the den carrying a tray of flowers to be planted outside.
“Why you little…” Helen said turning red.
Da’Quarius shrugged. “Can’t blame my black ass for tryin’!”
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
Episode 2: Training Day
Paulie sat behind the counter at his Pizzeria, Paulie’s Pizza, located on State Street. Today was a special day. It was Saturday, and his new nephew, Da’Quarius, will soon be there for his first lesson in the Pizzeria business. Paulie was eager to teach the urban youth a thing or two about business in the real world.
“Yo, Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said, entering the pizzeria. “What up?”
“Good afternoon!” Paulie said, folding his paper and putting it under the counter. “You ready to work?”
“I been meanin’ ta axe you,” Da’Quarius said.
“You mean you’ve been meaning to shape a piece of wood -”
“Ask!” Da’Quarius said. “I’ve been meanin’ to ask you something.”
“Ask away,” Paulie said.
“Ain’t it illegal for you to put a kid to work?” Da’Quarius asked.
“That’s why I’m not putting you to work,” Paulie said. “You’re not on my payroll. Your just hanging around and doing a couple of chores while I watch you for Helen and Rose. But if any John Q. Law come around, you make yourself scarce. Capeesh?”
“You got it, Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said. “What am I doin’ first? Stuffin’ da’ calzones? Tossin’ da’ dough? Taste testin’ da’ pizza?”
“Even better,” Paulie said. “Washing the dishes!”
“Washin’ da’ dishes?!” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s some bullshit!”
“Watch your mouth!” Paulie snapped. “This is a legitimate place of business! Now get your little ass in that kitchen before I kick it in there.”
Da’Quarius went into the kitchen before he could find out if Paulie was bluffing or not. Ever since he pulled a gun on Da’Quarius during a family dinner, he felt it best not to try.
“Here’s what you do,” Paulie said rolling up his sleeves. “The big pots and pans need to be scrubbed before you put them in the dishwasher. The dishes the customers use can be rinsed with hot water and put in the racks. The dishwasher does the rest.” Paulie eyed Da’Quarius for a second. “Can you get that thing wet?” he asked, pointing at Da’Quarius’s deformed left hand.
“Of course!” Da’Quarius said. “Why da’ hell wouldn’t I? It ain’t a kitten!”
“I’m just asking,” Paulie said. “I don’t need you crying about it later. Now wash those while I make a deposit to the Porcelain Bank of America. I’ll be back to check on you in a little bit.”
Paulie grabbed his newspaper and headed to the back of the pizzeria. “Mo’ fuckin’ bullshit,” Da’Quarius muttered as he began to wash the dishes.
Rose came running into her home. The dirt from gardening still on her apron. “Helen!” she shouted. “Helen, come quick!”
“What is it?” Helen asked, shuffling into the room.
“It’s my old college,” Rose said. “Whitney Magnus U! They want me to speak tomorrow at their annual alumni award celebration!”
“Tomorrow?!” Helen said. “Why such short notice?”
“I don’t know,” Rose said, flustered. “They’ve invited you and Da’Quarius too!”
Helen’s eyes suddenly grew wide. “Don’t go,” she said.
“What?” Rose said. “Did you forget a pill? How can I say no?”
“Trust me,” Helen said. “Don’t go. We’ll stay here. I’ll make a roast and applesauce. We can watch The Sound of Music. You love that movie!”
“You’re being silly, Helen,” Rose said. “I’m going to call them right now. Oh, this is so exciting!”
Rose jogged into the kitchen to get the phone. Helen sighed deeply and waited for the senility to make the bad feeling in her gut dissipate.
“How you doing with those dishes, Kid?” Paulie asked coming into the dish washing area an hour and a half after he left Da’Quarius.
“Dey clean,” Da’Quariys said. “E’ry bit of shit is off ’em.”
“Good job,” Paulie said examining a plate on the drying rack. “I can see my face in this one.”
“Give it back,” Da’Quarius said. “Dat one ain’t done.”
“You little smart ass!” Paulie said, raising his hand with a fake grin. “I outta slap that smirk off yer face!”
“Dis bitch work, Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said.
“You sound like you’re ready to move on to bigger and better things,” Paulie said. “Dry your hands and follow me.”
Da’Quarius dried his hands and followed Paulie into the main eating area. Paulie opened a small closet door and brought out a broom and dustpan.
“I need the floors swept and the tables and counters wiped before the lunch rush,” Paulie said. “Afterwards, I’ll have Tony make us some lunch, and you’re free to go.”
“Naw, man,” Da’Quarius said. “I ain’t goin’ out like no bitch.”
“Excuse me?” Paulie said, still holding the broom. “You wanted to learn the business. This is the ground floor. Literally. Sweep it.”
“Dat biddy Helen makes me clean da’ gutters, den you got me washin’ dishes an’ shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Y’all think you can get a little black kid an’ make him do all da’ work. Fuck dat.”
“You got some set of balls on ya, kid,” Paulie said, “but that ain’t how things work.”
“Fuck you,” Da’Quarius said. “I ain’t no house nigga. I’m out.”
“I guess I was wrong about you, kid,” Paulie said as Da’Quarius turned his back and walked toward the exit. “Maybe you ain’t cut out for this after all.”
“Guess not,” Da’Quarius said as he walked out the door. “Free at last!”
The following morning, Rose got out of bed early, excited for her speech. She stayed up to the extremely late hour of eight PM to make sure it was just right. She was so busy, she never noticed how surly both Helen and Da’Quarius were acting.
“I think I’ll close with a poem,” Rose said as they were leaving. “Do you think I have time to find one.”
“No,” Helen said. “Where’s that damn kid?”
“Wha’chu want?” Da’Quarius said, entering the room. “Y’all need cotton picked?”
“What the hell are you yammering about, kid?” Helen said. “Get your damn jacket on so we can go!”
Rose drove them only a few blocks and found a spot on State Street. “Da’Quarius, will you be a dear and tell Paulie to be at the hall by four?”
Da’Quarius almost said no, remembering how he left the pizzeria the day before. He just grunted in protest and got out of the car.
“That kid’s got bricks for brains,” Helen said, watching Da’Quarius walk off with his hands in his pockets.
Da’Quarius knocked on Paulie’s open office door. His office was full of photos of the restaurant when it was still new, friends and family, and tons of pictures of people enjoying a meal Paulie’s Pizza. Paulie looked up from his papers to Da’Quarius standing in his doorway. “What do you want kid?” he asked.
“Helen an’ Rose said to be at da’ hall by four,” Da’Quarius replied.
“OK,” Paulie said going back to his papers. “I’ll be there.”
Da’Quarius turned to leave without any more conversation with his uncle, but something compelled him to turn around. Instead of seeing the face of Paulie, he noticed an old picture in a silver frame sitting on top of Paulie’s file cabinet. The picture was of a much younger Paulie and a young black woman with a gigantic afro.
“Dat you?” Da’Quarius asked.
Paulie looked up at the picture. “Yeah, kid,” he said. “That’s me.”
“Who’s da’ sista?” Da’Quarius asked.
“That’s Shronda,” Paulie said. “Me and her were supposed to get hitched. Boy, was my dad pissed when I brought her home, God rest his racist soul.” Paulie chuckled, but Da’Quarius could feel the sadness in it. Now he knew why Paulie got mad whenever he used the “N-Word” (as Paulie put it). He must have heard it a million times from his father.
“What happened?” Da’Quarius asked. “Where she now?”
“She passed,” Paulie said with a sigh. “Drunk driver got her. It was just over a week ’til the wedding. I used the insurance money to open this place here. She would have wanted it. We both dreamed of opening up our own pizzeria here. We met right here on State Street ya know.”
Da’Quarius stared at the smiling woman in the picture. He noticed she was missing a front tooth and wondered how she lost it. He decided it was best not to ask.
“Something the matter, kid?” Paulie asked.
“Nuttin,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s just dat people in my ‘hood only get married when dey pregnant.”
“Oh she was pregnant alright,” Paulie said. “Pregnant as hell!” Paulie laughed, and Da’Quarius soon joined in too. Da’Quarius stopped when he realized that Paulie had lost both his wife and a child he’d never know. Now he knew why Paulie was so eager to teach him the pizzeria business. He lost out on the chance to teach it to his own kid. Da’Quarius felt much worse than he did before.
“I’m sorry,” Da’Quarius said to break the awkward silence.
“Don’t be,” Paulie said. “You weren’t even born yet when it happened.”
“Not dat!” Da’Quarius said. “‘Bout da’ dishes an’ shit. How I left here. It wasn’t cool.”
“Ya know, kid,” Paulie said standing. “The reason I had you doing the bitch work, as you so eloquently put it, was to teach you to respect this place. If I give you my pizzeria without knowing the sweat and blood that goes into it, you’ll never respect it. How are you going to respect the Mexican guy that washes the dishes for minimum wage just to send it back to his family in Guatemala if you haven’t done the work yourself? Trust me. When you’re tossing the dough in the air and making the kids smile, it’s much more sweeter when you’ve done the dishes and sweeping first.”
Da’Quarius thought about it. “I see your point,” he said. “Nobody’s ever expected me to work like dis, doe.”
“It builds character,” Paulie said. “I’d rather you build character and not be one, ya dig?”
“I’ll be back next Saturday,” Da’Quarius said with a smile. “But I gotta go. Dose biddies be waitin’ in the car fo’ my black ass.”
Rose drove the trio across New Haven to her old college, Whitney Magnus University for the alumni awards. It was a fifteen minute drive, but Rose made it in a record forty minutes after stopping for three yellow lights and one green one. They were brought in and shown to the VIP area of Whitney Magnus hall.
Rose, Helen, & Da’Quarius waited in the back hall. Rose went over the notes of her hastily written speech while Helen scoured at anyone that passed by. Da’Quarius looked around. He had never been to anywhere so prestigious before.
“Who dose two guys eyin’ you biddies?” Da’Qaurius asked looking at two elderly men who put glasses of champagne down and began whispering while stealing glances at Da’Quarius and his parents.
Helen and Rose turned to look. “Oh shit,” Rose said in an uncharacteristic swear.
“Who are those two?” Helen asked.
“We know them, Helen,” Rose whispered. “That’s Harold and Lee. The couple from two blocks over on Constitutional Way. I went here with Lee, and you’ve known Harold for decades.”
“Who?” Helen said, now squinting at them.
“You know,” Rose said,rolling her eyes. “The gay couple.”
“Oh, those fruits!” Helen said much louder than she should have.
“Helen!” Rose said.
“Pay attention, kid,” Helen said out of the corner of her mouth to Da’Quarius. “Don’t get too close to these two once they flutter their way over to us.”
“Stop, Helen,” Rose said. “Not in front of Da’Quarius!”
“I think she’s funny,” Da’Quarius said snorting with laughter.
“You know those two met at a hotdog farting contest, right?” Helen asked.
“That doesn’t even make sense!” Rose said.
“Think about it, Rose” Helen said with a smile spread across her wrinkly face.
“What?” Rose said. “That’s just -” She paused for a moment. Her hand rose to her mouth. “Helen!”
“There’s nothing sadder than an old queen prancing around at their age,” Helen said.
“You stone cold, biddy,” Da’Quarius added.
“Hello, Rose,” Harold said in a nasally voice. “Helen.”
“Hello Harold,” Rose said nodding.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us to you new friend?” Harold asked.
“Oh!” Lee said with both hands on his chest. “He’s sooooooo precious! We’re looking to adopt ourselves, you know.” Lee looked over his shoulder. “Esmeralda! Come hither!”
A small hispanic girl came skipping to Lee’s side. She was probably around Da’Quarius’s age.
“This young lady is Esmeralda Perez de la Hoya,” Harold said with a big grin under his thin, gray mustache. “Puerto Rican. All the way from Bridgeport. They’re letting us try her out for the evening. We’re having a fabulous time, Aren’t we Esmerelda?”
“You won’t be the only one speaking at events for long,” Lee said to Rose in a snotty tone.
Rose said nothing, but Helen could tell the comment stung her lover. It summed up exactly why she had warned Rose not to come tonight. Like a good wife, Helen was willing to ride it out to whatever end.
“What happened to dj’our hand?” Esmeralda asked Da’Quarius.
“Nuttin'” Da’Quarius said. “Da cops did dis interrogating me. Spilt acid on my hand to see if I’d give up my boys. I never gave up dem up, doe. Dee-Quizzy ain’t no snitch, bae.”
“Oh, would you look at that,” Lee said looking down at the birth defeat Da’Quarius called his lobster claw. “He’s got a little disability.”
Lee’s eyes darted toward Harold’s, and Harold met the gaze. The both leaned back a bit and started looking over Esmeralda, as if appraising her.
“I ain’t got no disability, mo’ fucka,” Da’Quarius said. “Fuck you up wit one hand, bitches.”
“Pardon me?” Harold said as Lee clutched his arm.
“We’ll go find out seats now,”Helen said grasping Da’Quarius’ elbow. “You break a leg, dear.” She gave Rose a kiss and shuffled off with Da’Quarius. Harold and Lee went off without another snide comment, and Rose was left alone with her thoughts.
“Miss Masters!” a man shouted down the hall sprinting toward Rose. “You’re on in a few.” The man looked around confused. “Where is your partner and son?”
“They went off to find seats,” Rose said. “Helen doesn’t get around too well, so our son, Da’Quarius, is helping her. Her brother should be saving them seats.”
“Oh no,” the man said. “They were to stand next to you on stage.”
Now it was Rose’s turn to look confused. “What?” she asked. “They don’t have to be on stage. Da’Quarius could see fine, and Helen will hear ok as long as her hearing aid battery holds out. I can’t remember the last time she changed -”
“Oh this won’t do,” the man said looking at his watch. “There’s not enough time to get them on stage! I wonder if we can stall!”
Rose looked around while the man flipped pages on his clipboard. She noticed Harold and Lee stealing glances over their shoulder while they fussed over little Esmerelda. Everything finally became crystal clear.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rose said. “I’m not feeling well. I think I’ll take my family home and have a nice cup of tea and read a book tonight.”
“But the speech -”
“Isn’t important,” Rose interrupted. “What’s important is not making my family a sideshow act. Have a good night.”
“Dere’s Unca Paulie!” Da’Quarius said leading the slow-walking Helen through the auditorium seat. Paulie stood up and waved. He looked past them and then began walking over.
“What in the hell is that damn melon-brain doing?” Helen said. “He’ll lose are damn seats!”
“Hi guys,” Rose said from behind them.
“Rose!” Helen exclaimed with a smile. “What a lovely speech.”
“She didn’t do it,” Da’Quarius said.
“Oh thank god,” Helen said with a deep sigh. “I thought I forgot it already.”
“What’s goin’ on?” Paulie asked. “What gives with the speech?”
“I decided some things are more important,” Rose said, smiling at Da’Quarius.
“Oh, madon!” Paulie said. “Like getting your brother-in-law dressed up for nothing?”
“I’m sorry, Helen,” Rose said. “I should’ve listened to you.”
“We’re in our seventies,” Helen said. “If you started listening to me now, it’d shock me to death.”
“Come on,” Rose said smiling. “Let’s go home.”
“Naw,” Da’Quarius said. “Y’all go on ahead. Umma hit up dat buffet. I can smell dat chicken from here.”
“I better stay with Da’Quarius,” Helen said. “We’ll be home shortly.” She grabbed Da’Quarius by the elbow once again and leaned close to his ear. “You leave me at that open bar, and don’t you come get me til your belly is nice and full.”
Rose laughed at the sight if the pair heading into the empty buffet room.
“You go home,” Paulie said. “I’ll bring this motley pair home. The way you drive, we’ll be there before you.”
The crowd in Whitney Magnus Hall murmured as they awaited the night’s speaker. Nobody had come up in a while, and they were starting to get anxious. A chubby old woman wandered on to the stage holding a drink. She shuffled over to the podium and picked up the mic.
“Helen Masters back up in your ass, bitches!” she yelled through the feedback, spilling her drink onto the floor. “You can shove your aluminum award right up your fat asses!”
A man in his sixties and a young black boy rushed up to the stage while the crowd started mumbling louder.
“I told you not to dare her!” Paulie said. “She’ll do anything you say once she’s had a few!”
“Dat biddy gonna be hung ova as fuck tomorrow!” Da’Quarius said. “Umma make my ass scarce!”