Freedom Lane: Straight Outta Freedom Lane
Helen, Rose, and their adopted son, Da’Quarius, finished their meals at the Happy Dragon’s Dojo Chinese Food Palace. The restaurant was dimly lit, and the unconventional New Haven family had enjoyed their Friday night out. “I’m stuffed,” Helen said with a belch. “Nobody fills you up like the chinks.”
“Helen!” Rose harshly whispered. “At least wait until we’re on our way home!”
“You enjoy the meal?” The waiter said, coming to the table with a small tray containing their bill and three fortune cookies.
“Very much so,” Rose replied. “Thank you.”
“Take care of this whenever you are ready,” the waiter said, putting the small tray on the table. He walked back to his register and waited.
“Dese cookies never say anything good,” Da’Quarius said. “For once I’d like to get one dat tells me how I’m gonna die.”
“That’s not the point,” Rose said. “It’s just a bit if advice to take with you on life’s journey.”
“Yeah,” Helen said, cracking open her cookie. “Their not your psychic friends.”
“What’s yo cookie say den, biddy?” Da’Quarius asked.
“You got your dick in their mouth, so fuck what they say,” Helen read.
“Who wrote dat?” Da’Quarius asked. “Confucius featurin’ Lil’ Wayne?”
“It does not say that,” Rose said. “You must be reading it wrong, or you need new glasses.”
“See for yourself,” Helen said, handing the small strip of paper across the table to Rose.
Rose read the strip of paper, her eyes growing wide. “Waiter!” she called, her hand darting in the air like an over-eager student.
The waiter shuffled over. “Yes?” He asked.
“This fortune is very obscene,” Rose said, showing the fortune to the waiter.
“Oh, I am a so sorry,” the waiter said. “Disgruntled fortune writers got bad fortunes in our shipment of cookies. We thought we found them all. Please give me those. I will bring you Kung Fu Panda ones.”
“No,” Helen said, putting her hand up. “We will accept our fortunes. It was our destiny to receive these.”
Da’Quarius excitedly opened his cookie next, read the fortune, and looked disappointed with the results.
“What’s the matter, kid?” Helen asked. “Read it.”
Da’Quarius sighed. “Go on and pop dat pussy for a real nigga,” he read sullenly.
“That’s terrible,” Rose said.
“I know,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey gave me a girl fortune.”
“Your turn, Rose,” Helen said.
“I don’t want to,” Rose said. They were watching her intently, including the waiter.
“Come on,” Helen said. “The kid and I did ours.”
“You know we gonna sit here til you do it,” Da’Quarius added. “It’s just a little piece of advice dat you take wit’chu on life’s journey.”
Rose sighed, opened her cookie, and read the message silently. “I am not saying this out loud!” she said.
“Come on,” Helen said. “It’s all in good fun.”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”
“Fine,” Rose said, looking at the fortune. She sighed. “You gonna fuck the world til that bitch busts nuts.”
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Wish I got dat one.”
“Very good,” the waiter said smiling. “I’ll take that check whenever you are ready. No rush.”
Season 7 Finale: Straight Outta Freedom Lane
It was a Sunday afternoon on Freedom Lane. It was raining out, so Rose was telling her family some tales from her childhood.
“So you can’t look into a full-length mirror if you’re nude,” Rose said. “The image of your naked body standing in front of you will turn you gay.”
“What?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “Is dat true?”
“No,” Rose said. “That’s just some catholic nonsense my mother used to say.”
“Where did she even get that garbage?” Helen asked. “I was raised catholic, and I never heard any of that.”
“I don’t know,” Rose said. “She had a million phrases like that.”
“I bet some closeted homo priest popped a boner while looking at himself in the mirror,” Helen said. “Then he somehow came up with that bullshit.”
“She also said you can’t wear pants that had back pockets,” Rose said. “Putting your hand in your back pocket leads to fornication apparently.”
“I can see that one, actually,” Helen said, nodding.
Rose was about to add something else, but the door bell rang. Da’Quarius went to answer it while trying to calm his dog, Dutchie. He opened the door and took a step back. “Miss Jolie,” he said. “What are you doin’ here?”
The chubby Child Welfare Department employee, Jolene Jolie, stood on the Masters’ doorstep, holding a shoebox with a smaller box on top in her hands. The rain dripped down her black raincoat. “Hello, Da’Quarius,” she said.
“Jolly Jolene,” Helen said, stepping behind her adopted son and putting a hand on his shoulder. “We’re not doing this again. You won’t get him out of here without a fight.”
“I’m not here to remove Da’Quarius,” Miss Jolie said. “I’m here to let him know his mother passed away a few days ago.”
“Here you go,” Paulie said, dropping off a large bacon and clam pizza to the couple in the booth of his pizzeria, Paulie’s Pizza on State Street. “Enjoy.”
Paulie went back behind the counter, but he couldn’t help but notice that the couple weren’t taking the steaming pizza from the tray in front of them. They had their phones out, and they were taking photos of it instead. Once they were done, they were typing something on their phones.
“Excuse me,” Paulie said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but the pie is much better if you eat it while it’s still hot. You can probably use your phone doodads when you get home.”
The couple laughed. “I’m tweeting that!” the woman said. “Phone doodads!”
“Madon,” Paulie said, rolling his eyes and turning back towards his counter. “You stunads and your phones. You’re like my nephew. Always thinking you got something to say that the world just needs to hear.”
“Hey,” the man said. Paulie turned around, silently cursing himself for making his commentary out loud. He was sure to get a complaint about mouthing off. As luck would have it, they were too busy with their phones to hear what Paulie said. “Do you have wifi in here?”
“Wifi?” Paulie asked. “What the heck is that?”
“Wireless internet,” the man said. “My cell signal is terrible in here, and I’m trying to instagram a picture of this pizza.”
“I could only imagine your grief,” Paulie said, “but I’m sorry. I don’t have wifi in here.”
“That’s too bad,” the man said, finally taking his first slice of pizza.
“You really don’t know what wifi is?” Tony, Paulie’s friend and employee, asked, coming out of the kitchen. “Get with the times.”
“I know what it is,” Paulie said. “I just forgot. I’m old school, and so is my pizzeria. I don’t need that junk.”
“You’re gonna get left behind, Paulie,” Tony said. “You can get wifi anywhere now. Hell, my cousin Stevie G gets wifi at his place, and he sells friggin’ toilets.”
“You’re off your nut,” Paulie said. “More so than usual, I mean.”
“You’re losing free advertising,” Tony said. “Those pictures the people are taking go on the internet with this place’s name all over them. No wifi means no free ads.”
Paulie looked at the couple as they finally ate their pizza. Their phones were both set on the table next to their plates as they ate, so they wouldn’t miss anything that happened in their digital worlds.
“Friggin’ mooks,” Paulie said, turning back to Tony. “But a free ad is a free ad, I guess.”
“That’s the spirit,” Tony said. “Let’s call the phone company and get this place set up!”
“Why are you so gung-ho about this?” Paulie asked.
“No reason,” Tony said. “I just think it’s about time you stop thinking like an old fart.”
“I’ll give you an old fart!” Paulie said, slapping the back of Tony’s head. “Get your ass back in that kitchen!”
“How did my moms die?” Da’Quarius asked as Rose brought the cold and wet Jolene Jolie a cup of hot tea.
“Please,” Helen said. “She’s not dead. This is just another one of her scams.”
“There’s no scam,” Miss Jolie said. “I wish there was, and I don’t blame you for thinking there would be one. My cousin didn’t exactly give people confidence in her.”
“So what happened to her?” Rose asked, sitting next to Da’Quarius and putting a hand on his shoulders.
“Brain tumor,” Miss Jolie said. “She had it diagnosed, but she never went to the doctors for any follow-ups or treatments. It was terminal, and I guess she just didn’t feel like going through the whole process. Probably didn’t have insurance or anything either way, so she just toughed it out until it got her.”
“Poor dear,” Rose said.
“So what’s in the boxes?” Da’Quarius asked.
Miss Jolie opened the smaller box that sat on top of the shoebox and pulled out a small, blue and white urn. “This is Lotasha Sherman,” she said. “Her ashes anyway.”
“Gross,” Helen said. “I’ll flush those if you’d like.”
“Helen!” Rose said. “Don’t say that!”
Da’Quarius laughed. “Don’t flush my moms!” he said, reaching for the urn that was in Miss Jolie’s hands. “I’ll take her.”
Miss Jolie have them a queer look at their comments. “I didn’t open this other box,” she said. “There was a note for me to give this to you. There’s another note on top for you to read. I’m supposed to tell you read the note before you open the box.”
Miss Jolie handed Da’Quarius the shoebox with the Reebok logo on the side. He looked at the envelope on the top of it. His name was written in his mother’s sloppy handwriting.
“I’ll leave this with you,” Miss Jolie said, getting up. “Thank you for the tea.” She put her raincoat back on and opened the door to the rainy outside. “I’m sorry, Da’Quarius.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Da’Quarius said, turning the box over in his hands.
“That was quick,” Paulie said, hanging up the phone in his office. Tony had been passing by frequently while tending to the pizzeria. “They’ll be here on Monday to set us up. Friggin’ thing better be worth what they’re asking for it. Madon.”
“It will be,” Tony said. “You’ll see.”
“I hope you’re right,” Paulie said. “I don’t want to end up looking like a fool since I don’t know much about this nonsense. I only use the smart phone to talk to D and women after all.”
“You’ll be fine,” Tony said. “You’re doing the right thing for this place you know.”
“I hope so,” Paulie said. “Keep an eye on the place a little longer. I spent a while on the phone, and I got a log jam going on here.” He picked up his newspaper, folded it, tucked it under his arm, and walked to his bathroom.
“Oh yeah,” Tony said, smiling. “Looks like I’m getting my free internet and all the porn I can get my hands on.”
“You gonna read that damn letter or what?” Helen asked. “I’ll die waiting before long.”
“Helen,” Rose said. “Take it easy. He just lost his mother.”
“It’s cool,” Da’Quarius said. “Not like she was ever around for me. Can’t be too upset.”
“That’s the spirit!” Helen exclaimed.
“Still,” Da’Quarius said. “I don’t think I can read the letter. Can you do it, Rose?”
“Me?” Rose asked.
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said, handing the letter to Rose. “Can you read it to me?”
Rose took the letter, put on her reading glasses, and unfolded it. “Dear Daq,” she started. “I hope…”
“Do the voice!” Helen interrupted. “Read it in Lotasha’s voice.”
“No,” Rose said. “That’s incredibly inappropriate.”
“Please,” Da’Quarius begged. “My moms just died, an’ it’ll help me heal.”
Rose sighed. “Fine,” she said.
“Good job, kid,” Helen whispered.
“Dear Daq,” Rose read in her best (but nowhere close) Lotasha impression. “I hope you’re doing good for yourself. I’m not, because I died and shit. I’m leaving you what I can. Be a good little nig… I can’t read any more of this.”
“Come on,” Helen said. “Finish it up.”
“This letter is vulgar, and the grammar is horrendous,” Rose said. “Besides, doing the voice hurts my throat.”
“Gimme that,” Helen said, snatching the letter from Rose and scanning it with her eyes. “The short version is that she died and left you her box. The end.”
“Cool,” Da’Quarius said, taking the letter back from Helen. He took the lid from the top of the box and peered inside. “Oh shit!”
“What?” Helen said. “It’s not her head, is it? I saw Seven!”
“No,” Da’Quarius said, rummaging through the box. “It’s my mom’s old CD collection.”
“That’s your inheritance?” Helen asked. “Just a bunch of old compact discs?”
“Helen,” Rose whispered. “Lotasha wasn’t exactly wealthy.”
“True dat,” Da’Quarius said. “There’s still some security tags on some of ’em.”
“What kind of music is it?” Rose asked.
“Do you really have to ask?” Helen asked, rolling her eyes. “It’s that ghetto trash they pump from their cars while driving down the street.”
“Dis ain’t trash,” Da’Quarius said, taking the CDs out of the box. “Dre. Snoop. Eazy-E. Biggie. Tupac. Ice Cube. Busta. Nas. I wish I was alive when dese guys were just comin’ up and not a bunch of played out pussies. Dis was when rap music was great. Back when all dese guys was still thirsty, and before dey all got over-produced. Pretty much before Eminem came in, signaling the end of good music for years to come. I can’t wait to rip dese into MP3s!”
“You’re not ripping anything!” Helen spat. “You think I want you ripping those up and making a mess all over my carpet!”
Da’Quarius sighed. “Dat’s not what I…”
“I’m not listing to that damn ghetto music,” Helen said. “It’s all swear words and noise!”
“You swear all da time, biddy,” Da’Quarius said under his breath.
“It might help Da’Quarius,” Rose said. “Oh. I know just where it is!”
Rose went off into the basement and came out two minutes later with the radio. It was round and had a CD player in the top. She dusted it off, plugged it in, removed the old Celine Dion CD that was still in there, and moved it closer to Da’Quarius. He put the Doggy Style CD in and looked at the track listing to find the song he wanted.
“I hope it still works,” Rose said.
Rose was answered a moment later when Snoop Doggy Dog came through the speakers. “Dis a good one,” Da’Quarius said. “He coverin’ Slick Rick.”
“I like the beat,” Helen said, sitting back. “This is surprisingly not shit.”
“It is good,” Rose said, relaxing as well. “Aside from the swearing and terrible grammar, I mean.”
“Dat’s how dey talk on the streets,” Da’Quarius said.
“Shut up,” Helen said. “Let me listen to the song.”
“There we go,” Paulie said, putting the ‘free wifi’ sticker on his door. It was Tuesday morning, and the wifi was successfully installed by the phone company. “This should get those tablet-toting mooks in here.”
“Free wifi!” a twenty-something year old man with a black bag said, slowing to look at what Paulie was doing. “Mind if I come in for lunch?”
“Sure thing,” Paulie said, holding the door open. “Come right in.”
“What do you serve here?” the man asked, sitting in one of he booths and taking his laptop out of his bag.
“We’re a pizzeria,” Paulie said proudly. “Paulie’s Pizza.”
“I’ll take a small pepper and onion pizza and a diet coke please,” the man said, booting up his computer.
“Sure thing,” Paulie said. “Enjoy the wifi.”
The guy on the computer mumbled something as Paulie went off to the kitchen. “You were right about that wifi, Tony,” Paulie said.
“Am I ever wrong?” Tony asked.
“Most of the time,” Paulie replied, “but that kid out there on his computer came in as soon as the sticker was on the door. Cook him up a small pepper and onion, by the way.”
“Then give him an extra napkin for it,” Paulie said. “What the hell do I care what he does to his own computer?”
“Fine,” Tony said as Paulie went to help two more customers that had just come in for lunch. “I’m just counting down the minutes until I can stream the hell out of some porno on your free wifi anyway.”
Da’Quarius came home from school to the sound of Craig Mack playing. “That was good,” Rose said. “Not as good as Eazy-E, but still OK.”
“What’s next on our agenda?” Helen said. “How about some Nas or Method Man? Oh, I got some Biggie here. Let’s do that one again. Rosie Rosie Rosie, can’t you see. Sometimes your shit just hypnotize me.”
“Maybe something else,” Rose said. “Have we gone through all the Dre and Snoop stuff?”
“Have you guys been listenin’ to dose CDs all day again?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Not all day,” Helen replied. “I stopped to crap in the morning. Speaking of which…” Helen got out of her chair and walked towards the downstairs bathroom.
“Still,” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s a lot of CD’s to be listenin’ to at once.”
“We’re sorry,” Rose said. “We missed all of this music because of our closed minds. We have your mother’s shoebox full of music to thank for opening them. There is a whole trove of really inspirational music here!”
“Just put it in your mouth…” Helen sang, walking back from the bathroom. “False alarm on that crap. Pop that Biggie CD in, Rose.”
“Nah,” Rose said, looking through the box. “Let’s stick with some Tupac for the afternoon.”
“Aw shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Looks like you guys got an East Coast versus West Coast rap feud goin’ on right in our livin’ room.”
“A what?” Rose asked.
“You never heard of da East versus West rap feud?” Da’Quarius asked. “I woulda thought dat all da news channels in da nineties woulda covered it.”
“We had John Bobbit, Tanya Harding, OJ Simpson, the Menendez Brothers, and Amy Fisher to worry about in the nineties,” Helen said. “It truly was the golden age of televised news. Spit out the details on the rap feud, kid.”
“Short version or long version?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Make with the damn story, kid,” Helen said, crossing her arms. “Biggie isn’t going to listen to himself.”
“Short version,” Da’Quarius said. “Rap originated in New York, but da mid-nineties saw a surge in talent from California when NWA and others busted onto the scene. Later, rappers like Nas and Biggie brought it from New York again, and da Wu Tang Clan brought back its credibility.
“Dey talked shit, threatened each other in da lyrics, an’ blamed each other for crimes an’ acts of violence. Snoop even destroyed a model of New York in a music video. The whole thing came to its climax when Tupac and Biggie were both shot an’ killed.”
“Tupac’s dead?!” Rose exclaimed, putting her hands to her mouth. “Oh no!”
“That’s the game,” Helen said. She kissed her fingers and pointed towards the ceiling. “May Biggie rest in peace. Word.”
“I don’t get why you’re so upset,” Da’Quarius said. “Dese guys died like twenty years ago.”
“Well I’m holding a candlelight vigil for Tupac Saturday night,” Rose said, wiping a tear. “Right here in our living room.”
“The hell you are,” Helen said. “You’re holding nothing for that West Coast troublemaker!”
“You just found out ’bout da feud,” Da’Quarius said.
“You can’t stop me from holding my vigil,” Rose said.
“Your right,” Helen said. “But you can’t stop me from holding a vigil for Biggie in the kitchen!”
“You wouldn’t,” Rose said.
“Too late,” Helen said. “I expect to see you at my Biggie vigil, Da’Quarius. Wear black.”
“No,” Rose said. “He likes West Coast rap better. He said so himself. He’ll be at my Tupac vigil.”
“We’ll see,” Helen said.
“Fine,” Rose replied. The two separated and walked into separate rooms.
“Da fuck just happen?” Da’Quarius asked the empty den.
“So da biddies have barely talked to each other since they planned competin’ vigils,” Da’Quarius told Paulie after he worked his early Saturday afternoon shift at Paulie’s Pizza. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do tonight. I’m gonna have to go home at some point.”
“They’ll come around, kid,” Paulie said. “They just need to realize how silly a vigil for someone they never heard of that died twenty years ago is.”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said, looking away. “Silly.”
“Why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you,” Paulie said. “You and I haven’t talked since you found out Lotasha passed. It might help if you talked about her, you know. Get it off your chest.”
“It’s fine,” Da’Quarius said. “Really.”
“You sure?” Paulie asked. “Because you haven’t really been…”
“It’s fine,” Da’Quarius repeated. “What’s goin’ on here anyway? What’s up with the nerds you got hangin’ around?”
“Those mooks on the computers?” Tony asked, coming into Paulie’s office. “They’re our newest customers.”
“Oh!” Paulie said. “Why are you in my office when we have the place full of people?”
“I have nothing to do,” Tony replied with a shrug. “Those customers are all served. They’re just sitting around and playing on their devices.”
“Friggin’ loitering bastards,” Paulie said. “I think I’ll end up losing money with this wifi nonsense. We’re going to lose customers if the people coming in don’t have a place to sit. I might as well do away with that damn router and cut my losses.”
“Don’t be so rash,” Tony said. “This is New Haven, and everywhere has wifi.”
“Look at this notice I got from the phone company about what these guys are using my internet for too,” Paulie said, passing a piece of paper to Da’Quarius. “You know this kind of internet stuff, kid. Who the hell would go to these sites?”
“My tranny cousin dot com?” Da’Quarius said, reading from the list. “An’ someone keeps goin’ to dis illegal Russian site for celebrity leaked nudes. They’re obsessed with this Megan Boone woman.”
“Who the snot is Megan Boone?” Pauile asked.
“Chick from ‘The Blacklist’,” Tony answered.
“How do you know that?” Paulie asked, looking at Tony.
“It’s a good show,” Tony said, almost immediately.
“What’s dis site about cartoon character porn?” Da’Quarius said. “Dat really a thing?”
“Well I’m just about fed up with this,” Paulie said, taking the paper back from Da’Quarius. “I’m going to see if I can get some of these lazy jerk-offs to move out of here.” He got up and left his office.
“Dat’s you with da porn, right?” Da’Quarius asked Tony once Paulie was out.
“Oh yeah,” Tony said. “All me.”
“Dis Megan Boone chick hot?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Top notch,” Tony said. “I’ll give her a Blacklist.”
“You’d give her an STD an’ a real dumb baby probably,” Da’Quarius said.
Da’Quarius returned home after leaving Paulie’s and spending some time hanging out with his friend, Flounder. He walked in through the front door, and was greeted by his dog, Dutchie. He looked around the dimly lit living room as the dog calmed himself down.
Rose was sitting on the couch with a dozen candles lit on the coffee table in front of her along with a framed 8×10 photo of Tupac Shakur. The song “Dear Mama” was playing from the CD player at a low volume.
“I’m so glad you can make it to my vigil,” Rose said, getting up. “Hip hop artist Tupac Shakur was taken much too soon. He was the victim of random violence, and he left a loving family and loyal West Coast fan base behind. Who knows how big he could’ve been if he weren’t savagely cut down just before his prime. He will be sorely missed, and we hold this vigil to honor his memory.”
“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “Mind if I get a snack or somethin’ right quick?”
“Oh,” Rose said. “Sure.”
Da’Quarius went into the kitchen to get something to eat. Everything in the kitchen was covered in black drapes. Helen was sitting at the kitchen table with one huge candle in front of her along with her own framed photo of Biggie Smalls, The Notorious B.I.G..
“Did I ever tell you about the time I met Biggie?” Helen asked.
“You never met Biggie,” Da’Quarius said, moving the black drapes aside so he can take the carton of orange juice from the refrigerator. “You just found out who he was like four days ago.”
“I didn’t realize it was him until I got the picture for my vigil,” Helen said, staring longingly into Biggie’s eyes. “Back in ninety-five, a fat black guy driving a benz with New York plates nearly ran me over. I screamed obscenities at the car and threw a potted plant at it, and it came to a screeching halt. ‘What did you say to me?’ the large, black man said, leaving his car.
“‘You heard me!’, I shouted back. ‘What are you gonna do about it, you bullfrog-looking mother fucker?!’
“The man approached me, met my gaze, and tried staring me down. A moment later, he was laughing his fat, black ass off. ‘Respect, my nigga,’ he said, shaking my hand. He gave me a signed CD before he left, but I threw it in the nearest trash can. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve held on to that CD.”
“There’s no way that’s true,” Rose said, coming into the kitchen. “Come on into the den, Da’Quarius. I’m going to read a poem I wrote about Tupac’s passing.”
“Da’Quarius would rather hear the story about how I met Biggie again,” Helen said with a nod. “Puffy was there too I think.”
“Well we’re going to have a moment of silence,” Rose said.
“DON’T YOU DARE TELL ME TO SHUT UP!” Helen snapped, getting up from her chair.
“I did not tell you to shut up!” Rose said. “Da’Quarius, come on back into the den.”
“No,” Helen said. “Da’Quarius can stay here if he wants to mourn the better rapper. Besides, everyone knows that Tupac’s death was a suicide.”
“How can you say that!” Rose said, her hands going to her chest. “Some believe that Tupac is still out there, watching us from a distance with his wise eyes.”
“So was Elvis,” Helen said. “At least Biggie actually died like a real man!”
Rose and Helen stopped arguing and both turned to Da’Quarius.
“Oh shit,” he said.
Paulie’s Pizza was having a very busy Saturday night. There wasn’t a free table in the place. Paulie was tossing the dough for a medium pie when Tony walked back into the kitchen, carrying something back from the customers. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Paulie asked. “How’d you screw that one up?”
“I didn’t screw anything up,” Tony said. “They want this one heated back up. It’s cold.”
“Cold?” Paulie said. “Pizza comes right from the oven to the tables in a matter of seconds. I’ve never served a soul a cold pizza, Tony.”
“It showed up at the table hot,” Tony said, putting the pizza back in the oven. “They spent so long taking pictures and playing on their phones that it cooled off.”
Paulie looked out into his eating area. Most of his customers were taking selfies, playing on their phones, texting, or trying to get movies or TV shows streaming on their tablets. “Nuts to this,” Paulie said.
“Hey,” Tony said, coming back from the kitchen area. “I know that look you got,” he said. “Don’t do anything stupid. We need that free wifi.”
“Look around,” Paulie said, motioning to his customers, uncaring who heard or saw him. “I’m not serving pizza to a bunch of zombies who can’t unhook themselves from the internet to enjoy a hot pie with their friends and family. This reheating business is the last straw.”
“Paulie…” Tony groaned.
“You hear that?!” Paulie said. “I’m shutting this damn wifi off. Paulie’s Pizza is now a cell phone and tablet free pizzeria. If you don’t like that, you can get out!”
The customer’s laughed. “I’m posting that on YouTube!” one customer said.
“I already got him on Vine!” another said, pushing buttons on his phone.
“You wanna play hardball?” Paulie said. He went behind the counter and ripped the router out, wires and all. Sparks flew from the power cord as it was torn from the outlet. “Put your phones away and enjoy your friggin’ night!”
“Put the wifi back on!” someone shouted. “This is unfair!”
“Unfair?” Paulie said. “I’ll show you stunads unfair!” He went to the door, opened it, and threw the router onto State Street. A car was driving by, destroying it in a shower of plastic and metal.
“It’s over,” Paulie said. “Cell service sucks in here, so put your devices away or get the hell out!”
The customers just stared at Paulie for a moment. They slowly put their phones down and looked around at each other. “Oh my God,” one woman said, looking at her children. “What have I been doing? I’m missing these moments with my family by posting them on Facebook.”
“Look at us,” a man said to his date. “When’s the last time we went out and had a real conversation.”
“My pizza’s cold,” another woman said.
“I’m going to miss all that free porn,” Tony said, wiping a tear. “Goodbye, nude Megan Boone; my love.”
“See,” Paulie said, crossing his arms and smiling at his customers. “You need to disconnect every now and then. You won’t realize what you’re missing until it’s moved on.”
The customers nodded in agreement, laughing at how silly they had been.
“Hey!” a middle-aged man said, approaching Paulie from outside. “Are you the asshole that threw that thing at my car?”
“I’m done with the wifi,” Paulie said. “Paulie’s is now an internet free establishment.”
“It’s not an ass-kicking free establishment,” the man said, pulling Paulie outside by his shirt.
“Come on,” Paulie said, picking himself up. “I bet that thing barely made a scratch.”
“I’m going to scratch you!” the man said, coming over to Paulie.
“If you can!” Paulie said, throwing a punch and hitting the man in the side of his head. The two started trading blows as traffic slowed down on State Street. Paulie’s customers were outside in seconds, taking videos with their phones and tablets.
“I’m eating here every Saturday!” some guy shouted as Paulie pushed his attacker down and kicked him in the ribs.
“So what’s your problem, kid?” Helen asked. “Spit it out.”
“You can talk to us about anything,” Rose added.
Da’Quarius sighed. “It’s these damn vigils,” he said. “You guys put together two vigils for guys you never knew who died almost twenty years ago. You didn’t do anything for my moms. Not a vigil, not a moment of silence, nothin’.
“You stop to think about when she was here last? She was tryin’ to take us on a cruise, and we all dismissed her. She knew she was dyin’! She wanted one last chance to make things right, she fucked up like any human might, an’ we threw her out. Do you even feel the slightest bit of guilt, because I do. I’ll never get to make up for the way I treated her.”
“Da’Quarius,” Rose said, sitting down in the kitchen chair. “You didn’t even tell us this upset you. Of course I feel guilty about that too, but you were making jokes about her, seconds after you learned she died. You had me do a crude impression of her while I read her last words to you.”
“But Helen started it,” Da’Quarius said.
“Just tell me to shut the hell up,” Helen said. “You know I wouldn’t have kept that up if you told me it was bothering you.”
“Really?” Da’Quarius asked, looking at Helen.
“Maybe a little bit,” Helen said, shrugging.
“I tell you what,” Rose said. “How about we put away the pictures and turn the music off. Let’s merge our vigils and have a little private wake for your mother, Lotasha Venison Sherman.”
“Venison,” Helen said giggling. Da’Quarius and Rose looked at her. “Sorry. Last time.”
“I just have one critique,” Da’Quarius said. “Leave da music. It was my mom’s favorite, and she gave me da CDs so they’d be my favorite too.”
“Alright,” Rose said. “You pick the song.”
“Just don’t tell us what coast their from,” Helen said.
“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. “I’ll go get her ashes.”
Paulie put an ice pack on his face as he sat in the booth closest to his office. “I can’t believe that guy,” he said.
“You did throw your router at his car,” Tony said.
“I’m lucky the cop that showed up was your buddy, Rocco,” Paulie said. “I beat that guy up pretty good.”
“You still pack a mean punch for an old man,” Tony said, laughing.
“Hey,” a thirty-something year old guy said, walking up to Paulie. “What you said meant a lot to me. We rely too much on our devices, and we’re losing our humanity at the price of a few words on a glowing screen. Nobody puts stock in a good conversation and sharing a hot meal anymore. You’re a hero of common decency.”
“Thank you,” Paulie said. “That’s exactly what I was going for when I threw that router at a moving vehicle.”
“That was your temper doing stupid shit as usual,” Tony said, rolling his eyes and walking back to the kitchen.
“I’d like to write an article on my blog about what you said and did tonight,” the guy said.
“What’s a blog?” Paulie asked.
“Web log,” the guy said. “I post two or three articles on the internet a week on local New Haven…”
“Ah fongool!” Paulie exclaimed, getting up and letting his ice pack fall to the floor. He pointed toward the door. “Get the fuck outta here!”
“My mother wouldn’t let us have lava lamps,” Rose said on Sunday night dinner with Helen, Da’Quarius, and Paulie. “She said you’d get high if you looked at them, and you’d be on harder drugs in no time.”
“Wow,” Helen said, putting a casserole plate of spaghetti and sausage on the table.
“That’s ridiculous,” Paulie said.
“So tell me how you got that black eye again,” Helen said. “Some idiot got out of his car and started a fight for no reason?”
“Weirdest thing,” Paulie said. “He thought I threw something at his car from my pizzeria. Don’t worry. Your baby brother held his own.”
“Good for you,” Helen said. “Guys like that need to be taught a lesson.”
“Can I make a toast before dinner since we’re all here?” Da’Quarius asked.
“You’re not getting booze,” Paulie said.
“I’ll use soda,” Da’Quarius said. He raised his glass of cola. “To Lotasha. Rest in peace, moms. I’m sorry.”
The others raised their glasses too. Paulie put his down and made the sign of the cross. “You did good, kid,” Paulie said.
Da’Quarius ate with his family as they talked and laughed. Even though she was almost never there for him, he still missed his mother. It was weird to think that she was gone. He felt that the doorbell would ring at any second, and she would come through with some kind of crazy scam that would turn their lives upside down one more time.