Tonight’s regularly scheduled programming will not be seen tonight, so we can bring you this special presentation of Freedom Lane.
The autumn sun had risen in New Haven, illuminating the East Rock neighborhood containing a little street called Freedom Lane. A blue jay landed on a branch, and it looked about its surroundings. Its brethren were all singing the morning away. The jay decided to join, adding its voice to the others.
A window opened, and the head of Helen Masters poked out. “CUT IT OUT WITH ALL THE DAMN TWEETING!”
The blue jay flew off, scared for its life, in search of somewhere else to make its voice heard.
“Friggin’ piece of shit birds,” Helen muttered, closing the window and going back inside. “They never give it a rest.”
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
Season 12 Special: Helen Punches a Nazi
Rose walked with her wife and life partner, Helen, along a path in East Rock Park, one she didn’t take often. “It’s such a lovely morning,” she said. “I’m so happy we’re having such a lovely fall.”
“This from the woman who keeps complaining it’s ‘unseasonably warm’ thanks to global whatever change,” Helen muttered. “Seventy-something years old, and you still care what happens to this filthy marble of ours.”
“I can’t say anything without you turning it into something negative,” Rose sighed. “All I’m saying is it’s a lovely day.”
“So dis where dat statue is?” Da’Quarius, Rose and Helen’s thirteen year old adopted son, asked. “Hessman wants us to do a report on it ‘fore dey tear it down.”
“That statue should have never gone up to begin with,” Rose said.
“Now whose turning stuff negative?” Helen asked. “You can’t delete the parts of history you don’t like because they’re ugly. You can’t stand that a confederate hero was from New Haven and they honored him with that statue. You just can’t pick and choose which parts of history you want to honor. F. Murray McGillicutty deserves that statue.”
“There are so many things wrong with your statement,” Rose said.
“Enlighten us,” Helen said. “The kid has a report to do after all.”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said, “an’ I haven’t been able to find anythin’ ‘bout dis dude.”
“That’s because he never existed,” Rose said. “Other than the confederacy being on the wrong side of history and not worthy of our honor, there was no Civil War hero named F. Murray McGillicutty. They had a contest in the eighties to determine who to honor with a statue, and a bunch of pranksters were able to get this made up ‘hero’ of theirs to win. This was before Google and the internet obviously. The City of New Haven has always been too proud to admit their mistake, and it’s been here ever since.”
“Up until the liberals in City Hall wanted it removed,” Helen said. “As if the confederacy never existed.”
“Nobody is saying they didn’t exist!” Rose snapped.
“You just said they didn’t!” Helen retorted.
“I said this confederate soldier never existed,” Rose said, “because he didn’t!”
“Then why do you care whether or not his statue gets taken down?” Helen asked. “If he never existed, then the statue shouldn’t matter.”
“Because the confederacy fought and killed for the rights to keep human beings as slaves!” Rose said. “It should be taken down regardless of whether or not F. Murray McGillicutty existed.”
Helen scoffed. “Thanks for making my point.”
“How did I do that?!” Rose exclaimed.
“Look,” Da’Quarius said, walking toward the statue. “What are all dose people doin’ here?”
Helen and Rose saw what Da’Quarius had: a group of people marching around the statue holding confederate or Nazi flags while shouting at another group. News stations were filming and trying to get interviews from each side.
“Looks like a party,” Helen said. “Rose, why don’t you go down there and tell them they’re fighting over nothing.”
“Look at this,” Paulie, owner of Paulie’s Pizza on State Street, said, reading the newspaper by the register of the pizzeria. “Everyone is still up in arms over these football players taking a knee during the national anthem.”
“Damn right they’re up in arms,” Tony said, kneading the dough in front of him. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not watching football anymore. They don’t deserve my money.”
“So your opting out of the Paulie’s NFL pool?” Paulie asked. “That’s good. It’ll be just me, Carlos, Sal, and Alice left.”
“I didn’t say that!” Tony replied. “I’m ahead in that pool! You better keep me in.”
“Madon,” Paulie said. “You got no problem taking money off them I see.”
“And you have no problem with them disrespecting the flag, the country, and those who served,” Tony said. “They’re disrespecting their president too!”
“Them kneeling had nothing to do with any of that,” Paulie said. “President Ding-a-ling for Brains and Vice Ding-a-ling for Brains decided to make it about themselves. The players were kneeling because of police brutality. Ah fongool! Why am I even bothering with you today?! You never listen to reason.”
“When’s the kid coming in?” Tony asked. “I’ll get his opinion on the whole thing. Black opinions matter after all.”
“I’m done with this conversation,” Paulie said, tucking the paper under his arm and heading toward the bathroom. “You’re a friggin’ stunad.”
“I’ll be here when you get out,” Tony said, starting to toss the dough, “making sense as usual.”
“Look at that,” Helen said. “Who do those bastards think they are, waving around the Nazi flag like that?!”
“I thought you were all for their cause,” Rose said.
“I’m all about people using their freedom of speech to keep this statue up,” Helen said, “but not if you’re a friggin’ Nazi.”
“Didn’t you try to join a Nazi gang in prison?” Rose asked.
“That’s different and you know it,” Helen said. “Being a Nazi on the inside is about protection.”
“They’re comin’ over,” Da’Quarius said. “My report is gonna be so good!”
“Are you here with us or the Antifa?” one of the protesters, an overweight man in a button-down plaid shirt asked. He had a black arm band with a swastika on it.
“What’s ‘antifa’?” Da’Quarius asked.
“It’s those asshole protestors stomping on everyone’s free speech,” Helen said. “See them over there, yelling and shouting violently.”
“It means they’re ‘anti-fascism’,” Rose said, “which isn’t a bad thing. So it looks like you have no side here, Helen.”
“Bah!” Helen said, waving a hand. “Everyone is a bunch of assholes.”
“Hey!” the protester exclaimed. “Don’t disrespect our cause!”
“I’m disrespecting you!” Helen snapped. “You young assholes slap swastikas all over everything, forgetting that we had a whole war dedicated to wiping out those Nazi assholes. Maybe you don’t remember, but some of us do.”
“Damn, Helen,” Da’Quarius said. “You tell ‘im!”
The protester turned toward Da’Quarius. “You don’t know shit ‘bout General McGillicutty,” he said. “So why don’t you shut your mouth you little ni-”
Helen’s arm moved quicker than Da’Quarius had ever seen, and she hit the protester in the nose. He staggered backward, blood pouring down his face. He fell on his backside, holding his face. “You bitch!” he he said.
“And don’t forget it,” Helen said.
“Helen,” Rose said, watching the others watch them. Some had cellphones out, taping or taking pictures. “I think we need to start walking back to the car.”
“Fine,” Helen said. “My friggin’ fist hurts anyways. I’m too old to be punching out loud-mouthed assholes.”
Da’Quarius walked into Paulie’s Pizza. “Unca Paulie!” he called. “Where you at? You ain’t gonna believe what Helen did this time!”
“He’s on the phone with some supplier,” Tony said, coming from the back. “Or so he says. He might be on the phone with some chick he doesn’t want me to know about.”
“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “I guess I’ll wait.”
“So what did Helen do?” Tony asked. “I want know.”
“Wait for Paulie,” Da’Quarius said. “I want him to hear first.”
“Alright,” Tony said, nodding. “While I got you here, let me ask you something.”
“Go ahead,” Da’Quarius said.
“What’s your take on this whole thing with the football players kneeling for the national anthem?” Tony asked. “Does that piss you off, or no?”
“What da’ fuck you tryin’ to do?” Da’Quarius asked. “You tryin’ to bait me into another fuckin’ debate?”
“No,” Tony replied. “I genuinely want to know how you feel about the players disrespecting President Trump.”
“Fuck Trump,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis shit wasn’t ‘bout him, and he went an’ made it ‘bout himself! Fuckin’ cracker ass mo’ fucker pisses me da’ fuck off with dat shit!”
“You talkin’ to Paulie about this?” Tony said. “He said almost the exact same thing, word for word.”
“Because Paulie knows what da’ fuck’s goin’ on!” Da’Quarius exclaimed.
“Let me ask you one more thing,” Tony said. “You gonna take a knee the next time you play basketball?”
“I got a game tonight, bitch,” Da’Quarius said. “And I just might take a fuckin’ knee just to show you what’s what, mo’ fucker!”
“OH!” Paulie shouted, coming from his office. “They can hear you two down the friggin’ street. What are you shouting and swearing about?”
“No way,” Tony said, walking back toward the kitchen. “I’m not getting teamed up on by you guys. Nuts to this whole thing!”
“You brought it up!” Da’Quarius shouted after Tony.
Tony waved a hand as he disappeared into the back.
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “What’s up, kid? How’d the trip to the park go with Rose and Helen? You get lots of notes for your report?”
“Oh shit,” Da’Quarius said. “ Tony distracted me. You gotta hear what Helen did.”
“Wait!” Tony said, running from the back and nearly tripping as he circled around the counter. “I gotta hear this too!”
Helen held the ice pack on her right hand with her left, sitting in her chair. “Flip the channels for me, Rose,” she said.
“No,” Rose said. “You did that to yourself.”
Helen sighed. “You people are all about doing the right thing until someone comes along and does it,” she said. “You just wanted me to stand there and let some Nazi talk to Da’Quarius like that?”
“No,” Rose said. “But you didn’t have to punch him.”
“This is America,” Helen said. “Every one of us has the right to punch Nazis if we come across one.”
Rose sighed. “I don’t even know why I’m arguing,” she sad. “It’s not like he didn’t deserve it.”
“He did,” Helen said, nodding.
“I guess I don’t like seeing you hurt like this,” Rose said.
“It’s fine,” Helen said. “I’ll just be sore for a bit, but it’s worth the pain, knowing I did my part to punch Nazis in the face.”
“I’m just glad nobody saw us,” Rose said, turning on the TV. The news was on, and there was an image of Helen standing over the protester she had just punched. “Oh hell.”
“Damn,” Helen said. “This is going to ruin my rep if I ever end up back in prison.”
Da’Quarius was came out with the rest of school’s basketball team, The Haven Hill Woodchucks. The day had been a fury of excitement. Helen had punched the Nazi, he had only been able to outline his report, Paulie had gone nuts when he saw Helen on the news, and Rose was now teetering between praising Helen for standing against the Nazi and scolding her for everything else.
And on top of all of it, The City of New Haven had cancelled the the statue removal, do in part to the “violence caught on tape” at the protest earlier that day.
“Please stand for the national anthem,” the schools sport announcer said. Da’Quarius was already standing in front of his bench with his teammates when the national anthem started. He stood there, unfazed by anything. Then something caught his eye.
Tony was sitting in the stands waving to him. Once he was sure Da’Quarius was looking, he pointed to his knee, laughing hysterically.
“You dirty mo’ fucker,” Da’Quarius said. “You fucked if you think I won’t.” Da’Quarius knelt, keeping eye contact with Tony, who was nearly falling over laughing, eliciting dirty looks from those unfortunate enough to sit near him. Soon, everyone was looking at Da’Quarius, murmuring and whispering.
“You like dis?” Da’Quarius said, staring into Tony’s gleeful face as the national anthem ended. “Dis what gets yo’ rocks off?”
A hand grasped Da’Quarius’s shoulder, and he was pulled back by his coach. “What’s the meaning of this, Masters?!” Coach Dingwall growled.
“Peaceful protest,” Da’Quarius said. “Do somethin’.”
“How the hell did you get kicked off the team⁈” Helen exclaimed after Da’Quarius game home from his game early.
“I took a knee durin’ da’ anthem,” Da’Quarius said. “Coach Dingwall went ape shit ‘bout it.”
“You have no right disrespecting our national anthem and commander in chief like that!” Helen snapped. “You’re grounded!”
“No he is not!” Rose retorted. “Da’Quarius was peacefully protesting the treatment of African Americans. The City decided to leave that racist monument of that pretend confederate soldier up, and he was making his voice heard in his own way.”
“He didn’t say that,” Helen said. “How do you know that’s why he did it?”
Helen and Rose looked at Da’Quarius, waiting to hear way.
“Rose is right,” Da’Quarius said. “I was protesting dat damn statue.” He decided it was better than telling them that Tony had goaded him into it.
“Besides,” Rose continued, “weren’t you protesting the Nazis earlier today by punching one?”
“That’s different,” Helen said, waving a hand at her wife.
“How’s it different?” Rose asked.
“Because I punched a Nazi,” Helen said. “How am I still explaining this?”
“I’Il be calling your school first thing on Monday morning,” Rose said, looking back toward Da’Quarius. “There’s no reason to keep you off the team for this.”
“Kaepernick ain’t playin’ yet,” Da’Quarius said. “So I won’t get my hopes up.”
“I have a special announcement,” Principal Johnston said during his morning briefing during Da’Quarius’s homeroom period in Mr. Hessman’s classroom. “Under no circumstances will any student not stand during the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem during any school related function. Any student doing this in the future will not only be ejected from whatever team they’re on, but they will be suspended from school. Now please rise for the pledge of allegiance.”
The students in the classroom all stood for the pledge, and Da’Quarius did too out of habit. Hessman caught his eye, standing behind his desk. “Scream this is bullshit,” he said softly.
Da’Quarius smiled. “Dis some bullshit!” he shouted, taking a knee.
“I stand with you, Da’Quarius!” Hessman said, taking a knee as well.
“You ain’t standin’ at all,” Da’Quarius said.
“Don’t worry,” Hessman said, smiling. “They can’t suspend us both.”
Da’Quarius gave Hessman a nod, silently thanking him for his support.
Everyone in class looked back and forth from Hessman to Da’Quarius as they knelt during the principal’s reading of the pledge of allegiance. “What are you waiting for?” Hessman asked. “Go ahead and text your parents about this, you over-privileged brats!”
The doorbell rang, waking Helen from her mid-morning nap in her recliner. “What’s that?!” she snapped as Da’Quarius’s dog, Dutchie, ran around, barking at the door. “Will you shut that dog up?!”
“I’ll take him to the backyard,” Rose said, coming in and pulling Dutchie away from the door by his collar. “You see who’s there. Come on, boy. Let’s go outside.”
“Dammit,” Helen said, getting up with a groan as Rose nearly dragged the pitbull terrier toward the backdoor in the kitchen. “That friggin’ dog is gonna give me a heart attack someday.” She walked to the door and opened it. A man and a woman were standing on the porch. “What do you want? I got a religion, and I’m not interested in buying a new one.”
“We’re from the New Haven Herald,” the man said. “Can we come in? We want to talk to you about what happened on Saturday.”
“Shit,” Helen muttered. “Someone noticed me on TV and ratted me out for punching that Nazi asshole, right? Was it Harold Fuchs?”
“We can’t divulge that information,” the woman said.
“Friggin’ Harold,” Helen said. “Tell him I’m going to get him back for this bullshit.”
“Who’s at the door?” Rose said, coming back after successfully getting Dutchie into the backyard, where he was barking up a storm for the whole neighborhood to hear.
“Reporters,” Helen said, turning around. “Two of the nosey bastards too. Harold tipped them off on how to find me.”
“We didn’t say that name,” the woman at the door said.
“There’s no story here,” Helen said. “I punched a Nazi. So friggin’ what? Everyone should punch a Nazi the minute the situation presents itself, regardless of what else is going on around you.”
“I hate to agree,” Rose said, “but the last thing we need is this family going through the media wringer over anything so silly.”
“Well,” Da’Quarius said, shoving past the reporters with Mr. Hessman behind him. “Me an’ Hess got suspended for takin’ a knee durin’ da’ pledge of allegiance at school. So dat happened.”
“Really?” the male reporter asked, taking a pad of paper out of his pocket. “What school was this.”
“Are you with the press?” Hessman asked.
“Yes we are,” the reporter replied.
“Good,” Hessman said, looking at the reporters. “This whole thing started with that damn statue of F. Murray McGillicutty…”
Helen looked at Rose an amused look on her face.
“Alright,” Rose sighed. “I guess we’re going through the media wringer. I don’t know why you’re looking so smug when you didn’t want this either.”
Helen shrugged. “Now it’s funny,” she said.
“How’s me bein’ suspended fo’ protestin’ funny?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Whoa!” Hessman said, turning away from the reporter. “I’m getting to all that. I’m still at Saturday’s protest.”
“Hot damn,” Helen said, sitting next to Hessman. “Get to the part where I punched the Nazi.”
Rose and Da’Quarius looked at each other and shrugged in unison.
“Da’Quarius is on the news!” Tony exclaimed roaring with laughter as cellphone-taken pictures of Da’Quarius kneeling was shown on the news at noon. “What a jabronie!”
“What did you just call him?” Paulie asked.
“A jabronie,” Tony replied.
“I better not find out that’s a racial slur,” Paulie said. “Why’s my nephew on the news?”
“He knelt at his basketball game,” Tony said. “They apparently suspended him from school along with one of his teachers.”
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “What’s everyone gotten themselves into lately? Helen’s punching Nazis, Rose is protesting about statues, and now the kid’s suspended from school. I’m going to have to intervene here.”
“Do it,” Tony said. “Intervene on all of those jabronies.”
“OK,” Paulie said, looking away from the TV and toward Tony. “I don’t what that word means, but If you use it when describing my family one more time I’m going to take you outside and beat it out of you.”
Paulie burst into his sister’s house. “Alright,” he said. “We’re putting an end to this nonsense right the frig now.”
“Hello to you too,” Helen said. “I don’t suppose you want to join us for lunch.”
“Is everything OK?” Rose asked.
“No,” Paulie said. “Everything is not OK. In the last three days you guys have gotten knee deep in this bullshit, and I’m here to help put an end to it!”
“You already missed the reporters,” Hessman said from his spot on the couch.
“What are you even doing here?” Paulie asked.
“I don’t want to go home yet,” Hessman replied. “My wife doesn’t know I’m suspended from work, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“By all means,” Helen said, rolling her eyes. “Be our guest.”
“It’s the least you can do after Da’Quarius got me suspended along with him,” Hessman said.
“Da’ fuck?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “I didn’t force you to do shit. You knelt during da’ pledge an’ told e’ryone to text their parents, you lyin’ bitch.”
“Either way,” Hessman said. “We’re here now, up shit’s creek.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Paulie said. “I want to help you find a paddle.”
“And I know where to start,” Rose said. “We’re taking down that racist monument to that fake soldier ourselves.”
Everyone turned to look at Rose. “Shit,” Helen said. “We’ve brought my little anarchist out of her shell.”
“Remind me again,” Da’Quarius said as the sun set. He was in Hessman’s car, sitting in the back while Rose took up the passenger side seat. “How does blowin’ up dis statue get me unsuspended from school?”
“It’s just step one,” Hessman said. “We get rid of that pretend asshole’s statue, and we claim someone righted the wrong of history.”
“And that’s why Helen is home with Paulie right now,” Rose added. “We don’t need her sabotaging us to save the statue.”
“What?” Hessman asked. “I thought she was on our side. Didn’t she pop that Nazi at the protest?”
“She’s kind of in favor of leaving the statue,” Rose said. “She just hates Nazis.”
“Unless she’s in prison,” Da’Quarius added. “Den she’s OK hangin’ with ’em.”
“Of course,” Hessman said, slowing the car and pulling up to the curb. “It’s blend or be killed on the inside.”
Rose sighed. “Are you sure we can get what we need here?”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius replied. “Flounder’s dad is da’ guy to see ’bout anything you need you can’t get from Star-Mart. I guarantee he can get us da’ explosives. An’ he knows how to keep his mouth shut too.”
Rose sighed again. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said.
“Believe it,” Hessman said, getting out of the car in front of Kwok’s Dry Cleaning. “McGillicutty needs to die tonight.”
“Fuck yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Let’s kill dat fake-ass bitch.”
“He’s going to turn my Rose against me!” Helen said, slamming a fist against the kitchen table. “You’ll see. F. Murray McGilliCutty has to stay! My marriage is doomed without it.”
“Even you can’t believe that,” Paulie said, sitting across Helen, his arms crossed, and empty plate in front of him. “Rose was for that statue coming down from day one. She even got signatures at the library for the petition.”
“That sly woman,” Helen said. “She did it at the library: the one place she knows I won’t go.”
“I don’t get why you’re so involved with keeping this statue up,” Paulie said. “I’m all for preserving history, but this guy isn’t even real. Even if he was: the confederacy was pretty bad, right? You’re on the same side as that Nazi guy you punched out.”
“I’ll never be on the same side as a Nazi,” Helen muttered.
“Well you are,” Paulie said.
“And you people have done a fine job to distract me from strapping the shit out of Da’Quarius,” Helen continued.
“For what?” Paulie asked.
“For disrespecting our country, our president, and those who served,” Helen said. “This is why I stopped watching football.”
“You watch football?” Paulie asked. “Since when?”
“Not the point,” Helen said, waving a hand. “The point is that Da’Quarius is lucky all he got was suspended. When I finally get around to it, I’m going to beat him raw.”
“No you’re not,” Paulie said. “He did nothing wrong. He’s protesting the fact that New Haven is caving to the demands of racist protestors by leaving that friggin’ statue up. And he’s doing a lot more peacefully than your buddies who have been making a racist mess in East Rock Park over it, too.”
“That’s it,” Helen said, getting up. “If I can rally the protesters I can get make sure Rose and the others can’t get close to F. Murray McGillicutty to blow him up!”
“Sit down,” Paulie said, standing up too. “You’re not going…” He wavered on his feet. “What’s going on?”
“You like that sandwich I made you?” Helen asked. “I crushed up the contents of Tuesday’s pills in with the mayo.”
“Shit,” Paulie said, sitting back down, nearly falling to the floor. “You take this much shit daily?”
“I’m going now,” Helen said. “Don’t try to get up. You’ll fall on your face.”
“What are you doing?” Paulie asked, trying to get up anyway, grasping the table when his legs failed him.
“I’m going to get this statue to stay up and save my marriage,” Helen said.
“Wouldn’t it be better to agree to have it taken down?” Paulie suggested. “That’s probably the easier way to save Rose and your relationship.”
“What do you know?” Helen said, going to the den to leave. “You’re hopped up on pills.”
“Helen!” Paulie called.
“I’m taking your car!” Helen shouted in return.
Paulie turned to go after her and fell to the floor. “Shit,” he muttered, his eyes closing as he failed to stay awake. “Not my caddy…”
“So that’s what you need?” Mr. Kwok asked, looking at the trio in front of him in the back room of his day cleaner. “Just enough dynamite to destroy a statue?”
“Yes,” Hessman answered. “A few sticks should be OK.”
Mr. Kwok laughed. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to find dynamite?” he asked.
“Yes,” Hessman replied. “That’s why we came to you.”
“Can you help us or not?” Rose asked. “We’ll take anything you got that can take that statue down.”
“We gonna turn dat bitch to rubble,” Da’Quarius said.
“Aren’t you Flounder’s friend?” Mr. Kwok asked.
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “We’ve met like a hundred times.”
“I don’t have dynamite,” Mr. Kwok said. “But I can whip you up something better if you give me a few minutes.”
“Hi, Rose,” a Korean woman said, passing by with a basket full of clothes.
“Hi, Hyun-a,” Rose replied.
“You know her?” Hessman asked.
“She’s kind of my step-mother,” Rose said.
“An’ her half-sister,” Da’Quarius added, “making her my auntie-grandma. We gave her to Mr. Kwok to work an’ live here cuz we didn’t have room for her.”
“He doesn’t need to know all that,” Rose said.
“I do need to hear how that happened at some point,” Hessman said, “but first I want to know about what you have for us, Mr. Kwok.”
Mr. Kwok smiled. “I work with a lot of volatile chemicals here,” he said. “I can make a solution that will melt that statue into a puddle of goo in minutes.”
“An’ how are we gonna get it there?” Da’Quarius asked. “I loaned my only acid shippin’ container out, an’ I haven’t gotten it back yet.”
“My son and I will deliver it,” Mr. Kwok said. “Now to discuss how you plan on paying for this…”
“Do you take credit card?” Hessman asked.
“Anything but Discover,” Mr. Kwok replied.
A Cadillac pulled into he park, driving over the grass, flattening the bushes under its tires. The protesters, who were leaving after a long day of defending the great statue of F. Murray McGillicutty from being taken down once again, parted ways as the huge car came to stop, leaning against a small tree. The driver side door opened, and an old woman walked out. “Good evening, fuckers,” Helen said. “Where in the hell do you think you’re all going?”
“We’re packing it up,” once of the protesters said. “We’ve been here all day, and McGillicutty is safe. Besides, nobody has bothered us in the last couple of days. I think the fanfare has died down, and we can finally go back to our normal lives.”
“Before you head back to your mom’s basement to polish your knobs,” Helen said, approaching the crowd, holding a crowbar for protection, “I want you to know that the statue is in danger, tonight.”
“What are you talking about?” the protestor asked.
“Hippies are coming, my dear,” Helen replied, “three of them. And they intend to blast this piece of American history to smithereens.”
“What do we do?” the protester asked.
“Here,” Helen said, shuffling to the back of the Cadillac and opening the trunk. “Take these torches. Rose buys them every spring and puts them all over the yard. My shed’s full of them.”
“Who’s Rose?” the protester asked, taking the tiki torches Helen was handing him and passing them around. “And why does this whole thing seem familiar.”
“Don’t worry about any of that,” Helen replied. “Just light those torches up and get back to McGillicutty. We’re going to save his ass tonight!”
“I still don’t get it,” Da’Quarius said, walking through East Rock Park with Rose and Hessman. “Why does Helen love dis statue so much?”
“You know Helen,” Rose replied. “She has trouble letting go of the past sometimes.”
“This is part of a past we need to forget,” Hessman said. “Even if it started as a bad joke.”
“What past, doe?” Da’Quarius asked. “Helen never fought in da’ Civil War. She ain’t even from da’ south. What history does she have with dis dumb-ass statue?”
“There’s something she’ll never admit,” Rose said, “something she doesn’t even know that I know. You see, Helen -”
“Here we are,” Hessman interrupted, making his way into the clearing with the statue in its center. “How long until Kwok gets here?”
“Long enough for you to let Rose finish tellin’ me Helen’s secret,” Da’Quarius said. “What happened, Rose?”
“I tried to win that contest to chose the statue,” Rose said. “I wanted so badly for it to be John Lennon. I collected ballots from everyone, all over New Haven. But Helen had a bet with some cousin of hers that she could get an imaginary confederate soldier to win. She wanted so badly to win that she stole and forged all the ballots I had collected, changing John Lennon to F. Murray McGillicutty. She even paid off a librarian to confirm his existence in history.”
“That’s diabolical,” Hessman said. “Why didn’t you stop her?”
“She was so happy,” Rose said. “And I have to admit I thought it was funny at the time, despite my want for a Lennon statue. So I let it go. This came during a low point in Helen’s life, and she needed a win. She had given me her life despite it all, and I figured giving her the statue was a small price to pay for what she had given me in spades. I just had no idea it would come to this, decades later.”
“That’s why it means so much to her,” Hessman said. “It’s quite the accomplishment to pull a prank of this magnitude, and to have your trophy for it on display for all to see. I’m actually impressed.”
“But it needs to come down,” Rose said. “The joke is over. Nobody gets it anymore.”
“Wait,” Da’Quarius said. “How’s dis all gonna get our suspension lifted again?”
“I don’t know,” Hessman said. “There’d be nothing to kneel over anymore, hence nothing to suspend us for.”
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Since we confessin’ an’ shit, I might as well tell you dat I only kneeled cuz Tony said I didn’t have the balls to do it. Da’ second time I did it so I wouldn’t look like a bitch in front of da’ whole class.”
“I got suspended over a dare?!” Hessman exclaimed.
“I didn’t make you do it too!” Da’Quarius retorted.
Rose gave a short laugh. “You’re just like Helen,” she said. “I swear I wouldn’t be surprised if you were related by blood.”
“I gotta admit, doe,” Da’Quarius said, “it felt good standin’ up for somethin’. Kneelin, I mean.”
“Someone’s coming,” Hessman said. A white pickup truck backed up to the statue, a large, blue, plastic drum in the back, strapped and tied carefully to the sides of the truck bed.
“It’s Flounder’s dad with the acid,” Da’Quarius said.
“That’s a lot of acid considering how cheap it was,” Hessman said.
“OK,” Mr. Kwok said, getting out of the truck. Flounder came from the passenger side, walking around to the back with his father. “We’ll lower it right here for you.”
“I just thought of something,” Da’Quarius said as Mr. Kwok and Flounder worked on carefully getting the plastic drum off the truck. “How are we gonna dump it over da’ statue?”
Rose and Hessman looked at the statue. “Can we put it in the drum?” Hessman asked.
“It won’t fit,” Rose said. “Besides, how would we lower it in?”
“Hey Kwok,” Hessman said as Mr. Kwok and his son finished lowering the drum. “How are we supposed to do this?”
“Not my problem,” Mr. Kwok said, popping the top off of the drum. “Thanks for helping me dispose of some old chemicals. Don’t breathe those acid fumes in too long. You’ll get cancer.”
A commotion came from their left as the protesters returned, lit tiki torches in their hands. They were led by Helen, walking toward F. Murray McGillicutty with a passion.
“It’s highly flammable too, by the way,” Mr. Kwok said. “Come on, Flounder. We’re going home.”
“Bye, Daq,” Flounder said.
“GET IN THE DAMN TRUCK!” Mr. Kwok shouted.
Helen led her small army to the statue, but Rose and the others had beaten her there. “It’s over,” she said. “Walk away from McGillicutty and forget all this nonsense.”
“Yo,” Da’Quarius said, backing up. “You crackas best keep yo’ torches away from dat acid.”
“McGillicutty stays!” Helen exclaimed triumphantly, walking up to the others as the protesters milled about.
“Tell her, Rose,” Hessman said. “It might be the only way to stop her.”
“Tell me what?” Helen asked.
Rose sighed. “I know this was you,” she said.
“What was?” Helen asked.
“This statue,” Rose replied. “I know you took my ballots for John Lennon and wrote in F. Murray McGillicutty. And I know at the time you needed this after being an ex-con who couldn’t find work, so I didn’t say anything. But look at the life we have now. We still have each other, and we have Da’Quarius now.”
“But it’s F. Murray McGillicutty,” Helen said, “Civil War hero.”
“He’s become a beacon of hate,” Rose said. “He served his purpose all those years ago. It’s time to let him go.”
“I guess I’ll always cherish the memories of F. Murray McGillicutty’s history,” Helen said. “The time he let bears loose on Union soldiers, sleeping with Abraham Lincoln’s wife, and dressing chickens in confederate uniforms.”
“And people believed dis mo’ fucker was real?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Thank you,” Rose said, putting her arms around Helen and hugging her. “Can we go home now?”
“No!” a voice exclaimed from behind them. “You rallied us all here! We’re going to protect McGillicutty!”
“News flash, numb nuts,” Helen said, turning around. “I made the whole thing up thirty-something years ago, and idiots like you bought into it. We’re done here. Go home and fuck your pillow.”
“Helen!” Rose said.
“What?” Helen said with a shrug. “He probably does.”
“We will persevere!” another shouted, wearing a white tank top with a swastika crudely drawn on it.
“I don’t care if he’s made up. The loss of McGillicutty is a loss for the white man!” There were murmurs of agreement from behind him.
“Again with the Nazis,” Helen sighed walking up to him. “Fuck the white man then.”
She uppercut the Nazi, sending his head back in a snap. He flailed, the tiki torch flying from his hand. “Oh shit!” Da’Quarius shouted as the torch landed in the blue drum. A fireball shot out, engulfing F. Murray McGillicutty in liquid flame. Black smoke filled the night sky as it burned, along with the drum of acid, like a pillar of flame.
“What the hell is in that barrel?” Helen asked.
“We’ll tell you later,” Da’Quarius said. “Right now we should be getting da’ fuck outta here.”
“Right,” Helen said. “Someone help me get Paulie’s car home.”
“Where’s Paulie?” Rose asked.
“Asleep on the kitchen floor,” Helen said. “We should take the kid’s advice and get the fuck out of here, though. Worry about Paulie later. It’s not like he’ll remember much.”
Paulie opened his eyes, and the world came into focus. He didn’t remember the last time he has slept so long or so deeply. He looked around, realizing he had woken up on the couch in his sister’s house on Freedom Lane, fully clothed.
And he had no idea why.
“Look who’s finally up,” Helen said from her recliner. “You have a good nap?”
“What happened?” Paulie asked. “The last thing I remember is sitting with you.”
“You fell asleep right at the kitchen table,” Helen said. “I couldn’t even move you. I had to wait for the others to come home to move you to the couch.”
“Wait,” Paulie said. “I was supposed to keep you from leaving. Did you drug me?”
“Me?” Helen asked. “You think I’d drug my own baby brother?”
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “You did drug me. At least tell me what I missed.”
“Is the news on yet?” Da’Quarius said, coming in from the kitchen. “Hey. Paulie’s up!”
“Oh good,” Rose said. “I was worried Helen put you in a coma.”
“I just got off the phone with Johnston,” Hessman said, coming in from outside. “We can go back to school tomorrow, and we can kneel all we want. Turns out there’s hell to pay for suspending one of the few black students for essentially doing nothing wrong. Flounder got suspended for doing it today, though. He’ll be out for a month.”
“A whole month?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “Lucky. I only got two days off!”
“Shut up,” Helen snapped. “The news is on!”
“Our top story today,” the handsome anchorman said, “is the destruction of the F. Murray McGillicutty statue in East Rock Park in New Haven. Alt-right protesters accidentally set the statue ablaze while trying to light a drum fire for a night of protest. Fire fighters were called to put out the blaze…”
“Figures,” Helen said, crossing her arms. “The liberal media falsely places the blame yet again.”
“Would you rather we take the blame?” Rose asked.
“No,” Helen pouted. “Friggin’ fake news.”
“Hey, Hess,” Da’Quarius said, “do I still have to do dat report?”
“Not if I can stay here until four or so,” Hessman replied. “My wife still doesn’t know I got suspended.”
“The City of New Haven had issued a statement,” the anchorman continued, an image of the smoldering mass that used to be the statue behind him. “They say the statue if F. Murray McGillicutty will not be replaced.”
“Well,” Paulie said. “I’m glad that’s over. Now we can get back to normal. I should go to work and see what Tony -“
The door opened and Tony barged in. “You gotta come to work, boss!”
“I was just saying that, you stunad,” Paulie said. “What kind of trouble have you gotten into?”
“I did an F. Murray McGillicutty special and served burnt pizza,” Tony said. “Now all these Nazis are pissed.”
Paulie groaned. “Again with these friggin’ Nazi mooks. Let me get my shoes on.”