Freedom Lane – Da’Quarius Needs to Read

It was a sunny Saturday morning on Freedom Lane in New Haven. There was nothing out of the ordinary that morning. There were no wacky adventures, no compelling twists, no excitement of any kind.

“Do you want?” Rose asked, walking up to the table with a plate containing a stack of toast.

“None of that sweet stuff for me,” Helen said, stirring her Metamucil.

“I’ll take some jelly,” Da’Quarius said, grabbing a couple of pieces of toast and dropping them on the table next to his bowl of cereal.

Rose sighed and got a plate from the cupboard, putting in front of Da’Quarius. He moved the toast to the plate as Rose got a jar of strawberry jelly from the refrigerator. “It’s so nice to have a day where nothing needs to be done,” she said. “Don’t you agree, Da’Quarius?”

“Oh shit!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “I got a book report to do!”

“And screaming like a ninny about it is the best way to go about getting it done, apparently,” Helen added, sipping her Metamucil.

****

Freedom Lane

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow

Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

Season 14, Episode 5: Da’Quarius Needs to Read

****

“What’s your book about?” Rose asked, finding Da’Quarius in the den after breakfast, reading on the couch.

“It’s ‘bout a boy on his farm,” Da’Quarius said. “He’s raisin’ a puppy an’ shit.”

“The dog dies,” Helen said, coming into the den behind Rose.

“Dammit, biddy!” Da’Quarius shouted, closing his book. “How am I s’posed to read dis when you comin’ in an’ spoilin’ da’ endin’ an’ shit.”

“She’s never read it,” Rose said.

“Every book with a dog in it ends with the dog dying.” Helen sat in her recliner. “Old Yeller and Lassie both died.”

“Lassie didn’t die,” Rose said. “You never even read the book the show was based on.”

“Lassie was a book?” Helen asked. “I always thought he was some dog who helped that little shit get out of the well.”

“Lassie was based on a book,” Rose muttered. “And she was a girl.”

“No he wasn’t,” Helen said. “Lassie was definitely a boy.”

“Lassie was a female dog,” Rose said. “Her name was Lassie. That literally means she’s a girl.”

“Call her a bitch,” Helen said.

“No,” Rose said.

“You’re saying Lassie was a bitch,” Helen said. “Say it.”

Rose sighed. “Yes,” she said. “Technically, Lassie was a bitch.”

Helen cackled with laughter, and Da’Quarius got up with his book. “I gotta go,” he said.

“Where are you going?” Rose asked.

“I dunno,” Da’Quarius replied. “Maybe I can read at Paulie’s or head to the library or somethin’. I need some quiet to read so I can write da’ report tomorrow.”

“Go to the library,” Helen said. “Tell that piece of shit librarian I said hi.”

“How do you know the librarian?” Rose asked.

“Joan Potter?” Helen asked. “She’s an old friend, but she’s as cold as a nun’s nasty.”

“What’s that even mean?!” Rose said. “Where do you come up with these sayings?”

“Later, biddies,” Da’Quarius said, putting on his Vagabond Saints hat and leaving.

“That kid and the shit he gets himself into,” Helen said, shaking her head.

“He’s only reading,” Rose answered.

“That goddamn, mother-fucking kid,” Helen said, finishing her Metamucil in one long pull.

“Oh, Helen,” Rose groaned. “What is with you today?”

“Take me upstairs and find out,” Helen said, leaning forward and leering at Rose.

***

It was a normal late Saturday morning at Paulie’s Pizza. The pizzeria’s owner, Paulie, and his friend and associate, Tony, were getting the place ready for the day. Da’Quarius came in, toting his book in his left hand. “Da’Quarius!” Paulie greeted. “What are you doing here? I thought I told you to take the morning off.”

“I need somewhere to read dis book,” Da’Quarius replied. “Da’ biddies ain’t givin’ me a moment of quiet. Can I try an’ get some done here while it’s not busy?”

“Sure, kid,” Paulie said, “but I’m putting Tony in charge for most of the day.”

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “What are you doin’ dat you gotta put Tony in charge on a Saturday an’ shit?”

“Don’t worry about it, kid.” Paulie checked his watch. “Shit. I gotta go. Hey, Tony!”

“Yeah, boss?” Tony said, coming from the back, wiping his hands on his apron.

“The kid is gonna read here for a bit,” Paulie replied. “Leave him alone and let him do it.”

“You tell him about your community service?” Tony asked.

“You got community service, Unca Paulie?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Yeah.” Tony answered for Paulie. “He’s embarrassed after busting my balls about my community service, and now he has it for slapping around a couple of kids at the supermarket.”

“I don’t want this discussed!” Paulie snapped.

Da’Quarius sighed, closing his book. “Alright,” he said. “I know I’m s’posed to be readin’, but I gotta hear dis first.”

“It’s nothing!” Paulie snapped. “These two mooks were harassing a retarded bagboy at the Stop N’ Shop, and I had some words with them. They didn’t like it, and I slapped one of them in the back of the head. Their parents were there, and all hell broke loose. What kind of teenager hangs out with their parents at the supermarket anyway? And what kind of parent lets their kid talk to a retarded bagboy that way?!”

“He’s a knight in retarded armor,” Tony said, beaming.

“I told you not to use that word!” Paulie shouted, pointing in Tony’s face.

“You used it twice!” Tony retorted.

“Not in the same way you did!” Paulie exclaimed.

“You used to call my cousin that back in the day too,” Tony added, “so don’t act all high and mighty now, you hypocrite!”

“I gotta go,” Paulie groaned. “I don’t have time for this nonsense. Stay here as long as you like, kid.”

“Thanks,” Da’Quarius said, settling in and opening his book again.

***

Da’Quarius was able to read for an entire three minutes before Tony came charging out of the kitchen again. “Hey, kid,” he said. “What gives with the reading.”

“I have to write a report on dis book tomorrow,” Da’Quarius said.

“What’s it about?” Tony asked.

“So far it’s ‘bout a boy an’ his dog,” Da’Quarius replied, “but I dunno what else happens since nobody will let me read it.”

“I bet you ten bucks the dog dies in the end,” Tony said.

“Dammit, Tony,” Da’Quarius said. “I really gotta read dis.”

“Fine,” Tony said, “but I don’t get it. Why read it when you can probably just see the movie? It seems like a waste of a day to have your face buried in a book when you’d only need a couple of hours to stare at the screen. A book’s just a written list of stuff you can watch on TV anyway.”

“Not e’ryone likes screens all da’ damn time,” Da’Quarius muttered. “I really need to read dis, doe.”

“OK,” Tony said, walking back into the kitchen. “Then read, you little mook. No one’s stopping you.”

Da’Quarius sighed and focused on his reading again, restarting the page he was on. He almost got halfway down the page before Tony returned from the kitchen. “Remember that Chris Rock bit?” he asked. “Books are like kryptonite to n-words.”

“Gotdammit!” Da’Quarius snapped.

“What?” Tony asked. “He’s the one who said it. I censored the bad word! You’re as bad as Paulie not letting me say ‘retard’ and then repeating it. I’m sure you’re gonna go say the n-word all the live long friggin’ day long. ”

“I’m outta here,” Da’Quarius said. “Maybe I can sit and read at the library.”

“What?” Tony asked. “Like one of those homeless mooks?”

“No,” Da’Quarius said, walking toward the door. “Like a guy who needs to read a fuckin’ book without some asshole makin’ commentary an’ shit.” He left with a jingle of the bells.

“What I say?” Tony asked. “Friggin’ kid got anger problems or something.”

***

It was a quiet Saturday in the East Rock Library, and especially quiet in a small corner by the mystery section where a couple of comfy chairs were set up with a round table and a potted plant between them. In one of the chairs sat Da’Quarius, who was reading about a simple farm boy and his trusty dog. It was finally quiet, and he was finally able to immerse himself into the world of blue skies, green pastures, and a country living.

“What do you think you’re doing!?” a voice croaked from the thriller section. Da’Quarius looked up, almost expecting to see Helen screeching at him, but it was the librarian; and an old woman with red-dyed hair named Mrs. Potter.

“I’m just readin’,” Da’Quarius said, looking up from his book. “Why does e’ryone seem to have a problem with dat today?”

“Well you can’t do it here,” Mrs. Potter replied. “Get on your feet and move out of here.”

“Look at ‘em over dere!” Da’Quarius said, motioning toward a group of kids sitting around a table, playing on their phones. “Why are dey OK here, an’ I’m not? Is it cuz dey white?”

“No,” Mrs. Potter said. “It’s because they have library cards.”

“I got a library card,” Da’Quarius said, standing up. He took his card out of his pocket and showed Mrs. Potter. “Got my smilin’ black face on it an’ e’rythin’.”

“I know why you’re here,” Mrs. Potter said. “The minute I turn my back, someone will be in the other chair, passing tiny bags of green bits to each other.”

“Dat’s racist as fuck,” Da’Quarius said.

“Watch your mouth in this library, or you can leave!” Mrs. Potter yelled. “If you want to stay you need to move out of that corner!”

“Whatever,” Da’Quarius muttered, getting up. “I’ll clear da’ seat for a white boy if dat’s what you want, you racist old bitch.”

“What was that?!” Mrs. Potter snapped.

“Nuttin’,” Da’Quarius said, walking back toward the main part of the library, looking for an empty table so he could sit and read. He spotted someone scraping gum from the bottom of the tables, and he was surprised to see who it was. “Unca Paulie?”

“Oh,” Paulie said, turning and looking up. “What’s up, kid?”

“I was ‘bout to ask you da’ same thing,” Da’Quarius replied.

“I’m doing my community service,” Paulie said. “I’ll be spending the next few Saturdays helping out around the library.”

“Dat sucks,” Da’Quarius said.

“It beats picking up litter around the freeway,” Paulie said. “It’s peaceful and quiet in here at least. Did you come here to finish reading?”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius replied. “Tony was bein’ a pain in da’ ass, so I left to come here instead.”

“Sounds like something Tony would do,” Paulie said.

“Get back to work, library slave!” Mrs. Potter said, wagging a wrinkly finger at him.

“I’m working!” Paulie snapped, going back to work, scraping the gum off the bottom of the table.

“She just used da’ word ‘slave’ in front of me, an’ you’re gonna let dat go?” Da’Quarius asked. “Damn, dis racist old library biddy makes me sick!”

“Take a break from that gum and kick that kid out of here!” Mrs. Potter said.

“He didn’t do anything but point out what you said,” Paulie said, standing up to face the librarian. “You can’t kick him out for that. This is America.”

“Do you want me to sign the paper saying you work here or not?” Mrs. Potter asked, crossing her arms.

“Sorry, kid,” Paulie said. “You gotta go.”

“Dis some bullshit!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “You really gonna play me like dis?! What happened to dis bein’ America an’ shit?!”

“I gotta do it,” Paulie whispered, leading Da’Quarius toward the door by his arm. “I can get in a lot of trouble if I don’t do my hours, ya dig?”

“Sure,” Da’Quarius said. “Umma remember dis, doe, you throwin’ yo’ little black nephew out on da’ street!”

“I’ll make it up to you, kid,” Paulie said. He raised his voice. “And stay out!” He shut the door, leaving Da’Quarius outside.

“Mo’ fucker,” Da’Quarius muttered. “I ain’t never getting’ dis book read.”

***

Da’Quarius sat on a park bench, book open on his lap. He turned the page when a voice spoke from behind him. “Hey, Daq,” Flounder said. “What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to read dis book to do my gotdamn report,” Da’Quarius said, “but e’ryone keeps makin’ sure I can’t read more than a page an hour.”

“For Mrs. Kotter’s class?” Flounder asked. “I finished mine two weeks ago.”

“Great,” Da’Quarius said, staring at the book. “Well I have to finish mine, so -”

“I read that book about the guy who lived in the church,” Flounder continued. “It was good, but there was a lot of subtle anti-Jew stuff in there. I still put it in my report, though. We were supposed identify the symbolism and all that.”

“Dude,” Da’Quarius said. “Can’t you take a hint?”

“Was I not supposed to add the Jew stuff in my report?” Flounder asked. “Do I need to rewrite it? Oh my God… Am I gonna get in trouble like Rosanne Barr?!”

“No,” Da’Quarius said. “I mean I gotta read dis mo’ fuckin’ book!”

“Oh,” Flounder said. “Doesn’t the dog die in the end?”

“Gotdamn!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “I ain’t even a quarter way into this!”

“Sorry,” Flounder said. “Wanna hang out?”

“No,” Da’Quarius said. “I already told you I need to fuckin’ read dis fuckin’ book.”

“OK,” Flounder said. “There’s no need to curse.”

“I’ll see you Monday,” Da’Quarius said.

“Later,” Flounder said. He left Da’Quarius in peace.

Da’Quarius went back to the top of the page to try to get back into his rhythm. He was just about where he was before Flounder showed up when another voice spoke from behind him.

“What are you doing in this park?” Mrs. Potter, the librarian, asked.

“Da’ fuck you care?” Da’Quarius asked in return. “I ain’t at da’ library. What are you even doin’ here?”

“I’m on my break,” Mrs. Potter replied. “Are you selling drugs here now that I kicked you out of my library? I have half a mind to call the police.”

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said, closing his book and getting off the bench. “You’re a horrible old lady.”

“Get lost,” Mrs. Potter said. “You damn delinquent.”

“Fuck you!” Da’Quarius called, flipping Mrs. Potter the bird as he walked toward his house. “Umma wipe my ass with my library card, you old bitch!”

***

Da’Quarius walked into his home on Freedom Lane. Helen was sitting on the couch. When she noticed Da’Quarius had come inside, she picked up the remote and muted the TV. “Hey,” she said. “You’re right on time. They’re going to start a Manacane marathon in a half hour. What’s better than one movie about hurricane that sucks up a bunch of manatees and dumps them all over Florida? Four movies about hurricanes that suck up a bunch of manatees and dumps them all over Florida! It’s eight entire hours of Manacane goodness!”

“I gotta read, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “No matter where I went, I couldn’t read. I’m gonna sit in my room, turn off all my shit, and read my book.”

“But, kid,” Helen said, “it’s a Manacane marathon! When can you ever claim to have seen all four Manacane movies like it was one long movie?! It never happens!”

“That movie is worse than the one with all the snakes on the plane,” Rose said, passing through the den.

“What was the name of that movie?” Helen asked. “It had the black guy in it.”

“Morgan Freeman?” Rose asked in return.

“The other one,” Helen said.

“Samuel L. Jackson?” Rose asked.

“That’s the one!” Helen said.

“I gotta read,” Da’Quarius said, heading to his room.

“He sure is dedicated,” Rose said.

“Yeah,” Helen said, watching Da’Quarius climb the stairs. “Maybe I can help him out.”

***

Da’Quarius sat in his room, focusing on his reading, absorbing the letters and words on the page. He turned the page and started once again from the top. “Hey, kid,” Helen said, walking through the doorway. “You sure you don’t want to watch Manacane with me? You know you love shit-talking the TV during these stupid movies.”

“Dammit, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “I gotta write a report tomorrow, so I gotta read dis book today! Why can’t anyone understand dat?!”

“Look,” Helen said. “I’m going to tell you how to do these damn reports. Read the first twenty pages, the last twenty pages, and the middle twenty-five pages, in that order. You’ll know enough to do the damn report. And if that doesn’t work, then ask Rose. She’s probably read it. She’s read everything.”

“Really?” Da’Quarius asked. “Dat works?”

“Sure,” Helen said. “The teacher just wants to know you read the damn book. You really think your teacher is going to analyze your whole damn report? All non-standardized testing is based on how the teacher feels about you. As long as you’re kissing ass, you’ll get at least a B minus.”

“Good deal,” Da’Quarius said. “I read da’ twenty first pages, da’ twenty last, and da’ middle twenty-five.”

“That’s right,” Helen replied. “Hurry up and you’ll only miss the beginning of the first movie.”

Da’Quarius opened the book and flipped through to the end. “Damn,” he said. “Da’ dog really does die.”

***

Da’Quarius came downstairs, joining Helen and Rose in the den. “Whattup, biddies?” he said.

“Oh,” Rose said. “Did you finish your reading?”

“Hell yeah,” Da’Quarius said, offering Helen a secret wink. “All set.”

“Good,” Rose said, smiling. “I read that too, you know. I didn’t want to say anything and make you think I’d give you any information about the book for your report.”

“It’s cool,” Da’Quarius said. “Maybe we can talk durin’ da’ movie.”

“Sure,” Rose said. “How did you feel about the dog dying in the end?”

“The dog dies?!” Helen exclaimed. “Madon! You read the most morbid books.”

The End

***

Edited by Katherine Marshall

***

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