Budgie’s Journal #112 – The End of Freedom Lane

It’s over… It’s all over!!

Not completely. The latest season of Freedom Lane, Season 12, ended this past Tuesday night with the finale Da’Quarius Sees a Gynocologist. The finales are always bittersweet for me. I’m glad I can look back at a job well done, but I’m sorry to see the characters go for a few months.

But this is by no means the end of the series. I’m already working on Season 13, and I’ve written the opener and the following episode. I’ll probably premiere it around the first week of March.

I have more to go, a lot more. My master outline is still full of unwritten episodes, and we’re coming up with new ideas all the time. Freedom Lane won’t end until I say it ends!

If you’re unfamiliar with the sitcom, it’s about an elderly lesbian couple, Rose and Helen Masters, who adopt a black tween, Da’Quarius, after their adoption paperwork is lost for twenty-something years. Throw in a pizzeria and its wise yet unconventional owner, a dozen or so side characters, and the back drop of New Haven and you’ve got Freedom Lane in one big-ass nutshell.

I love this show. I have since BluntSharpness and I first started it with a mock season on six episodes of a sitcom in short story form. We kept it going for eleven more seasons and two books, and it gets better every time I come back to it.

Sorry for the gushing. I’m in love with this project, and I have a lot of fun writing it. I always have since day one. I’m happy people still keep up with the characters, and I’m happier when I can drag new readers into it. I promise to keep it going as long as it’s fun, and I can’t ever see it not being that way.

So here’s to twelve more seasons (maybe), and one big-ass book in the end!

Check out Freedom Lane here if i put the bug in your mind:

Click here for Freedom Lane!
-Budgie Bigelow
12/14/17

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Freedom Lane: The Spectacular Helena

The gymnasium was packed with fans. Usually, this New Haven high school would need to have a basketball or volleyball game in order to fill the seats, but not tonight. It was Friday night, it was nearly ten o’clock, and the New Haven Wrestling Federation had rented it out to put on a night of action that nobody in attendance would soon forget.
 
The fans of the NHWF knew her as The Spectacular Helena. She wore a full-body outfit of black and sequence with a black and white mask that covered her face and head. She wore a white boa, completing the ensemble. The fans were chanting, rabid for more action. It was time for the main event. Helena never backed down from a challenge, and she wrestled the men with ease. Sometimes they were even able to hold their own against her.
 
The fans of the NHWF all knew Helena’s story from the shoot interviews she did before fighting. She had done hard time, barely surviving day to day on the inside of the corrupt prison system, forced to fight for her meals and eventually her freedom. She wore the mask so those who had falsely imprisoned her wouldn’t find her and take her back.
 
Not that she’d let them take her alive.
 
The Spectacular Helena took a deep breath and walked out of the locker room, the fans cheering loudly. She held her arms up as she walked toward the ring, climbing through the ropes. They chanted her name, urging her adrenaline, making the hairs on her arms stand up straight. She was a heel, but they loved her nonetheless. 
 
In the middle of that ring in a New Haven school gymnasium, The Spectacular Helena was damn near immortal.
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 12, Episode 4: The Spectacular Helena 
 
***
 
Helen sat in her home on Freedom Lane on a Saturday afternoon. Nothing was out of he ordinary that day, and she was enjoying the quiet while she did the TV Guide crossword puzzle and her wife and life partner, Rose, read a book on the couch. She was about to suggest some lunch when the door opened, and her adopted son, Da’Quarius, came in, carrying a stack of mail.
 
“Down, boy!” Da’Quarius napped at his dog, Dutchie, who was dancing around his master. “Here.” He forced his way past his dog to hand Rose the mail. “Lemme take this guy outside before he pees on da’ floor.”
 
“Good idea,” Helen muttered. “It was such a nice day, too.”
 
“Helen,” Rose said, giving her a sideways glance. “It’s extra nice to have Da’Quarius home.”
 
Helen grunted, looking over her crossword puzzle again. “Who’s the guy from Three’s Company?” she asked. “You know… the dead one.”
 
“Tim Allen?” Rose asked.
 
“Doesn’t fit,” Helen said, counting the squares.
 
“I’ll be back,” Da’Quarius said, hooking the leash to Dutchie’s collar and going back outside.
 
Rose flipped through the mail, and found a letter for Helen. “Here’s one for you,” she said.
 
“Don’t open it,” Helen said. “Just toss it.”
 
“It’s from the NHWF,” Rose said. “What’s that?”
 
Helen got up, quicker than she normally moved, and snatched the letter from Rose, tearing it open. “Hot damn,” she said, taking the letter out of the envelope. “I haven’t heard from them in years.”
 
“Who are they?” Rose asked.
 
Helen ignored Rose, reading the letter, her eyes going back and forth, a smile spreading across her face. 
 
Da’Quarius came back in with Dutchie, sitting on the couch next to Rose. “What’s Helen readin’?” he asked.
 
“I don’t know,” Rose said, sounding a little worried. “Helen, what’s in that letter?”
 
“It’s from the NHWF,” Helen replied, her eyes still on the piece of paper in her hands.
 
“I know that,” Rose said. “Who are they, and what do they want?”
 
“It’s the New Haven Wrestling Federation,” Helen said. “They’re doing a classics show, and they want to bring me back.”
 
“No shit?” Da’Quarius asked, awed. “You were a wrestler?!”
 
“Oh yeah,” Helen said. “The Spectacular Helena will enter the squared circle once again!”
 
“Why da’ fuck don’t I know ‘bout dis?!” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Oh hell,” Rose muttered.
 
***
 
The crowd was deafening. The Spectacular Helena walked toward the ring, soaking in the admiration. Ahead of her was the ring, where a a hairy, bulky mass of a man known as Bountiful Brian Bonner stood, his arms crossed, staring daggers at Helena. The two had a history, and this crowd knew about it. So many had written the NHWF to ask for this that the managers couldn’t deny one more grudge match between the two.
 
“Give me a mic,” Helena said to the announcers desk. She was handed a microphone, letting the wire fall to the floor. She stared back at Bonner, their eyes meeting.
 
“I’m going to give you this one chance to walk away with your tail between your balls,” Helena said. “Get out of my ring and head back home to hide under your husband’s dress.”
 
The crowd went crazy as Bonner rushed toward the end of the ring, hanging onto the ropes, shouting a stream of unintelligible obscenities at Helena.
 
“Fine,” Helena said. “Don’t think I’ll go easy on you just because I don’t have dead slug in my undies like you.”
 
Helena rushed to the ring as Bonner backed up to greet her. She slid under the bottom rope, and she was met by the huge boot of Bonner, slamming her into the ground four times before he backed off, screaming at her to get up and fight.
 
“This is gonna be fun,” Helena growled, smiling as she stood.
 
***
 
“Welcome to the New Haven Wrestling Federation,” Helen said, walking through a school gymnasium, carrying a small gym bag with her wrestling gear, which had been confined to the basement until earlier that day. There was a wrestling ring being assembled in the center.
 
“Dis looks like a high school,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“What?” Helen asked. “Did you think I’d be wrestling at New Haven Coliseum? I never made it to the big leagues, kid. This is a harsh business.”
 
“How come I never knew you were a wrestler?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Do I need to list every one of my former hobbies?” Helen asked.
 
“Yes,” Da’Quarius replied.
 
“Well I’m not,” Helen said. “Rose, how about you fill the kid in on all this while I look for my old pals.”
 
Rose sighed as Helen shuffled over to a group of old men, all talking around a folding table. “Helen never really had a steady job after she got out of prison,” she explained. “I made decent money, but you know Helen. She’s not one to sit around the house and let someone else pay her way. So she worked a lot of odd jobs to make money. For a short time, she was a professional wrestler, even though I use the term ‘professional’ loosely. She apparently wrestled before she met me for a while, and they welcomed her back after she moved in with me and decided that she wasn’t going to let her woman be the only one bringing money into the home.”
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen is hardcore.”
 
“Yeah,” Rose said, watching Helen talk to the other “classic” wrestlers. “She is, I guess.”
 
“An’ her mortal enemy in da’ ring was da’ same as outside it,” Da’Quarius said, “Harold Fuchs.”
 
“Harold had nothing to do with Helen’s wrestling,” Rose said, “surprisingly enough.”
 
“Really?” Da’Quarius asked. “I thought for sure he would’ve been her manager or owned da’ federation or somethin’.”
 
“Not even Harold Fuchs can keep up with everything Helen has done in her life,” Rose said.
 
“Dat’s a little disappointin’,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Trust me,” Rose said. “We can all use a break from Harold Fuchs interfering in our lives.”
 
“Holy shit!” someone shouted from the other side of the gym. It was Manny Garcia, and he was standing with his brother, Antonio. “It’s Rose and Daq!”
 
“Well,” Rose sighed, watching the Garcia brothers approach. “At least it’s not Harold and Lee Fuchs.”
 
***
 
The Spectacular Helena brawled with Bountiful Brian Bonner outside of the ring, trading blows. A fist connected with Bonner’s face, and he fell backward. Helena tackled him, dragging him to the ground and pummeling him without stopping. The referee was next to her now, making the ten count, threatening a disqualification if she didn’t get back into the ring. He was up to five when she finally relented. She dragged Bonner up by the sides of his head and dragged him back toward the ring, shoving him unceremoniously under the bottom rope.
 
Helena climbed in next as the referee reached eight. He climbed in behind her in time to see her kick Bonner in the ribs. He turned over, grasping his midsection in pain. The referee scolded her for her use of brute force, and she shouted back at him. Bonner took advantage, throwing his own body into Helena from behind, shoving her into the referee. They both fell to the ground in a heap. 
 
The referee was out cold, lying on the mat, nearly in the fetal position. “Stay down, you pussy,” Helena muttered. “You’re not gonna like what comes next.”
 
***
 
“Hey, guys!” Manny said excitedly. He and Antonio were wearing matching tee-shirts featuring The Spectacular Helena. “How’d you get in here for the setup for today’s show?”
 
“We’re here with Helen,” Da’Quarius said. “Where’d you get those tee-shirts?”
 
“They’re going to be selling them tonight,” Antonio said. “Manny and I had them printed up. GarciaTube is sponsoring the show, bro!”
 
“So you guys like Helena?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Fuck yeah,” Manny said. “We saw her fight right here in this very gym when we were younger than you. It was amazing. We’ll never forget that night.”
 
“Helena fought this dick-stain called Bountiful Brian,” Antonio said. “It was her last match too. It was such bullshit too.”
 
“What happened?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“You know that nagging hip problem Helen has?” Rose asked.
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius replied. “Da’ one she had replaced an’ shit?”
 
“Well, she got it wrestling,” Rose continued. “She ended her match with a huge suplex, and she ended up hurting her hip. She was fifty years old after all.”
 
“Wait a second,” Antonio said. “Are you saying that Helen has a bad hip?”
 
“She’s sayin’ dat Helen’s Helena,” Da’Quarius said. “Sorry Rose, but we’d be here all day if we let ‘em try an’ figure it out on der own.”
 
“Helen is…” Antonio said, looking over at Helen, who was talking with the other retired wrestlers, holding up her black mask and marveling at it.
 
“Oh my God,” Manny said. “Helen is The Spectacular Helena! She’s lived across the street from us this whole time.”
 
“Da’Quarius,” Antonio said, looking down at him. “Your mother is… Where’s your Spectacular Helena shirt?!”
 
“I don’t got one,” Da’Quarius replied.
 
“I’m gonna buy you one,” Antonio said, rushing away. “Nothing is too good for the son of Helena!”
 
Manny followed him. “Wait, bro!” he shouted. “I’m gonna buy one for Rose!”
 
“Thanks,” Rose muttered. “Just what I always wanted.”
 
“Why do I get da’ impression dat you don’t like da’ idea of Helen wrestlin’ again?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Because I don’t,” Rose replied.
 
***
 
Rose sat in the stands, watching Helen wrestle. She wore a tee shirt featuring Helen’s masked face, her ring name, “The Spectacular Helena”, written under it in big white letters. She cheered Helen on, but she knew the match was rigged, the moves and ending already set in stone hours before the two even met in the ring. But she still cringed every time her lover hit the mat, and she felt a jolt of guilty jubilation whenever Helena hit or slammed the overly conceded Bountiful Brian around.
 
The referee was out cold, making the match more intense and violent. The crowd around her was excited at the prospect of the two in the ring not being officiated, but Rose knew better. The knocked-out ref was just one of the tropes of this genre of “theater” she had seen many times since had started attending Helen’s matches.
 
Bonner spit in Helena’s face, and Rose closed her eyes. She wondered why Helen would let a man spit on her like that, but she got her answer a moment later when Helen kicked Bonner in the crotch. The gym erupted in a frenzy. She had kicked him in the crotch the last time they met, resulting in her disqualification. But the ref was still “unconscious”, so she had gotten away with it this time. She followed up with a vertical suplex next, eliciting another round of cheers. 
 
Helena hadn’t earned that silly nickname for nothing after all.
 
***
 
“The queen of the suplex!” Manny exclaimed as Helen came back to Rose and Da’Quarius, who were now wearing shirts that matched those of the Garcia Brothers. “I can’t believe it’s you.”
 
“Believe it, jumping beans,” Helen said. “Although you’re not supposed to see me without my mask.”
 
“It’s an honor,” Antonio said, shaking Helen’s hand. “We saw you when we were -”
 
“Let go of me!” Helen snapped, pulling her hand away. “What the hell has gotten into you two?”
 
“They were fans of yours,” Rose said, not showing the slightest bit of joy. “What were you talking about over there? You’re not actually wrestling tonight, are you?”
 
“I’m back,” Helen said, smiling. “The Spectacular Helena is back!”
 
Rose looked down and shook her head.
 
“How’d you get dat name anyway?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“I named myself after Helena Troy,” Helen replied. “You know, from Ancient Greece or whatever.”
 
“Isn’t it Helen of Troy?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Damned if I know,” Helen replied. “Rose, why do you look upset?”
 
“You know why!” Rose said, meeting Helen’s gaze. “I watch you injure yourself thirty years ago in that ring, and I’m not too keen on watching you do it tonight.”
 
“But I have a new angle,” Helen said. “I’m still The Spectacular Helena, but now I’m old. They have a walker for me and everything. It’s going to be so much fun, pretending to be an old lady.”
 
“So that’s all you’re doing?” Rose asked. “No suplexing or fighting?”
 
“Heavens no,” Helen replied. “I couldn’t suplex the dog, let alone these steroid-jacked mama boys. It’s just a little greeting. We’ll come out, wave to the crowd, and that’s all.”
 
“You best not suplex my dog,” Da’Quarius muttered.
 
“As long as that’s all,” Rose said. “I don’t have a problem with that.”
 
“Good,” Helen said. “Now why don’t you head home and come back tonight. I got shit to discuss with these guys.”
 
***
Bountiful Brian Bonner was dazed after he got up from the suplex, and the referee was regaining consciousness. Helena used the last of the ref’s momentary blackout to drive her knee into Bonner’s face. She followed up with another suplex, bringing Bonner upward and back to the mat. She covered him, waiting for the the ref to count.
 
The ref was still moving slowly, trying to get his bearings. Helena picked up her head and saw that he was just starting to get to his feet. Annoyed, she climbed off of Bonner, dragged the ref over to him, and pinned him again. The ref raised his head, saw what was happening, and slowly pounded his palm on the mat.
 
“ONE!” the crowd shouted. “TWO!”
 
Bonner raised his arm, breaking the pin as the ref collapsed. Helen sat up, a look of sunned annoyance on her face. The crowed booed, wanting to see her put Bonner away. “Alright,” Helena said. “No more mister nice broad.”
 
***
 
Rose and Da’Quarius sat in the stands along with the Garcia brothers, watching the night of wrestling presented by the NHWF. “When’s Helen comin’ out?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Probably not until the very end,” Antonio replied. “They’re saving her for the main event.”
 
“I can’t wait to see what she does,” Manny said.
 
“She’s just playing up the old lady act,” Rose said. “She said so herself.”
 
“I don’t know,” Manny said. “It’s wrestling. Anything could happen.”
 
“You guys all know this is fake, right?” Rose asked.
 
“You’re in the wrong place to say things like that,” Antonio sad. “Don’t let anyone hear you.”
 
“Now is the time you’ve all been waiting for!” the announcer boomed, standing in the middle o the ring with his microphone. “It’s time to meet your classic NHWF wrestlers!”
 
The crowed cheered as the golden oldies came out. Most of them were in their sixties, but one was older, almost eighty. This was The Spectacular Helena, and she came out last, shuffling along slowly with use of her walker, complete with four tennis balls on the bottom.
 
Someone rushed into the ring, shoving the announcer. He was huge, muscular but with a gut. He had a curly mullet that hung to his shoulders. He grabbed the mic and addressed the classic wrestlers. “Nobody wants to see these walking fossils do anything but get marched into the morgue.”
 
This was met by boos from the crowd. The older wrestlers all shouted back, cursing him.
 
“And look at Helena back there,” he said. “She can’t even get around without her walker.”
 
Helena picked up a mic from the announcers’ table. “That’s the Spectacular Helena to you, pal!”
 
The crowd erupted.
 
“Who the hell do you think you are anyway?”  Helena asked.
 
“I forgot,” the wrestlers scoffed. “You’ve been retired so long, grandma, you don’t even known what’s going on. The name’s Bobby Bonner. You may know the name. It was my father that put you away for good.”
 
“He wishes,” Helena scoffed. “Where’s that greasy hairball now? Did they finally put him away for touching kids?”
 
“He’s dead, you old bitch!” Bonner snapped, rushing to the edge ring. “Don’t you dare speak ill of my father!”
 
“Then don’t lie about who put who away,” Helena said. “Your back-pimple of a father had nothing to do with my retirement. Besides, I can still beat chumps like you!”
 
“Oh lord,” Rose said, looking down and shaking her head. “She’s really gonna hurt herself.”
 
“Don’t worry,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis is all staged like you said. Helen’s gonna be OK.”
 
“Shut up with that shit,” Manny whispered. “This is real, dammit.”
 
“I’ll take you on, old lady,” Bonner said, the crowd hissing at him. “Step in this ring if you want to relive the glory days of lying on the mat.”
 
Helena hesitated, but the crowd wanted to see an old woman step into the ring against Bobby Bonner. She stared him in the eyes as he tossed the mic to the mat and continued trash-talking. Finally Helen cracked her neck and made her way toward the ring, using the walker to help herself along. two refs came out and pulled open the ropes. The announcer brought out a small step ladder, assisting her get into the ring.
 
“Wait a second!” a referee said, coming into the ring. “I’m not condoning this match!”
 
The crowed booed. 
 
“What?!” Bonner said. “Ring that damn bell!”
 
The referee shook his head, crossing his arms across his chest. Bonner grabbed him by his shirt, shouting into his face. He was distracted, and he didn’t see Helena move, stepping away from her walker. She tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around, and his crotch was met with Helena’s boot. 
 
The crowd went crazy as Bonner bent in the pain of having his nuts crushed by a professional. Helena picked up her walker, slamming into you his back. Bonner fell to the ground, and Helena tossed her walker aside and pinned him.
 
The referee called for the bell to be rung. The “DING DING DING” of the match starting filled the gym. He fell to the ground, and counted to three quickly. He then helped the Spectacular Helena off her opponent and raised her arm in victory. The crowd erupted.
 
“See,” Da’Quarius said. “You had nuttin’ to worry ‘bout. Helen won da’ match, an’ she didn’t even have to wrestle.”
 
Rose shook her head, pinching the bridge of her nose.”
 
“HE-LEN-A!” Manny shouted.
 
“HE-LEN-A!” Antonio exclaimed, joining in the chant with his brother.
 
“HE-LEN-A!” Da’Quarius chanted along with the Garcias. The chanting had taken over the entire gym.
 
“What the heck,” Rose said. “HE-LEN-A!”
 
The Spectacular Helena stood in the center of the ring, soaking in the admiration.
 
***
 
The Spectacular Helena bounced off the ropes, rebounding into her opponent, using her momentum to drive him to the mat with a clothesline. The crowd cheered as Bountiful Brian Bonner hit the mat with a ring-shaking thud. Helena rebounded off the ropes again, leaping into the air, and driving her elbow into Bonner’s ribcage.
 
Helena pinned Bonner, and the ref dove to the ground and pointed his palm on the mat as the crowd counted along. “ONE! TWO!”
 
Bonner raised his arm, breaking the pin as the crowed hissed and booed. Helen was back on her feet, but so was Bonner, but a little slower. He swung a heavy fist toward his opponent, but he missed when Helena ducked. She swung behind him, locking her hands around his abdomen. With a grunt, she rocked her body backward, taking Bonner over her front, slamming his neck and shoulders into the ground with a german suplex, her special move.
 
There was a pain in Helana’s hips that jolted through her body as Bonner hit the mat. She was able to hold on despite the pain, keeping her opponents shoulders pinned. She gritted her teeth and waited for the excruciatingly slow ref to start slamming his palm onto the mat to count. This time when the ref finally counted, she got the three-count.
 
With the crowd cheering and screaming, Helena climbed the to the top turnbuckle, ignoring the pain, and screamed in return.

 

 

Freedom Lane: Helen Punches a Nazi

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.”
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
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.”
 
Rose blushed. 
 
***
 
“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.”
 
 

 

The End

Freedom Lane – Cousin Silvio

Forty-Five Years Ago
 
A young Paulie Ventriglio walked down State Street, looking for some window signs, advertising they were hiring. He was fresh out of high school, and he wanted to start making some money of his own. His sister Helen had been home, fresh out of prison, for a little under two years, and she couldn’t find any honest work. Her father didn’t want her finding any dishonest work either. He was hoping to get a job in a restaurant and and learn the business from the bottom up.
 
There was a restaurant called “Giaccomo’s” on the corner of State and Bishop. There was a help wanted sign in the window, and Paulie walked in. The place was dimly lit and almost empty. It was only a little after ten thirty in the morning, and they must not have opened yet.
 
“Hello?” Paulie called. “Anyone here? I saw the sign in the window.”
 
“Paulie?” a voice asked, coming from the back. “Is that you?”
 
“It sure is, Silvio!” Paulie said, smiling. Silvio Barbara was his cousin. Well, he wasn’t really a cousin, more of a son of a close associate of his father. “I came in looking for work. What are you doing here?”
 
“Something similar,” Silvio replied. He was shorter and wider than Paulie. Even though he was smiling, it was had to tell. His hair was jet black and gelled into place. It would have been shining if there was more light.
 
Two more men came out of the back, and Paulie recognized them both. “My son will make sure Gino’s kids ain’t talkin’,” one of them said. This was Silvio’s father, Silvio Senior. He noticed his son was still in the restaurant. “Sil, why aren’t you gone yet?”
 
“Paulie’s here,” Silvio replied. “He’s looking for a job.”
 
“Oh,” Silvio Senior said, looking over Paulie. “Finally ready to step into your father’s footsteps?”
 
“Not really,” Paulie replied. “I saw the help wanted sign for the restaurant.”
 
“This Jack’s place,” Silvio Senior said. “Come on, Sil. Let’s leave these two to talk business.”
 
The other was Giaccomo “Jack” Pucci. He was huge and currently under investigation. Paulie knew this because his father was the one currently tipping off the feds on his friends, one by one. “So you want a job?” Jack asked. “I’m sure I can find something for the son of Anthony Ventriglio. Maybe you can learn both businesses, eh?”
 
“No thanks, Uncle Jack,” Paulie said, wanting to be as far away as possible all of a sudden. He thought of a quick excuse. “I want to make a name for myself off my own name, not my father’s.”
 
“I can respect that,” Jack said, nodding. “Good luck out there, kid.”
 
“Thanks,” Paulie said. He turned and quickly left.
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 12, Episode 3: Cousin Silvio 
 
***
 
Present Day
 
“So then my father filled the bathtub with cold water,” Tony said, talking to Da’Quarius in the main area of Paulie’s Pizza. “He dunked Gino the Snitch’s head over and over until he gave up who he was really working for.”
 
“Wow,” Da’Quarius said. “Is dat why dey called him ‘Gino da’ Snitch’?”
 
“You know what, kid?” Tony rhetorically asked. “I have no idea why they called him that.”
 
Paulie came out if his office. “What the hell are you telling him now?” he asked.
 
“I’m telling the kid about the days of our fathers,” Tony replied.
 
“Don’t fill his head with that shit,” Paulie said. “The last thing the kid needs is you making our pops sound like glorified mob stars. There was nothing good about what they did. It destroyed everyone around them.”
 
“But Tony’s seen some shit,” Da’Quarius said. “He saw his dad drown Gino da’ Snitch.”
 
“No he didn’t,” Paulie said. “He was about nine years old, and his father never tortured anyone in his own home.”
 
“Well,” Tony said. “I heard him talk about it.”
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “You were makin’ yo’self sound all hard an’ shit, but you was just home wit’cho teddy bear.”
 
“Why’d you do that, Paulie?” Tony asked. “Now the kid thinks I was a pussy.”
 
“Everyone’s a pussy when they’re nine,” Paulie said.
 
“I wasn’t,” Da’Quarius said. “Dat must be a white guy thing. I was born hard as a mo’ fucker.”
 
“Hey,” Tony said. “Do you remember why the called him ‘Gino the Snitch’?”
 
“Yeah,” Paulie replied. “He was a snitch.”
 
“Makes sense,” Tony said.
 
“Are you two going to do any work today?” Paulie asked. “I got half a mind to dunk both of your heads until some sense starts leaking in.”
 
The door opened with the chiming of the bells. A man walked in, wearing a long black coat. He had a sour look on his face and slicked back, gelled hair, jet black. He was the spitting image of someone Paulie had known during his younger days.
 
“Cousin Silvio?” Paulie asked. “Holy shit. Is that you?”
 
“Sure is,” Silvio replied. “I heard I’d find you here, under the giant sign with your friggin’ name on it.”
 
“I didn’t want to make it too hard now,” Paulie said.
 
“Is that little Tony?” Silvio asked. “I’m sorry about your pop. He was a good man. I wish I could’ve made it to his memorial.”
 
“It’s no problem,” Tony said. “Thanks, I mean.”
 
Paulie and Silvio looked at each other, like there was something unsaid.
 
“Aw shit,” Da’Quarius said, realization coming over him. “If dere’s gonna be a shootout, let my black ass outta here first.”
 
***
 
Paulie sat in one of his booths, Silvio sitting across from him. “Look,” Paulie said. “I know this isn’t easy. I’ve run into plenty of my old friends and cousins from back in the day, and I known the wounds my father left didn’t exactly fade well with a lot of them.”
 
“That’s actually why I’m here,” Silvio said, sighing. “I just got done with a five year stint up in Havenville, and I did a lot of soul searching while I was up there. For some reason, I thought about you.”
 
“Me?” Paulie said. “But we haven’t spoken in years, decades.”
 
“That’s what I mean,” Silvio said. “We were close, Paulie. We went to school together, dated from the same pool of broads. Hell, we lost our virginity on the same night!”
 
Paulie laughed. “I remember that,” he said. “It was those crazy Falzone sisters.”
 
“Anyway,” Silvio said, “getting back to why I’ve come. I’ve driven by this place dozens of times before I did my time. Uncle Jack’s place was right down the street.”
 
“I remember,” Paulie said. “Giaccomo’s.”
 
“Yeah,” Silvio said. “We used to meet there when I was first learning the family business. You remember that too, don’t you?”
 
“Vaguely,” Paulie said. “I remember my pop being the reason Jack’s place got shut down. Well, that and what they found out he was doing with it.”
 
Silvio didn’t say anything. He looked away from Paulie’s face. “Look,” he said. “I didn’t want to drudge up the dark shit from our past like that.”
 
“Don’t worry about it,” Paulie said. “It’s inescapable.”
 
“But I refuse to dwell on it,” Silvio said. “I want us to be friends again, Paulie.”
 
“I’d like that, Sil,” Paulie said. “Come by any time. I mean that.”
 
“Thanks,” Silvio said, getting up. “I think I will.”
 
***
 
Silvio left the sitting area and left through the main area, passing by Tony and Da’Quarius. “Hey,” Tony said as he passed. “You still in the game?”
 
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer too, little Tony,” Silvio said.
 
“I got a new nickname you can use if you’ll be coming around here with the guys,” Tony said. “Call me ‘Tony One-Nut’.”
 
“Why?” Silvio asked. “Did you lose one?”
 
“Not yet,” Tony said. “Next week though.”
 
“You’re a weird duck, Tony,” Silvio said. He turned to Da’Quarius, who was sweeping the floors. “What’s your deal, kid?”
 
“I got both my nuts,” Da’Quarius said. “Thanks fo’ askin’.”
 
Silvio laughed. “You’re alright, kid,” he said. “But seriously, what are you doing, working here at your age?”
 
“I ain’t workin’,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m learning da’ business from my uncle.”
 
“Paulie is your uncle?!” Silvio asked, taken aback.
 
“What of it?” Da’Quarius asked in return.
 
“I’m going to have to hear how that happened,” Silvio said. “Next time.” He left, leaving with another jingle of the bells above the door.
 
“You hear that,” Tony whispered, coming up to Da’Quarius. “He’s coming back. This is my ticket back in.”
 
“Back in what?” Da’Quaruis asked.
 
“Back in the business,” Tony replied. “My father always kept me out; and my association with Paulie didn’t help, but if Silvio and Paulie are OK…”
 
“Will you two stop gossiping,” Paulie said, coming back from the sitting area. “Sil is just an old friend looking to catch up. Capeesh?”
 
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony said. “Whatever you say, boss. Is it OK if I go on my lunch break now?”
 
***
 
Tony walked through the Blue Olive Club, located six blocks away from Paulie’s Pizza, up on East Street. He had talked Da’Quarius into coming with him, even though he didn’t tell him or Paulie where “lunch” was going to be.
 
“Umma get kicked outa here,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey ain’t gonna let a thirteen year old hang out in a strip club!”
 
“Relax,” Tony said. “These are old pals of Paulie and me, family almost.”
 
“I always thought you an’ Paulie wanted to steer clear of dese guys,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“That’s Paulie’s thing,” Tony replied. “My father wouldn’t let me get into the business either. I’ve seen enough movies to know that these guys know how to live large.”
 
“I’ve seen da’ movies too,” Da’Quarius said. “Don’t dey all go to jail or killed in da’ end?”
 
“That’s just in there to sell tickets,” Tony said. “Nobody goes to prison or dies that often.”
 
“An’ where’s yo’ father?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“He died in prison,” Tony replied, “but the two were unrelated.”
 
“How’s dat make sense?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Clam up,” Tony said. “Here’s Silvio.”
 
“Tony,” Silvio said, spotting him. “What are you doing here?”
 
“I wanted to reconnect like you and Paulie,” Tony said. “And I brought the kid with me.”
 
“You brought the kid,” Silvio said, looking from Tony to Da’Quarius and back again, “to an adult establishment.”
 
“I told him it was stupid,” Da’Quarius sighed. “I’ll go wait outside.”
 
“Wait,” Silvio said. “You’re tight with Paulie, so I know you’re cool. If you’re ever looking to make a little extra scratch, you come and see me. I may just have some work for you.”
 
“Wha’chu got in mind?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Odd jobs mostly,” Silvio replied. “I can always make use of a young go-getter like yourself.”
 
“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. “Maybe I’ll swing by sometime.” He left, checking out the talent on stage as he did.
 
“He’s a good kid,” Tony said.
 
“What do you want?” Silvio asked. “I’m barely out of the joint, and you come here, bringing a friggin’ minor into my place of business.”
 
“I want to reconnect with you guys,” Tony replied. “I miss the good ol’ days.”
 
“You were never part of ‘em,” Silvio said. “And this reeks of a setup. Have you been flipped?”
 
“What?” Tony asked, taking a step back. “No. I just want to be part of the group.”
 
“Tony,” Silvio said, putting his hand on Tony’s back and escorting him toward the door. “I think you need to reconsider.”
 
“I have,” Tony said.
 
“No,” Silvio continued. “You’ve considered. I’m asking you reconsider. To put it plainly: get out and don’t worry about what we’re up to.”
 
“So Paulie is OK and I’m not?” Tony asked.
 
“That’s different,” Silvio replied.
 
“What’s he got that I don’t?” Tony asked.
 
Silvio paused for a moment. “He and I go way back is all,” he said. “We were practically in diapers together. Now get out of here before someone takes your persistence for hostility.”
 
Tony looked around, noticing that he was being watched by at least four other guys.
 
“Alright,” Tony said, putting his hands in his pockets and walking out into the early afternoon sun. “I gotta get back to work before my break is up anyway.”
 
Silvio was silent as he watched Tony leave.
 
***
 
“You did what?!” Paulie roared once Tony and Da’Quarius returned.
 
“Why’d you have to go an tell him!” Tony exclaimed at Da’Quarius.
 
“What da’ fuck do I gotta keep secrets for?” Da’Quarius retorted.
 
“You’re the one running drugs and laundering money for Silvio now!” Tony shouted.
 
“Oh!” Paulie snapped. “That better not be true!”
 
“It’s not,” Da’Quarius said. “Tony’s just makin’ shit up so you yell an’ me an’ not him.”
 
“Shut up,” Tony said. “You’re the one who put a hit out on Paulie.”
 
“Head home, kid,” Paulie said. “I’m not gonna be able to knock some sense into this gagootz with you here.”
 
“Fine,” Da’Quarius sighed. “I always get sent home before some gagootz gets some sense knocked into his bitch ass.”
 
Paulie waited for Da’Quarius to leave. “You gotta be out of your mind,” he said. “You don’t want to be messing around with Silvio and his crew. Don’t you remember what happened to your pop? What happened to both of them?!”
 
“I won’t snitch or get caught,” Tony said, shrugging. “Big whoop.”
 
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “It’s not easy to get in or out, which is why I’m glad neither one of us got in, and why I’m relieved that Da’Quarius is too smart to get involved too.”
 
“You sure?” Paulie asked. “The kid seemed interested.”
 
“You shut your mouth about the kid,” Paulie said. “He’s got more common sense in his little finger than you’ve shown in your entire friggin’ life!”
 
“You may end up eating those words, Pauile,” Tony said.
 
Paulie sighed. “I know I won’t,” he said. “And stop making this about Da’Quarius. He’s not involved!”
 
***
 
A car pulled up to the curb as Da’Quarius walked home. The driver’s side window opened up, and a surly face looked out. “Hey, kid.”
 
Da’Quarius looked. “Yo,” he said. “What’s up, cousin Silvio? You lost?”
 
“No,” Silvio replied. “I was looking for you. Turns out I really do need a favor, and I’m sure you can help me with it.”
 
“I don’t think so,” Da’Quarius said, he turned to walk away. “I gotta run home an’ take out my dog, so -”
 
“Five hundred bucks,” Silvio interrupted.
 
“For real?” Da’Quarius asked. “Wha’chu need?”
 
”Just a delivery gig,” Silvio replied. “Pick up a box from my associate at point A, and ride your bike or whatever to point B. It’s nothing big. It’ll fit in your backpack.”
 
“An’ I take the fall fo’ whatever is in da’ box if da’ cops stop me?” Da’Quarius asked. “Dat’s how dis works, right?”
 
“What the hell do you think I pay so well for?” Silvio asked. “You get nabbed: you don’t know me. Do we have an understanding?”
 
Da’Quarius thought for a moment. “Nah,” he said. “Umma pass on dis one, Sil.”
 
“Suit yourself,” Silvio said. “You know where to find me if you change your mind.” He rolled up the window and sped off.
 
“Yeah right,” Da’Quarius said. “Paulie would get arrested just to fuck my shit up in prison if I got busted workin’ fo’ yo’ ass.”
 
***
 
Paulie was getting ready for the dinner rush when Silvio returned. “Hey, Sil,” Paulie said, coming from the behind the counter. “I’m glad you came back in. I wanted to talk to you about something.”
 
“Me to,” Silvio said.
 
“Hey,” Tony said, joining Paulie. “Your think about my proposal or what?”
 
“Get outta here!” Paulie snapped. “You’re being an asshole, and you know it!”
 
“I get it!” Tony said, going back to the kitchen area. “Shout it louder. They didn’t catch it downtown.”
 
“Madon,” Paulie said, sitting across from Silvio. “That Tony is a meathead sometimes. What did you want to talk about?”
 
“You want to go first?” Silvio asked.
 
“No,” Paulie said, shaking his head. “What’s up, Sil?”
 
“I need a favor, Paulie,” Silvio said. “You know I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t desperate. Can you help me out?”
 
“That depends on what the favor is,” Paulie replied. 
 
“I need to borrow your place,” Silvio said, “just to store some boxes, nothing major. You got a basement here, right?”
 
Paulie sighed. “No,” he replied. “Absolutely not.”
 
“Just don’t ask what’s in them,” Silvio said. “It’s called plausible deniability if anyone comes by.”
 
“You don’t understand,” Paulie said. “The answer is no, and it’s going to stay a no.”
 
“I think you’re the one who doesn’t understand,” Silvio said. “I’m extending an olive branch here. You accept it, and you don’t have to live under the shadow of what you’re father did. This is your chance at forgiveness.”
 
“I’m not asking for it,” Paulie said. “All I want is for you leave my nephew alone.”
 
“I wouldn’t worry,” Silvio said. “He somehow inherited your stubbornness.”
 
“Good,” Paulie said, standing. “I guess that’s it then.”
 
“I guess so,” Silvio said, standing as well. “Its a shame your so dead-set against your old friends.”
 
“Come in and have a slice and bullshit a bit then,” Paulie said. “That’s all I want.”
 
Silvio observed Paulie for a moment and nodded. He noticed Tony watching from the counter. “There may just be an opening if you still want a job,” he said. “Whaddaya say, Tony One-Nut?”
 
“I already got one, Sil,” Tony replied.
 
Silvio nodded and turned to leave. “Friggin’ stunad,” he muttered, leaving the pizzeria.
 
“I’m proud of you,” Paulie said, turning toward Tony. “You did the right thing.”
 
“I know,” Tony said. “And you didn’t even have go force me.”
 
***
 
“So what do you want me to do?” Da’Quarius asked, sitting at the table in his backyard. His pitbull terrier, Dutchie, sat on the gras next to him, panting happily in the sun.
 
“Nothing major,” Tony replied. “Just get a bunch of your friends together, and we’ll start offering protection to people around the neighborhood for a small price. We’ll start with those Garcia brothers across the street.”
 
“Protection from what?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Us,” Tony replied. “That’s the beauty of it. We call it protection, but they’re really paying us not to toss a brick through their window.”
 
“You really wanna be a gangsta bad, huh?” Da’Quarius asked. “This is a little sad.”
 
“Fine,” Tony said, getting up. “I’ll find my own kids, and I’ll do this without your help.”
 
“Why’s it gotta be kids?” Da’Quarius asked. “You can’t adults to listen to you?”
 
“I’m outta here,” Tony said.
 
“Alright,” Da’Quarius said. “Later, Tony One-Nut.”
 
 

 

The End

Freedom Lane – The Thing About Chet

The following episode of Freedom Lane is dedicated to Vanessa and Chad.
 
***
 
Da’Quarius sat in front of the computer monitor in his home on Freedom Lane. He was finishing up his homework when his stomach growled. “Shit,” he said. “All that schoolwork’s makin’ me hungry. You wanna sneak downstairs for somethin’ to eat?”
 
Dutchie, Da’Quarius’s brown pitbull terrier lifted his head for a moment, then put it back down.
 
“OK,” Da’Quarius replied. “But you gonna be runnin’ down dere once you here dat fridge open.” He looked at the clock, and saw that it was ten after eight. “Da biddies are probably gettin’ ready fo’ bed, so umma be quiet. Don’t start acting like an asshole and blow my spot up.”
 
Dutchie just looked at his master from his spot on their shared bed.
 
“Good boy,” Da’Quarius said, getting up. he walked down the hallway, going down the stairs, toward the den. Rose and Helen were gone, so he relaxed a bit. He was sure he’d be able to get himself a snack either way, but it would be easier to sneak it than to explain why he needed it. Helen was always looking for an excuse to bust his chops.
 
Da’Quarius made it into the kitchen and opened the fridge slowly. He pulled out some cold cuts, got the loaf of bread from the bread box, and made himself a quick sandwich. When he was all done, he packed the food back into the fridge and started walking back through the den with his prize, being as sneaky as he was on the way in. He froze when he saw Rose and Helen in conversation on the couch. He was lucky. They hadn’t noticed him walking behind them with his nighttime snack, so he walked slowly, tip-toeing toward the stairs.
 
“I just don’t understand why I can’t see Chet,” Helen said.
 
“I’m not saying you can’t visit Chet,” Rose replied. “I only said today was really busy, it wasn’t such a good idea.”
 
“Fine,” Helen said, “but you let Chet know I’m coming down to see him soon.”
 
“When I talk to him, I’ll let him know,” Rose added. “But for now, can we drop the subject?”
 
“Why?” Helen asked. “You don’t want the kid hearing us and finding out about Chet?”
 
“Stop it,” Rose said. “If you keep this up I’m going to bed without you.”
 
“OK,” Helen said. “I’ll stop, but I at least want a phone call from him tonight.”
 
Rose sighed. “I mean it.”
 
“I said OK,” Helen sighed.
 
Da’Quarius made his way to his bedroom, and his mothers weren’t aware of his presence. He sat in front of his computer, the small plate with his sandwich on his lap. His dog was now in front of him, sitting, staring at the plate with all the intensity he could muster, but Da’Quarius was dazed.
 
“Who da’ fuck is Chet?!”
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 12, Episode 2: The Thing About Chet
 
***
 
“So I submitted this poem I wrote to some magazine a month or so back,” Tony said, sitting across from Da’Quarius in Paulie’s Pizza on State Street. It was Saturday, and Da’Quarius had come in to work for a few hours. 
 
“You writin’ poetry now?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Guess what?” Tony asked, his face lighting up. “They loved it and put it in their magazine! I’m a published author!”
 
“Wait a second,” Da’Quarius said. “We ain’t dealin’ wit’cho nut cancer right now?”
 
“I’m getting that taken care of,” Tony said, waving a hand. “They’re going to cut my left nut off next week sometime.”
 
“I feel like you should be more focused on dis,” Da’Quarius said. “I’d be like ‘fuck poetry’ if one of my boys went bad and had to come off.”
 
“That’s why God gave us two,” Tony said. “About this poem…”
 
“Oh!” Paulie said, leaving his bathroom with the newspaper tucked under his arm. “What’s this, happy hour at the coffee shop?”
 
“I’m just telling the kid about my poem,” Tony replied.
 
“Again with the poem?!” Paulie snapped. “I’ve been hearing about this thing since yesterday.”
 
“Want to hear it?” Tony asked.
 
“Hold up,” Da’Quarius said. “Paulie, can I talk to you in private?”
 
“Sure, kid,” Paulie replied. “You OK?”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius replied. “Can we just talk in your office?”
 
“OK,” Paulie said, walking toward his office with Da’Quarius in tow. They both entered, and Da’Quarius shut the door behind him. “What do you need, kid?”
 
“I need to ask you somethin’ ‘bout Rose an’ Helen,” Da’Quarius said. “It sounds weird, but somethin’ I heard da’ other night has been botherin’ me.”
 
“Ask away,” Paulie said.
 
“Who’s Chet?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Paulie looked at Da’Quarius for a moment, his eyes growing wide. “No,” Paulie said, waving his hands and getting back up. “I am not talking about Chet.”
 
“So you know who he is!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “You gotta tell me.”
 
“I don’t have to tell you squat!” Paulie said. “I need to get to work here. If you want to stay, then drop this Chet business and forget you even heard that name. Madon.” He left the office.
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “I gotta find dis mo’ fucker. I bet he’s doin’ hard time fo’ some hardcore-ass shit.”
 
***
 
“I got this killer first line,” Tony told Da’Quarius. “’A thousand lies couldn’t make you sound pretty’.”
 
“What’s da’ name of dis poem?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“’Ugly Love’,” Tony replied. “You want to hear more?”
 
“Nah,” Da’Quarius said. “I think I’m good.”
 
“You’ll read it,” Tony said. “You’ll read all of them when my book comes out.”
 
“What’chu talkin’ ‘bout?” Da’Quarius asked. “I thought you said dis was a magazine thing.”
 
“It started that way,” Tony said, “but the magazine people also publish books, and they want to publish my book of poems. I already have the manuscript.”
 
Tony came from around the counter with a notebook. He handed it to Da’Quarius. “Here you go, kid.”
 
“Holy shit,” Da’Quarius said. “You went from ‘I wrote a poem’ to ‘I wrote a book’ in like a half hour.”
 
“Life’s too short when you’re about to lose a nut,” Tony said. “Let me know what you think. You’re the first to read it.”
 
Da’Quarius read the title Tony had written on the front of the spiral notebook: “Musings… by Tony”. “You ain’t gonna use your last name?” He asked.
 
“No,” Tony said. “I’m mysterious, like Madonna or Cher or Ghandi.”
 
“Why are there three periods after ‘Musings’?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“That’s where the reader pauses to muse,” Tony replied. “It’s poetic as shit.”
 
“I thought dese were yo’ musin’s,” Da’Quarius said. 
 
Tony stared blankly at Da’Quarius.
 
Da’Quarius flipped through the book, skimming over the content. “Dese poems are all insultin’ women,” he said. “Who da’ fuck would publish dis?”
 
Tony shrugged. “Ugly Love won the contest, so I just stuck with that theme,” he said.
 
“Some of these stanzas are really fucked up, doe,” Da’Quarius said. “But in a good way kinda.”
 
“Thanks,” Tony said. “What’s a stanza, professor?”
 
Da’Quarius looked up from the book and toward Tony. “It’s a… Wait a second. How do you not know what a stanza is after writin’ a whole book of poetry?”
 
Tony shrugged again. “How do you know what it is?”
 
“I write rap lyrics,” Da’Quarius replied. “It’s like poetry to a beat.”
 
“Whatever,” Tony said, taking his notebook back. “Don’t get your fingerprints all over this. I need to send it to my publisher.” He turned to go back to work.
 
“Hold up,” Da’Quarius said. “Lemme ask you somethin’.”
 
“Shoot,” Tony said.
 
“Do you know who Chet is?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“No idea,” Tony replied. “He some famous poet I’m supposed to know about?”
 
“No,” Da’Quarius sighed. “Prob’ly not anyway.”
 
***
 
Da’Quarius came home after his shift at Paulie’s, and he saw that Rose and Helen weren’t home. Dutchie was doing his normal jumping around, and Da’Quarius took him for a walk. When he returned, Helen was on the couch, reading the TV Guide.
 
“I wondered where that dog went,” Helen said. “I was hoping he learned to let himself out and joined the circus.”
 
“Hey,” Da’Quarius said, sitting on the couch near Helen. “Is dere anythin’ I don’t known about this family?”
 
“A shit load,” Helen replied, turning the page and not looking up. “Why?”
 
“I don’t know,” Da’Quarius said. “I just figured I’m a part of it now, and if there were any other family members out there connected to you and Rose, I should know about them.”
 
“What the hell are you talking about?” Helen asked. “Just stop with the foreplay and ram it in already.”
 
“Gotdam, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m only thirteen!”
 
“It’s just an expression!” Helen snapped. “Just make your damn point!”
 
“I just want to know to know who Chet is!” Da’Quarius retorted. His hand went to his mouth. He was trying to be subtle, but Helen had annoyed him to the point of blurting it out.
 
Helen was silent for a moment. “So you finally found out about Chet, did you?” she asked. “I guess it was a matter of time.”
 
“I didn’t mean to,” Da’Quarius said. “I overhead you an’ Rose talkin’ ‘bout him da’ other night. I just never knew you guys had another son before me.”
 
“Forget that name,” Helen said. “Don’t ever let me hear your utter it this house it ever again.”
 
“I just wanna know what he did to make Rose not let you see or talk to him,” Da’Quarius said. “Is he in prison?”
 
“I won’t ask again,” Helen said. “Do not ask say that name, and you sure as shit better not say it in front of Rose. I’ll put you through the goddam roof. You understand me, kid?” 
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “I understand.”
 
“Good,” Helen said. “Now get lost. My show is about to come on.”
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius muttered, heading up the stairs. “I gotta find out who dis Chet mo’ fucker is.”
 
***
 
“Here’s the hook,” Tony said, sitting across from and older man wearing a suit. “Musings… by Tony was written one hundred percent while I sat on the toilet.”
 
“What the hell are you doing now?” Paulie asked, coming from his office. “Why aren’t your working?”
 
“It’s slow,” Tony replied. “Besides, Ken drove all the way here from New York to talk about my new book.”
 
“What book?” Paulie asked.
 
“My musings,” Tony said. “I wrote a whole book of poetry.”
 
“Since yesterday?” Paulie asked.
 
“Yeah,” Tony said. “Writing poetry is really easy.”
 
“Is this all your material?” Ken asked, flipping though Tony’s manuscript.
 
“Of course,” Tony said. “It’s in my handwriting, isn’t it?”
 
“This is wonderful,” Ken said. “It’s a fresh take on poetry as a whole. I’ve never seen a poet go from insulting women to writing inspiring prose in the same stanza before.”
 
“There’s that word Da’Quarius used again,” Tony said.
 
”Mind if I take this back to my bosses?” Ken asked.
 
“Sure,” Tony said, smiling. “Let me know when the contract is ready.”
 
“Will do,” Ken said, shaking Tony’s hand. He waved to Paulie. “Nice meeting you.” He left through the front door with a jingle of the bells.
 
“Insulting women and inspirational thoughts?” Paulie asked.
 
“Why do you think I left my last name off that thing,” Tony replied. “I don’t need any crazy broads tracking me down for what’s in that book.”
 
“Then don’t publish it, you stunad!” Paulie exclaimed.
 
“Suck my diseased left nut!” Tony retorted.
 
“Don’t do that!” Paulie shouted. “Don’t you dare throw your cancer in my face!”
 
“Then don’t insult my craft!” Tony yelled.
 
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “Your craft is making pizza! Now get back in that damn kitchen and start crafting, you gagootz!”
 
“Geez,” Tony muttered, walking back toward the kitchen. “Way to suppress the arts, Hitler.”
 
***
 
Da’Quarius walked through the park on Sunday morning, Dutchie on his leash, looking around. Flounder, Da’Quarius’s Korean-American friend, was sitting on a swing, waiting.
 
“Wha’chu find?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Chet Masters doesn’t exist,” Flounder replied. “I searched all over the ‘net, light and dark. All I found was an Austrian kids’ show, Chet Master’s Neighborhood, from the eighties. It looked like a ripoff of Mister Rogers.”
 
“Dat’s all?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“I searched for Helen’s maiden name too,” Flounder replied. “But all I came up with for Chet Ventriglio was a character from a Cheers fan fiction. It wasn’t even that great. It took place after Shelley Long left the show.”
 
“An’ no police records from our neighborhood with anyone named Chet?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Sorry, Daq,” Flounder replied. “I searched all night. No relatives, aliases, or known acquaintances named Chet exist in Helen and Rose’s life, according to the ‘net anyway. But Helen has done some… things.” He shuddered.
 
“Helen did somethin’ off da’ records,” Da’Quarius said. “I heard ‘em talkin’ ‘bout Chet, Paulie made it clear dere’s someone named Chet he won’t talk ‘bout, and Helen got all crazy when I asked her about him.”
 
“You still haven’t asked Rose,” Flounder suggested.
 
Da’Quarius stared off. “I need to drop dis,” he said. “Whoever dis Chet is bothers Rose. Maybe da’ others don’t want me to know ‘cuz dey’re protectin’ her. She won’t let Helen see or talk to him. I’ve become obsessed, Flounder, an’ I need to stop.”
 
“OK,” Flounder said. “Can I go home now? My babysitter said I can only be out of the house for a half hour.”
 
***
 
Paulie looked up from cleaning the counter before he opened to see Tony standing in the main area, wearing tiny sunglasses, a hunter green turtle neck, and a beret. He was looking around as if he’d never been in there before.
 
“I don’t know what the hell you’re wearing,” Paulie said, “but you better lose that get-up and get your ass back here to help me work today. I’ve had enough of this poet nonsense.”
 
“In a minute,” Tony said, waving a hand. “Ken is coming back to bring the contract for my book.”
 
“Already?” Paulie asked. “These mooks really want this.”
 
“Oh yeah,” Tony said. “You can’t contain this genius. I already started on a sequel.”
 
“Anything good?” Paulie asked.
 
“I start one poem with the line: ‘I’m gonna name my dead nut after you’,” Tony replied. “That’s good, right?”
 
“I don’t know why I bother asking you anything about anything,” Paulie said, rolling his eyes and turning away. As soon as he was gone, the front door opened, and Ken came in, carrying his briefcase. He sat in the booth near Tony and opened it up.
 
“Must be my contract,” Tony said, sitting across from him. “How heavy is it?”
 
“I’m not giving you a contract,” Ken said, removing Tony’s notebook manuscript and putting it on the table between them. “I’m giving this garbage heap back to you.”
 
“Oh!” Tony snapped. “Yesterday this thing was gold, and now it’s garbage?! What gives, you stuck-up mook?”
 
“We researched the content,” Ken replied. “We didn’t realize you were into plagiarism.”
 
“I don’t even know what that means,” Tony said, crossing his arms.
 
“It means,” Ken continued, “that you didn’t write all of the material for your book. We found a lot of it on the internet. It seems the only thing you were good at creating is insults toward women.”
 
“So I took some of the inspirational stuff from Facebook posts,” Tony said. “Big friggin’ whoop! Anything on there is in the public domain anyway!”
 
“We’re done,” Ken said, locking his briefcase and rising. “Thank you for wasting our time.” He turned toward the door.
 
“Hey,” Tony said, rising as well. Ken turned to look at him. “I’m going to name my dead nut after you!”
 
***
 
Da’Quarius walked into his house, letting Dutchie greedily lap up the water in his bowl after the long walk to the park and back. He walked toward the kitchen to get himself a drink and a snack when he heard Helen and Rose talking. He knew he shouldn’t eavesdrop, but he couldn’t help it.
 
“How’s Chet today?” Helen asked.
 
Da’Quarius’s heart picked up its tempo. Had Rose actually spoken with Chet that morning? Was he finally going to find out who he was?
 
“Chet’s actually doing quite well,” Rose replied. “Do you want to talk to him on the phone?”
 
“Can’t I just see him in person?” Helen whined.
 
“But it’s so cute when you call him,” Rose said.
 
Helen huffed. This was it. She was going to call Chet. Da’Quarius stood perfectly still.
 
“Hello?” Helen asked. Da’Quarius didn’t hear her pick up the kitchen phone, but he supposed it was easy to miss in his excitement. “Hi Chet, it’s me, your mommy. Do you miss me? I miss you too. What’s that? You want to see me? Well, maybe if the warden lets you out on good behavior…”
 
Da’Quarius nearly fainted. Rose and Helen really did have a son in prison, and Helen seemed pretty attached.
 
“I suppose he could come out,” Rose said. “But only for a bit. We don’t know when Da’Quarius will be home.”
 
Da’Quarius was more confused than ever. Did Rose know how to get special visitation rights for Chet?
 
“OK,” Helen said. “Let’s go now then.”
 
Da’Quarius realized they were coming toward the den, but he had nowhere to hide. They came through the door and were both taken aback by him standing there. “Oh hell,” Helen groaned. “I didn’t even hear you come in.”
 
“Look,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m sorry, but I heard yo’ conversation.”
 
“Oh,” Rose said. “About that…”
 
“I don’t care dat you have another son you never told me ‘bout,” Da’Quarius continued. “I don’t even care dat he’s in prison. But if yo’ gonna go see him, I wanna meet him too. We brothas after all, right?”
 
“What in God’s name are you talking about?” Helen asked.
 
“I’m lost too,” Rose said. “Who went to prison?”
 
“Chet,” Da’Quarius replied. “It’s OK. I’m not mad you kept him from me.”
 
“Oh dear,” Rose said. “Chet isn’t what you think he is. He’s…”
 
“Rose’s bush,” Helen finished.
 
“What?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed.
 
“I named Rose’s bush ‘Chet’ back when we were dating,” Helen exclaimed. “The name really stuck on the fuzzy bastard too.”
 
“Helen!” Rose said, blushing.
 
“Dat explains why Paulie wouldn’t talk ‘bout it,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“It’s a cute thing couples do,” Helen said. “One day, you’ll meet the right girl, you’ll name each other’s privates, and you’ll pretend to call them on the phone and talk to them when you’re horny.”
 
“Now, Da’Quarius,” Rose said. “I don’t want you thinking of the two of us any differently because of this. It’s a normal little quirk two people in love do.”
 
“I just said that,” Helen muttered.
 
“I only have one question,” Da’Quarius said. “Why does Rose’s bush have a guy’s name?”
 
Helen and Rose look at each other for a moment and then back at Da’Quarius.
 
“Go to your room,” Helen said.
 
 
 
The End
 
 

 

 

Freedom Lane – The Bingo Hall Death Pool

Paulie unlocked the door to his pizzeria, Paulie’s Pizza, located on State Street, New Haven at nine in the morning to do some ordering and get ready for the day. He only had a moment to enjoy the silence before Tony, his longtime friend and employee, came running down the stairs from his apartment, shouting.
 
“Thank God you’re here!” Tony exclaimed, nearly running into Paulie. He was carrying his clock radio, the wire dangling behind him.
 
“What’s gotten into you?!” Paulie snapped, moving a step back so Tony wouldn’t gore him.
 
“They’re talking about us on the radio!” Tony said, plugging his radio into the outlet by the cash register. “They just said they are after the commercial!”
 
“What the hell for?” Paulie asked as Tony turned the volume up.
 
Tony put a finger to his lips, as the the morning show personality, BJ of the Morning BJ Show, spoke.
 
“So you called this pizza place all day,” BJ said, speaking to someone else in the studio, “and then you actually went down there⁈”
 
“Oh yeah,” the other voice said. “It was crazy in that place too.”
 
“Who’s that mook?!” Paulie exclaimed, motioning toward the radio.
 
“That’s Dave the Intern,” Tony replied. “You’ll remember him in a minute.”
 
“What would possess you to go down there after harassing them all night?” BJ asked, chuckling.
 
“I need consent forms to air the calls,” Dave the Intern replied. “I figured they’d be easier to get in person and I can grab a slice.”
 
“Oh Hell,” Paulie groaned, remembering the events of that night.
 
“You just thought you’d get a free pizza for being from this show,” BJ said.
 
“Maybe,” Dave the Intern said. “But the boss came out, this sixty-something year old ginny, and he was pissed.”
 
“Who’s he think he’s calling a ginny?!” Paulie shouted.
 
“Be quiet,” Tony said. “I can’t hear it.”
 
“Is that when he took you outside and slapped you around?” BJ asked, chuckling again.
 
“He yelled and swore a lot first,” Dave the Intern added. “But yeah. I got knocked around a bit, right there on the sidewalk outside his place.”
 
“I have to say,” BJ said, “I think you deserved it.”
 
“Screw you!” Dave the Intern snapped. “It’ll be a long time before I eat there again.”
 
“Not me,” BJ said. “I live by them. I just hope they’ll serve me now that you’ve gone and got your ass kicked by the owner.”
 
“He’s such a jerk,” Dave the Intern said.
 
“Shut this off,” Paulie said. “I don’t need them trash-talking… Tony? Where’d you go?”
 
“We have a caller on line four,” BJ said. “You say you work there?”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said, his voice on the radio. There was an echo since he was standing only fifteen feet from Paulie on the pizzeria’s phone. “That intern guy is a little asshole. He definitely deserved an ass-kicking.”
 
“Tony!” Paulie shouted. “Hang up that damn phone!”
 
“Is that the owner?!” BJ asked, glee in his voice. “Put him on!”
 
“He wants to talk to you, boss,” Tony said, holding the phone out to Paulie.
 
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “Fine. Give me that. What do you want?”
 
“Is this the guy?” BJ asked.
 
“Sounds like him,” Dave the Intern said. “I got half a mind to sue you, bro!”
 
“You started that fight, you little shit!” Paulie said.
 
“Watch the language,” BJ said. “I’m gonna bleep you.”
 
“Bleep your sister’s ass!” Paulie snapped. “Don’t send your little trolls in here any more. If he comes back, I’ll take him outside like I did last time. Stop talking about my place on your show too!”
 
Paulie hung up the phone. 
 
“Hello?” BJ asked the dial tone. “I guess he’s done.”
 
“That guy’s gonna have a stroke,” Dave the Intern said.
 
“You better stay out of there if you know what’s good for you,” BJ said. “Now let’s hear from Sue with the traffic and weather.”
 
Paulie pulled the radio’s plug out of the outlet. “Frig this,” he said.
 
“You forgot to say ‘Paulie’s Pizza’,” Tony said. “They didn’t say the name, and you lost out on the free advertising.” 
 
Paulie stared at Tony for a moment. “Will you get to work, you stunad?!” he shouted. “We got shit to do here!”
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 12, Episode 1: The Bingo Hall Death-Pool
 
***
 
Rose sat on the couch with her wife and life-partner Helen, reading the newspaper while Helen flipped through the channels, trying to settle on whether she wanted to watch game shows or talk shows. It was a quiet morning. Their adopted son, Da’Quarius, was at school, and his dog, Dutchie, a brown pitbull-terrier, napped on his bed by the door. Rose turned to the obituaries page to see if she knew anyone who had passed. In her mid-seventies, she’d come across and old friend or acquaintance every now and then, and this was one of those mornings.
 
“Oh no,” Rose said, putting the paper on the table. “Dorothy passed away.”
 
“Who?” Helen asked.
 
“Dorothy Roberts,” Rose replied. “You remember her. We’d see her at Bingo every now and then.”
 
Helen turned off the TV and stood up. “I’ll be right back,” she said.
 
“Where are you going?” Rose asked.
 
“I need to take a dump,” Helen replied.
 
“Didn’t you just go after breakfast?” Rose asked.
 
“What are you, the toilet police?” Helen asked in return. “Sometimes a lady has to go twice. I’ll be back in a bit.”
 
Helen went off, making her way upstairs. Rose read the rest of the obituaries, glad that nobody else she knew was there. After only a few minutes, Helen made her way back downstairs. She didn’t say anything as she sat back in her chair.
 
“Everything OK?” Rose asked.
 
“False alarm,” Helen said. She waited a couple of moments before speaking again. “Hey. We haven’t gone to bingo in a while, have we?”
 
“No,” Rose replied, thinking. “It’s been a few weeks at least.”
 
“They still do it on Tuesday and Thursday nights?” Helen asked.
 
“They always have,” Rose replied. “Why?”
 
“I think we should go this Tuesday night,” Helen said.
 
“OK,” Rose said. “We can do that.”
 
“Good,” Helen said. “Sounds like fun.”
 
Rose watched Helen as she turned the TV back on, the look on her face pensive. She wondered what was going on in her wife’s head.
 
***
 
Tony came down from his apartment after his lunch break, moping. “Boss,” he said, finding Paulie in his office. “I have some bad news.”
 
“What’s that?” Paulie asked. “Our cheese go bad or something?”
 
“Don’t joke,” Tony said. “I Got it bad, the big one.”
 
“The big what?” Paulie sighed, looking up from his pile of paperwork.
 
“Cancer,” Tony said, his lip quivering. “I got friggin’ nut cancer!”
 
“Whoa,” Paulie said. “How’d you get such a grim diagnosis during your lunch break?”
 
“I found a lump, Paulie,” Tony said. “I friggin’ lump right on my nut!”
 
“Calm down,” Paulie said, walking to Tony and helping him into a chair, putting a hand on his shoulder. “That doesn’t mean you have cancer, Tony. Why don’t you make an appointment with the doctor, and we’ll get this straightened out.”
 
“Alright,” Tony agreed.
 
“Just promise me that you won’t do anything nutty until then,” Paulie said.
 
“‘Nutty’?” Tony asked. “Are you making fun of me?!”
 
“No, you gagootz!” Paulie shouted. “I’m talking about the schemes and shit you like to pull. Don’t do anything crazy until a doctor tells you what you got, capeesh?”
 
“Can I use your phone?” Tony asked.
 
“Sure,” Paulie said, getting up. “I’ll work the counter for a bit. You do what you need to do.”
 
“Thanks, boss,” Tony said, walking around Paulie’s desk and sitting in the chair.
 
“You got it,” Paulie said, leaving ht e office. “Take all the time you need.” He closed the door, leaving Tony alone.
 
Tony picked up the desk phone and dialed a number. He let it ring a few times. “Hello, Claudette,” Tony said when she picked up. “It’s me, your cousin Tony. I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll blurt it out: you need to get yourself checked out.”
 
***
 
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” Rose asked, getting her jacket from the coat tree.
 
“Nah,” Da’Quarius replied, watching TV. “Bingo is an old ladies’ game. Umma stay here and watch some TV an’ shit.”
 
“Make sure you get your homework done at least,” Rose said.
 
“OK,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Where’s Helen?” Rose said, walking toward the kitchen. “I wonder what’s taking her so long get ready.”
 
Rose left the den, walking into the kitchen. Helen wasn’t in there, but she found her brown canvas bag on the table, the one she absolutely refused to call a purse. She only used it when she needed to carry things like bingo markers or her meds if she was going to be out of the house for too long. There was a piece of paper sticking out at the end, and her curiosity got the best of her. She pulled it out and found yesterday’s newspaper, the obituary for Dorothy Roberts circled with a red marker.
 
“Oh, Helen,” Rose said in the empty kitchen. “I had no idea you knew her that well.”
 
Rose heard Helen’s footsteps, and she shoved the paper back in the bag. “You ready to go?” she asked, coming into the kitchen.
 
“I’m ready,” Rose said, giving Helen a smile. “Do you want to talk first?”
 
“No,” Helen said, picking up her bag. “I want to play some friggin’ bingo! Let’s go!”
 
***
 
Paulie had been careful with Tony, not wanting to bring up his worry about what he thought was cancer, but he couldn’t help it. He had to make sure his friend was going to be OK. “So,” he said, helping Tony get the main area of the pizzeria cleaned up before the dinner rush. “Did you make your doctor appointment?”
 
“Not yet,” Tony replied, looking away.
 
“What?” Paulie asked. “Then why’d you need my phone?”
 
“I called Claudette and told her to get checked out,” Tony said, finally looking up. “She’s my cousin with benefits, so I figured she might have gotten it from me.”
 
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” Paulie said, throwing his rag on the table in front of him. “That’s not how you get cancer, first of all. Second of all, why aren’t you going to the friggin’ doctor with this shit?!”
 
“Not so loud,” Tony said. “You want everyone to know about this?”
 
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of!” Paulie said. “Aside from you not making a friggin’ doctor’s appointment to get this checked out.”
 
“Why are you so mad?” Tony asked.
 
“Just make the appointment,” Paulie said. “You don’t want to put off getting something like this checked out. Make the appointment, and I won’t be mad at you.”
 
“The guy on the radio was right about you, I think,” Tony said. “Maybe you need to have your blood pressure checked before your head pops off.”
 
“Will you make the friggin’ appointment?!” Paulie shouted, eliciting the waitstaff to come sneaking toward the main area from the seating area.
 
“Sure,” Tony replied. “I’ll call first thing tomorrow. Can I use your phone to call Claudette? She probably wants to know she can’t catch anything from me. I think she thinks I might’ve given her herpes or something.”
 
Paulie sighed. “Go ahead and call,” he said. “Tell your cousin you probably didn’t give her herpes.”
 
“Thanks, boss!” Tony said, hurrying into Paulie’s office.
 
Paulie shook his head. “I’m gonna kill him if he doesn’t have cancer.”
 
***
 
Rose and Helen walked into the bingo hall, which is normally the basement of the East Rock Catholic Church. They purchased their cards, each buying one for the first game. Rose almost said something. Helen normally bought four cards, stamping away at them as the numbers were called like a machine. They walked to their normal spot and set up, placing their cards down and getting their bingo markers out.
 
Helen looked around the room. “Watch my card for me, Rose,” she said, getting up. “I need to use the bathroom.”
 
“Already?” Rose asked. “We just got here.”
 
“Are you still the toilet police?” Helen asked. “I need to go.”
 
“OK,” Rose said. “I can stamp your card while you’re gone.”
 
“Thanks,” Helen said, getting up. Rose noticed with fascination that she took her canvas bag as she walked away, going into the ladies’ room on the other side of the church basement. Father McKraken started calling numbers a couple of minutes later, and Rose got busy stamping the numbers on both cards. She looked up for a moment, worried about Helen, and saw her leaving the bathroom. She walked toward the kitchen area, entering a door marked “Lounge”. Curious, Rose got up and followed. She opened the door slowly, finding an unlit hallway. She heard voices at the end of it, and she softly walked closer to hear.
 
“I’m glad you all came,” Helen said. “As you know, Dorothy Roberts has passed away.”
 
Rose’s heart swelled. Helen did know Dorothy, and she had put together a little group to talk about her dearly departed friend. She had no idea that Helen felt that way about her. She even noticed Harold Fuchs was there, and there was no love lost between him and Helen, and that was putting it mildly.
 
“So who had her in the pool?” Helen continued.
 
Rose’s heart felt like it had dropped into her stomach.
 
“I did,” a male’s voice said.
 
“Anyone else?” Helen asked.
 
Nobody else spoke up.
 
“OK,” Helen said. Rose could hear pages turning in a notebook. “My notes verify that Larry was, in fact, the only one who chose Dorothy Roberts this round. Here is your payment.”
 
“Come to papa,” Larry said, cackling. Rose couldn’t see, but she imagined him taking a wad of bills from Helen.
 
“Now for the next round,” Helen said. “You all know the rules. You can pick anyone from the bingo hall. The round will not end until someone wins. The amount to enter, as always is fifty bucks, with ninety percent going to the winner and ten percent remaining with me, the bingo hall death pool organizer.”
 
Rose inched closer, looking in the room. There was a round table in the middle of the kitchenette with metal folding chairs around it. Helen was sitting with her back toward Rose, and the others were around it, all elderly and all watching Helen. One man was counting a stack of bills. This must be Larry, this round’s big winner. None of them saw Rose hiding, peeking around the corner of the wall.
 
There was some murmuring as money was passed to Helen. She took it, putting in a neat pile and putting in her canvas back. She wrote on the top of a new page in her notebook. “Alright,” she said. “We start with Larry, our latest winner, and make our way clockwise. Make your picks.”
 
“Larry Greene,” Larry said. “I choose Bertha Washington.”
 
“Got it,” Helen said, writing the information down. “Next.”
 
“Audrey Stone,” the woman sitting to Larry’s left said. “I also choose Bertha Washington.”
 
“Got it,” Helen said.
 
“You dirty cheater,” Larry muttered.
 
“Quiet,” Helen said, writing. “You know the rules, Larry. Don’t let winning go to your head. I will disqualify you from this round.”
 
“Sorry, Helen,” Larry said, staring at the table.
 
“Next,” Helen said.
 
Harold Fuchs was next. He took in a deep breath, staring at Helen.
 
“Come on,” Helen said. “I’d like to get a little bingo in tonight.”
 
“Harold Fuchs,” Harold said. “I choose Helen Masters.”
 
Rose gasped, hoping nobody heard the swift intake of breath. She wondered what Helen would do now that her mortal enemy had marked her for death. But Helen only wrote it down in her notebook. “Got it,” she said. “Next.”
 
***
 
Tony tossed the dough, letting it hang in the air for a millisecond before it came down, catching it, and tossing it once more for good measure. He let it flap onto the counter in front of himself, and he started adding ingredients.
 
“You’ve been quiet,” Alice said, coming toward the back. “I’m surprised you haven’t hit on my yet tonight.”
 
“I’ve got some heavy stuff on my mind,” Tony replied. “So thanks for coming back here to get hit on so I don’t have to find you.”
 
“What heavy stuff?” Alice asked. “Is everything alright?”
 
“No,” Tony said. “Everything is not alright, but what do you care?”
 
“Tony,” Alice said, becoming serious. “We’re friends. You know you can talk to me if you need to.”
 
Tony walked away from the pizza he was making. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not good news, babe.”
 
“Just tell me,” Alice said. “I’ll bet you feel better.”
 
“OK,” Tony said. “It’s cancer, and it’s in my nuts.”
 
“I can’t tell if you’re being serious,” Alice said.
 
“I wouldn’t joke about my nuts being in danger,” Tony replied. “It’s serious.”
 
“Oh, Tony,” Alice said, running up to him and hugging him. He held on tight as Tony wraped his arms around her. They stayed like that in the kitchen, silent, save their breathing.
 
“What the hell is this?!” Paulie said, coming into the kitchen. “I can’t have you two on each other like horny squirrels in my kitchen!”
 
“Paulie,” Alice said, pulling away from the embrace. She looked from him and back to Tony. “Does he not know?”
 
“He knows,” Tony said. “He’s just being insensitive about it.”
 
“Are you talking about the cancer thing again?” Paulie asked. “I told you: I’m not taking it seriously until you get yourself checked out by a doctor!”
 
“You haven’t been checked out?!” Alice said. “It could be anything!”
 
Tony shrugged. “I’m not taking any chances until I know.”
 
“What the hell are you talking about?” Alice asked.
 
“I wanted to nail you one last time if I lose frick and frack,” Tony replied.
 
“You’re unbelievable,” Alice said, storming out of the kitchen. “I wouldn’t wish cancer on my worst enemy, and you’re making a joke out of it! You make me sick!”
 
“I don’t get what the problem is,” Tony said, turning to Paulie.
 
“See the doctor,” Paulie said, turning away. “Then we’ll talk about what the problem is.”
 
“Fine,” Tony muttered, getting back to work on the pizza. “I’ll see the damn doctor if that’s what you all want.”
 
***
 
Rose had snuck back to her seat while Helen had finished up her death pool. She had heard enough, and she found no interest in finding out who the rest of the group had picked. She returned to see the end of that particular round of bingo, unsure if she would have won if she stayed to stamp her card. 
 
Helen returned, bringing a small stack of cards, one for Rose and four for herself. “Sorry about that,” Helen said. “We had no luck I take it?”
 
“No,” Rose replied, staring off. She had no idea how to bring up what she had just witnessed.
 
“We’ll have better luck this round,” Helen said, sliding one of the cards in front of Rose and putting the other four in front of herself.
 
“Maybe,” Rose said.
 
“Are you alright, dear?” Helen asked. “We can head on home if you’re not feeling up for it.”
 
“I’m OK,” Rose replied, looking at her card. She picked up her bingo marker as the boyishly handsome Father McKracken spun the cage full of bingo balls.
 
“OK,” Helen said.
 
Father McKraken pulled the first ball from the cage. “B-Five,” he said into the microphone in front of him.
 
Helen stamped two of her cards quickly. Rose looked at her own, lightly pressing the tip of her marker on the number five.
 
***
 
“Alright,” Da’Quarius said, coming into Paulie’s Pizza after school the following day, finding Tony alone in the main area. “What’s so important dat you gotta blow my phone up all day while I’m at school an’ shit?”
 
“Look,” Tony said. “Some serious business came up recently, and I’m trying to help others.”
 
“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “What happened? You win da’ lotto an’ wanna gimme like a million dollars or somethin’?”
 
 “No,” Tony said, coming toward Da’Quarius from behind the counter. “I just want you to fondle your balls for me.”
 
“WHAT?!” Da’Quarius snapped, stepping back. “You better cut it out with dat shit!”
 
“Don’t be like that, kid,” Tony said. “All I’m asking is for you to play with your balls a bit.”
 
“You dirty, perverted-ass mo’ fucker,” Da’Quarius said. “I always thought you were cool an’ shit, but now I know you’re just a fuckin’ pedophile! Umma kick yo’ fuckin’ head in if you come at me with dat shit, give you some mo’ fuckin’ street justice!”
 
“That’s not what I’m sayin’, kid!” Tony exclaimed. “For God’s sake, I just want you to fondle your balls!”
 
“What the hell is all this shouting about?!” Paulie exclaimed, coming out of his office. He was surprised to see that his nephew had come in after school. “And what are you doing here?”
 
“Tony asked me to come in,” Da’Quarius replied. “Turns out he’s a kid-toucher, an’ he keeps askin’ to watch me play with my junk fo’ him. I’m ‘bout to barf!”
 
“I never told you I want to watch,” Tony said, exasperated. “I just want you to check your balls for lumps so you don’t end up like nut cancer like me.”
 
“Oh,” Da’Quarius said, still looking suspicious of Tony. “Why didn’t you just say so. Wait… You got nut cancer?!”
 
“Did you call the friggin’ doctor yet?” Paulie asked. 
 
“Stop being so insensitive,” Tony said.
 
“You haven’t gone to da’ doctor?” Da’Quarius asked. “How do you know it’s even cancer?”
 
“Thank you!” Paulie said. “I’ll be the first to apologize for being insensitive the second you get a diagnosis, but I’m not going to entertain this any longer until you find out if whatever you think is on your balls is cancerous or not.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “You might just have da’ herp.”
 
“So did you call yet?” Paulie asked.
 
“Not yet,” Tony replied, “but I’ll probably get around to it today.”
 
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “I’ll make the friggin’ appointment myself. I’m already paying for your insurance for frig’s sake.” He walked back toward his office.
 
“Thanks, Paulie,” Tony called as Paulie slammed his office door shut. “He’s a good guy despite him always yelling.”
 
“You’re like a fuckin’ kid,” Da’Quarius. “Umma go home now.”
 
“Later,” Tony said. “And don’t forget to fondle those balls!”
 
***
 
Rose came out of the kitchen, holding her cup of afternoon tea. Helen napped in her favorite chair, snoring. Rose sipped the tea, watching her. She wanted to bring up what she had witnessed the night before, asking Helen about the bingo hall death pool she was running behind her back. She wanted more than anything for her to end the immoral game they were playing based on the life and death of their friends and acquaintances.
 
“Helen,” Rose said, steeling her nerve and waking her wife by rubbing her shoulder gently. “We need to talk about something.”
 
“What?” Helen asked, looking around. “What’s wrong? Is the house on fire?”
 
“No,” Rose replied.
 
“Then why the hell did you wake me up?” Helen asked.
 
“I saw you last night,” Rose said. “At bingo.”
 
“So?” Helen asked. “I didn’t win a damn thing, so you didn’t see much.”
 
“I saw where you went when you told me you were going to the bathroom,” Rose aid.
 
“Oh,” Helen said. “That’s nothing. Just some of us bingo buffs like to get together and talk strategy sometimes.”
 
“I heard what you were talking about in there,” Rose said. “You’re running a death pool with the people in the bingo hall.”
 
Helen was silent for a moment. “And?”
 
“And that’s it,” Rose said.
 
“It’s all in fun,” Helen said, waving a hand.
 
“It’s sick and depraved to bet on people’s deaths,” Rose said.
 
“They’re going to die regardless of us betting on them,” Helen retorted. “It’s strictly against the rules to kill someone you’ve picked. That’s grounds for disqualification.”
 
“And what about Harold picking you?!” Rose said, now almost in tears.
 
“He’s picked me every time since we started this pool,” Helen said, laughing. “He’s wasted that fifty dollars every friggin’ round.”
 
“I just don’t understand how you let him get away without an argument at the very least,” Rose said.
 
“I’d have to disqualify myself if I argue about anyone’s pick,” Helen said. “Besides, the jokes on him. How the hell am I going to pay out if I’m the one who croaks? He hasn’t realized that in the ten years we’ve been doing this.” She cackled.
 
“You’ve been doing this for ten years?” Rose asked.
 
“Give or take,” Helen replied with a shrug.
 
Rose got up and left, heading into the kitchen. 
 
“Come on back, Rose!” Helen called. “There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s not like we’re running a tontine for God’s sake. I put my foot down when Harold suggested that one!”
 
Helen waited, but Rose didn’t return or respond. “Is this really that bad?” she asked herself.
 
Da’Quarius came in, his dog jumping around him in glee. “Hey, Helen,” he said. “I’ll be back after I take Dutchie for a walk.”
 
“Wait,” Helen said as Da’Quarius took the leash from the table by the door. “I want to ask you something.”
 
“I swear to God, biddy,” Da’Quarius said, “if you ask me to fondle my junk, umma lose my shit.”
 
***
 
“So I was just fondling my balls,” Tony said, “and I found this bump thing. I kind of freaked out a bit. Nut cancer is a big deal. Paulie told me to get some treatment for it, so I came here. That’s pretty much it.”
 
“Well,” Manny Garcia said, sitting across from Tony in their living room in their home on Freedom Lane, across the street from the Masters family, “you’ve come to the right place.”
 
“Word,” Antonio, Manny’s brother, added. “We got’cho hook up.”
 
“Thank God,” Tony said. “I’ve seen the articles online about cannabis oil being able to cure cancer, and I figured you’d be the two who’d have some.”
 
“We got you, bro,” Antonio said. “You got fifty bucks?”
 
“Anything,” Tony said, taking his wallet from his back pocket and counting the bills. “I really don’t want them to radiate or remove either one of my guys.”
 
“I’ll go get it,” Manny said, getting up and leaving the room.
 
“Thanks,” Tony said.
 
“So this is really serious?” Antonio asked.
 
“I’m afraid so,” Tony replied, sighing. “Paulie says I should go to the doctor, but I don’t want to take this lightly.”
 
“You haven’t been to the doctor yet?” Antonio asked.
 
“Paulie got me an appointment for Friday,” Tony replied. “He’s even going with me. I thought he was just being a good friend, but I think he wants to make sure I go and he hears the diagnosis himself.”
 
“Fifty gets you three,” Manny said, returning with three syringes of dark green liquid.
 
“Thanks,” Tony said. “Why do you have so much of this anyway?”
 
“We don’t want to have any seizures,” Manny replied.
 
“Oh,” Tony said. “I never knew you guys were epileptic.”
 
“We aren’t,” Antonio said. “We just don’t want to have any seizures. Haven’t you ever heard of preventative medicine?”
 
“So what do I do?” Tony asked, looking at the syringe. “Just inject this into my balls?”
 
“Probably,” Manny replied with a shrug. “That’s what I would do.”
 
“That’s gonna friggin’ sting like a bitch,” Tony said.
 
“Just don’t do it in our living room,” Antonio added.
 
“Yeah,” Manny agreed. “Get the fuck out.”
 
***
 
Helen, Rose, and Da’Quarius were watching the evening news after dinner on Thursday night. It was quiet in the room. Rose wasn’t saying much to Helen, still upset about the death pool she had been running behind her back for years, and Da’Quarius had learned a long time ago not to get in the middle of his adoptive mothers when they were having a tiff.
 
“We end on a sad note tonight,” the handsome anchor on the channel seven news said, “Bertha Washington, a New Haven icon, died today.”
 
“Oh no,” Rose muttered.
 
“Bertha Washington?” Helen asked. “”Why does that name sound familiar? Do we know her?”
 
“No,” Rose said, a little too quickly.
 
“I’ll be back,” Helen said, getting up with a grunt. “I have to check something.”
 
Rose was quiet as Helen left the room, undoubtedly going to check her list to verify that Bertha Washington, New Haven icon, was on her list for the bingo pool.
 
“So you guys know dat lady on da’ news or somethin’?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Rose nearly jumped. She had forgotten he was in the room with her. “She plays bingo with us,” Rose replied. “That’s all.”
 
“OK,” Helen said, coming back in the room. “Isn’t tomorrow Thursday night? Bingo night!”
 
“Didn’t you biddies just go yesterday?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“We’re going again,” Helen replied. “You’re more than welcome to join us and try to win some money?”
 
“You can win money?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “Maybe I will check it out.”
 
“Can you give us a few minutes?” Rose asked Da’Quarius.
 
“Sho’,” Da’Quarius said, walking up the stairs, toward his bedroom. His loyal dog followed him.
 
Rose waited for Da’Quarius to be out of earshot. “I know that woman plays bingo with us,” she said, “and I know she’s in the pool.”
 
“This again?” Helen sighed. “Look, there’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing.”
 
“It’s immoral,” Rose said. “I do not approve of it, and I wish you’d stop doing it. I won’t argue with you. That’s all I have to say.”
 
“Good,” Helen said. “I’d hate to see what you’re like if you had more to say about something you don’t approve of.”
 
***
 
Tony sat on the couch in his living room, wearing just his boxers and white teeshirt, an icepack on his crotch. He had injected the cannabis oil he bought from he Garcia’s, and he was sore from the injection. He wondered how long it was going to take to kick in when he heard a voice.
 
“Hey, Tony!” someone shouted.
 
Tony looked around, but he saw nobody in his apartment. “I must be hearing things,” he said.
 
“No you’re not,” the voice replied. “Look down.”
 
Tony looked toward his crotch, moving the ice pack. “You can talk?” he asked his penis.
 
“Yeah, I can talk,” Tony’s penis replied. “And I’m sorry about all this for what it’s worth, bro. You know I love you.”
 
“I know,” Tony said. “I love you too, but you gotta tell those balls of yours to calm the shit down with the cancer.”
 
“Dude,” Tony’s penis said. “I can’t talk to your balls. What the hell do you think I am, magic?”
 
“Sorry,” Tony said. “Look, I gotta go to the doctor on Friday and see about all this nonsense. I better get some sleep.”
 
“Cool,” Tony’s penis said. “Before you go, why don’t you make us a couple of sausage parm subs.”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said, getting up. “That sounds amazing.”
 
“Fuck yes it does,” Tony’s penis said.
 
***
 
Helen entered the bingo hall with Rose and Da’Quarius, her canvas bag hanging off her left shoulder. “You two get us set up,” she said. “I’m going to take care of business quickly tonight.” She shuffled over to the kitchen area, where the others were already congregating. Rose watched with a look of worry.
 
“So dis is bingo,” Da’Quarius said, looking around. “I don’t know why, but I always thought dere’d be mo’ bitches.”
 
“Let’s get this show on the road,” Helen said, finding the usual crowd at the round table. She sat down, took her notebook from her bag, and opened it to the notes she took on Tuesday. “I don’t think we’ve ever had to do this twice in the same week, but here we are.”
 
“I’m calling shenanigans!” Harold snapped. “How’d those two know Bertha Washington was on death’s door?”
 
“Audrey just copied me,” Larry said. “And do your homework. Pick someone different for once, and you might actually win a round!”
 
“Enough bickering!” Helen snapped. “I’ll disqualify you both. My notes confirm that Larry and Audrey both picked Bertha Washington, so they split the pot.” She handed Larry and Audrey a wad of bills each. “Larry, you choose first again.”
 
“Larry Greene,” Larry said. “I choose Sam Hallford.”
 
“Got it,” Helen said, writing the information down. “Next.”
 
“Audrey Stone,” Audrey said. “I choose Sam Hallford.”
 
“Dammit, Audrey,” Larry said, slamming his fist on the table.
 
“Cut it out,” Helen groaned. “I don’t have the patience tonight. Next.”
 
The door opened, and Da’Quarius wandered in. “What’s goin’ on in here?” he asked, looking around. “Don’t you know we’re starting bingo?”
 
“Get the hell out of here, kid!” Helen snapped. “You don’t belong in here.”
 
“Fine,” Da’Quarius said, turning to leave. “But umma play yo’ cards and keep whatever you win.”
 
“What the hell is this?!” Harold snapped once Da’Quarius left. “You’re having that kid of yours spy on us now?!”
 
“Then he’d be spying on me too, numb-crotch,” Helen said. “I’m getting real close to disqualifying someone tonight, so say my name and be done with it.”
 
“Fine,” Harold said, crossing his arms. “Harold Fuchs. I choose…” A smile spread across his face.
 
“Come on,” Helen said. “Waste your pick on me like you always do.”
 
“Da’Quarius Masters,” Harold said, staring at Helen.
 
Helen took a breath and put her pen down, not writing the name of her son. “No,” she said. “He’s off limits.”
 
“What?” Harold asked. “Anyone in the bingo hall is fair game! These are your rules!”
 
“Not my son,” Helen said. “I’ll give you this one chance to take it back.”
 
“Helen,” Larry said. “The rules clearly state -”
 
“FUCK THE RULES!” Helen exclaimed, interrupting Larry. “You say my name, Harold, or I’m dragging you out of here by your balls.”
 
“Da’Quarius Masters!” Harold exclaimed in her return, rising from his chair. “He’ll likely get shot up in some drive-by or overdose on crack in an alley somewhere. Write his name in your book, or you’ll have to disqualify yourself for these shenanigans!”
 
“I’ll give you shenanigans, you wrinkly nut wrangler,” Helen said, tossing her notebook aside, kicking her chair over, and shuffling around the table.
 
“Oh shit,” Harold said, shuffling the opposite way. The others all got up and backed away from the table, all pleading with them to stop. Harold and Helen were shouting at each other, incoherent over everyone else. Nobody went silent until the door to the kitchen was slammed and Father McKraken walked in.
 
“What on earth is going on in here?!” Father McKraken demanded.
 
“Nothing,” Helen said, stoping, catching her breath. “Just a little bingo fan club. We love the way you roll those ping pong balls.”
 
“What’s this?” Father McKraken asked, picking Helen’s notebook up from the floor. “‘The bingo hall death pool’? Can someone explain this to me? Helen?”
 
“Can’t,” Helen said, shrugging. “I’ve been disqualified. You better talk to Harold.” Helen walked out, closing the door with a thud and a click behind her.
 
Father McKraken turned from the door to Harold. “Harold?” he asked.
 
“What the hell do you want from me, a confession?” Harold asked. “You know I’m a Jew, right? You have no power over me.”
 
Father McKraken sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Everyone out!” he shouted. “This morbid little club of yours is done!”
 
***
 
Tony sat in the doctor’s office, joined by Paulie. “Thanks for coming, boss,” he said. “Now you can get a look at it too.”
 
“I’m not looking at your balls,” Paulie said. “I’m going to get real acquainted with these informative posters on the walls. I’m only here because your were being such a baby in the waiting room.”
 
“Thanks anyway,” Tony said. “It means a lot that you’d come in here with me. You’ve always been like a brother, and I’m glad you’re here when I possible get the worst news of my life.”
 
“Come on,” Paulie said. “We both known what’s going to happen. The doctor’s going to see what you think is cancer, tell you it’s a zit or an ingrown ball hair, pop it, let me leave so I can throw up, and tell you it’s not cancer.”
 
The doctor appeared next, a middle age man with short hair and glasses, wearing a white lab coat over a polo shit. “I’m doctor Max,” he said, pulling the stool across from Tony, who was sitting on the exam table. “I understand you have some questions about testicular cancer.”
 
“Just one,” Tony said. “Do I have it?”
 
“Let’s take a look and see,” Doctor Max replied.
 
“Here’s where I read the wall,” Paulie muttered, looking at the many medical posters on the walls while Tony dropped his pants and boxers to the floor. 
 
“It’s on the left one,” Tony said.
 
“OK,” Doctor Max said. Paulie kept his eyes on the wall while the others were silent. He didn’t want to ask what was going on. He was uncomfortable enough being in the same room while Tony was getting his balls fondled, especially since he knew for sure it was probably nothing.
 
“Why do you have a puncture wound here?” Doctor Max asked.
 
“It’s from the cannabis oil injection,” Tony replied. “I hope you don’t mind, but I did a bit of self-treatment.”
 
“Oh,” Doctor Max said, continuing his examination. “All set. You can pull your pants back up.”
 
Tony did as asked, and Paulie turned around when they were. “Everything good down there, doc?” he asked.
 
“Do you want him here for this part?” Doctor Max asked Tony.
 
“Yeah,” Tony replied. “I want him here.”
 
“OK,” Doctor Max said. “There’s definitely a growth.”
 
“What?” Paulie asked. “You’re shittin’ me.”
 
“We’re lucky we caught it when we did, and it seems to be fully located on your left testicle. It’s too early to tell, but we should be able to save the right one at least.”
 
“See!” Tony said, jumping up and getting in Paulie’s face. “I told you I had nut cancer!”
 
“Tony,” Paulie said. “I don’t think this is something you should be excited about proving.”
 
“Oh,” Tony said, calming down, any joy on his face draining. “Oh shit. I have nut cancer.”
 
“We call it testicular cancer,” Doctor Max said.
 
“What’s a testicular?” Tony asked.
 
 

 

The End

Budgie’s Journal # 101 – Freedom Lane Season 12


It’s time to rejoice. Freedom Lane returns with its eleventh season tomorrow with The Bingo Hall Deathpool. 

Join Rose, Helen, Da’Quarius, Paulie, Tony, and the rest as they tackle subjects like deathpools, testicular cancer, the mafia, poetry, vaginal health, confederate statues, professional wrestling, politics, casual sex, and much more.

Click here for seasons 1-11!

Season 12 is the best season yet, and it only gets better! We’ll see you all on Freedom Lane!

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-Budgie Bigelow
10/30/17