Eggfest '92 was going to be the best one yet. That's what they claimed, anyway, and that year we were all inclined to believe it. Eggfest was the same local bullshit every June around the first sign of summer. Fundamentally, the gathering was designed as a sort of thank-you to the state's 38 million laying hens, but we all knew it was nothing more than a means to get Dean into the travel guides. Ohio does indeed supply the nation with 9 percent of its eggs, but of the 7.9 billion eggs laid per year, only about 5,000 or so slide out in Dean. Apparently that was enough to rent a pony for kiddie rides, organize a bake sale, devil a few thousand of those suckers, and book some extremely capable and eager musical entertainment.
I'm being cynical now, but back then Eggfest '92 was our largest show yet, and we weren't taking it lightly. No longer would we crash the thing, screaming, "Eggs! Eggs!" in homage to Edie the Egg Lady from the old John Waters movie Pink Flamingos (which we loved), and spooking the pony. With the thirty to forty stragglers who'd wander up each year and justify the following year's Eggfest, we'd be performing for 500 people easy. I was nervous. I was already getting used to folks being nice to me because I played drums in a real band, and I was hungry for more. And for eggs.
The Jane Ashers had formed in my garage two years previously, in the summer of 1990. I was five years into my post-graduation from Benjamim Harrison High but I'd yet to send one college application out there for consideration. None of us had after-school jobs yet either. And I wasn't joining the army. I had the notion in my head that college was bullshit, and there was nobody around to challenge that. Not in my house anyway. My friends, they didn't have the grades or the money. And the notions in their heads were limited to "hungry," "girls," or "pot." I didn't know what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I decided to give myself a year to figure it out. By the time I turned twenty, I told myself, I'd know my future. And if not, I could always try college. In the meantime, I had plenty of hobbies. I was building my own computer from spare parts. Eating frozen pizzas and drinking my dead dad's Jim Beam bourbon out in the garage. I had my drums out there too. My Frankenstein's monster of a kit. A third-hand Ludwig bass. Dented Pearl tom and snare. Cracked Zildjian cymbals I stole from the band closet at school and dropped during my getaway. My drums were hand-painted a sort of orange, the shade of a burnt cake--I'd never seen another kit quite the same color. I remember taking pains to come up with something odd when I was mixing the pigments and getting high. I didn't care if it was ugly, and it was. I just wanted it to be one of a kind. My things were occasionally unreliable. But they were also unique. Like me. Who needed higher education? I wasn't bored yet. Life was good enough.
I lived alone with my mother, whom I adored, even though she was trouble. Ma had dropped off the grid just over a year after my father passed away in the fall of 1985. She made an attempt at proper widow behavior for a little while, probably for my sake. Minna was good-looking. I got her light hair and blue eyes. I guess everything else came from my dad: obstinacy, alcoholism, and this nose. Anyway, once it was proper, about two months after the funeral, the men came. Nobody local, out of respect for my father, who was well loved in Dean whether he worshiped the Son or not. I wondered where these men with their oily hair and powder blue two-piece suits were materializing from, because nobody in Dean would dare violate Artie's legacy in such a rude and horny fashion. Were they traveling salesmen passing through Dean on their way to Cincinnati or Toledo or Chicago even? More likely they were just blank, common men, half in the bag and vaguely wanting to nail my grieving mother after buying her a few rounds of inexpensive vodka at Tate's Grill out by the interstate turnoff. I even followed her in a friend's car and spied on her as it all went down. Minna drank gimlets and smoked unfiltered cigarettes like someone hastening her own demise. I remember her catching me with a stolen Pall Mall out in the garage and beating me with a Goody hairbrush until it snapped in two. And there she was, getting loose and lighting one cig with the end of the last, swaying and falling into the arms of these highway wolves with their Japanese cars full of regular gas out back. I didn't judge. She was bereft. Only 38, and left alone for all time.
"I don't even like them, Sandy. I don't like them touching me." I'd found her in the bathroom with a bottle of Smirnoff vodka, a notebook, a pencil, and an open bottle of sleeping pills. This after a particularly empty interlude. I screamed like a girl.
"What are you doing, Ma? You'd just leave me like that?"
"I'm having a drink."
She stared up at me. The corners of her lips twitched involuntarily. There was a sparkling ring of snot around her right nostril. She wiped it away.
People told my father that he looked a lot like Glenn Ford, the actor from The Blackboard Jungle. He was solidly built. Strong. Craggy. Maybe I'm thinking of William Holden. I don't know. My point here is that he was a bull. He fixed the car. We didn't pay a mechanic. He had a big gray toolbox. Now it's mine. Dad followed some girl named Jennifer Blake from his native Cleveland to Dean after college, then ditched her and married Ma, who was in high school at the time. All I know about Jennifer Blake is that she was very tall, with straw-colored, almost white hair . . . and after Dad had spent a few days in Dean, she was very gone. The way I heard it, although they didn't repeat it much, was that Artie spotted Minna at the counter in Bix's drugstore, walked to the pay phone by the gas station, put a coin in, and broke it off with Jennifer immediately. Then he went in, sat down, ordered a bottle of cola and introduced himself. He won over Minna's parents with his no-nonsense demeanor and some rudimentary Hebrew he remembered from school. At the time the Roth family were the only Jewish settlers in Dean, although they put up a tree every December and tried almost too hard to assimilate, changing the name on their mailbox to Ross. Unlike Winona, they were not in show business and they may have been slightly ashamed of their tribal roots. Who knows?
Minna's family had a business selling materials for countertops, and Artie went to work there. After starting in the yard, he moved into the office and ended up taking over the business inside of three years. He could sell scratchproof Formica made from the new miracle plastics developed for the last two war efforts like nobody else. By his late 30s, he'd built the company into a chain. I remember marveling at his ability to maneuver long sheets of material even in his silk suit and gold Baume et Mercier watch. He ate his meat rare. No dessert. Just coffee, black, and an unfiltered Pall Mall cigarette. Artie Klein was the toughest Jew who ever lived. Certainly not the kind of guy you'd expect to get killed by a bumblebee. He'd lived 49 years, 5 months, and 121Ú2 days without knowing that he was allergic to bee stings. How would you know if you've never actually been stung by a bee? It was just fate he hadn't, I guess. They thought it was a heart attack at first when he keeled over in the garden, his neck all swollen and red, eyes bulging, tongue purple and bitten nearly in two. When the doctor told us what really happened, that a little fuzzy bee took down my indestructible father, I vomited. Nothing made sense. I understood Minna's need to find something meaningful after having her marriage and basically her whole existence reduced to some kind of black irony. But she wasn't going to find it the way she was...