Chapter Thirteen

Bo suffers the wrath of Mona

Mona makes her son suffer the most in front of Bo, his frequent guest, who visits trailer #37 whenever he can escape the responsibilities of his own bizarre abode. On good days, the mother feels sorry for Bo--because he has an invalid, amputee grandfather dying at home in a hospital bed in the dining room; because he has four sisters and one little brother, and he, the oldest boy, must watch the grandfather while the family makes its twice-weekly outings to K-Mart and Frisch's Big Boy; because (ironically enough) Bo's mother is, herself, about a brick shy of a full load, though not completely nuts, as Mona is.

Mona knows that Bo's mother favors his little brother because she, Lulu, says the brother has a "Smith" (her maiden name) head, which is nice and round, while Bo's head, like his father's, is "flat in the back." Lulu voices this comparison regularly in front of Bo's friends and anyone else who will listen. So Bo especially enjoys it when someone other than himself suffers public maternal humiliation of any kind.

When Mona feels sorry for Bo, she feeds him or gives him her son's old clothes, babying him as though he were her own child, and Bo sucks it up: "Oh, thank you, Mona," he sighs. "You know my parents can't afford to buy me very much. All my underwear has holes in it. And sometimes, after I take a bath, I have to put my dirty clothes back on again."

When the mother occasionally gives her son and Bo each a dollar and sends them to McDonald's for their dinner, Bo accepts gratefully ("Oh, thank you, Mona. All we ever get at home is beans!"), spends the money for a quart of beer on the way to the golden arches, then bums half the son's french fries.

Although he plays the role of the humble pauper to the hilt on these days when Mona is the lucid and concerned mother hen, Bo is also equal to the hostile third degree his friend's mother might decide to give him the next time he enters trailer #37.

"Isn't your father a black man?" Mona often demands on her bad days, aggressively shoving an index finger into Bo's chest and confronting him as soon as he arrives.

"Shut up!" the son, boiling with humiliation for the 10,000th time, orders his mother.

But Bo is not flustered. "Well, ma'am," he says, "Daddy does have sort of a dark complexion. I guess maybe . . ."

"And doesn't he come from Russia?" The mother bites these words off with the challenging authority of a self-righteous prosecutor.

"Well, he's got that weird accent," Bo admits. "I guess it could be Russian." Which is, of course, nonsense. Like most of the people over forty in East Morton, Ohio, Bo's father is a native Kentuckian and sounds like it.

"Then he's Communist!" the mother barks. "Or Communist-inspired. Which is it?" Now she has backed Bo into a corner of the kitchen.

"Mom, shut UP!" the son shouts.

"I'm not sure, ma'am." Bo contritely shakes his head. "But I can ask him when I get home tonight--that is if he doesn't blister my buttocks for being tardy and letting my bean porridge get cold." Bo has never seen porridge in his life. "I could call home and ask him right now, but we're too poor to have a telephone." Also nonsense.

"This," Mona proclaims, setting a dish towel on fire at the kitchen stove and shaking the flames toward Bo, "is what happens to black Communists. You tell that to your Russian nigger father!" As the familiar stench--she's burned a thousand dish towels--fills the trailer, the son herds his friend quickly outside. He knows that Bo, a great mimic, will recreate today's scene for their mutual acquaintances later, either behind the son's back or right in front of him:

"So I'm waiting for his old lady to slide me some green for McDonald's, so I can cop me a quart of brew, then--whoosh--she sets a dish towel on fire, man. I mean on fire--and starts chasing me with it. I said, 'Please, Mona, don't blister my buttocks! I swear I'm just a poor white American!' "

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