Turkey Baby

By Bud Smith



Good Luck: Episode Two

I’m a turkey baby. That’s what mom says. I’m her turkey baby. I was her turkey baby and I am still her turkey baby.

It was snowing. We stopped welding on the million pound bomb. I left work. The turnpike was all jammed up. I battled my way to the spur, and past the tollbooth, onto Christopher Columbus Blvd.

Now I was almost home, but dead stopped in snowy gridlock traffic and saw no end in sight, so I parked on the side of the road and walked half a mile to a bar with a fireplace raging and the lights otherwise off.

I had a happy hour whiskey. And then another. The fire felt really good. The car was illegally parked. Every minute was illegal. Every sip was illegal. I texted a friend in Ireland, he messaged that my night sounded like a John Cheever story. I knew one John Cheever story, a drunken man stops and swims in every neighborhood pool on his way home. I agreed, Yes, I was swimming home too.

I was born on November 25th, 1981. My mom always told me how I was born on Thanksgiving. They gave her Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital. It was pretty good, miraculously.

I paid the bill and walked back out. Newark Avenue is usually painted green, and no cars drive down it. Tonight Newark Avenue was painted white and still no cars drove down it. I walked to Grove Street and had to make a decision—go right and descend the hill to Ibby’s Falafel, the best falafel in the world, or go left and up the hill to Dullboy to get the best chicken sandwich in the world. They put kimchi, honey, and bacon on the sandwich and the fries are curly and spicy. I went to the left.

Dullboy is a little embarrassing. It’s inspired by The Shining. Decorated like the Overlook Hotel. Dullboy. As in, ‘All work and no play make Jack a very dull boy.’ There are typewriters screwed to the walls, and paperback books glued to the wall. They’ll glue any book to the wall. Any book at all. They had Ulysses glued to the wall and they had Jackie Collins glued to the wall.

The man smoking a cigarette at the door asked to see my ID. I showed him. He looked at it and said, “Happy almost birthday.” When I walked in, he walked in, and he sat down at a table and started playing with his phone. The host brought me to a mirrored table not too far from the man who’d checked my ID. As other people walked in the bar and the ID checker just sat there playing on his phone, I realized the ID checker had just been playing around with me. He didn’t work at the bar. He was a taxi driver, also stranded. He’d just checked my ID as a gag.

Like all things, it didn’t matter, and there was no need to get any further into it. I let it be. Life got weirder when you were alone because you had to protect yourself from floating away, you had to tether yourself to the ground or you’d slip through the ground and fall down into the center of the earth, maybe even tumble out the other side of the earth where your life would be radically different. It was easier to go out with friends. It was easier to go out with your significant other. When you went out alone, like this, you might find yourself floating off forever. No one wanted to be alone. It was too much work. It was too weird. Too complicated. I tried not to think about that.

What I thought about instead, as I drank my whiskey and the snow fell even harder, was how I’d misplaced my driver’s license when I was freshly 21, dropped it, left it somewhere. For nearly a year, I carried my birth certificate on me to show to bouncers to get into bars, because the DMV had given me a duplicate driver’s license and the bouncers didn’t believe I was really 21. Everywhere I went, to kill myself with that poison, I’d had to prove again and again that I had been born. The birth certificate even had my little infant handprints and footprints on the back. The bouncers in Seaside Heights said, “Aw, how cute, baby’s first bar crawl.” The bouncers in Philadelphia said, “Aw, how cute, baby’s first bar crawl.” The bouncers in Toms River, and Hoboken, and Hells Kitchen, and in actual Heaven, and in actual Hell said, “Aw, how cute, baby’s first bar crawl.” And then they opened the door and let me in.

The chicken sandwich came out. It made me feel human again. Outside the window I could see the gridlock. The cars lit up purple. The waiter told me that 287 was closed. And turnpike north had just closed. And the George Washington Bridge was closed. Later, I found out there was something like 600 car crashes.

I’d almost wrecked head on with a red mustang just getting out of the work parking lot.

And that made me laugh. Just thinking about work always makes me crack up. The people who I work with are out of their minds right there with me. And I laughed too because the wallpaper directly across from me was the same pattern as the carpet in the Overlook hotel. ‘All work and no play make Jack a very dull boy.’

That day we’d hired on a guy I hadn’t seen in a long time. We were doing a weld repair on a million pound bomb. One of these butane spheres you see on the side of the highway that rust up and look like pumpkins.

The guy shook my hand and said, “Bud, good to see you!”

“What have you been up to?”

He said, “Well, you’re never going to believe, I was watching a thing on TV about testicles yesterday. Did you know that in the monkey kingdom, it all goes by testicles? Yeah it does. If you want to make it, you’ve got to have big balls because that’s what the ladies want. Except if you’re a gorilla. Believe it or not gorillas have tiny balls but they make up for it with their muscles, so it doesn’t matter. But let’s say you were one of those other monkeys, man you’d have to have giant balls or you just wouldn’t make it.”

A coworker to my left spoke up, “So apes are attracted to the balls, specifically?”

“Oh, well it’s complicated. They’re attracted to ensuring the survival of their species and here’s the thing about big balls…they hold more cum.”

“Ah, more cum, of course.”

“The female, see, she might have sex with five other monkeys that day and it’s the monkey with the most cum that wins. That monkey washes the other stuff right out.”

The door to the restaurant opened and some underage kids came in covered in snow, tried to order vodka and cranberries, the bartender told them to get out of here, told them to go home and do their homework.

I was laughing at the table by myself, thinking about the big balls on everybody daring to ask and to everybody daring to say no, the big balls of the people stuck in traffic, and the big balls of the people who hadn’t driven the salt trucks like they were warned to, and the big balls of the governor closing all the roads down during rush hour. And the waiter came over and asked if I was all right. I said that I wasn’t all right. I told him that I was fucked by the weather and I was fucked on the whiskey and he told me it was fine, we were all fucked in it together. Just then the song I always want to hear when I’m at a bar came on. “Strangers” by the Kinks.

“Strangers” is clearly the best song to come on while it’s snowing and I’m drinking whiskey and looking out the bar window.

I put some filthy money on the mirrored table. I didn’t care for the mirrored table, I didn’t want to see myself, or see my problems. I craned my neck, the purple traffic with its chorus of horns and screams was still purple in the streetlight. I was in no rush.

The waiter thanked me and picked up the money and asked me an odd thing. Did I have kids? I shook my head no. He said he had two kids. He said he wished he was home with them because they were three and four, and had never seen snow before. They’d been raised in Los Angeles but now they lived here and this was their first winter.

I don’t think it makes sense to be jealous of anybody except children who get to see snow for the first time.

“I was talking to this guy at work who’s obsessed with monkeys, among other things. Want to hear something funny?”

“Of course.”

“He said he’s not having children because having children would make him weak because gangsters or his enemies or whatever could just kidnap/threaten his family and make him do stuff…like, okay.”

“That’s wild,” the man who’d pretended to check IDs said, looking up from the blue light of his phone.

“It is. It is. It is,” I told them both, and left.

As I left the bar, I saw one of those underage high school kids on the other side of the street wipe out on the slush. She hit the ground hard but jumped right up, not hurt, just ashamed her friends had seen her in her weakness. She didn’t see me looking, but I would have had a story for her consolation if she had and if she stayed, but she was quick to hustle away around the corner, so I’ll tell you the story:

Last year at the chemical plant, there was a big project so they had to hire people from all over the country to come work the job. The first snowy day I was walking through the unit and this big guy with a hard hat decorated like a football helmet for Louisiana State University waved me over. He was leaning against a column and genuinely looked afraid. I thought he was having some kind of medical emergency. Heart attack. Stroke. I rushed to his side. He told me he’d had an accident, he wasn’t used to walking on snow, being a New Orleans man, had never set foot on snow in his life, and had fallen and now he was perched up here trying to figure out how he was going to be able to survive his walk back to the pickup truck, which he would drive straight out of the plant and all the way back down to the Gulf of Mexico where life made sense. How did us Yankees do it? I told him he didn’t need to worry. I would teach him how to walk on snow. And then I began my instructions: hands out of pockets so if I wiped out I wouldn’t fall right on my teeth. And then I demonstrated the shuffle I did in the snow. The man was amazed and then I made him try. At first he was afraid, these big guys are always full of fear, but just two minutes later, he was walking on the new snow and he looked just like anybody else from New Hampshire or Vermont or Maine. He was a snow stepping expert. He shook my hand mightily and trudged off like Frankenstein’s monster searching for the crown at the top of the world.

No chance for escape, I walked back to where I’d abandoned the car. I’d killed two hours. By the looks of things I had to kill two more. The uphill sidewalks home were rotten with breakneck ice. My phone rang. Rae was leaving work, headed out with friends. She seemed confused as to what I was doing and I was confused too. She begged me not to drive drunk home. I said I wouldn’t. And then my life became so much sweeter. I realized the sign said ‘Permit Parking Only All Others Towed’ but the snow had piled up so excessively on the windows that the cops couldn’t look in to see who was a permitted vehicle and who wasn’t.

I went down the hill and drank myself south. Some drinks later, I was suddenly friendly. A stranger in a puffy coat talked my ear off, asked what I was doing for Thanksgiving. I told him nothing, somehow Rae and I weren’t going to see either side of our family, we were just going to go out for dinner at a restaurant, something I’d done for Thanksgiving only twice, and was looking forward to. I also told him it was my birthday, the Sunday after turkey day. He said happy birthday.

And he said his birthday was in November too. Which I told him wasn’t uncommon.  Everybody was a Scorpio or a Sagittarius. My wife was born on November 10th. Everywhere I go I meet people who were born in November. I used to think that the November people were drawn together somehow but I realize now that there’s just more of us.

“More of us? How so?” the man asked.

I said, “Valentines Day. It all stems back to Valentines Day.”

I explained that February 14th was nine months before Thanksgiving, so as a scientist I could hypothesize that every baby born in November had been created as a direct result of some Valentine’s Day loving. The man shook his head but didn’t vocally disagree. I continued that the inverse was not to be assumed. “Take for instance my sister-in-law, Chrissy, whose birthday is Valentine’s Day.” I said to the man, “What would you guess was the date that she was created by my wife’s mom and pop?”

The man said, confidently, “Thanksgiving.”

I smiled, “See, that’s where you’d be wrong. Nine months before Valentine’s Day is…Mother’s Day.”

“Holy shit. That makes sense.”

“And who fucks on Thanksgiving? Nobody does. It’s people’s least fuckable day of the entire year. All that food.”

“Mother’s Day might be the most fuckable day of the year.”

“See now you’re getting it,” I said.

He didn’t believe I was born on Thanksgiving Day and I took out my ID and showed him. 11/25/81. He said, “Wait, doesn’t Thanksgiving change every year?”

I told him, “Yeah, it does. It’s always the third Thursday of November.”

Then I googled my birthdate and google told me November 25th, 1981 was a Wednesday. And I drunkenly gazed down at my phone and said, “Shit.” I couldn’t actually have been born on Thanksgiving like my mom endlessly said.

I texted my mom, “Hey, November 25th, 1981 was a Wednesday. Haha.”

She wrote back, “Sounds about right.” When I texted mock anger she texted back that I was “still her turkey baby!!!”

Outside the window, a van was spinning its tires, stuck in the snow. The traffic had finally died down, finally cleared, but here was this lone stranded straggler. It was almost nine o’clock at night. I said to the drunk man in the puffy coat, “Come on, let’s go and push that guy out of the hole.”

He looked at me with woe. He wasn’t the kind of guy that went out and pushed people out of snowy holes just outside the barroom window. I couldn’t convince him alone, so I stood up, put my hooded sweatshirt on and announced to the other people at the bar, “Hey this guy refuses to help out that poor delivery van, it’s beneath him, who here will rise to the challenge? And it’s the start of the holiday season. Santa is watching.”

People looked up at me and didn’t say anything. No one was on my side. I said, “Okay, I’ll go out there and do it alone.”

I left the bar. He’d been spinning his tires, and the air stunk like burnt rubber. I knocked on the delivery driver’s window. He had on a puffy coat too. “I’m going to help you.”

He said, “Oh, thank you, I have to go, I can’t stay here like this.” I went behind the van and pushed as he gunned it and that did nothing.

I looked angrily over at the barroom window and I could see the faces of the other drunk people and they were laughing. The driver tried to rock the van and the back swung out, slipping on the wet road and the ass end pressed against the fire hydrant. Now I heard knocking on the glass, the people watching weren’t having fun. I yelled, “Well, if you’re worried, get out here and jump in.”

But no one else came out. I went to the trash can and found some pizza boxes. I put them under the back wheels. I told the driver to drive slowly forward. As he did that I pushed and we inched away from the hydrant and were not in danger of breaking it off its post anymore. Some loud drunk girls were walking up the street and saw me trying to push the van alone and they got back there with me and the four of us were able to push the van out of the hole and onward it went, snaking its way through the snowy streets.

It snaked away, leaving us there feeling proud but numb and far from home; it snaked and weaved beyond city limits; beyond the borders of the state, where it finally outran the storm two hours into Pennsylvania; and then picking up speed it rushed across the rust belt; across the Great Plains by day break; up and over the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide; across the Sevier Desert, and then the Mojave Desert; and into the smoke and doom of the ripping wildfires of California, where the van burst into flames but was not destroyed; and off a cliff it toppled and plunged into the Pacific Ocean, the driver not even flinching, and the ocean water quenched the metal of the delivery van and it was hardened and possibly immortalized, rendered indestructible; the van sank and sank and then the driver changed gears and drove along the bottom of the ocean, through seaweed and coral and the remnants of shipwrecks; consulting GPS, he confidently entered the Mariana Trench where the van tumbled and sunk deeper and deeper into the infinite blackness, and where the pressure built and where he saw the strangest bioluminescent fish, and by their light he was able to navigate through a steaming hole in the bottom of everything that led into a vast pocket of lava that could not harm the van; and in that lava the driver grew so hot he finally had to take off his puffy coat; but on and on and on he drove until he came out the mouth of a volcano on the other side of the world, the antipode of the snowy place where I was still stuck; and the sun was shining there for him and his delivery, and the day was blue and gold and warm and tasted like tropical paradise bubblegum, and iguanas scattered, and parrots of all colors swooped by in droves; he was parked illegally, temporarily, “Just give me a minute,” he muttered, “I’m just running in, I know I don’t have the correct permit, bear with me”; and hustled out onto the black rich soil earth which stunk of life, and opened the back of the van, and retrieved a wicker basket, and walked up the path between the palms, and opened the gate and knocked on the door; he was here to give the people their new baby, who was cooing in the wicker basket, and saying, in its own language, “Wow, what is this, wow, what is that?” Who, in its own language, was saying, “I’m brand new and it is all so endlessly exciting.” Who was saying, “Today is my birthday, today is my birthday, today is my birthday.” Who was saying, “Hello, did you know today is my birthday?” Who was saying, “Today is my birthday, I’m excited to meet you.”

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Vintage, 2022), among others.

2 responses to “Turkey Baby”

  1. Sally Reno says:

    Wow. So much to like here.

  2. Tiff the Titan says:

    From a fellow November baby – I love this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *