A Happening Place
Randy Bechtel
A Happening Place

“Ben is here,” Jane said.

My 14-year-old grandson lay sprawled on the family room couch absorbed in his IPhone.

“Hi Ben,” I said.

Ben cast me a glance saying: “Hi grandpa.”

“How are you?”

“Good.”

“Anything new?”

“No.”

Ben was on quiet mode, which meant he expected to be passively entertained by something. Obviously that something was not the television, which was off. The obvious answer was his iPhone, but given the timing of his visit, I sensed another possibility—the impending arrival of my sister.

Ben loved family melodrama. It’s possible he heard, saw and remembered more about our family’s foibles, follies and frolics than anyone. But then, being the family member least informed about my family, I can only guess.

I said: “You know your Aunt Vivian should be here soon.”

“You mean Mary?” Ben corrected me, his eyes remaining glued on his iPhone.

“Yes Mary. She’s stopping here on her way back to Weed.”

 “A happening place, Weed,” Ben said.

“Your aunt is a happening woman,” I said.

Still looking at his iPhone, Ben smiled impishly. “Yeah, she’s a real character.”

Less than an hour later Mary, Jane and I occupied the room’s chairs while Ben sat with his legs curled up on the couch, his torso slumped against the couch’s padded arm, his eyes fastened on his iPhone.

Jane said to Mary: “Didn’t you say you were going to be in L.A. only two weeks? It’s been more than three.”

“I had so much to do!” Mary said shaking her coiffeured silver mane. “And most of it was church business.”

“Like creating your own line of fashions?” Ben said.

Mary blanched. “How do you know about that?”

Ben looked up, smiled and said: “’Mona on the Move.’”

Mary practically spilled her glass of pinot noir as she collapsed back in her chair. “Meddling Mona Odle!” she said acidly.

I marveled that The Weed News could appeal to a demographic of 14 to 71.

I said to Ben:,“Does your mom also read The Weed News?”

Ben grinned. “Sure. Doesn’t everybody?”

“I don’t!” Mary snapped. “It’s all fake news. Be aware of that, Benjamin.”

“Just how is it fake?” I asked.

“Because it reports what Eddie Mars wants it to report,” Mary said. She clasped her hands beneath her chin and said: “Oh, how I rue the day—in this very room—that I met that serpent. Meditating these last few days, I came to realize the Lord is testing me. My mission is to drive the serpent from Weed.”

Jane could not suppress a giggle. “I’m sorry, Mary, but Eddie a serpent?  Dork is more like it.”

“Maybe Eddie has great range,” Ben said.

Jane ignored him, telling Mary: “I really think it’s unlikely Eddie will even return to Weed.”

“Ha! He returned a week ago!” Mary said.  

“What?” Jane and I exclaimed in unison. Ben swung his legs off the couch and sat leaning forward with his eyes fixed on Mary.

“I see,” Mary said smugly. “Eddie didn’t want his return announced so Weed News didn’t report it.”

“How do you know Eddie’s back?” Jane asked.

Mary smirked. “Because I phoned him Tuesday,” she said. “I’d just talked to Margo who said Eddie signed her to a contract as a principal player. Uh-huh, that’s right!  ‘Weed’ the TV show has been greenlit.”

“Already?” I exclaimed.

“The production company was editing in LA while Eddie was still filming in Weed,’ Mary said. “One of the dime-a-dozen networks—Bravo or TLC or whatever—ordered 10 more episodes to go with the other two. According to Eddie, the network was sold even before they finished editing the third pilot episode.”

“What about you?” Ben asked.

“Me? What about me, Benjamin?” Mary said.

“Did Eddie offer you a contract?”

As Mary answered, a blush enveloped her neck and spread upward to her cheeks. “I didn’t ask about that because I didn’t care. But, of course, the serpent couldn’t resist volunteering that Margo—because she’s 20 years younger, I’m sure—should be the face of my church in his show.  Oh, the show will make clear that I’m the church’s head. But my persona— How did he put it? He said I’ll best be left to the imagination of viewers as this mysterious and lurking power behind the pulpit. Like the Wizard of Oz! he said. Me—the Wizard of Oz! Oh sure, I’ll make a cameo appearance here and there. And for that I’m to be paid scale.”

“You mean like an extra?” Ben said.

“Yes, well,” Jane interrupted, “I suspect Eddie is more interested in Margo because she’s a candidate for Weed’s mayor.”

Mary appeared frozen as she stared at Jane. Jane responded: “You do know Margo is running for mayor?”

“According to whom?” Mary said.

Jane peeped: “’Mona on the Move.’”

Mary closed her eyes and moved her lips as if she were whispering to herself. Suddenly she reanimated and said: “I expected as much. No doubt the serpent propositioned Margo—run for mayor and I’ll make you a star. That’s how things work in Eddie’s world.”

“Uh-oh!” Ben said looking at his iPhone. “Aunt Mary, you’re the news today in Weed News.”

Mary threw up her hands. “How can that be? I haven’t been in Weed for a month!”

“But Reverend Vlad has,” Ben said.

Mary glared at me.

“I didn’t tell Vlad you were in Weed,” I said.

The three adults exchanged questioning looks.  Ben had a look of intense anticipation that until now he had reserved for Popeyes chicken nuggets.

Mary hissed: “Eddie!”

“Eddie?” Jane said.

“Margo told Eddie how to reach Vlad. The Judas!”

“Maybe . . . maybe . . . maybe,” Jane stammered, “we should talk about something else.”

Mary pointed a varnished silver fingernail at Ben and commanded, “Read the story!”

Ben read aloud:

Police were summoned Wednesday night to the Church of Mary Magdalene at 666 South Weed Blvd.where an intoxicated man stood outside the front door loudly pleading to see “my Minushka.”

Inside two terrified residents, Joan Damone and Margo Butkus, awaited police by locking all windows and doors, and then barricaded themselves in an upstairs bedroom.

In the meantime, the commotion attracted a crowd of bystanders as well as a film crew that is shooting the first season of the reality television series “Weed.”

“Uh-huh, Eddie!” Mary said.

“Yes, it does seem suspicious,” Jane said.

“And it’s the first time Weed News reported Eddie being back,” Ben said.

Ben read aloud:

Police identified the man as Vlad Tepec, 65, a retired clergyman from Southern California. Tepec was arrested for public drunkenness and disturbing the peace.

“Retired?” Mary cried. “Sweet Mary and Joseph, please don’t tell me Vlad has moved to Weed!”

Ben read aloud:

Tepec’s “Minushka,” according to Damone, is the head of the Church of Mary Magdalene, Mary Adams, also known as Mary of Jefferson. Adams has been out of town for three weeks “meditating on a mountaintop,” Damone said. She said that before settling in Weed, Adams and Tepec had known each other in Southern California.

“Mountaintop?” I scoffed.

“People call the Coastal Range mountains,” Mary snarled.

Ben read aloud:

Josh Oliver, a neighbor of the Church of Mary Magdalene, described the scene: “This foreign dude—like a Russian or something—just kept talking to the front door. He was pretty zonked on Jack so he didn’t make much sense. Like he kept going on about how his having laughs with Dodo made Minushka sore. Like, he never said where Minushka was sore or how joking around with some bird caused it. I’m thinking bird flu maybe.”

When Ben looked up, Mary said: “That’s it?”

“Well, there is ’Mona on the Move,’” Ben said suppressing a grin.

“Meaning what?” Mary snapped.

“Mona interviews Vlad,” Ben said.

“I think we can pass on that,” Jane said.

Mary’s face was now like stone. “No, no, I need to know what I’m walking into,” she said icily. “Read, Benjamin.”

Ben read aloud:

After only two days everyone in Weed knows the name Vlad Tepec. Except they don’t. That’s because they’re pronouncing it "teepeek" or "teppeck" or "teepeck," not teppish, which is Romanian as in Transylvania as in, “Blah, blah, I vont to bite your neck.” Word of mouth took Tepec’s name from “Today’s Headlines,” which Cliff Sando, brother of cop Jerry, posts on a chalk board every morning in his bakery’s window. Thursday’s “Today’s Headlines”:

  • “Margie Klotz’s Gall Bladder Operation a Success”
  • “Foreigner Vlad Tepec Busted for Boozing”
  • “Weather Forecast: Sunny Yesterday, Maybe Today”

Not many people pay attention to Sando’s postings, but then, it would have taken only three mouths to put "teepeek," "teppeck" and "teepeck" in the mouths of many. Unfortunately, the one Weed resident who would have known Tepec’s name is on a mountaintop meditating.

I asked Vlad how it came to be, as Mary Mag’s Joan Damone repeatedly lamented: “Of all the churches/hair and nails parlors/soon-to-be fashion boutiques in all the towns, in all the world, he walks into ours!” Vlad replies, “Because of my Minushka.”  I say, “You mean Mary Mag’s Mary?”  He says, “Who?” I say, “Mary of Jefferson.” He says, “Who?” I say, “Mary Adams.” He says, “Who?” I say, “The woman you came to Weed to see.” He says, “Ah, you mean Vivian Adams.” Egad! Mary Mag’s Mary has an alias! Two aliases if you count Mary of Jefferson.

Vlad says, “Vivian was my gal in El Segundo.” I ask, “What happened?” and he says, “She caught me cadoodling with Dodo.” I say, “Dodo is a woman, right?” He says, “Yeah. The neighborhood tramp.”  I say, “You mean a homeless person?” He says, “As long as guys have beds, Dodo will have a home.” Ay, caramba!

I’m all: I need to look up cadoodle. I say, “Then what happened?” and he says, “Minushka hit the road.”  I say, “So you retired from the church to find her?” And he says, “Who retired? I was defrocked.” Great Caesar’s ghost! I say, “For cadoodling with Dodo?” He says, “Naw. Later when I created the church girls choir. Big mistake. Lots of nice dishes in that bunch.”

Jeepers creepers!  I say, “So what’s your plan? Wait until Vivian returns home?” He says, ”No can do. I’m being deported. Nuts! Nobody likes a down-on-his-luck immigrant bum.” I say, “What about your Minushka? Is there a parting message you want to leave her?” Vlad says, “Yeah. Tell her that Judy Daniels— She’s the church secretary in El Segundo. Tell her Judy Daniels wants her vibrator back.” As parting goes, a little lacking in sweet sorrow there, Vlad!

Ben looked up and said, “What’s a vibrator?” Everyone ignored him.

Rising to her feet, a still stony-faced Mary said, “Jane, why don’t you show me that herb garden you told me about.”

Seconds later both women were outdoors.

Ben said: “When was the last time you talked to Eddie?”

“Not since a dinner party four months ago,” I said.

“Are you mad at each other?”

“Not that I know of. As you may have noticed, Eddie is a busy man.”

“Grandma said Eddie wanted you to be his co-producer but you turned him down.”

I nodded. “That was when I thought Eddie was delusional thinking he could produce a TV reality series. I’ve since discovered that I was the one delusional because Eddie thinks like a TV reality series producer. He doesn’t need me. And I can honestly say that I have no need to be in Weed.”

Minutes later Ben and I were watching the San Francisco Giants game when the women returned. Mary entered first through the sliding door and came to hover over me.

“What?” I said.

“I need you to create a website for me,” she said.

I looked at Jane standing behind Mary. She shrugged her shoulders.

“You have one already,” I said to Mary.

Mary lowered her eyeglasses on her nose and stared at me over the rims. “That’s the church website," she said. "Joan does that using a pre-fab template. No, I want something original—dynamic—slick.”

“For what? Your fashion boutique?”

“For my official campaign website—Mary Vivian Adams for mayor of Weed. And none of this Mary of Jefferson baloney.”

“Okay!” Ben enthused.

“I don’t believe this!” I said. “You realize, I hope, it may be past the deadline for getting on the ballot.”

“Then I’ll run a write-in campaign. But I’m running!”

“Why?” I said.

“To give Eddie Mars a swift kick in the nuts!”

Mary now looked contritely at Ben and said, “Benjamin, you did not hear that!”

“I’m sorry, Mary,” Jane said plopping down in an armchair, “but how can your running for mayor hurt Eddie? If anything, you’re doing him a favor by giving him another crazy storyline.”

Mary smiled, rubbed her palms together and said, “The best way to punish a TV show producer is to become his TV show’s biggest star.”

Copyright © 2022 by Randy Bechtel

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