This is a work of fiction. People and events in this story have no relation to actual people and events. Any similarities are coincidental.
When my mom told me she was present for a drive-by shooting at the “Mickey D’s” I did not believe it. She lives in a lazy suburb of Chicago with all the excitement of a nap in a hammock. Then she told me she was out with Doris and Sy.
My mom met Doris and Sy on the first day of kindergarten. They have been friends for about seventy years. In that time they formed a four-way friendship with my dad, married, all moved out to Rolling Meadows, Illinois, raised their families, emptied their nests, and buried my dad. My mom has been very lonely since my dad died. The woman does not have a hobby (other than watching crime shows on cable TV) and is one of those “people who need people.” It has not made her one of the luckiest people in the world.
Widows are like bachelors. It sounds like fun to live free and carefree, but married friends do not know what to make of life’s loose ends. One of my mom’s friends confronted her in the parking lot after church on Sunday and asked why she was dressed so “slutty” for mass. “Are you trying to tempt Father John to stray from his vows with your open-collared blouse and your high-heeled shoes?” Mom, who was on her way to her job at the bridal department at the mall looked down at her clothing and could not imagine how anyone could find her slutty. No one could see her breasts. Her shirt was buttoned high enough to conceal any hint of a cleavage. Her skirt fell to the middle of her calf and was pleated, not pencil slim.
It did not do her reputation any good that she looked up from her Pay Less black pumps and smiled. “Sylvia, that is the nicest thing anyone has said to me since my husband died. Here I was feeling frumpy and you’ve gone and made me feel as fast as I was back in high school.” Then she patted Sylvia’s arm and headed for work.
It was tough to get an invitation to dinner parties without a date. There were women who thought their husbands appreciated Mom’s trim figure a little more than they could tolerate. Mom considered asking one of the widowers in town to accompany her for an event, but confided in me that most of them were “icky.”
“My friend Betty has been a widow for twenty years,” she told me. “She went to the movies with a man she met at the senior center. He scratched his arms until Betty thought she would go crazy!”
“I don’t get,” I said. “Maybe he had an allergy.”
My mom shook her head. “So close to the popcorn? No woman wants a strange man’s dust all over her popcorn.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Dust. Is that some kind of date rape drug?”
My mom looked shocked. “Date rape? What is that?”
Once I explained the concept, my mother was happy to avoid dating.
Doris and Sy never bothered with any of others’ preoccupations. They knew my mom well and loved her too well to abandon her because she was a pretty widow. The three have spent a fair amount of time together since my dad’s death.
What does preoccupy Doris and Sy is their health. They are hypochondriacs. I ran into them one day at the local Walgreens. They were sitting in two of the chairs near the pharmacy, holding hands, looking like lovebirds while in their seventies. It wasn’t all about the love they have shared for the last fifty years. It was the happy glow that surrounds them when they are about to be medicated.
When they are not picking up prescriptions, Doris and Sy are making, attending, or coming from doctor appointments. They have enjoyed their health insurance benefits and are making sure there is no money left for Medicare when the rest of us retire. All this health care has kept that marriage intact.
For many years they took turns having surgeries and treatments. She had a hysterectomy. He had a gall bladder removed. She had a “trick knee” replaced. He had exploratory surgery for a mysterious back pain. It got to the point where they saw her doctor on Monday and his on Tuesday, her specialist on Wednesday, his on Thursday, and so on.
The illnesses have not always been far-fetched. Doris’s ovarian cancer is in remission now. Sy’s Alzheimer’s is not. She looks a little shaky when I see her now. She sometimes needs her walker to get around. The radiation and chemotherapy have done a number on already “tricky” joints. Sy appears to be the same guy I have known all my life, but he has days and moods and some of us have been called in at times to search for him, like the winter night he walked out of a rehab facility in his pajamas and slippers because no one would make him a sandwich at ten at night when he woke with a hankering for one.
Doris still lets Sy drive the car sometimes. I guess the doctor has forgotten to ask for his driver’s license because he showed it to me when I last saw him. If they are staying in town and Doris is along to keep him on course, he drives her to the grocery store and they remember what it was like before she had to take over the checking account and the taxes and figuring out how the Medicare prescription drug donut hole works. That’s what it means to love someone in sickness and health in your seventies and beyond. You sometimes have to risk your own good health to help the other’s.
Luckily for Doris, Sy, and their passengers, they drive a big Cadillac. If they hit anything driving twenty to thirty-five miles per hour, that car will protect them. The rest of us need to be a little more concerned.
My mom was in the backseat of the Cadillac when shots rang out. The three were coming from a senior center event and decided to pick up some burgers and fries at the Mickey D’s drive-thru window on their way back to my mom’s house.
The senior center invites the local police to make a presentation on safety on the third Tuesday of every month. You have no idea how much crime there is in sleepy suburbs like theirs. Solicitors ring your doorbell and offer to give a free quote for gutter replacement. While you take them on a tour of the property, a confederate will enter through your unlocked doors and make off with the family silver. Over on Wilson Street, just two blocks from my mom’s home, that poor darling Mrs. Jones with the yellow Toyota had to call 911 when Billy Jones, her twenty-something, unemployed son threatened to rough her up when he didn’t like her dinner menu. “Isn’t that something?” my mom asked me. “You put food on the table and let your adult kids live with you for free and they don’t like the menu and get rowdy about it? Why didn’t the boy call up a friend and get himself invited there for dinner? That’s what happened when I was a kid.”
On a few occasions there have been some serious crimes. Folks are still talking about Mr. and Mrs. Leonetti, owners of the pizza parlor right next to the funeral parlor. Everyone gathers at Leonetti’s after a wake so everyone knows those two are hotter than Tabasco sauce on a Ritz cracker. One night Mrs. L was managing alone with two teenage kids while her husband was supposed to be in New York City for his father’s funeral. Mrs. L called the Motel 6 to see how the ceremony had gone and the phone was answered by none other than Angela, a waitress who had called in sick for the last few days. Mrs. L knew what that meant.
When an embarrassed Angela handed the phone to Mr. L, the rest of the town knew what it meant, too. Mrs. L started screaming about her husband’s infidelity. “You fucka her, you fucka me. You fucka me, you fuck over our restaurant–all we built together all these years.”
She screamed so loud and cried so hard that some of the patrons started to get nervous that their pizzas were taking a little long to come out of the kitchen. Someone who did not appreciate the free floor show offered with dinner that night tried to interrupt the tirade and wrecked it for everyone else. Mrs. L looked at her rapt audience and yelled, “He fucka her, he fucka me. All the rest of you get out of my fuckin’ restaurant!” That’s right. She threw them out. Some people left without paying their bills. Some left without getting their dinners. Some of the seniors had questions the police could not answer during the senior center info session, but everyone enjoyed hearing about the whole thing all over again. None of them admitted to swearing, but hearing others repeat Mrs. L’s incendiary language was more enervating than a Niacin flush.
For the record, Mr. and Mrs. L kissed and made up, but Angela is now working over at the Sunnyside Up breakfast bar. Lowell and Mr. Clean (as the locals call the owners) appear to share a bond that even Angela cannot tear asunder.
Fresh from an entertaining information session, Doris, Sy, and my mom were on the look out for criminal activity as they drove into the Mickey D’s parking lot. They were preparing to exit the parking lot when shots rang out.
Everyone in Doris and Sy’s car fell over onto their seats–at least as far as their seatbelts would allow. Sy recovered first. “Has anyone been hit?” he asked.
“No,” Doris declared. “But keep your heads down,” she admonished the rest of them.
“Are you okay in the backseat?” Sy asked my mom.
“Yes. But that was close,” my mom said. “I can still smell the gunfire.” They all could.
“The windows were open,” Doris said. “Maybe it was what they call a through and through!”
They were still pondering what to do next when the police pulled into the parking lot in response to others’ 911 calls. The local police are just as excited by small crime as the seniors. It’s so rare that anyone has to rest a hand on a handgun that all of the town’s squad cars ended up in the parking lot to see what happened. Half the cars had been on the way from the senior center to Mickey D’s anyway. It was on the way back to the station and it was lunch time.
At this point in the story, I was stumped. There is no serious crime in my home town. I live in Chicago. We have drive-by shootings here in Chicago. They can happen just about any place, but they are often gang-related. There’s only one elementary, middle, and high school in our town. You have to wait for the Pace bus and make a couple of transfers to reach a neighboring town and carry on a little hometown football rivalry. “It wasn’t a drive-by shooting,” I said.
“Oh, I think it was,” my mom declared in the voice that used to make me think that even my dad couldn’t spare me one of her punishments.
“Convince me. Tell me what happened next.”
My mom raised her eyebrow. “One theory is that we got caught in the crossfire in some gang matter. The car windows were open and the bullet may have passed in one side of the car and out the other without hitting anyone.”
I folded my arms and waited.
“The police don’t want to admit that this can happen in our town. They think that Billy Jones may have bumped the Cadillac with Mrs. Jones’s Toyota and driven off before anyone got a good look at him.”
“Is there a dent on the Cadillac?” I asked.
My mom shook her head. “No. Folks are already saying that’s enough to get Billy off if the fuzz tries to pin this on him.”
I blinked at the new lingo and wondered how long it would be before there would be a Law and Order: Small Town Crime show for the Baby Boomers like me to follow. We’re getting to be seniors these days. “They can put that show on every cable station in the country and you still cannot get enough of it,” my mom likes to say. She likes Chris Meloni a lot since she saw him in some shower scene and asked me what you call that vee at the bottom of the screen. I have no answers for questions like this.
“Did anyone see the yellow Toyota?” I asked. You cannot come from that town and not know the yellow Toyota. It was not a professional paint job. Someone did it after Mr. Jones drove the previously white car into the ditch on Route 14 on an icy night in December and someone else filled in the dents with a gray patching compound that Mrs. Jones found depressing.
My mom shook her head. “No one is willing to say anything to the fuzz. Everyone knows that squealing in the neighborhood can bring on retaliation.”
I started to laugh. “You smelled gunfire, right?” I asked.
“Did you feel the impact?” I asked.
“I felt nothing,” my mom said, “but it got close enough for Doris and Sy to stop in to see Dr. Joe this afternoon. He prescribed some Valium for them. Do you think I might need some of that to get to sleep tonight? I swear, I’m all jazzed up.”
“Mom, when a car gets hit by another, sometimes the airbags deploy. Did the airbags deploy?”
My mom blinked a few times, but she was silent.
“There’s a little gunpowder in an airbag,” I explained. “You might have smelled something like what we used to smell when we fired a cap gun as kids. The gunpowder causes the airbag to pop open when the car is hit.”
I rested my case.
But my mom is no slouch. You don’t watch cable TV all day and study The Herald’s police blotter every day without wondering what it would be like to be at the center of the most interesting crime story since the police were called to Leonetti’s to investigate some cancelled pizza orders. The fact that everyone got out alive meant that you could repeat the story as many times as you liked without seeming morbid or weird.
“That’s another theory,” she finally said. “And one we can discuss at the senior center crime briefing next month.”
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