"What does this Shame-O guy do anyway?"
She displayed the awe of a child describing a magic trick as she explained, "He's a mind reader. See, he picks a volunteer from the audience and orders them to clear their mind. Then he goes into a trance and uses a real weird voice to tell the audience some embarrassing secret that the volunteer has. Everybody looks at the volunteer and goes like this." She used the bottom of her extended right index finger in a whittling motion to stroke the top of her extended left index finger. "And chants:"
Shame, shame, double-shame!
Everybody knows your name!
Mr. Bailey shook his head and bellowed, "Fuck that! I don't want a buncha strangers knowing my personal business!"
Mrs. Bailey admonished her husband: "God bless you! All you know how to do is cuss! You don't know how to relax and have a good time!"
* * *
An hour previously Mrs. Bailey had announced the children’s bedtime and reminded Janie of the list of emergency phone numbers affixed with a plastic bunch-of-grapes magnet to the fridge, as if Janie hadn’t babysat Emily and Roy for years.
Janie relaxed in the center of the family room couch, and the children had migrated from the floor and sat on either side of their beloved babysitter—Emily because she fancied herself Janie’s peer; Roy because he secretly took cues from his older sister, and he was sweet on Janie (though he feigned indifference).
“Guess what?” Emily figured the time had come to tell Janie. “The Ploughboys are gonna be on the Shorty Harris Show tonight! We can watch together!”
The Ploughboys were a vocal group led by teen heart throb Berti Blaze. Tonight Berti would wear his signature gold lamé sport coat while the other three Ploughboys wore red lamé sport coats and shared a microphone behind him. They would perform their recent hit "Fateful Day”—Emily had seen coming attractions. The Ploughboys were especially popular among teenaged females.
Being a teenaged female, Janie had known about the appearance for weeks. She pretended that this was the first she heard and asked, “What time does Shorty Harris come on?”
Emily tentatively answered, “Nine o’clock. You’ll let me stay up right?”
“Well, it’s past your bedtime . . .”
Emily squealed when she begged. “But its Berti Blaze and the Ploughboys! Please? I promise I’ll be good.”
Janie scrunched her face. “Well, I dunno . . .”
“Please? I’m eight years old, and that’s practically a grownup.” She turned to Roy while she gloated about her age. She often condescendingly reminded him of her imagined superiority.
Janie smiled and observed: “I don’t think either of you is a grownup —yet.”
She saw that Emily’s declaration irritated Roy and reached for him with the intention of lifting his cowboy hat and tousling his hair. He shrunk from her hands and slipped off the couch. Then he trotted out of the family room shooting his cap pistol at the ceiling and loudly chanting la-la-la ad infinitum. Janie turned to Emily, simpered and shook her head. Emily rolled her eyes, heavily sighed and reminded Janie that Roy was still an “immature child” and may she please stay up and watch the Ploughboys on the Shorty Harris Show?
After a few seconds of exaggerated pensive facial expressions, Janie ambiguously answered, “We’ll see.”
Roy reappeared. He’d returned the cap pistol to its holster and held a portable cassette recorder out to Janie. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, stared at the rug and smirked as he informed Janie: “This is a whole lot bettoe than the smelly ol’ Ploughboys.” (Roy hadn’t yet mastered the R sound.) Janie reached for the recorder but Roy, oblivious to her, pulled the small box to his chest. He clumsily pressed PLAY and set the recorder on the floor.
Janie expected a recording of Roy singing along with a song on the radio. Instead she heard what she surmised to be a one-sided phone conversation:
And so she went on about . . . What? . . . I really don’t know but . . .Oh yeah . . . A tortoise-shell hairbrush . . . Yeah I guess, but who knows . . . Yeah I guess, but she drinks y’know . . . I really don’t know but I wouldn’t be surprised . . .
The unfamiliar voice sounded distant, and Janie had difficulty making out the words. It seemed ludicrous to take interest in one half of a phone conversation taped by a child. But apparently the recording greatly amused Roy. He giggled uncontrollably and repeated snippets of conversation from the cassette while he carelessly jumped up and down.
Plus Ivan gained all that weight and now he looks like an overfed Eskimo . . . That’s exactly what I told her . . . Uh-huh . . . Yeah I guess . . . Oh yeah . . . Darts . . . Well what does she expect . . . (click)
Roy still giggled as he bent over and pressed STOP. He examined Janie’s face hoping to find approval. Instead he found the stern expression of a grownup intent on lecturing him. Janie effortlessly assumed the guise of role model complete with patronizing tone of voice. “You really shouldn’t record people’s private conversations without their permission. Who’s that on the tape?”
Roy tittered as he answered, “Mrs. God and Mrs. Doody-head.”
He took off trotting, again firing his cap pistol at the ceiling and sing/yelling la-la-la over and over.
On the verge of tears Emily sputtered: “That—child—always embarrasses me in front of my friends.
Both Emily and Janie jumped when the phone rang.