I’ve known some funny people in my life. But clearly the funniest was Jerry F. To be around Jerry was to laugh. Almost every outing stood a chance of turning into a comic classic.
For example: In the mid 1980s his marriage tanked and suddenly he was back in the “game,” playing the field. What he liked was going to “free fire zone” happy hours around Washington town. His sister, who lived nearby, didn’t think girls equal to her brother frequented those spots so she was always on the look-out for ladies of more virtue.
Jerry and I in Canada
Jerry and I in Hawaii
Jerry and I at Roche Harbor, Washington State "April Breeze" is in the background
In time Jerry's sister spotted someone she thought was perfect for her brother and she set up an elaborate picnic on the grass at Wolftrap – a local outdoor concert amphitheater – for a Peter, Paul and Mary concert. She invited the lady she liked, invited Jerry, bought champagne, strawberries, cream, cheese, toothpicks. She had a woven wooden picnic basket. She had it all. Had a Scottish plaid wool knit blanket to sit on. She was seriously trending Martha Steward.
Her best laid plans went terribly awry however because Jerry misunderstood and thought he was to invite someone he knew, so he did, and got tickets for them both, which caused his sister to go crazy. Her friend was the perfect person for Jerry and her strawberries were just right. And the blanket. And oh, what would Martha Steward have to say? Oh, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, how could you?
So Jerry called up his date and said something had come up and their date was off and he called up his sister and said he was available to her and her date of choice.
This of course left him with two extra tickets and he offered them to Brenda and me that day at lunch. “Join us,” he said, “you’ll have fun.” I mentioned that the sister didn’t know we’d be coming, and he said, “Ah, you know Sis’. It’ll be OK. She likes you Parker, thinks you’re funny…. sometimes.”
Concert was at 7:30 pm that night. Brenda, back working at the CIA, and I both were committed until 5 pm, so we didn’t have much time after work to get home, change clothes, pick up something for the stylish picnic and to get to Wolftrap before traffic became too much.
This is Northern Virginia, folks, I think on a Friday afternoon, and we had two and half hours to get places and do things. On reflection we should have just gone to Wolftrap from work. But no, someone in our two person group had to go fix herself up.
Brenda knew “Sis” the way one woman knows another. She had noticed at previous meetings how she had her hair just so, and how she dressed in the fashion of the day and acted like the product of an expensive finishing school.
At these previous social gatherings I, of course, had been too busy telling fart jokes to notice. And anyway social gatherings are not intiminating to me. I got a fart joke for most any formal occasion.
But anyway Brenda needed extra time to make sure she looked as good as she could, and that she wore something that would be comfortable and yet stylish. I’m thinking that I’ve been to this Wolftrap before and you have to have a ground cover to sit on, or you mess up your pants. So I went into the garage as Brenda was still working on her face and found an old Army nylon poncho liner and then I picked up an old Army pack to carry it in. And I went out to the car and waited and waited and Brenda didn’t come. So I went inside and pleaded for her to hurry up. It was like 6:30 now and the concert was to begin within an hour. Probably Jerry, his sister, her husband and the perfect date were already there.
Finally Brenda gets out to the car and we headed to Wolftrap, hoping to find something at a 7/11 or fast food joint to contribute to the strawberry and champagne layout. We’re speeding along trying to remember the roadside places that lay ahead. I’m honking the horn, blowing through yellow lights.
Inside McLean city limits we spot a Popeye’s Fried Chicken concession in a small shopping center and I swing across the road, into the parking lot and into the closest parking space near the front door. I noticed some people moving towards the chicken place as I slammed on brakes and opened the car door. It’s a herd of four very large people waddling along, intent on the single entrance to Popeye’s. They were closer than I was, but I was young and fast and I sprinted. Maybe they sensed they had competition because they seemed to speed up a little, so that moving at fast fat-people speed they beat me by a step to the glass doors. And then the first one there opened the door and he let one fat person in, and then another fat person in, and then another and then the door holder slowly waddled in last, bracing his knee as he took the step up into the store.
I was on his heels, but four large people back.
The first fatty began a dialogue with the Popeye person about the night’s special and the side order and the mild or spicy and if the mashed potatoes were salty or not and would they take coupons. And then this first fatty ordered and moved on down the line and the second fatty stepped up and wanted to know if they took coupons too and if the mashed potatoes were salty – hell didn’t she just hear the first fatty order? And the first fatty came back and said he had changed his mind and wanted a different side.
Finally… finally I get to the counter and asked what I could get right now. I noticed a basket of chicken down by the cash register and the counter person said it was for someone to pick up and I offered her a lot of money if she’d sell it to me and she looked both ways and said OK and I moved down the line, ahead of the fat people and got the bucket of chicken, passing the clerk a handful of money and then I paused and asked for two large cups of fountain coke and I rushed out to the car, throwing the bucket of chicken in Brenda’s direction and placing the cokes in the back seat.
The rest of the trip to the park was a blur of pedestrians dodging my car and people on bikes and slow grandmothers driving big DeSotas. But we got there. Had to park in the far reaches of the parking area.
I took the poncho liner out of the pack and gave it to Brenda. I put the bucket of chicken in the bottom of the pack, put the cokes on top and we took off.
We found Jerry and the perfect date sitting with Sis and her husband on the most perfect blanket, with the most perfect spread of food and cheeses and grapes there in the middle. Each had champagne in long-stem expensive looking glasses. Sis’s husband wore an ascot. Some of the group greeted us with more sincerity than others, but I was just happy to get there. I spread the poncho liner next to Jerry, took off the pack and reached in to get the chicken to add to the picnic food.
Only the cokes had spilt and the first chicken piece I pulled out first was wet and losing its skin. It looked absolutely disgusting. Worst than road kill… it was like some rodent looking thing you’d pull from a dumpster.
Jerry said he’d pass.
Brenda said, “Oh my God!”
And she wasn’t talking about the chicken.
She had tried to sit down on the poncho liner next to Jerry, but found being on the side of a hill like we were, that she had no traction and her first attempt at sitting sideways, to partake of grapes, strawberry and champagne, was not a success. The poncho was like a “magic carpet” delivering her to the group below, in a wild slide, her feet up above her head as she tried mostly unsuccessfully to keep her skirt from coming up to her armpits.
I went to help her up, but I stepped on the poncho liner and fell, sliding into her and the group. The piece of chicken I had been holding went flying. As I got to my feet, a lady in a nearby group held out the piece of sad chicken to me with two fingers. I looked at her and said no thanks.
Brenda was on her knees trying to crawl back to the Scottish plaid blanket where the strawberries and champagne were. Civilization as it were.
I, instead, insisted on making a go of the poncho liner, but after sliding two times into the group below, I gave up and sat on my pack.
“Sis” was not amused, but Jerry laughed and laughed.