East of NORMAL

‘AC/CD’ and the devil

Thirty-six years ago right now, “Funky Town” by Lipps Inc., “Call Me” by Blondie, and “Fame” by Irene Cara were on the radio 24/7, and I was a 17-year-old foureyes wearing a tie at Payless ShoeSource saying “May I help you?” time and again, with the radio in the store playing those three songs over and over. I was helping people try on shoes, or ringing them up at the register, or patrolling the aisles straightening out shoes knocked askew and spacing them out so that it looked like the racks were fuller than they really were. For lunch I’d walk over to the Captain D’s and come back with a greasy face.
     This was Madisonville, Ky., a coal town in the western part of the state — 18,000 rednecks year after year. The population never went up and never went down. The town motto was “The Best Town on Earth” and it was perfect — short, snappy, and an outrageous lie. Madisonville wasn’t even the best town in western Kentucky, much less the entire planet.
     I swear to God the following is true: I once parked outside a Pantry convenience store and in front of me was the white cinderblock wall on the side of the building. It was decorated with spraypaint graffiti. The graffiti said, and I quote, “AC/CD.” If I’m lying I’m dying. I understand misspelling “receive,” or using “there” instead of “their,” but how do you misspell AC/DC? That takes a special talent. I remember blinking and rubbing my eyes; I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “AC/CD.” I swear to God.
     The town was hyper-psycho Christian. The major vices were Jesus, pot, and beer. Oh yeah, and Quaaludes. I was a Jesus junkie, too, but I’d never taken a drug in my life. Beer was another matter. My friends and I were in a constant quest to get someone to buy us beer, or Bacardi. Getting hold of illegal booze was the greatest thing in the world. We threw up a lot.
     My boss was Linda Mitchell, a brown-haired Pentecostal transferred from Somerset. She had actually a rather nice body, if a little plump, and was boy crazy. Not only was she a longhaired, skirtbelow- the-knee Pentecostal, she was a demented mystic as well, telling me she’d seen a ghost in a cemetery one Halloween night: a maiden in a billowy white gown floating a foot in the air. Then there was the time a spirit sat on her while she was in bed and she couldn’t move her arms. She had a lot of stories like that.
     One night when she was on dinner break, I was minding the store alone. There was no one in the place but me, and I knew that because I’d been patrolling all the aisles arranging shoes so they stood at attention. If someone had come in, I would have heard the door chime. On the far left wall were thick wooden dowel pegs driven into the wall. They pointed slightly upward and had little knobs every 3 inches or so. These held the handbags we sold.
     I heard something hit the floor over by that wall and I came out of a far aisle, stepping in front of the shelves to investigate what could have happened. Again, if I’m lying I’m dying. I watched three or four purses rise up in the air, travel up the dowel sticks and drop to the floor. I blinked my eyes like I’d just seen “AC/CD” on the wall, and — inexplicably — I ran toward the poltergeist customer instead of away. I got to the far wall and looked down the aisle, and I saw a half-dozen pair of shoes knock themselves askew going down the aisle, like an errant child running with his arm out slapping shoes. Call me nuts, but I was drug-free and sober, and I know what I saw.
     I was out of the store like a shot. I ran outside, locked the door, and frantically scampered to the Super X next door. I got a piece of paper, a pen, and a little bit of cellophane tape. I scrawled, “Linda, I’m not going in there!” I taped it to the front door glass, and paced feverishly out front.
     Linda returned from dinner and I told her what had gone down. She wasn’t fazed at all. I unlocked the door and she strolled blithely inside. She inspected the scene and believed everything I had to say. Then we sensed a presence behind us. We turned around to see a little boy, a devilish looking little boy about 6 years old. He had a crew cut and thin wide lizard eyes like the guy in Supergrass. We didn’t know how he got in; there’d been no chime.
     “Why is that song playing?” he asked, pointing up to the radio speaker hanging high in a corner. “Excuse me? Why is that song playing?” “Yeah,” he said. The song was “Misunderstanding” by Genesis.
     I don’t get back to Madisonville much, and I never darkened the door of that Payless again once I quit and went to college. I get back there for the holidays, but that’s about it. Can you blame me? AC/ CD? Besides, I saw the devil there once.