How dark were those woods?
How cold and uninviting?
How lonely they must have seemed
In twilight’s macabre lighting?
How cold was that river
As you lay naked
Hogtied inside it?
While your bodies ran dry of
Blood, I wonder if your killer
I was born with one of you,
The other two beside us.
We could not yet grow facial hair
When the demon crept inside us.
Were you their killer,
The Boogeyman of Memphis?
Sometimes I’m not so convinced
When you proclaim your innocence.
-Joshua A. Woodard
Portland, Tennessee is set in its ways. The citizens of Portland go to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. Sunday and Wednesday are also the days the two Portland newspapers come out, The Portland Leader and Portland Progressive. This is very convenient for the God-fearing citizens of Portland as it enables them to gossip while they praise. In Portland, perception is reality. If one of the newspapers make an assertion about a citizen, then it must be true. If a person is in church every Sunday and Wednesday, they must be a, “good Christian”. The people of Portland never look beyond the obvious to arrive at any conclusion. The way things are is the way they have always been. Although the entrance sign marking Portland’s city limits says, “Proud, Progressive Portland”, Portland is anything but progressive and the citizens are only proud of their superstitions. Their head’s are always turned, looking back at the road they’ve traveled. They never face forward.
Being a youth in Portland is an exercise in boredom. Outside of the Friday night football games and the Franklin Drive-in during the summer, Portland offers very little in terms of entertainment for young adults. The majority of kids, many coming from poor families, begin working at local fast food restaurants so that they can have the money to drive to Madison or Bowling Green on their days off. Both Madison and Bowling Green offer a wealth of leisure activities aimed at young people. It was no surprise when I found myself working at Portland’s Burger King during the summer of 2000. I had just turned 16 and my grandparents had bought me my first car. My mom didn’t protest the car, but she did set two rules: I had to pay my own car insurance and I had to buy my own gas.
I already knew several people who worked at Burger King from school, so it was a no brainer to put in a BK application. I was familiar with two of the girls who worked at Burger King through various associations. The first girl, named Tiffany, was a very pretty young lady. Essentially every man who came into the BK would comment on her posterior when they thought she couldn’t hear them. I would laugh along, but I really wasn’t interested in Tiffany. The main reason for my lack of interest was because Tiffany was dating one of my longtime best friends, Edward. Edward had dropped out of school when he turned 16, got his GED and began working for a local air conditioner company installing and maintaining central air and heat units. Edward and Tiffany still lived with Edward’s dad, a delightful old curmudgeon everyone called, “Pops”, and Edward’s job paid very well, so they had quite a bit of disposable funds. As a result Edward and Tiffany were both driving brand new cars and always wearing very nice clothes. I enjoyed working with Tiffany because most of the nights that she worked; Edward would come in and shoot the shit if we weren’t busy.
Tiffany and I worked with another girl from school named Rita. Rita was the polar opposite of Tiffany. Her family was obviously near poverty level. She was dropped off for each shift by her father who drove a decrepit Ford van that had so many mix-matched paint patterns on it that it was anybody’s guess as to what it’s original color was. Rita would always volunteer to take extra shifts. If anyone wanted a day off and was scheduled on a day Rita wasn’t, there was no question she would take their shift. Rita was socially awkward. She didn’t have the best hygiene and sometimes the hair on her legs or under her arms was excessively long. The unsightly hair didn’t stop her from wearing short sleeves or dresses though. Rita was dating a guy that everyone called “Nasty” Nate. I have no idea how Nate received the nickname, “Nasty”, but I always assumed that it had to do with a character of the same name in the movie Half Baked which had came out only a year or so before.
Rita and “Nasty” Nate were sitting together during a pep rally in our freshmen year when a teacher abruptly jerked them up and demanded they leave the gym. The teacher, a known asshole, was not remotely subtle about calling out Rita and Nate. Naturally, the collective student body began rubbernecking. When Rita stood up, she used the back of her hand to wipe her mouth with the sleeve of her shirt. When Nate stood up, he zipped his pants. Everyone went crazy. Portland Senior High School’s social scene was abuzz with what we perceived to have been Rita giving Nate a blowjob during a pep rally. Rita and Nate were suspended for a short time and that confirmed the suspicions of the student body.
When Rita and Nate returned, they were both bombarded with questions. Even though both of them denied that a blowjob occurred, this was Portland and the public had already formed an opinion, so it stuck. Several months later, when Rita and I were working at the BK, I asked her about the blowjob incident. I told her what I saw from my seat across the gym and how it looked to me. She said that she understood how I could jump to that conclusion, but that she was only making out with Nate. The reason she wiped her mouth was because Nate, a bad kisser, had slobbered all over her mouth. She didn’t know why he zipped his pants, but agreed that it was poor timing. I believed her.
One night Tiffany, Rita and I were all working together. When it was time to close the restaurant, the manager said that we couldn’t leave. Apparently several hundred dollars was missing from Rita’s drawer at the drive thru. Rita counted and recounted her money before telling the manager. The manager then counted and recounted her money. Eventually the branch manager and Portland’s finest came stumbling in. The police had every employee who had worked that night take everything out of their pockets and patted us down. We were all underage, but that didn’t seem to matter. Rita’s dad showed up around the time we should have been leaving and walked in to see what was going on. The branch manager admonished the shift manager for not locking the door before locking it himself. I had been watching Rita for quite some time and could tell that she was having trouble holding in her emotions. When her dad walked in, she collapsed into his arms and started crying. Even though we had all been checked multiple times, the money was never found. The branch manager fired Rita on the spot in front of her dad. She left in tears and the rest of us were dismissed.
Several weeks after Rita was fired, Tiffany’s drawer count was short and she was fired as well. I wonder how many car payments Burger King had made by that time.