Chris was one of the most interesting people I met during my month in Mississippi. He showed up the day before our fireworks stand opened, asking about work. He helped out at the carnival that set up in town every summer, he said, but they usually stiffed him, paying him only $20 for two full days of hauling stuff around. Sears and I told him we weren’t taking on any extra employees, but that didn’t stop him from coming by and talking with us almost every day. Being in Mississippi and all, it would be tempting to refer to Chris in Faulknerian terms, but a more polite description would be to say he was simpleminded.
Chris wore the same over-sized orange t-shirt every time I saw him, and had a bowl cut with long bangs he would constantly shake out of his face. He could have been 27 or 41 — it was impossible to tell. His mom was a morbidly obese lady who sat in a window booth at the Subway for hours on end, smiling at everyone who passed by. I think she appreciated that we were kind to her son, even playing frisbee with him one windy afternoon in the parking lot of the strip mall where our tent was set up. Chris had never played frisbee before, but he had a pretty good arm, even though the wind gave him trouble. We went from being initially wary to looking forward to his visits, and if they occurred late enough that we already had a good beer buzz going, we’d yell his name in unison as he approached. When we did that he’d just scrunch up his face and look at us like we were crazy.
The one thing we could count on each time we saw Chris was that he would tell us about his “plan.” The “plan” involved emptying out the large cake fireworks we had for sale and using them to blow up a port-a-potty. There were little variations in the logistics each time he told us about it, but every single one resulted in an exploding toilet. Eventually I used my primitive Nokia phone to record our conversation, for posterity’s sake (and, I suppose, as potential criminal evidence should anyone in Wayne County meet an untimely end that brutally hot summer).
When I recorded Chris’s story, however, something unexpected happened. After discussing the details of the toilet-bomb (along with a curious, rather alarming warning to “never smoke”), he launched into an impromptu and surprisingly serious elegy for the nearby Movie Gallery, which the Blockbuster Video corporation was “fixin’ to get.” Naturally, I found it amazing that there were still places in America in mid-2010 where Blockbuster was still opening new stores.
Of course, that was three and a half years ago, and by now even the Waynesboro Blockbuster appears to have closed, as has the one in Westport, Missouri, that I grew up going to (brilliantly photographed above by Robert Josiah).
I haven’t gone back to Waynesboro since 2011, and I don’t know that I ever will. If you do happen to visit, be sure to try both kinds of potato salad at the Huff-N-Puff Smokehouse. And if you need a WiFi hookup or clean bathroom, the Waynesboro McDonalds is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen (the previous McDonalds having burned down several years earlier). But for Chrissakes, whatever you do, don’t go anywhere near them pretty potties.