Son of a Bitch 

by Mark Dvorak

I got out at ten-thirty this morning and have crossed into sunny Tennessee. It’s a beautiful afternoon. The sky is bright and the air is summer-warm and humid. I have been following state Route 27 out of Somerset, Kentucky for a couple of hours now, headed to Chattanooga. The road winds and climbs and falls through the Cumberlands, with only small towns along the way with names like Honeybee, Marches Siding and Pine Knot. A county sheriff has been on my tail for about six miles now, and it feels a little embarrassing to be holding to the twenty-five mile-an-hour speed limit this whole time. I imagine the sheriff behind me wishes I would loosen up and get the hell moving. But he is the cop and I have out-of-state plates, and I’ve had those sorts of conversations before with officers of the law and lost interest in them a long time ago.

Nearing Dayton, Tennessee I spot a gas station on the left and put on my signal. I make a clean turn into the parking lot and the patrol car roars past and speeds off into the distance. It’s time for a break, and I need to go to the bathroom.

Inside the store are the usual things one finds in a rural mini-mart. Live bait, coffee, huge bottles of soda, cigarettes, beer, snacks and some fishing gear, hats and a small automotive section. I locate the mens room but the door is locked. Son of a bitch.

“There’s someone in there, honey,” calls out the large woman from behind the counter.

“All right then,” I say and pretend to look over the fishing gear. There are lures and poles and spools of fishing line. There’s a tackle box for sale and I look at it wondering what else I might be able to use it for.

I decide I can hold it a little while longer and make my way back out to the car. Down the road a piece I spot a set of golden arches. I haven’t eaten a McDonald’s hamburger in many years, but their coffee is almost always fresh, you can get a Wi-Fi signal almost every time, and their bathrooms are usually pretty clean. I pull into the parking lot, make my way in and head for the restroom. It’s empty and the door to the toilet stall is hanging open. I dash in but before I can get to business I notice there is no toilet paper. Son of a bitch.

I get back in the car once more and head toward town. My phone does the little thing it does when it tells me I have missed a phone message. It’s odd that someone would call this time of day on the road, and as usual my mind begins to race. I go through the mental list of emergencies that might be happening back home. Then I wonder if something has gone wrong at tonight’s venue and worry that the concert has been cancelled. Like that. The voice mail lady announces that the message is an old one and is due to be either be saved again or deleted. I delete it, get out of the car and slip the phone into my pocket.

I walked for a spell hoping to find a public restroom or a Wi-Fi spot in the little town called Dayton, Tennessee. Dayton is a quiet place and very clean. There’s the town square. I take my phone out and take a seat on a park bench. The phone won’t start. I remove the back panel and take out the battery for a reboot. After putting it back together again, I noticed this little part sticking out of the top end of the phone. Uh-oh.

I took the back off again and the little thing fell out completely and I squeezed my knees together hoping to catch it in the fold of my jeans. No luck. I scanned around and spotted it on the sidewalk. It was tiny and plastic and looked sort of like a miniature dumbbell with a little ridge on the top edge.

I tried fitting it in here and there on the phone casing but couldn’t find where it belonged. It looked like some sort of bushing or something; nothing too important I thought, and put the little thing in my pocket and slapped the phone back together. I better find that bathroom. Walking, I take the phone out again to see if I can get it to turn on. When I went to press the button, there was no button. It turns out that little part in my pocket is the button. Somehow it became dislodged and that’s why the phone wouldn’t turn on in the first place. I took a seat on another park bench near the courthouse and took everything apart one more time, fitted the button into its correct position, reassembled the phone and pressed. The happy musical tone sounded and I thought I was back in business. I checked the screen. Total blackness. Son of a bitch.

I cupped my hands around the screen and could make out a few faint icons on the home page. I tapped “settings,” scanned the list and found “brightness.” A pale image appeared that seemed to invite the user to drag his or her finger across the little green circle from the left to right and like magic, the screen appeared again. Finally.

I rose from the bench, returned the phone to my pocket and headed back to the car. On the way I glimpsed a statue of a stately looking gent holding sway over the courthouse lawn, sidewalk and an historical marker. I strolled over to learn that the statue was of a man named William Jennings Bryan. Something stirred in the back of my mind. I stepped over to the historical marker and all at once I realized where I was.

John Scopes was a substitute high school teacher who came to Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. The story goes that Scopes was accused of teaching his biology students that humans were descended from “lower life forms,” according to the historical marker. Previously a Christian fundamentalist association had lobbied the Tennessee state legislature to pass an anti-evolution law. Once the law was enacted, the American Civil Liberties Union held out a standing offer to defend anyone who taught evolution in defiance of the new law.

The two sides brought in the biggest legal names of the day to argue the case. William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense. News of the trial made national headlines. Reporters from across the nation, and from around the world flocked to tiny Dayton and jammed the courthouse. The trial was followed on a live radio broadcast throughout America and lasted eight days in all. “In the end,” read the marker, “Scopes was convicted.”

Son of a bitch.


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