Russel was fired from Price Chopper. According to one of the grocery clerks, Russel failed to disclose a felony on his application. This was not an official statement and none of the management would have been in a position to say anything. In retrospect I knew of at least one front end supervisor I could have asked but it didn’t occur to me until much later.
No one knew for certain what the conviction was. But we all had theories and some of us politely kept them to ourselves. Russel was well known to certain members of my family and a few friends I had managed to make and they had their own stories.
I have nothing against religion or anyone who is devoutly religious. Believe it or not, when I call someone a religious whack job or a Bible Thumper, this is not an attack on the denomination itself. Christans, Jews, Wiccans and Vulcan-Pastafarians can all be religious whack jobs or thumpers.
Religious Whack Jobs are people who are barely above the level of mental functioning required to be considered harmless. While still scary, religion gives them a focal point. Something to mutter to themselves on the bus, something to yell at strangers or write on their cardboard signs, or a frame of delivery for begging for change.
Whereas Bible Thumpers are people who very loudly proclaim their religious viewpoints. They smile brightly, wear the designated outfit, and make sure everyone they come into contact with knows that they are Christians, Catholics, Baptists, Wiccans, or Scientologists. But all of that pushing and all of that wild gesticulation that they call prayer, all of the recitations and the declarations are all to cover up the fact that they are hiding something. They get your attention and keep it focused on High so that you never think to look Low.
Russel was most definitely a Bible Thumper.
We were watching Gattaca, my favorite movie. Drizzt and I bonded over a shared interest in film and the creative aspects of writing and performance and we often watched films and discussed them at great length afterwards.
Russel came in to the living room during the opening scene of the movie, where Jerome Morrow is giving a blood sample to punch in at Gattaca.
“Bar codes are a sign of the Beast,” Russel said, by way of casual conversation.
This became a running joke between Drizzt and I. A few times, however, I made Drizzt uncomfortable when I baited and teased Russel. Mostly it was because that was what Doug use to do all the time and in Drizzt’s mind, I was going beyond simply teasing and moving into the realm of bullying and this was before either of us knew what Russel had actually done. One of example of this was pretty blatant.
Russel was talking about how he felt that people who are mentally challenged should have their tubes tied. This is also a guy who has a very “scientific” viewpoint on how someone can become gay. Now he professed a very eugenic viewpoint on people with disabilities. I very subtly commented about how I wish people who committed felonies would receive harsher punishments. “Like people who fail to disclose on their applications.”
Drizzt became noticeably uncomfortable and I made it a point to stop throwing stones in that particular glass house, if for no other reason than to not drive Drizzt away as a friend and a possible future business contact.
Another point of interest to make is that Howie, Arlene’s son, moved back into the house. He was paying sixteen hundred a month for an apartment he barely lived in and this was his childhood home, so I guess he made some deal with his mother. Russel had a problem with it, feeling like he was being “placed” there to watch us. I can’t imagine why it would have even concerned him since he was renting a room from the guy’s mother.
During this time, I had all of my Fridays off at Price Chopper. The reason was, I had started helping out at my middle school’s chess club sometime in early 2003. I was somewhat of a permanent fixture there and even few of the parents knew who I was and what I was doing there.
Also, there was a kid at Price Chopper who was sixteen. He was still in middle school because of a little incident that landed him in juvenile hall for a year, but he was working now and putting all of that behind him. His stepmother was a front end supervisor and his biological mother lived on one of the side streets off of Beech.
His biological knew my mother. Pretty much anyone who knew my mother had the best opinion of me, because they knew that she was not afraid to smack me if I stepped out of line. When she found out that I was keeping an eye out for her son at work, she openly encouraged him to spend more time with me. And whenever he had a beef at work, or school was giving him a hard time, I told him he could swing by my place just to shoot the breeze.
This was still just a little while before the average sixth grader with his own allowance could afford a cellphone. So it is a time in my life when a cellphone would have vastly improved situations, especially when the kid, whom I will call Edmund, (After the character in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) actually did come to my house.
Russel would often strut about the place in only his boxers. It was his house too and though it made the rest of us slightly uncomfortable, we didn’t say anything. My problem with it came when Edmund showed up and I wasn’t there. Russel had come to the door as described and saw no problem with inviting a kid that he knew to be sixteen years old into the house.
If you’re beginning to formulate a theory as to what Russel’s conviction might have been, I warn you now, the ending will not be pretty. Turn back if you’re easily shocked, or if the subject matter makes you uncomfortable, because I won’t be pulling punches. Like the title says: Not Safe For Work.
Often times, I would encounter the kids from the middle school out and about in public. As I said, some of the parents knew who I was. Most of the teachers knew me from when I was a student and appreciated the idea of a former student taking an active role as a volunteer. One kid’s parents, started telling stories that they made up in their heads. He would relay these theories to me and in their hate-filled version of events, I was just a creepy twenty year-old hanging out with seventh and eighth graders.
Understand that there was an ad campaign around this time encouraging adults to “keep a kid off drugs” by having positive interactions with them. These parents would have preferred it if I started passing around a crack pipe.
One day, there was an article in the paper. Russel had been working at the Dunkin Donuts where the old Wendy’s use to be. The article was strangely focused on Russel and how he was such a wonderful customer service associate, who knew everyone’s drinks and was an all around great guy. I should have known that something was up when I saw his name in the paper. The Banner had never shown such a keen interest in a random employee at an equally arbitrary chain store.
I came home from work sometime later. Drizzt’s girlfriend was leaving the house and she told me, “A sheriff came by the house looking for Russel.”
“Yeah, he didn’t say why. But he did say to watch him around kids.”
Only two more puzzle pieces to go, kids. I freaked out and caught the bus to Manchester. Yes, that Manchester. I got stuck there because I didn’t know the bus schedule at the time, which caused quite a stir among the family members as I used the phone at the Manchester Price Chopper to call everyone I knew to see if I could get a ride back home. Drizzt’s girlfriend was the one who wound up saving the day and on the way back to Bennington, we all had a wonderful discussion about Russel.
Drizzt’s boss strongly encouraged him to move out of there. Apparently she even asked him what he knew about me and, this is coming from Drizzt, “Nathanielle’s been honest with me from the start. We talk all the time and he’s the only one there that I can trust.” That gave me a lot of warm fuzzies. And it made me even angrier with Russel when Drizzt finally found a place and moved out. But the final straw that made Drizzt leaving all the more painful was when he left a note saying that I had first dibs on the food in his cupboard.
Oh, the dick moves were right back on at that point.
Someone called looking for Russel. A woman. Russel had, at one point, asked me not to tell him if this particular woman had called. I was too polite at the time to tell him, “I’m not your fucking answering service”. But this time, I just happened to be eating something.
I pick up the phone. It’s that woman. I put the phone down and resume eating. Then I pick it up and say, “No, I’m sorry, he’s not here.” Was he there, or was he not? I don’t know and I cared not.
Russel was there for probably another month. Then, out of the blue, his brother came by to help him move stuff out of his room. Then, he left the house. And the very next day, there was much bigger article in the Bennington Banner and this time it was front page news.
Russel was a convicted sex offender. He was on parole, but and to quote him they, “weren’t giving me enough time to do what I have to do.” The story was that he offered a 14 year-old boy a Nintendo 64 in exchange for sex. A neighbor caught them in the middle of it. Funny how he had plenty of time to do what he “had” to do then.
The worst part is, the Banner exercised it’s usual care and discretion by telling readers exactly where he had lived before turning himself in to Bennington’s finest. They practically put a map with an “X” on the spot. If any of those kids’ parents from the middle school had read that, you know it’s only matter of time before one of them found out that I also lived there and declared Death By Association. As far as I know, that never happened, but I had to stop going to the middle school for a while out of sheer fear that someone would find it and jump to the wrong conclusions.
I quickly found Edmund and told him not to come to the house. Then he told me about the incident with Russel in the boxers and I was sick to my stomach that I had invited this kid into my house, with a known sexual predator.
There was no word at all from Arlene or Howie about Russel. I thought about posting the Banner article on the refrigerator door, but thought against it. Russel was gone and there was no point in shoving it in anyone’s face.
To this day, I don’t know if Arlene still owns the house, or if she still rents out rooms. I hope if she comes across this, she understands that I bare no ill will towards her, or Howie, who was in his own way as good a friend as Drizzt. He was even the one who gave me a ride to the hospital the day my sister was born. It was also Arlene who gave me a reference when I applied for a job at the Bennington School. So, it isn’t my intention to slander them or paint them in a negative light.
Hopefully by now, if they are still renting rooms out, they have become a bit more discerning.