I ease myself into a pink lawn chair and look up. My eyes are met by the oddly thirsty gaze of an enigma. His name is Norm, he tells me. No first name and no last, just Norm. He wears khakis, khakis with cargo pockets. A faded Hawaiian shirt that shows just a few wisps of white chest hair. And flip flops. Those ones with the bottle opener on the sole. I remark, saying that my grandfather in Florida has a pair just like those. He responds, telling me that he’s all about “that bang for your buck, you know.” He particularly emphasizes the word bang. I feel uncomfortable.
Without any prompting whatsoever, Norm begins to tell me about his childhood, how he grew up along the banks of the Mississippi River. He spent his lazy afternoons killing an alarming number of chickens by strangulation and developing rather prejudiced opinions. He ends his monologue and then offers to show me his hot tub “out back.” I decline.
He shifts in his leather recliner and grunts a bit. He picks his ear and continues, “But I really found my calling up here in North Carolina. I met my fifth wife up here, you know.” I know. “Yeah, but renting out the old barn to the Duke kids is just a side hustle. Real shame it’s gone to shit now with all the cocaine or something.” He makes a snorting motion. I recoil.
He goes on, “But my real gig is swimsuit calendar photography. It really gets my creative juices flowing, you know.” He particularly emphasizes the word juices. With a look of nostalgia in his eyes, he tells me how he got his start: “It was a couple of years ago with some Duke girls, actually. I’d picked them up on my Ranger from a dar-tay, or whatever those fraternity bastards call it, and drove them back to Chateau Norm. They already had their bathing suits on so I mozied us over to the hot tub for a dip. That’s when the inspiration struck.”
On that note, I know that it is my time to go. I unstick my legs from the pink lawn chair and excused myself, thanking him for his time. He walks me to the screen door with one sweaty hand on my lower back. As I look back over my shoulder, I see a pile of angry-looking papers from the IRS. The rumors are true, I think to myself.
The screen door closes behind me. I take one last look around at the Barn, the field, the places where dignity and sane behavior go to die. I take one last look and know that I will never return to this place. And neither will you, Duke student. Thanks to the Durham Policy and glaring safety concerns that have been swept under the rug for years, it seems that Norm can finally dedicate himself to swimsuit calendar photography.