"If you don't stop somewhere soon and let me go to the bathroom, I'm going to mess up this beautiful new car. Look, there's a gas station right there," I said to my boyfriend.
"Okay, okay, okay," he replied.
"Why didn't you stop?" I fairly screamed at him, dismayed by the sight of the gas station slowly fading from sight in the mirror on my side.
"I don't want you to have to go in there. We'll stop in just a second, I promise. Just hold on."
Easier said than done, I thought. We were returning from my first meeting with his mother. It was New Year's Day, 1977, and she had fixed black-eyed peas and cornbread for us. Wanting to make a good impression, I didn't ask to be excused while I was helping her clean up the kitchen. Now, I was paying for it. I knew there was no way I could make it until we drove all the way from Fairhope to my college apartment in Mobile, so I started asking Terry to stop the minute we left his mother's house. Usually, he bent over backwards to do what I asked, but this time, he kept passing up opportunity after opportunity to help me out of my misery.
Finally, he made a left turn off the main highway. We stopped in front of an old building, peachy-orange in color, somewhat nondescript but seemingly popular judging by the number of vehicles wrapped around two sides. I was in such a hurry to go in I didn't stop to see what it was.
"Where's the bathroom?"
"Over to the left, then back to your right."
I found the Ladies' Room door quickly enough, entered and locked the door behind me. The room was very small, containing only a sink, toilet, and waste basket. The white walls were completely unadorned. Then, as I sat on the toilet, I noticed a carved wooden man hanging on the wall opposite me. He had been behind the door until I closed it.
"Wow," I thought, "someone went to a lot of trouble to make that."
The figure was nearly life-size, made from a heavy board about two inches thick. He looked almost Indian, with very dark skin, brown eyes and black hair. His arms, legs and chest were exceptionally muscular. He was completely naked except for a fig leaf, worn in the manner of Michelangelo's David.
Finished with my important business, I washed my hands, brushed my hair and touched up my lipstick. I grabbed up my purse and was about to leave when I noticed that the fig leaf was on hinges.
"How interesting," I thought. "Should I pull it up? Nah, it's just wood, get on out of here. Well, it might be kind of fun. No, Terry's waiting and you've been in here long enough. Oh, go for it."
I reached for the bottom of the fig leaf. I lifted it up about an inch, but jerked my hand back with a vengeance when the alarm sounded. The noise was deafening, and it did not stop. There were school bells, ambulance sirens, car horns, cowbells, fire alarms, evacuation blasts all going at once - in short, a cacophony of sounds unlike anything I had ever heard. I stood in horror, rooted to the spot with my hands clamped down tightly over my ears, and stared at that damning little fig leaf.
Finally, the clamor stopped, bringing with it a dawning realization.
"Now what am I going to do?" I wondered. Even though I had dashed through the dimly lit rooms, I had at least recognized that it was a restaurant and that there were people out there. They would all know I had wanted to know what was under the fig leaf! I decided to wait. Surely someone else would have to go to the bathroom and then I could go out with her. That way, no one would know which one of us had the insatiable curiosity.
I waited and waited. No one came in. Eventually, I realized that I had bolted the door. Angry with myself for wasting all that time, having locked out any possible partners, I slid the lock back with a bang. I continued to wait. I looked at my watch. Twenty minutes had elapsed! I was just going to have to go on out.
I opened the door. Two lines of people formed an aisle from the bathroom door all the way through the bar. They burst into applause. The men whistled and hooted. The women laughed and smiled. I especially noticed all the women who had deliberately failed to come to my aid, memorizing their beaming faces and mentally marking them off my sisterhood list.
I rushed through the crowd and finally saw Terry sitting calmly at the bar with his back to me. I could see his face reflected in the mirror behind the bartender. He was doing his best to contain himself, but the corners of his mouth gave him away. He had planned the whole thing! My eyes narrowed as I spotted his car keys lying on the counter, grabbed them up and raced out of the bar.
I was half a block away before he managed to get his second leg in the car door.
The establishment with the great sense of humor, Manci's, is still in operation in Daphne, Alabama, and is my son's favorite place for great burgers. Ladies, you can't say you haven't been warned!
Rest in Peace, Terry Ponder
August 7, 1955 – May 4, 1977