26 January 2015

Quirk (just for you)


So you had a friend who you thought was a friend, but turned out to be something substantially more than a friend. On the other hand, there was that person you thought was a friend and turned out to be quite less.

This is the way we used to think. Doo dah. Doo dah.

There were people living in a settlement very many miles away from the rest of us, and we were forced to view them with a great deal of mistrust. They had skin that was a slightly different shade than ours, and they pronounced the letter “a” differently. We had to think of them as “outsiders,” and we threw rotten vegetables into their backyards when they were not looking.

These were the things we used to do. Doo dah. Doo dah.

We knew better. We all knew better. You think you knew the most? You are wrong. We knew more. When the buzzer sounds and the game is over, the judges are going to look at us and say “you are the winners! Huzzah! Hale fellow, well met! Gatchooba!”

That was the way it was. Doo dah. Doo dah.

You used to buy paperback novels and read all about who killed who and who slept with who and who was stealing from who and how it is that authors never know how to use “who” and “whom” correctly, but you never paid any attention to that because you were focused on the killing and the sleeping and the stealing.

Not any more.

Now you kill and sleep and steal and you check your grammar and your spelling and your syntax and you mind your pease and queues. And no one ever mentions a thing about how you used to have this friend who you thought was a friend but turned out to be something substantially more than a friend.

Doo dah.

19 January 2015

Julien


Did you ever meet that kid that we called “Camphor”? He was a quiet kid. Short and quiet, as I recall. I have no idea how he got the name “Camphor,” but that's what we called him. I never asked, and now I kind of wish I had.

Camphor used to walk up and down the main street of town, stopping and looking into the shop windows. He would spend the longest time looking into windows that you just wouldn't think could hold the attention of a thirteen year-old boy, but there you have it. He would stop in front of the hardware store, and look at a window display of chicken wire and galvanized washtubs – all the while moving his thin little lips with no sound coming out. I've seen lots of folks do that, of course, but never in the places that little Camphor would do it.

This was Dubuque, mind you. Dubuque in the hey-day. Or do you call it “hayday”? I was never sure if it was one word, two words, or a hyphenated word. Anyhow, it was Dubuque when Dubuque was more than just a place on the river. Camphor would sometimes stop outside the big hotel (you know the one I'm talking about – if you know Dubuque, that is) and wait for someone to come out. It looked as though he was expecting a celebrity to come strolling out of the lobby, and I think one time I even saw him holding a pad of paper and a chewed-off pencil, looking for all the world like he was going to ask someone for an autograph. This might have been, as you know Dubuque was a hopping place for all sorts of big-city performers who might have driven up from Davenport or over from Chicago just to do a show or maybe to get away from the big city.

I don't think he ever got any autographs, as best as I can figure.

Camphor, he came down with a disease when he was just what nowadays they call middle school age. It was some kind of odd disease where he started hearing loud explosions all the time. It started with him sitting bolt upright in the middle of class, and clapping his hands to his ears. At first the teachers thought he was being disruptive, but after the doctors in Iowa City told his mom and dad what was going on, folks got used to it. The loud noises started keeping him up at night, though, and by the time he was fifteen he was missing from school almost every day. Sometimes we'd see him around town, small and quiet, and looking a little flinchy and sad.

You would be too, I suppose.

Camphor's dad died out on the river the next year, and his mom went away. No one asked where. Camphor went to go live in what I suppose today you would call a “group home,” but then was just some kind of a place for unfortunate folks to live. It was run by the Church, I think. Who knows? I once saw what I thought was a nun there, so I'm just taking a guess. Anyhow, that's where Camphor went. We saw less and less of him, and eventually he just seemed to disappear. I only hope the same could be said for the explosions in his head.

I'd like to be able to say that I saw him years later, but I never did. No one ever did, as far as I can tell. He just became one of those people you only think about when you see something that you haven't seen for a long time – or when you hear an explosion in your head that no one else can hear.

And God forbid you end up hearing the explosions that no one else can hear.

12 January 2015

"19a" - 1980? You Like? A Chapter From "Yerba Mate"

Roller skates are another invention that was given to the inhabitants of the earth by ancient astronauts from an alien civilization. Space travelers from the planet Gecko-13 were zipping through the interstellar expanses over 4,000 years ago (in earth years), listening to eight-track tapes of whale music (produced by whales on another planet – a third planet, neither Gecko-13 nor our own “earth”) and looking for a good place to sell their load of sushi-stone. Sushi-stone, for the uninformed, is not what the name sounds as though it might imply – it is simply a carbon-based fuel source; an edible carbon- based fuel source mined from the depths of the Geckian oceans. Check it out the next time you are on Gecko-13.

Anyhow.

The sushi-stone vendors from Gecko-13 were traveling through this neck of the interstellar woods when they happened upon our planet. They set down for a short visit, and aside from being mistaken for minor deities by a tribe in the Amazon basin, had little to no contact with any earthlings. They just made a quick pit-stop, as it were, to empty their sanitary holding tanks and get a little exercise. The most beloved exercise of the people of Gecko-13, of course, is what we on earth think of as “roller skating” but which they call “bletching” (it still is, in fact – bletch sales on Gecko-13 have gone through the roof in recent years, in fact). From high up in the earth's atmosphere the travelers from Gecko-13 saw the plazas standing outside of some awesome Mayan ziggurats, and decided that they would be the perfect place for a little midnight bletching. They settled their sushi-stone powered spacecraft into a soft landing in the middle of the jungles of modern-day Mexico and laced up their bletchers.
 
Speeding out of their spacecraft in a frantic round of “snap the whip,” a line of seven Geckian astronauts whizzed past a native named Earl who was wandering amidst the ziggurats while dealing with his insomnia. The poor fellow looked up to see seven wheeled god-like creatures, laughing and shouting as they bletched, and the sight scared him almost half to death. He ducked behind the stones of the temple, trembling and shaking his head in disbelief.

On an ironic note, this poor, frightened tribesman happened to be a distant but direct ancestor of the owner and proprietor of “El Taco Muchacho,” where Michael Nitrous and Jerry Grogan enjoyed their fine plates of tacos and nopalitos tiernos. That's just how these things work out some times.

The astronauts from Gecko-13 skated (or bletched, if you prefer) for a good fifteen minutes or so, and then headed back to the ship. Just as they were getting ready to leave, one of the Geckian travelers decided to dispose of a small stone that he had found in his roller skate (or bletch, if you prefer). He stood in a cargo door and turned his bletch upside down to shake the little pebble out. Just as he had done this the pilot hit the accelerator, throwing the astronaut violently to one side. His bletch was knocked out of his hand as he collided with a bulkhead (that is astronaut-speak for 'wall'). The Geckian roller skate dropped to the ground as the spaceship sped away and out of sight. When Earl had regained his composure he walked over to pick up the bletch. He kept the bletch with him all the rest of his days, but could never really bring himself to explain to his friends and family exactly how it was that he came to be in possession of such a strange, futuristic object. The Mayan priests put the bletch into the grave with poor Earl's body when he died, and there it rested for several thousand years, until an archaeologist came across it in the mid-nineteenth century while hunting for Mayan pottery and other exciting relics. The archaeologist had no idea what it was that he had found, but brought it back home to merry old England with him as a curiosity, where he gave it to his brother as a birthday present (he was a notorious cheapskate – no pun intended). His brother happened to be a sporting goods wholesaler (you didn't know that they had those in merry old England in the middle of the nineteenth century, did you?) who spent his free hours as a collector of South American sporting antiquities – an unusual combination, but not altogether unlikely, now is it?

The situation presented by this unlikely array of events, objects, and interests is just one more example of how it is that deep connectivity works. You might think that it is all just coincidence, but it is actually a lot less dramatic than that. It is just another load of bogus storytelling, used to make the author's point.

(Roller skates were actually first patented in the late eighteenth century and then made popular about a hundred years later. There were likely no aliens involved whatsoever. Take it for what it is worth.)

Rollerskating, however, can be a rather spiritual exercise, if you believe in that sort of thing. It provides ample opportunity for glope-steps, even though one does not always take “steps” in the traditional sense of the word. There is something about the spinning of the roller skate wheels that sets up a static field, thereby influencing the kinetic dingeddy-dangle...blah blah blah...you get the idea.

Suffice to say that roller skating gives the opportunity to experience deep connectivity in a way that most people do not realize. Just being around people who are roller skating can have a profound effect on a person. This may account for the harmonic convergence that was beginning in the United States of America in the 1980s and which came to a screeching halt with the close of that decade, just as roller skating rinks were closing in droves.
 
Maybe.

17 December 2014

Please Be Careful...

Do you remember me telling you all about the hidey-hole? Sure you do. We talked about it over cocktails last month sometime. Don't you remember? Come on. Put on your thinking cap and try to remember it. It was a nice conversation, as conversations go. We had cocktails, and you did that thing with the stem of a maraschino cherry.

You must remember it.

Here, let me get this IV going. Give me your arm. The other arm. Okay. Thank you. This medicine that I will introduce into your system will help you remember how I told you all about the hidey-hole. The medicine will feel a little cool as it enters your vein. Okay, maybe cold. Or rather, ice cold. All right, I'm sorry. It is actually painfully cold, isn't it? Well, you will warm up in a second.

There you go.

How are you feeling? You look pretty good. You look a lot better than Chaz over there. Chaz looks downright nauseous. He always gets that way when he has the IV going. Yes, it is the same medicine that you are getting. You look a lot better than Chaz does, though. What's that? You feel nauseous? That's okay. You look good, though.

Now then, tell me about the hidey-hole. Do you remember where I said it was? Do you remember how deep it is? Do you remember what I put in the hidey-hole? Let me show you this picture. Yes, that would be a picture of what we put down the hidey-hole. It looks bigger in person, though.

Oops. Let me get you a bucket.

There you go.

So you remember it, don't you? Of course you do. And you had your hand down the hidey-hole, didn't you? Sometimes people lose fingers when they put their hands into hidey-holes, so you should be very careful. Oh, it wasn't your hand? Yes, of course. You stepped into the hidey-hole. Well, that can be even more dangerous. Just imagine what you could step on. Make sure that you wear big, heavy boots with protective soles if you go stepping into hidey-holes in the future, okay?

But don't go stepping into hidey-holes, okay?

There, now. The IV is all done. You've done a fine job of remembering. Chaz? Oh, don't worry about Chaz. They always have to carry him away like that. The body bag? He just likes the secure feeling that it gives. Pay no attention to it. He's fine.

Here's a maraschino cherry. Can you do that thing with the stem again?

08 December 2014

"Limping Through the Charleston" -or- "If This is St. Petersburg, Then Where Are All the Liposuction Clinics?"

Little Danny DiBlasio (no relation to the Connecticut DiBlasios, the Kennebunk DiBlasios, or even the DiBlasios over on 83rd Street whose old man was a dope pusher in his spare time) looked at himself in the big mirror that hung outside the county building. He smoothed his little cowlick with a little bit of spit in his palm, and gave thanks that it was not a larger and angrier cow that had got to him when he was born. That was, of course, the story he was told. Heck, we were all told that story – about how old Doc Needleheim (the OB-GYN man who delivered us – every stinkin' one of us, in fact) was also into animal husbandry (still punishable by dismemberment under the laws of several states), and how when we were being whelped, one of his bovine companions strolled into the delivery room. Just as we popped our little noggin out of the birth canal, old Bessie reached over with that big old tongue of hers and took a lick of our salty little melon, still dripping with the juices of the womb.

Did I mention that you might not want to read this while eating breakfast?

Anyhow, Bessie took a lick, and now we all have these ridiculous patches of our hair that will not sit still when we try to style them. Cow licks. Licks from a cow. Uggh. That is what little Danny DiBlasio tried smoothing down with a little spit as he looked into the big mirror that hung outside the county building.

Little Danny looked at his watch and realized that he was late for his appointment. He gave up on his hair and ran up the flight of stairs into the flag-monger's shop, taking the last three steps in a leap. He opened the door and stepped inside, just as his nostrils were met with the heady, intoxicating aroma of brand-new flags, fresh from the oven. He breathed deeply and urinated. Just a little bit though. Urinated, that is. He breathed deeply but urinated sparsely. I think you know what I'm talking about here.

Or do you?

The elderly woman behind the counter addressed little Danny DiBlasio ever so abruptly. She croaked some kind of words at him. They might have been Croatian – Danny was not completely sure. He nodded politely and tried to reply in the only semblance of a foreign language he could muster.

“Me have-o appointiamente con el anager-may of-o los flagoleo shoppo,” tried Danny. “Danke schoen, y muchas dinero, babycakes.”

The woman behind the counter stood up and broke wind. An uncomfortable silence ensued, which Danny tried to break by feigning a coughing and choking spasm. The woman quickly left the room and Danny thought that perhaps he should have feigned a seizure instead – that one works every time, he thought to himself.

In but a moment, the man that Danny knew as “Clubb-o” appeared behind the counter, twirling his mustache, which he kept in a small box. He looked at Danny, stroked his mustache twice, put it back in the box, snapped the cover shut and slid it into one of his trouser pockets. One must always keep one's mustache close at hand, you know.

“Forty-eight of them?” asked Clubb-o at long last.

“Forty-eight,” replied little Danny DiBlasio.

“I'll have them ready for you next Tuesday,” said Clubb-o, turning on his heel and disappearing into his shop.

“Thank you,” said to Danny DiBlasio to the thin air.


“No y problemas, tovarish. Ich habe ein oompa-loompa im mein hosen,” said the elderly woman – in flawlessly fluent Croatian.

29 November 2014

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17 November 2014

Keats? Or Keats?

There were no figs left in the parlor. Not a single one.

Trentwiler walked through the entire rectory, trying to find but a single fig, but he came up empty-handed. “Just my luck,” he said aloud, “just my rotten luck.”

He made his way out of doors and found his sedan parked where he had left it the night before, although it had changed color from coal-black to a rather cornflower blue shade with white trim and running boards. Trentwiler paused a moment. “Damned vandals,” he muttered as he opened the door and slid in behind the wheel.

Out of the driveway of the rectory and then down the road he raced, speeding toward the village. His only thoughts were of figs, which he knew were available at the greengrocer in Oneonta. Surprises abounded this morning, however, for as he rounded a bend in the road near the edge of a trout stream, a young woman appeared, standing ankle-deep in the water. Her hair was raven, interlaced with a small garland of flowers, and her eyes wept great drops of crimson, which traced lines down the milk-white skin of her cheeks.

Trentwiler slowed the sedan and came to a stop at the edge of the stream. He got out and walked to the edge of the water. The young woman looked as though she might have some information regarding figs, but he was scared to ask. He looked closely at her and suddenly recognized the mark upon her upper arm.

“Were we, in fact, butterflies?" he asked,  "In a dream?”

The young woman looked at him deeply. The shadows of oak leaves played upon the both of them. “Rather,” she said, in a voice so soft, “ask yourself, my love, 'whether you are not very cruel to have so entrammelled me, so destroyed my freedom'.”


Trentwiler held up a hand mirror to her face. The both of them turned into gossamer-winged monarchs, and the hand mirror splashed into the stream.

14 November 2014

Another Casablanca

I looked down into the little hidey-hole and strained to see if the earlobe-shaped nugget of glass was still there. Every now and again you find nuggets such as this in a hidey-hole. I have every reason to believe you know exactly what I am talking about – don't try to tell me you don't.

Hidey-holes come in all shapes and sizes. Hidey-holes are often found on the side of small outcroppings of earth, specifically designed to harbor a hidey-hole. This one was no different.

I looked in, but I could not spy the earlobe-shaped nugget of glass. It was a nugget given to me by my boyhood hero, Great Uncle Adolf. Great Uncle Adolf collected glass nuggets, and he only rarely shared them with friends, family, and loved ones. I was apparently quite special, and as a favored great-nephew, I merited (it seemed) to be given a particularly heinous nugget. That is what Great Uncle Adolf called it, anyway – a “heinous nugget.”

I never figured that part out.

Sometimes, when you are given a “heinous nugget,” you go about and tell all the world of your windfall. Other times you are content to keep it to yourself, take large doses of painkillers, and dance a merry jig in the privacy of your own home. This had been my habit in the reception of every other heinous nugget I had been bequeathed – until this one. When I received the particularly heinous nugget from Great Uncle Adolf, I immediately went out to the small outcropping of earth near the truss factory behind my house, located the little hidey-hole, and placed the nugget there. I pressed my ear to the soil and listened to the “thrum-thrum-thrum” of the machinery deep within the bowels of earth mother.

“Thrum-thrum-thrum.”

But that was many, many years ago. And now, lo, these many, many years have passed, and the machinery deep within her bowels no longer makes the thrumming sound. My eyes are dim, and my own bowels make powerful churning noises. The meadowlark has flown well beyond the field of grey and oily corn.

And I cannot locate the earlobe-shaped nugget of glass. Not a single one of us could, who had ever been given a “heinous nugget”, and who did not keep it pressed within our sweaty little palm. When the machinery ceases to thrum, the hidey-holes no longer give up their treasure.

Go.


Go and learn what this means.

03 November 2014

Change the Channel

Now, I would have liked to think that the old miser, when he died, would have stopped muttering, but it just wasn't in the cards. Do you know how it is? An old miser gives up the ghost and just keeps muttering on and on about whatever it was that he was talking about just before he died. Yes, that is exactly what happened. I was there. I heard it.

We were taking down the Kwanzaa bush and Clinton's Comet had just finished streaking across the sky. Clinton's Comet is not nearly as well known as Halley's Comet, but it is really well-loved. Clinton's Comet is said to have a southern accent and a penchant for cigars, blue dresses, and plump interns (whatever that means). We watched as the comet disappeared in the western sky, just behind an In-N-Out Burger. People put down their double-doubles and wept as Clinton went down on the horizon.

Anyhow.

We got the Kwanzaa bush packed into Larry's Pinto and just then this old miser shuffled up to us, muttering something about textured vegetable protein (we knew he was a miser by the miser's union identification badge that he wore on his lanyard. Everyone wears a lanyard these days, don't they?). Larry offered to buy him a double-double (which contains absolutely NO textured vegetable protein, incidentally), but the old man shook his head and just kept muttering. Mutter, mutter, mutter. He muttered to the left. He muttered to the right. He muttered into the lapel of his second-hand Brooks Brothers suit. He removed his set of false teeth for a minute so that he would have an unobstructed path for swallowing his pride, and when he set the teeth down on the pavement they kept right on muttering by themselves. Larry expected them to chatter, he told me later, but they muttered – believe it or not.

Larry and I offered to give the man a ride somewhere in the Pinto, but he never answered. He went on to mutter something about the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Larry looked frustrated and a little perturbed. I was hungry, and got to thinking about the In-N-Out Burger. The old man was muttering about the advantages of pomade over hair oil. Then he muttered about Lyndon Baines Johnson. Then he muttered about Lady Bird Johnson. Then he muttered about Little Billy Johnson, Lithe Buttercup Johnson, Lisping Brony Johnson, and the 1963 New York Yankees. It was crazy.

I had said that the old miser gave up the ghost, and that is true. I made it sound as though it were a natural death, however. In reality, as the old miser continued to hold forth and began muttering about commemorative collectible porcelains, Larry blew a gasket and beat the old man senseless with a limb that had broken off of the Kwanzaa bush, had fallen into the gutter, and had gone unnoticed until now.

The bush-limb was made of light wire, interwoven with prickly plastic threads. It took Larry nearly a day and a half to beat the old miser to death with such a soft, light weapon.

Larry stood over the corpse, breathless. The old miser's teeth went right on muttering away about the low quality of Kwanzaa bushes these days.

“Come on, Larry,” I said, motioning to the Pinto. “Let's go get us a double-double.”


Larry just muttered something about the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

06 October 2014

Do I Really Have to Explain It?

No Olive?
Have you looked at it recently? I mean really had a good look at it? It looks awful.

For a while it seemed to be just fine. It was rolling right along like a gentle stream (or a thundering herd of yaks with dysentery, depending on the day), and we all thought everything was just fine. When it got to looking a little weary, that nice old Slovak lady from down the street would wobble over with a basket full of those prune-filled pastries and pat it on the head. She would mutter something in Slovak, set the pastries down and wobble home. That brightened things right up. That did the trick.

Why wouldn't it?

But somewhere along the time that we had someone in charge who liked showing people the nasty scar from his operation, it started to shake and shimmy when people looked at it. I always thought that the shaking wasn't as bad as the shimmying, but everyone has his or her opinion on such things, I suppose. After a couple of decades of shaking and shimmying, the whole thing would stop for a bit, and then lurch off again, scaring everyone.

Last month, it was seen on a street corner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Right there, between the smoke shop and the bordello. Was it a bordello? No, I think it was actually another smoke shop. Yeah, right between the two smoke shops. Well, to be accurate, I should say the two boarded-up smoke shops. Ever since smoking was made punishable by death by beheading, the smoke shops have been closing up left and right.

Anyhow.

There it was, crouching down low to the pavement, trying to stick something into one of its veins. It looked like hell, it really did, and I wanted to say something, or try to cheer it up, or sing it a little tune, or buy it a sandwich.

Anything.

It just isn't what it used to be, and no one seems to care. Well, there is a group of people in that one place, just over there – the group that keeps trying to organize a bake sale for its benefit. I think that they care. But not many other people care.


Do you?

12 September 2014

Quietly, but with Vigor

Flag-bearing Benjer left the wingnut factory early that day, holding a pair of playing cards in his hand (and a little bit of insecurity in his heart). The streets were dark, and he made his way home with the help of a tiny little electric torch that he held between his teeth. Holding it in his teeth was his only option, you see, for his free hand was needed for swatting away the little blood-sucking drones that swarmed around his head.

There are always a few blood-sucking drones swarming around one's head, now, aren't there, poopsie-doodle? Sure there are.

The electric torch led our dear Benjer down a side street that he had not expected to traverse, and with great alarm, he watched rather passively and with horror as the torch led him through a tiny little door and into a dark, dusty shop that smelled of tamarinds, incense, and garlic.

“Poocha-hee!” exclaimed a small amber-skinned man from behind a counter. “Poocha-hee! You have nice electric torch!”

“I'ng sarry...I gnust av ade a rong urn,” said Benjer, the torch still between his teeth and his free hand still waving at the drones. He stopped waving and took the torch from his teeth. “I'm sorry...I must have made a wrong turn.”

“Kalla-longo! You in right place!” said the amber-skinned man. “You come to right place. I show you what you need!” He scurried out of sight, and into the back room. Benjer occupied himself with looking at a stack of old magazines from Indonesia. In less than a minute the amber-skinned man returned, carrying a dented and dusty cardboard box, no larger than a couple of loaves of bread.

Not bigger than a breadbox, you might be led to say.

“Squabbo!” exclaimed the amber-skinned man. “This what you need!”

He withdrew it from the box. It's surface was pitted, but still fairly shiny.

Benjer looked upon it with some fascination. “I never knew I needed one of THOSE,” he said. “How does it, ummm...how does it work?”

“Squabbo-licious!” said the amber-skinned man. “It no work at all. You just carry it. Just carry in pocket of oversized jacket, and let magic genies do work!”

Benjer frowned, for he had no oversized jacket to call his own. The amber-skinned man saw the sadness in his eyes, and had anticipated just such a reaction.

“Kalla-longo! I have jacket for you,” he said, as he helped Benjer into a dusty, oversized jacket. “You look like million bucks!” said the amber-skinned man, clapping his hands together. “Now to see if it fit in pocket!”

The amber-skinned man reached into the cardboard box again. He removed just what Benjer needed, its pitted but fairly shiny surface reflecting the dim lights of the shop.

“Well, it is quite lovely,” said Benjer, opening up the jacket front to reveal the large interior breast pocket. The amber-skinned man slipped it inside and closed Benjer's jacket. He patted him lightly on the chest and smiled.

“Rolla-rolla! Magic genies now do work. Magic genies keep you safe,” said the amber-skinned man.

“How much do I owe you?” asked Benjer, reaching for his wallet.

The amber-skinned man waved his hand. “You just go. You be careful now. You have big day tomorrow.”

Benjer smiled and bounded out of the shop with a new spring in his step. He began to cross the street and was hit by a speeding truck and killed instantly.



29 August 2014

St. Wally of Hippo

I poked my head into that little space between the refrigerator and the wall, expecting to see some sort of a light shining from the electrical socket. You know how that is? Sometimes there is ectoplasmic luminescence pouring out of places where a wall is breached.

Just a word on that, however – when I say “breached,” I mean almost any sort of perforation or hole, mind you. It doesn't have to be the typical sort of what you might think of when you hear or read the word “breach.” Let me make that very clear. Ectoplasmic luminescence can come pouring out of the smallest little gap. This especially is the case when you are looking for it.

So I poked my head in there, expected light, and did not see any. I slumped to the floor and considered swallowing the rat poison. My great uncle, Lord Gadsden “Stonewall” Janikowski had become so desperate after losing the battle of Thorny Point (right after he lost the battle of the waistline), that he consumed nearly a half pound of rat poison. He chased it with a pint of Tennessee whiskey, however, so the poison had no effect. He woke up in a field hospital several weeks later and gave a field promotion to an orderly who was in the act of polishing his bedpan. The newly brevet-ed (is that a word) captain was quickly reassigned to a garrison hospital in a quiet sector, but unfortunately (and quite ironically) met his end when an errant mortar round from the tactical dance unit next door did him in while he was playing mah-jongg. It is always during a mah-jongg game. Let that be a lesson to all of us: don't play mah-jongg.

Where was I?

Oh yes. Years later, when Uncle Stonewall was an elderly man, I was sitting on his lap while he told me a story of how they had run the Yankees out of Chattanooga (odd, seeing as how he fought in the Korean War). He paused for a moment, and then looked me straight in the eye.

“Tommy,” he said, “don't ever eat freaking rat poison.”

I kept this bit of advice close to my heart for decades, so when I slumped to the floor and considered eating the rat poison in the little tiny box on the floor between the refrigerator and the wall, I immediately heard my uncle's voice.

“Tommy,” the voice said, “don't ever eat freaking rat poison.”

I had found the ectoplasmic luminescence I was looking for, after all.


(Author's note: the bit about Tennessee whiskey negating the effects of rat poison is purely fiction. Tennessee whiskey does not make rat poison safe to ingest. Thank you.)

30 May 2014

On a Tuesday, for a Dirt Farmer

A long time ago, just after Terrence's mom told him to lay off the rot-gut, there was a loud noise in Haverland. Folks out that way talked about it for weeks afterward, and they all just called it “the loud noise.” No one was ever quite sure what it was, but there was Danner, the crazy old guy who used to sit around the post office and pick at the scabs on his knee, he said it was a sign of the end times. I wasn't sure what he meant, but he said it real low and spooky-like, so I took him seriously.

Maybe others did, too.

Anyhow, there was a man that some said was from the government. That man came out there to Haverland, and I mean to tell you, he got folks all riled up. They were worried, and rightly so. The last time we had a g-man come to visit Crawford County, it was on account of that Sweetwater kid getting killed out on the Rural Route outside of Blanchers. Nobody wanted to be reminded of that, and no one wanted to talk to the man with the bad hairpiece and breath like mothballs.

So when the loud noise was still in everyone's minds, this g-man showed up. This one didn't have a hairpiece, and his breath wasn't near so much like mothballs, but still no one wanted to talk to him. That was okay, seeing as how he mostly just drove around to the hog containment facilities and spent the rest of his time scribbling in a notebook.

On the day that he was out near Pole Creek, on some land owned by Sheriff Morgan, he got to taking pictures of that anhydrous shed – the one next to where the Staley family had their pea fields. Sheriff Morgan showed up in his cruiser, and the two men went inside for a long time. I know this on account of I know Jason Staley and he was working the fields that day and told me all about it.

Jason said there was some shouting and the government man came out of the shed, got into his car and pulled away, throwing a ton of gravel in the air. Sid Morgan came out later, looked around, scratched his crotch, and got into his car. Jason said he was on his phone for almost half an hour before he drove away. Jason went on in for supper after that.

Well, two weeks after the loud noise, that anhydrous shed went up in flames, and then, of course, that same week was the week that Yorkie Daniel's son Digger was found hanging from the hayloft in the Daniel's barn. No one was sure what had been eating Digger enough to make him want to take his own life in such a way, but who knows what people think? Some said that Digger had been shot in the back of the head as well as hung, and that sure is a strange way to off yourself. Sheriff Morgan called it suicide, though, so there you have it.

There you have it.

I walked to the post office in Haverland just yesterday, and there was Danner again, that old crazy guy, his eyes flittin' around.

“It's the end times,” he said again, some spit coming out of his mouth and hanging loose on his lower lip. “The end times, I tell you.”

I guess for some it might be, I thought to myself.


For some it might be.

09 May 2014

In the Succulent Summertime

I never really told you about Charles and Mindy, I am sure of that. You know the old saw about them opening a drive-in hardware store, and the hilarity that resulted. Anyone and his brother (or sister) could now just drive right down the street to “C&M's Hardware-a-Go-Go” and get a packet of washers or bolts or some damned thing. They really had damned things in the store, mind you – actual cursed or anathematized bits of hardware. My uncle Bert (the one with the yellow skin and five-pack-a-day habit) had once purchased some heretical drywall anchors there.

Amazing.

Anyhow, Charles and Mindy were both from the south side of Milwaukee (not entirely unlike myself and much of my kin), and they spoke with a definite accent. They hardened their “th”s and employed long vowel sounds where none was required. Sometimes they would say “oh ya den.” No one paid much attention to them in Milwaukee, of course, as everyone spoke that way there. It was not until they moved to Davenport, Iowa, that the trouble began.

Now, on a curious note, my own wife and I also live in Davenport, and we, like Charles and Mindy, moved here from Wisconsin. Not directly from Wisconsin, mind you, but you get the idea. Stick that in your personal vaporizer and inhale it. Davenport is known far and wide for being an inclusive community – we allow Germans, Burmese, and Belgians to coexist peacefully and all have an equal shot at happiness and at winning the Iowa lottery. Check me on that, if you like – it's true. The one thing that Davenporters will not allow is the illicit carrying of non-clear glass recyclables across state lines into the Scott County recycling facility (I made this up, actually, in vain hope of it having something to do with the story).

Badda bing. Case closed. On a bright June day Charles and Mindy were nailed on charges of aiding and abetting a resident of Illinois in his attempt to flee the oppressive Rock Island County recycling laws. Illinois State Police as well as the Scott County Sheriff conducted a raid on “C&M's Hardware-a-Go-Go” and exposed Charles and Mindy's little game.

“Aha,” said the burly Illinois trooper, “we have exposed your little game.”

Charles and Mindy were given a one year suspension of their Scott County passports, and for the next twelve months commuted from a rented apartment in Muscatine.

When the suspension was finally ended, the two of them drove back to their home in the East Village. A tear came to Charles' eye. His left eye. It was due to the wind, as he was driving. Please do not think that he was getting sentimental or anything.

Thank you.

“Sometimes,” said Charles over the sound of jackhammers tearing up River Drive, “having your little game exposed is the best thing that can happen.”

“Keep your eye on road,” said Mindy, “you nearly hit that street mime.”


A lot can change in twelve months, they realized.