You should go and do this immediately. Then it is time for coffee and reading.
15 August 2016
29 February 2016
(This is a little teaser from the first chapter of my "soon-to-be-self-published-because-I-don't-make-enough-money-for-certain-publishers" book, Fiberglass Clown Head Symphony. Look for it at a fine bookseller near you. Actually, don't look for it at any booksellers, except possibly and hopefully at Trail's End Books of Winthrop, Washington, as they are about the only store in all creation wise enough to stock decent literature. Hey, honestly, I'm down and cool with the whole capitalism thing, and I know publishing is about making money - who doesn't love a little extra fifty in the pocket? Perhaps the manuscript got turned down because it is lousy, or maybe it really was about sales of the previous book. "Hit me, but don't shit me," as my dear, late father used to say. Okay, perhaps I am going a bit overboard here, but whatever the case, please enjoy this little nugget...)
Michael picked up the package and turned it over in his hand. The cookies appeared perfectly matched, golden and apparently crisp – just what you want out of a fortune cookie. He gently tore open the package and removed one of the cookies. As he had been doing for years, he placed the cookie in the palm of his left hand and slowly closed his fingers around it, applying pressure until he heard the crisp shell give way. A satisfying crack, and Michael opened his hand again to reveal a perfectly crushed cookie, its little fortune slip lying amidst the shards.
Michael retrieved the little slip and turned it over. “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds. Lucky numbers 2, 5, 11.” He placed the fortune on the table and placed the cookie shards in his mouth one by one. They had a nice sweet flavor, somewhat reminiscent of almonds and perhaps a touch of orange or some other citrus flavor. He had been right in guessing the cookie to be crisp, for if it was nothing else, it was crisp. This seemed to be damning the cookie with faint praise, however.
"Damning with faint praise." That was a saying that Michael's mother used to trundle out quite a bit when she had still been healthy. Before the debilitating plaque deposits begin forming in her brain, she was quite the quick wit and original thinker. Even still, she would from time to time use the odd hackneyed or worn phrase, the over-used idiom. She would say things like “up the creek without a paddle,” “barking up the wrong tree,” “damning with faint praise,” and “pressing the shit button when you really need shinola.” Actually, this last phrase was one that no one but her ever seemed to use, but she would use it so often that you came to believe that it was a common saying. Michael would be with his parents at a party, a wedding reception, a formal dinner, or anything, and conversation would somehow wind its way to where his mother could drop this doozie. “Holy Mother of Pete,” his mother would say, “you were sure pressing the shit button when you really needed shinola.” People within earshot would sit up and take notice. His father would drop his head and blush, and mother would chuckle.
Shinola was a brand of wax shoe polish that presumably could be mistaken for human feces. By the time that Michael was an adult, people no longer wore leather shoes requiring any sort of upkeep such as polishing. Shoes were made entirely of plastics, nylons, and a synthetic meerschaum substitute, and when they became unsightly the owner simply rejuvenated them with an intravenous infusion of a product known as “helium sponge carbide”. This did nothing for the appearance of the shoes, but rendered the owner less vain. Ironically, Michael's father was a chemist who worked on the team that discovered “helium sponge carbide,” although they never saw the lowering of shoe-owner vanity as an application for their discovery. They were just searching for another synthetic meerschaum substitute.
The world is a crazy place.
09 November 2015
(A bit of chapter 6 from my novel-in-progress, Casey and the Paper)
We stood there against the stone wall, smoking and looking at the Puget Sound. It was nice. I was enjoying myself. If this was the afterlife, I thought, it might not be so bad. My head got to swimming a little bit, so I slowed down and took it easy on the smoky treat.
“My dad used to bring me here,” Hannah said after a minute or so. “We would always do the same thing. We'd go and get a chicken hom bow from that place over there across the street, and then we'd come right here. He'd set me up on the wall and I'd eat my hom bow while he smoked a cigarette and told me stories about his time in the Navy. He was born in the Midwest and had joined the Navy right out of high school, and somehow that brought him out here to Seattle. After he was done in the service, he stayed here and married my mom. Then I came along.”
“Your mom didn't care for chicken hom bow?”
“I don't know. She was gone. She died giving birth to me. I never knew her. My dad raised me on his own.”
“So do you ever catch up with her?”
“Do you ever get the chance to catch up with your mom nowadays?”
Hannah looked at me – looking confused and a little annoyed. “No, of course not,” she said, and turned her gaze back to the water.
I felt really bad, and suddenly it made sense. Her mom was not in the same afterlife as we were, and that probably wasn't good. It made me wonder how one goes about figuring out who is here and who isn't. Perhaps it was a process of elimination – you would go to a gathering of old friends in a common place to see everybody, and you would all be happy and having a good time, and then suddenly someone would say “hey, where's Eddie?” You would all look around and someone else would ask “you mean dirty old Eddie who used to give the finger to nuns outside the hospital and steal milk money from orphans?” And suddenly that knowing look would cross every face, and you all would think to yourselves “aha...I bet I know where that dirty old Eddie is...”
It was like a Russian Orthodox monk friend of mine said to me once, “the first surprise we will have in heaven is finding out who is there. The second surprise we will have is finding out who is not.”
The afterlife could be a real pisser, I guess, if things don't turn out as you expected.
26 October 2015
If you remember the night that the church bells rang, you likely remember a simpler time. You likely remember an age of lies and tension; of disco and eight-track tapes.
If you remember that time as a child, you might remember the smell of those red Swedish fish – slightly greasy to the touch when fresh, slightly hard when old and dry. Their smell was the smell of something like cherry and yet more like paint if you thought about it. You might remember the songs of television and a world where grouches lived in garbage cans and monsters with ping pong balls for eyes ate cookies and didn't scare anyone.
If you remember the night the church bells rang and you remember that time as a child, you might remember a world where old men and women were from another century and they had raised their families through something we couldn't understand, something called a 'depression' – something that caused them to eat things you might not normally eat and wear things you might not normally wear. Our moms made us meatloaf and TV dinners and dressed us in matching clothes with animals on them that taught us how to coordinate our colors. Not so for the old men and women. Their children had no TVs. No TV dinners. No zebras and no monkeys.
On the night the church bells rang a very small boy in a Midwestern suburb got up from his bed and wandered to the front door to wonder at the racket. He pressed his nose against the screen and smelled the dust and the fly-dirt and wondered at the racket. His older brother walked up behind him and picked him up in his arms. He unhooked the door and they stepped out into the cool night air on a fine summer evening. He put his little brother on his shoulders and they carved small circles together on the front lawn.
“Why are the bells ringing?”
“It means the killing's gonna' stop.”
A few more small, slow circles on the lawn and he took his little brother inside and returned him to his bed and tucked him in. Sleep came easily after that for both. When the killing is going to stop, you sleep a lot easier.
If you remember the night that the church bells rang, you might likely remember having to grow up eventually and not knowing that you had done so. All sorts of things came along - the mortgages and graduate school and the deaths of parents who might have been the children who ate the things you might not normally eat and who wore the things you might not normally wear. These things all came along and you might have lived through them or you might have ignored them or you might have missed them due to a sudden death or a slow death or just the right amount of the proper chemicals that would have transformed your thinking-organ known as the “brain” into a mass of silly putty.
On the night that the church bells rang a very small boy in a Midwestern suburb fell back asleep and dreamed a dream so vivid. He was on his older brother's shoulders and they were carving small, slow circles together on the front lawn. He bent his head forward and smelled his brother's hair – it was always clean, it seemed – clean and fresh and smelling like the stuff that big people put in their hair. He put his lips on his brother's head, and then rested his cheek there, feeling as safe and as secure as he had ever felt. His big brother was never going to have to go away to a war and kill anyone or have anyone try to kill him. He would never have to go away to the place called Vietnam that they showed on TV. And if they had ever tried to take him, like when he was away at college, he would have told his brother to come home right here and he would hide him in his room – under his bed or in his closet and President Nixon never would have found him there. And he would have brought meatloaf and TV dinners to him and hidden him there as long as he needed to to, but that wasn't anything to worry about now, now that the church bells were ringing.
A whole generation dreamed and a whole generation slept easily until it realized that there was no reason to sleep easily anymore. And a whole generation got out of bed and got dressed and took its tranquilizers and its prescription pain killers in massive quantities, washed down with light beers and hard lemonade and energy drinks and red wine and vodka. It took its medicine like a good patient and sometimes even got up in the middle of the night and pressed its collective nose against the screen and smelled the dust and the fly-dirt.
And it waited for the church bells to ring.
23 August 2015
20 July 2015
I stooped down to look at the tiny little spoon-made ringer that Johnny was offering to me, at first thinking that it was not worth my time.
“Check out da' lil' spoon-made ringy-dingy thing!” he had called out as he approached, walking down Kumquat Lane (a street you might remember from another tale about a most fortunate geometry teacher named Mr. Zoops. This tale, however, has nothing to do with that tale – or with Mr. Zoops. Or with geometry, for that matter).
Johnny was always offering me the strangest items, and he was always having songs written about him. That bothered him to no end, but he put up with it, just to humor the songwriters.
“Check out da' lil' spoon-made ringy-dingy thing!” he called again, crossing Peach-Compote Avenue (the Street Department of Weaverton was a fun-loving bunch). He failed to look both ways, and a truss-delivery van (there are lots of those in this neighborhood) came trundling through the intersection and knocked him to the ground. He held fast to the spoon-made ringer.
High up in the outer reaches of the atmosphere, a glimmering silver jet tore through the ether, leaving no mark along its path, yet for just a moment, both Johnny and I saw the sun catch its silvery skin. It seemed to wink at us like a firefly visible in broad daylight.
“I think the winking goddess Juno is pleased with my lil' spoon-made ringy-dingy thing,” Johnny said with what might prove to be one of his last breaths (depending on the speed with which the space-time continuum folds around us while I write), as he held the spoon-made ringer aloft.
I looked over my shoulder at the empty patch in the sky, now devoid of the glimmering silver jet, and then I stooped down to look at the tiny little spoon-made ringer that Johnny was offering to me, at first thinking that it was not worth my time.
29 June 2015
Here is a dandy little review of The Crawford County Sketchbook from the good folks at Kirkus Reviews. Please go and have a read...
"An elaborate morality play set among the cult of Southerners and their haunted landscapes."
"Grotesque tales of the struggle between good and evil from a dark corner of the American heartland."
"An elaborate morality play set among the cult of Southerners and their haunted landscapes."
"Grotesque tales of the struggle between good and evil from a dark corner of the American heartland."
15 June 2015
01 June 2015
I work on a fetching tuna boat. That is probably news to you, as so few people work on fetching tuna boats these days, and when they do they are reluctant to admit it. They usually keep the fetching tuna boat stories to themselves.
Oh, the tuna boat is fetching, all right. She's all dolled up, but not in a gaudy way. Our captain has strung lights around the pilothouse – little electric lights that are in the shape of anthropomorphic jalapeño peppers, complete with tiny sombreros, mustaches, and sunglasses. They make the pilothouse look cheery, and when we are working on the fetching deck it makes us smile, knowing that our captain cares enough about us to string such festive lights on the fetching tuna boat.
During the day, we sail about and look for tuna. We never find any, seeing as how we sail upon the Mississippi River, and there are no tuna for hundreds of miles. Hell, maybe thousands of miles. I have no idea, as I have never seen a tuna in the wild – only in a can. That doesn't matter, though, as the captain tells us that we are one of the best tuna boat crews he has ever had work for him. We do all the things necessary to catch lots of tuna, and the first mate has even learned to make the harmonious tuna call using only his right hand, held firmly to his lips. He makes the harmonious tuna call, and we strain our eyes looking for the approach of the elusive tuna.
None ever comes.
In the afternoons we take siesta. It is pleasant and restful, taking siesta in our bunks below decks on the fetching tuna boat. Our captain has thoughtfully provided small nap mats that we may spread on the deck if the weather is warm and we wish to take siesta topside. When it is cool, we go to our bunks and listen to the waves lap at the hull of our fetching tuna boat. It lulls us to sleep with great ease.
In the evenings, after dinner, we will often gather on the lido deck to sing songs and play the concertinas. Each of us was issued a concertina when we signed on to the fetching tuna boat, and the first mate gives group concertina lessons each night, unless he is sober. The waves lap at the hull of our fetching tuna boat, the sound of sea chanties rolls out over the deck, and old man Bettendorf dances a merry jig until his prosthetic leg comes loose, causing him to hop back to his seat. We close the evenings with toasts of absinthe to our captain, and then we retire below decks. Only the first mate stays topside, keeping watch and drinking until he has passed out.
We enjoy our life here upon the fetching tuna boat, but we question our vocation. We have yet to spy a tuna, let alone catch one. Some of the crew say that it is our technique. Some say it is that our boat needs to be arrayed in an even more fetching manner. Others claim it has to do with the stars and the way the constellation of the Archer has risen in the East, bringing with it wary schools of tuna. We labor on, enjoying our life but never achieving our goal.
Some say that all of life is like that.
I work on a fetching tuna boat.
04 May 2015
“While we are on the topic of other planets, please allow yourself to drift off mentally to another planet – not terribly far distant in terms of space and time, but very distant in terms of reality. Place yourself on a war-torn field. A field of churned-up mud, debris, and dead bodies. See a series of trenches facing one another. See two armies facing one another across the churned up field. See the young men, huddled in a troglodyte world of mud and fear. See the mist and smoke rolling across the deserted landscape. Can you feel it?” asked Blaze Raygun.
“Is this an intentionally undertaken cloquey-overdose?” asked Grogan, opening one eye.
“It is often times the setting for an intentionally undertaken cloquey-overdose, but we are not using it like that right now.”
(Author's note: the Bezeldan word “cloquey” means, literally, “a confusion”. When extra-dimensional travelers would find themselves depressed from having landed in a real heck of a cloquey, they would travel through the ether of time and space and take in a little bit of opening day on the Battle of the Somme. It was cloquey-overdose on a grand scale, and they always felt a little better about whatever it was that they had previously witnessed. This whole issue is addressed in another story of mine – Yerba Maté – that you should probably go and read. Right now. Please report back to this paragraph when you have done so. Thank you.)
“You might see some soldiers huddled together in groups, talking in low voices, and lighting cigarettes in their cupped hands. You can see the look in their eyes, and maybe you can even feel how uncomfortable they are in their woolen uniforms. Wool, encrusted in mud and maybe even some blood here and there. To top it off, there are bugs. Lice. Little vermin that crawl around and bite the soldiers, just to add a little bit of discomfort to everything else. If you look further, there are also rats. Not as numerous as the lice, but probably more visible. The rats are sometimes feeding on the dead, and the soldiers know this. In fact, they know that some of the bodies of men who had been their friends – men just like them with bodies just like theirs – those are some of the bodies that the rats are nibbling on. Worst of all, the soldiers know that their own bodies might be next – they might become the next body that the rats nibble on. It's just awful.”
“Aside from the rats and the lice, there is not a lot of wildlife painted into this picture. No starlings. No bletcher-birds. No bluejays. No redjays. No anykindjays. The soldiers huddle on both sides of the trenches, all speaking their respective languages in hushed tones, smoking cigarettes from their home countries. And one of the things that the soldiers do on either side of the trenches – something they do no matter what language they speak or what uniform they wear – is bond with each other. The men sometimes have nothing else to keep them going but each other. They become almost closer than brothers.”
“Okay. I want you now to depart this field of horror and death, and come with me to another place.”
“Gladly,” said Grogan, wiping sweat from his brow.
“Come with me to a Frosty-Chill on a warm summer night in a small town near the northern pole. Look at the teenagers gathered around the counter, ordering Frosty-Chill cones and cylinders and wheaty-milks. Look at the hormones coursing through their systems. Well, you can't really see the hormones, but you know they are there, don't you? Don't answer that. Look at the boy and the girl sitting at that little table off to the side. Look at their eyes, and they way they hold each other's hand. In another time, and in another place there were those who called this 'puppy-love' but we mostly think of it as the affection that two young people have for one another when their systems and their brains are not quite developed yet, and they don't really know what they are feeling. You can almost feel the sugary, sappy, warm, and wonderful emotions that they have going on right now, can't you? Again, don't answer that.”
“Look inside that young boy's heart. Can you? Of course not, but maybe you can feel it just a little bit. If you can tell how much he never wants this moment to end, and how in just 30 or 40 short years into the future he will wish that he could feel that same feeling once again, you might get a sense of what I'm talking about. Likewise with the young girl. She might be looking back in 30 or 40 years and thinking that there was once a perfect summer evening outside the Frosty-Chill, and that there was a time when she felt so good and so young and so blissfully ignorant of what was really going on.”
“This is very different from the last place we were. Nobody is dying here, at least not actively, and there is a lot less fear, a lot less mud, and certainly fewer rats. There might be some lice, but we won't even bring that into the equation, if you don't mind.”
Grogan and Rosalyn shook their heads without saying a word.
27 April 2015
Maguida raised a flag of truce and sailed into the tiny harbor of her mind. Her boat was fragile but still seaworthy, and at any rate it appeared as though there would be no more salvos fired at her from the coastal guns.
Coastal guns on the shore of the tiny harbor of one's mind can be particularly deadly.
The winds were steady but warm, and the waters fairly calm. She looked around at the ragged sails, torn from the previous battle, and she wondered how they could have ever held enough wind to bring her home – home to an occupied port, home to become a prisoner. She thought deeply and with salty-wounded wonder at how the gimple birds had made a warning call before the battle. She listened to them, but ignored their dire message. We all do that from time to time.
As her battle-ravaged boat pulled into port, she stepped into what had become a foreign land. Enemy-held territory. A strange place. She walked ashore and saw no trace of her captors.
No threatening words.
No marauding troops.
No laurel-wreath clad victors, grinning at her with bloody smiles.
She was alone. The worst kind of defeat there is.
20 April 2015
When the police arrived, there was little that could be done aside from cleaning up the mess. One older officer directed one of the younger officers to get a 2-liter bottle of a well-known cola soft drink and wash the blood away.
“Are you sure we should do that?” asked the young officer. “They might want the blood for evidence.”
“Who? Who might want it?” asked the older officer.
With a shrug of his shoulders the younger officer walked away in search of the cola. The older officer crouched down next to the body and looked into its eyes. “Its” eyes, as the officer was not sure if it was the body of a man or a woman. There were no obvious clues.
The officer stood up, shook his head and smoothed the lap of his his trousers, slowly, but almost as though he were brushing off crumbs. There could have been crumbs on his trousers, in fact. He had just eaten a very crumbly baked good on the way over. The officer was not sure, exactly, what sort of baked good it was. There had been no obvious clues.
A delivery van of some sort slowed down as it drove past the crime scene, trying to figure out what was going on. The driver turned down his radio – for that is what people do, it seems, when they need to concentrate on things while driving. They turn down the radio. When your family was on a vacation and you pulled into a strange city, would your mother pull out the map and turn down the radio, saying “we have to concentrate” ? Perhaps she did. I know that my mother did. In like fashion, the driver of this delivery truck sat up, took notice, and turned down his radio.
The officer looked at the truck as it passed by and noticed the driver staring at the crime scene. He took note of the driver turning down the radio. The officer looked at the delivery truck and tried to determine what sort of delivery such a truck would be making, but he could not decide what it might be. There were no obvious clues.
The officer returned to his patrol car and opened the trunk. He withdrew the “Crime Scene Removal Kit” that was issued to every police patrol car in Weaverton. Taking the kit to where the body was, he put on his tidy white apron and rubber gloves and got to work. The body fit neatly within the several resealable plastic bowls that came with the kit – bowls that were guaranteed to not leak, and that would keep body parts or baked goods as fresh and flaky as the day they were murdered or baked. “From our kitchen to yours!” was the cheery message that was molded in bright, happy colors on the snap-tight lid of each bowl.
The kit was very complete, the officer thought, except for the cola soft drink that all of Weaverton's finest used to give a final cleaning to any crime scene. Well, to any crime scene that needed cleaning, that is. The crime scenes of Jaywalking (unless lethal) seldom needed such a good cleaning. The cola soft drink that they used for crime-scene clean up had a special wang-doodley enzyme in it that immediately ate up and digested blood and small body parts that were too small to pick up with the tongs that were included in the kit. “Who stocked these kits, anyway?” the officer wondered aloud. He turned the lid of the kit over several times, looking for the name of a manufacturer. There were no obvious clues.
The officer wiped off the tongs, packed up the kit and the resealable plastic bowls full of body parts, and placed them all neatly in the trunk of the patrol car. He took off his tidy white apron and rubber gloves, and placed them in a large plastic bag that the City of Weaverton Police Department had so thoughtfully included in each policeman's personal goody box. The personal goody box contained very crumbly baked goods, tear gas, a smiley-face button, and a kazoo, along with the plastic bags. Each goody box was prepared personally by the mayor of Weaverton each morning, and contained a hand written message of joy. The older officer's goody box this morning had a message that read “Slap-happy to the end! Boxer dogs and hiccups! Happy!” It was, sure enough, hand written and signed by the mayor. The officer, after reading it, had misplaced it in the patrol car somewhere, but was not sure where he had laid it. There were no obvious clues.
The younger officer returned with a 2-liter bottle of the particular well-known cola soft drink, and the two of them used it to wash away the remaining blood and some small body parts. They flushed the whole of it into the gutter, where it ran over several empty pistol cartridges and down into the storm sewer. The older officer was not sure where it went after it entered the storm sewer. There were no obvious clues.
The two officers got into the patrol car and made their way back to the station. In the precinct headquarters that afternoon, just before he headed home after his shift, the older officer made his daily “record of events” and entered it into the duty log.
“Quiet day. No activity. Ate two very crumbly baked goods. Happy!”
10 April 2015
He did it again.
Mr. Reemer (not his real name) held out his hand on the corner of 18th Avenue and 31st Street, and juggled two balls of stiffened beef tallow, daring any passers-by to pluck one of the balls from mid-air. No one ever wants to touch stiffened beef tallow, of course, so he found no takers. It was his next action that baffled everyone – even the reporter from the Daily Slouch.
The sun burned brightly in the skies over Weaverton that morning, and Mr. Reemer's hand grew all the more slippery with each cycle of the balls of stiffened beef tallow. As one last passer-by passed by (that is, after all, what passers-by do, you know), he paused in mid-juggle, and a ball of stiffened beef tallow stopped in mid-air. It hovered. It wobbled. It glistened.
“Hear my tale,” said Mr. Reemer to the passer-by. “Hear my tale of tallow. A tallowy tale, yet not too tall of a tallowy tale.”
The passer-by stopped and stared at the ball of stiffened beef tallow.
“Hear of the genesis, as it were,” continued Mr. Reemer, smiling. “You know where this lovely ball of stiffened beef tallow comes from, don't you?”
The passer-by shook her head, as if to say “no.”
(That is often what people mean when they shake their heads.)
“Let me show you.” With his free hand (the one that was not growing all the more slippery from stiffened beef tallow) he traced a picture in the air – a picture so divine, so graceful, and so intricate. He then reached out and placed his index finger upon the forehead of the passer-by. “Receive,” said Mr. Reemer.
The passer-by shook and trembled, and then grew still.
“Deeper than you might think?” she asked, at great length.
“Deeper than you might think,” said Mr. Reemer.
The passer-by reached out her hand. Mr. Reemer reached out his own hand (the one that had been growing all the more slippery). As their hands met, he turned his over, placing the ball of stiffened beef tallow in hers. While she held it, he kept his hand on the ball for a long while, allowing liquefied beef tallow to run from his palm and cascade over hers.
“Deeper,” he said.
“Deeper,” she said.
The softened beef tallow ran down in tiny little rivulets, over her palm, down her wrist, and down her arm. She felt it dripping onto her shoes.
Mr. Reemer (not his real name, remember?) withdrew his hand, leaving the passer-by holding the ball of stiffened beef tallow. He gently directed her arm beneath the other ball that was still hovering and wobbling and glistening in mid-air.
He looked into her eyes.
She looked into his eyes.
“Receive,” said Mr. Reemer. He made the sign of the grackle and walked away. Out of sight. Out of mind. Out of body.
The passer-by began to juggle the balls of stiffened beef tallow. The sun burned brightly in the skies over Weaverton, and the passer-by's hand grew all the more slippery with each cycle. A voice from deep within came, at long last, to her lips.
“Hear my tale...”
23 March 2015
(from my forthcoming novel, Cinema! Cinema!)
“Well," said Jerry Grogan, "this one guy that I know, his dad was a sailor. I don't mean like a professional sailor all his life or anything. This guy wanted to be a professional athlete, actually. A baseball player, in fact. A pitcher to be exact. Do you know what baseball is?
“Sure,” said Rosalyn. “It's that earth sport that moves real slowly. I see it from time to time on inter-dimensional planetary television. It's the one with all of the beer ads.”
“Yeah, that's it. So anyhow, he wanted to be a baseball player, but as fate would have it, there was a war going on at the time. The guy doesn't want to get drafted into the army, so he joins the navy. Seems like a good idea at the time. In the long run, it sets into motion a whole turn of events that winds up with him retiring as a social worker rather than a baseball player, but such is life. You know how that goes?”
“Do I ever,” said Rosalyn. “I wanted to be a plumber, but I wound up as an art teacher. Some days what I wouldn't give to fix a leaking faucet or a toilet with a bad flapper valve.”
“You can do those things any time you want, baby-cakes. The next time my toilet overflows I'll give you a call.”
“Anyhow, the guy winds up floating around the ocean, running up and down steel ladders and scrubbing decks and saluting people and all the things that sailors commonly do. I don't think he had a parrot or anything. I think those are reserved for pirates, and these guys were legitimate sailors. Some of them had tattoos, though, I'm pretty sure of it."
"When the war ended," Grogan continued, "this guy's ship had the task of picking up a whole bunch of soldiers and marines who had been involved in more 'hands-on' sorts of war-making and ferrying them back home. This seemed like a pretty good deal, because the sailors were a lot less concerned about people trying to kill them or sink their ship or whatever, now that the war was done. Their thoughts had mostly turned to getting home and getting jobs or getting laid or getting really good and stinking drunk.”
“Everybody has their vices,” inserted Rosalyn.
“You can say that again, baby-cakes. So all of these sailors and soldiers and marines are on the ship together for a few weeks, and they end up getting to know each other a bit, and playing poker together and all the things you do when a war is over. And this one marine strikes up a conversation with my friend's dad, and eventually asks him if he wants to see what he was bringing home as a souvenir from the war. Well, this is too good for my friend's dad to pass up, seeing as how the guys on the ship never really had the chance to do any souvenir gathering during the war, and mostly were bringing home only tattoos or the clap.”
“I bet some of them picked up tiny things, too,” said Rosalyn, “just as a little gift for their moms or girlfriends.”
“Maybe. Here and there maybe a plastic snow-globe or something. I'll give you that. But whatever the case, my friend's dad apparently didn't want to miss seeing what a marine might be bringing back from some battle-torn island somewhere. Maybe a cool sword or a helmet or a flag or something. So he goes down to the hangar deck of their ship, where all of the marines are camped out on makeshift bunks, and the marine grabs his seabag and they go to a private little corner behind some crates and pipes and stuff. And the marine pulls a glass mason jar out of his seabag.”
“That's what my friend's dad thought at first, too. Or maybe some kind of special ethnic delicacy that he found in an enemy chow line. But the marine lifts it up in my friend's dad's face and lets him get a real close look at it. You know what it was?”
“Of course you don't. You couldn't believe it. You couldn't imagine it. You couldn't make this up.”
“What was it?” pressed Rosalyn.
“Ears,” said Grogan with a horrified look. “Ears.”
“Ears. Enemy ears. It turns out this marine was cutting off ears from dead bodies of the enemy soldiers that his unit killed. Whenever they overtook a position, or captured a bunker, after everything was quiet, this guy would go around with his knife and slice the ears off of dead soldiers, and then put them in a jar with vinegar or vodka or mineral spirits or something. He had it all wrapped up in a couple of towels, and he carried it with him everywhere. Apparently it was the second jar he had used, as the first one broke in his backpack or seabag or something, soaking everything with his field-expedient embalming fluid. He managed to save the ears, though, so it was okay.
“Lovely,” said Rosalyn, looking a little nauseated.
“Well, my friend's dad was speechless, I guess, but he never forgot the mason jar the ears were in. The marine had scratched the word 'ears' into the metal cap. Probably scratched it in with the same knife he used for removing the ears. Who knows? You don't forget a thing like that, though.”
“You would think that just seeing a bunch of ears floating around in a jar would be enough of a reminder of what's in the jar, though,” Rosalyn pointed out.
“Yeah, but I guess he wanted to dedicate that jar for one use and one use only. He probably didn't want to use the jar for making a batch of pickled eggs after the war.”
“Good point. What if he got the lids switched with another jar, though?”
“I have no idea. Anyhow, years later, probably forty years after the war, my friend's dad is on vacation in a big city on the coast, and was at an antique store with his wife, and they're poking around, looking at stuff, and he spots an old mason jar with a metal cap sitting there on a shelf, and it looks familiar.”
“Way. He grabs it, and sure enough, there's the same word, 'ears', scratched into the lid. The very same jar. I guess he even opened it and took a sniff. Still kinda' smelled like vinegar or something, but no trace of ears. “
“He did. He bought the thing and took it home with him. He kept it on his desk at work, and put old fortunes from fortune cookies in it. Every time he ate at a Chinese restaurant and got a fortune cookie, he'd keep the fortune and take it with him to put in the jar. When he retired, the thing was over half full of old fortunes, and he took it home with him. After he died, my friend got the jar, and now he's doing the same thing with it. It's on his desk, and he's trying to fill it to the top with fortune cookie fortunes before he retires. Only one problem, though.”
“He can't stand Chinese food.”