25 October 2013

A Hot, Dry Spell

(The concluding segment of the forthcoming collection of short fiction by the same name.)

And so a hot, dry spell issued out into a long, long time of waiting, and hoping and, if truth be told, of dreaming. That seems to be the thing that hot and dry spells always lead to. When you can't have, you dream. When you can't dream, you just might die. There was a man once who said that where there is no vision, the people perish. I believe there is likely some truth to that.

I put the last of my things in the back of my truck and drove out of Crawford County on a Sunday night. Not the most usual of times to leave, but then, the County is not the most usual of places. I knew that if I didn't get going right then and there, I might never leave. I took my record collection, of course, and all of my books. I left photo albums and such (such as I had) behind. I won't miss them.

A long time ago, when I first moved to Crawford County, I set fire to all of my pictures that I had from the years before – when I was up in Kentucky, and when I was drinking more. Those were good times, but it seemed that when I moved down to Haverland I didn't need to be reminded of any of that. And that was a good thing, for when you enter into that hot, dry spell, you just hate looking back at a time that was lush and green – a time that was well watered and full of life. You can hardly stand a thing like that, can you? Certainly not. Certainly not when the grass is brown and dry and as crisp as a wicker basket.

When I finally parked my truck the next morning, I was in the city – no, not Cotton City, mind you. I had gone a lot farther north that that. There wasn't any kudzu to be seen, and not a single sourwood, as far as the nose could smell. Everything was different.

And that was exactly the reason I was here.

Sometimes the most common thing is the strangest to a person. I heard about a guy who had come down with some disease wherein his body started rejecting certain other parts of his body. I think his liver was the first one to go, if my memory serves me. The doctors were able to keep him from completely shutting down by allowing his body's immune system to develop something of a lend-lease agreement with the organs as they started to be rejected, if you know what I mean, but this only went on for so long. His body just didn't want to put up with such nonsense anymore.

How could it?

Other times, it is that which is entirely foreign that you crave and you desire. It is not unlike a man being joined to his wife – two distinct and separate entities that become one and are nearly inseparable. That is exactly it. Instead of a body rejecting itself, the body craves that outside itself which makes it complete.

And so it was. And so it is.

I could never go very far north. Folks are too different the farther north you go, and nearly incomprehensible. I had a friend, once, who had a brother who had a friend who lived all the way up in Wisconsin. He came down to Crawford County and I met him at a hog roast out at a farm near Blanchers. He was full of himself, and cold.

But then, I guess you could say I was being judgmental. There you have it.

Well, I am getting to rambling, and that is sure no way to close when I've been telling you. Not that all of it seemed to stick together, of course, but that just seems to be the way I tell things. I just want to make sure, after all is said and done, that you all know how important it is. Life, I'm talking about. There are those who think it isn't worth a plugged nickel, and who treat it as such. Then there are those who just take it for granted and let it slip right by without a thought. I'm here to tell you not to do either.

Even in a hot, dry spell.

22 October 2013

It Was Yet Another Dark and Stormy Knight

I stepped out into the driving rain and pulled my oil-skin tightly around my neck and up to my cheeks. Not those cheeks, you sicko – the oil-skin was not nearly that long. Anyhow, I swaddled myself right up and headed down the street to Limpy's Place, late for my traditional nightly meeting with my brother Pat.

After the short stroll to my traditional watering hole (“always buy a house close to the watering hole”, my father had once told me. He had lived for five decades in a house just across the street from a delightful little gin mill that changed its name every six months or so. Mother did a lot of needlepoint.), I opened the door to Limpy's, to see that Pat was already ensconced in his traditional spot – right next to my traditional spot. He was drinking his traditional single-malt with some unpronounceable and traditional Scottish name, and he had ordered up my traditional martini (stirred, very dry, straight-up, and with a single, unskewered olive stuffed with traditional pimiento – I detail this for your benefit and mine, just in case I come to visit your area and you wish to buy me a drink.), which was waiting for me on the traditional bar mat. Pat greeted me (traditionally) with his traditional greeting.

Hey, what's up? You look thirsty.”

Absolutely parched, Pat,” I said, slipping off my oil-skin and handing it to Limpy, who looked at it suspiciously. I watched as he took it in back and a small dog started whimpering. “How was your day?”

Horrendous,” he said. “I had to give a graphic artist the sack.”

The sack of what? Some kind of grain or something?”

Pat looked at me with a blank expression. “No, Tom,” he said, after several agonizing moments, “I had to fire him.”

Ahhh...I see. Why? What happened?”

Well, it was kind of tragic, really. The oaf had been working on a presentation for a new aquatic entertainment facility that we are doing for a zoo up in Saskatchewan – 60,000 acres dedicated to showcasing the Richardson ground squirrel.”

Do Richardson ground squirrels spend a lot of time enjoying aquatic entertainment?” I asked.

Don't be ridiculous, Tom,” he said. “This is for the patrons of the zoo. Canadians love synchronized swimming, I'm told. Best of all, we have one entire outdoor pool that has an expandable liner. In winter the whole thing freezes over and they can use it for ice hockey, curling...whatever.”

Fun for the whole family,” I said.

Sure,” Pat said, going on. “Well, as it turned out, my graphics guy...”

Former graphics guy,” I interjected.

Yeah. Former graphics guy. Well, he had put together a fairly decent piece of work, and I just said something to him about the kerning. He tilted his head at me, opened his mouth, and walked out of the office. He came back the next day. It was awful.”

What happened?”

Well, when we sat down to look over the presentation one last time, I asked him if he had taken care of what we had talked about.”


Well, the long and short of it was that the guy wasn't really a graphic designer. He had a degree in botany or something from some school in northern Wisconsin or Norway or somewhere. He just had a good eye for lettering and knew how to use the right kinds of software. He had been stealing little bits of artwork here and there. That's why our graphics have had the unique 'ransom-note' feel to it for the last year or so.”

I always kind of liked that,” I said. “I just thought you were being avant-garde.”

Yeah, I did to.”

So what tipped you off?” I asked, draining my glass.

When I asked him about the kerning, he had no idea what I meant. He thought I said 'gurning'. “


Yeah,” Pat said, “gurning. The art of horrendously disfiguring your face using only your muscle control.”

You have got to be kidding me...” I said, flagging down Limpy for another round and to ask him if the dog was all right.

Nope. There the poor schmuck sat, sticking out his tongue and bulging his eyeballs out of their sockets, all the while trying to puff out the tops of his cheeks and frown at the same time. It was awful.”

I can only imagine.”

Well, we all sat there in a really uncomfortable silence for a minute or so. Finally Woody, our landscape architect, cleared his throat and said something about going for a smoke. Woody being an orthodox druid with only one lung, I figured a serious nerve had been struck. I had to go for the nuclear option.”

How'd you break it to him?” I asked.

I just told him that we didn't need his services anymore.”

That's it?” I asked as our drinks arrived.

Well,” said Pat, “I did warn him that if he did that too often his face would stay that way.”

You do have a heart, Pat. Here...drink up.”

Thanks, Tom. And you know, I started researching gurning after that.”


Yeah,” he said. “I was thinking that if the whole writing thing doesn't work out, there could be a future for you there.”

Thanks, Pat,” I said, rolling my eyes back in their sockets and sucking in my upper lip. “Here's to health.”

16 October 2013

Tulips for Gas

Down the ramp did that mint-sucker fly, running right up to old Levinhook and slapping him on the back of the head. It mussed his hair, but that was OK.

It was just OK.

Step back from the melon cart,” cried Levinhook, sizing up the mint-sucker and thinking to himself an unpleasant thought. “Keep your filthy hands off me!”

Levinhook, you old nutter,” said the mint-sucker, “I know what they say about you...I know all the things they say about you, and I know they're all true.”

Hell,” said Levinhook, “like that one man said in his song, it's a real good time to forget I ever knew you.”

But you know you can't,” said the mint-sucker, prancing in circles and lifting his eyelids in a most provocative manner. He slapped Levinhook on the back of the head once again. The subcutaneous fat beneath the wrinkled skin of Levinhook's head shook just a little bit. Had anyone noticed, it would have seemed reminiscent of gelatin in a pan, surrounding a cold pork hock.

Gelatin, incidentally, is often produced from the connective tissues of animals. Sometimes these tissues are taken from pigs, in fact. I just thought you might want to know this.

The mint-sucker pranced around Levinhook, who kept his beady little eyes trained on him, lest he fall victim, once again unaware, to another slap on the head. High overhead a man carried a long two-by-four beneath his arm as he strolled nonchalantly on a steel beam.

This was all taking place adjacent to a construction site, in case you were not aware.

A big construction site. One where they were constructing wonderful things.

Levinhook,” called out the mint-sucker, “would you tell me where you found that crazy, crazy sweater you are always wearing?”

Levinhook blushed bright red. Beads of sweat popped out of his fatty little head.

Get out of here, you prancercizing fool!” Levinhook took a swing with his meaty fist and nearly hit the mint-sucker, who bobbed and weaved like a championship boxer.

I know where you got that crazy, crazy sweater! I know right where you got it! I know who you took it from!” The mint-sucker was jumping about wildly and flailing his arms like a windmill. Levinhook stood silent and motionless.

High overhead a load of steel suspended from a crane swung perilously close to the man carrying the two-by-four.

High overhead a Kosher wife and two Kosher children never gave a thought to a crazy, crazy sweater.

04 October 2013

Branson is for Lovers

The strange gurgling sound in his throat had begun only a few weeks ago, but he took it to be a sign that he was getting older. Gurgling sounds in the throat did not scare him as much as the emptiness in that place that some would call the heart, some would call the soul, and some would just ignore.

Yep, that's our Pinny. Pinny with the tongue of the Rocketman still lingering in his nose.

Precious, precious Pinny stayed low against the tops of the furniture (so as to hide himself from the snipers that might be outside) and he listened carefully. The only sound he heard was the gurgling noise in his throat, but he knew that sometimes the snipers were trained to move during the gurgling and remain motionless during the silence. Pinny gurgled in uneven intervals and tried to catch the snipers moving unexpectedly, but he had no luck.

He made his way toward a window (pure foolishness, he knew), and took a quick look outside into the chaos of his back yard. Chaos. Pure chaos. Loads of rusting automobiles and engine blocks, and loads of places for snipers to hide. This would not do. He collapsed to the floor, breathing heavily. Gurgling heavily.

You have perhaps realized, dear reader, that there are no snipers in Pinny's back yard – only rusting automobiles and engine blocks. The snipers, of course, exist only in Pinny's imagination. Can you say”imagination”? There you go. I knew you could. “Imagination” is where the Easter Bunny lives, along with personal freedoms in the early twenty-first century. Accordingly, “imagination” is being gradually being beaten out of our schoolchildren – not with leaden pipes, but with leaden curricula...but that's another story. Let's get back to Pinny and the “snipers”, so -called.

The whole of the day he limped about, gurgling, limping, crouching, avoiding chaos and avoiding the deadly crosshairs of the snipers. It was in the early evening when precious, precious Pinny stubbed his toe against a block of poly-resin that had been crafted into a scale model of the pyramids of Cheops. Or was it Ramses? Or some other Egyptian celebrity?

Pinny dropped to the floor to inspect the pyramid. He picked it up and held it before his eyes. Little crystalline chips seemed to sparkle on its surface as he rotated it upon its axis. He looked carefully at the little doorway molded into the pyramid's side. He imagined himself as being very small and walking right into the doorway, down the descending corridor into the pyramid's interior, into the ante-chamber, and then right into the burial vault. With a deft little pop of his crowbar he would pry open the lid on a mummy's sarcophagus, revealing the linen-wrapped corpse within.

The linen-wrapped pharaoh lifted his scoped rifle and cracked a single shot through the forehead of the imaginary Pinny-adventurer, who fell to the floor of the burial chamber, leaving the pink mist hanging in the air.

Justification for the beatings, now, isn't it?

Justification for the emptiness in that place that some would call the heart, some would call the soul, and some would just ignore.