The Daily Oklahoman Newspaper, November 1st, 1905: The eve of All Saints Day is becoming something to be dreaded by the inhabitants of Oklahoma City. The occasion is regarded by the youth of spirit as one of the extreme holidays and what he can invent to annoy the average citizen is amazing.
From eight o’clock last evening until two o’clock this morning the telephones at police headquarters were constantly buzzing with complaints relative to depredations committed by the youngsters who were ‘out for a time…’
Many of the warmest complaints were made by the ‘grown up boys’ who have forgotten who they ‘raised Cain’ and caused peaceful people sleepless nights in the times they are wont to refer as ‘the good old days of long ago.’
THE NIGHT BEFORE
Billy McGibbons cracked his knuckles and sighed.
Heck, he thought, they all just wanna make this like any other day. Well I aint gonna have it!
Now Billy wasn’t particularly mean-spirited, he wasn’t some fiendish troublemaker out to harm the general population while spreading unprovoked malice far and wide, and he was raised by parents who had earnestly tried to instill a sense of righteousness into his daily ethic (for the most part). So no, it was none of that, it had little to do with working out the tension that tends to accrue within dormant musculature, it was merely the fact that he was stuck in the worst of all possible sorts for an idle sixteen-year-old found around these parts.
He was flat-out bored.
You see, nothing much happens around here unless one somehow summons it, unless one steps forward into the dull fray and conjures his own special societal misstep, and excitement doesn’t fall from these skies but instead rises out of the amorous toil from one’s own mischievous hands. His happened to be un-calloused, far too clean, and just aching for some kind of imminent dust-up to get the blood flowing, the red corpuscles multiplying, hopefully the direct result from a resplendent night of exhilarating exploits.
And this was certainly the night to do it, this Hall-o-Ween, the ball of ghouls, and if unruly shenanigans weren’t exactly given a free pass on this one night out of the year, well, they could be somewhat expected and tolerated as long as no real damage was done and no one got hurt in the process. That had been Billy’s thinking anyway.
What’s more, it had only been a week or so since the young fellow had finally regained his full physical strength after an extended bout with the rabbit fever, or what the good doctor had more technically referred to as tularemia, some kind of foul bacterial infection he had acquired probably from snatching polecats from within the muddy walls of Boggy Creek, or maybe back in July when he and the gang had chased that brood of agitated beavers further on down near the Canadian draw. It was a relief to understand however that it was not the result from his brief encounter behind the outhouse with little miss Petula back in the spring (for crying out loud, all he did was hold her hand and give her a quick peck on that rosy cheek). Anyway, whatever it’s originating source, he had surely been stricken by it, sick as a goaded prairie dog, and there had been a few days back then which he couldn’t exactly recall and his brother said that’s probably a good thing.
So no more polecats or beaver for him. He’ll stick to the muskrats and the Arbuckle Hereford toads from here on out. They may not be much better to look at but he wasn’t snagging any of them for their beauty anyway. And you know what? Most anything can be peppered and roasted to taste acceptable given the proper time and an adequate blaze.
But now here he was, healthy once again, supremely ripe, and almost bursting with all of this accumulated machismo, and the boys were waiting for him down at the corner of Reno and Broadway. His mother was in the kitchen slicing pumpkin and who really knew where pop was? He slipped out the front door and disappeared like a mischievous ghost because there was some good haunting needing to get done.
The Daily Oklahoman Newspaper, November 1st, 1905 (continued):
On North Broadway front porches were barricaded with sewer pipe and sections of concrete walk. A complaint came from Sixth and Lindsay from a citizen who reported that ‘a gang of boys were leading away his cow.’
Down on South Harvey Street, near Reno, a bunch of the ‘terribles’ rolled a mammoth metal tank onto the railroad track. Patrolman Frank Benoseh concealed himself in the tank and a few minutes later the ‘gang’ returned. The officer succeeded in corralling two of them.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
There was already a peculiar odor in the air upon the arrival of the last straggler. Something not that far away was burning but underneath that olfactory affront came the somewhat familiar smell of decay, of life gone kaput, of some form of living waste being transformed into ash. Which of course raises various questions but don’t go looking for answers unless you’re prepared to deal with their potentially messy ramifications. In any case these boys weren’t interested in solving someone else’s old problems, they were bound and determined to create a few new ones of their own.
Theodore Thompson III materialized from out of the expanding shadows and joined the haphazardly assembled: the dimwitted Lew Lewis, the sly Oscar Jackson along with Clyde Bodunk and Sylvester Jernigan and the new one, the eastside boy, Rufus Jones.
“You boys all ready to shake the cat and rattle the dog?” inquired Billy McGibbons, a lit wad of rolled tobacco juttin’ from the corner of his mouth, and he blew his smoke into the pimply face of Lew Lewis who couldn’t come up with a better response other than to mindlessly blink almost as if to mindfully wink.
Oscar Jackson leaned in and proclaimed, “Shoot son, I’m about ready for anything, bustin’ up this place for dang sure, rippin’ it clean outa its tawdry seams,” and he pumped out his chest and let loose a hoot that probably sounded deranged from blocks away as it twisted through the thick autumn air. Clyde Bodunk responded in kind, his a mighty holler that shook the rooks from the spindly treetops, and Sylvester and even Rufus joined in and now the boys sounded like a multitude of the deplored or possibly drunken councilmen aiming to do something naughty and to do it as quickly as possible. Find something, anything, turn it over, kick it, smash it, trash it trash it TRASH IT!
Human nature, despite its calling to reach for the higher ideal, was always too willing to pay tribute to its innate animalistic roots.
Theodore Thompson III was wondering what he’d gotten himself into, the banker’s son somehow attracted to this ragged outfit of misfit hooligans, and although he was bright enough he was also incurably insecure and ultimately not strong enough to say anything regarding the lack of wisdom in the performance of certain reckless acts. He wanted to be wanted and so was along for the ride, there was no turning back now, and as the boys commenced their search for potential opportunities to unleash fresh depravity, young Theodore had little choice but to fall right on in and march along.
And yet there’s another perspective being bandied about a mere ten blocks away inside the Municipal Building. Sergeant Hiram Bell seeks order, the end of chaos, the opposite of bedlam, only simple peace. He craves it. And such whimsical mayhem will not do. No. It will not do at all.
The reports were coming in. A large mound of manure set ablaze and burning just outside of these very grounds, police headquarters (the brazen perpetrators had appeared in horse-drawn wagon, summarily dumped it, lit it, and then skedaddled before anybody knew what had hit them), and Thelma Jackson’s over-sized girdle had somehow been pilfered from her bedroom drawer and was now flapping like a proud flag atop the streetlight at Reno and Broadway, and there were several reports of domesticated animals disappearing including a rather large bovine being paraded down Sixth Street.
Sergeant Bell looked over at his own crew of the justly assembled and gritted his teeth.
“If I’ve told them fool boys once then I’ve told ‘em a hundred times. You will obey the law. Three-hundred and sixty-five days out of the Lord’s solemn year. There are no exceptions. Not even this dang night, this so-called Hall-o-Ween.”
He pounded the table with a balled fist.
“Now get on out there and fetch me some dumbasses!”
It was Clyde Bodunk who in fact came up with the idea. Couldn’t blame Lew Lewis for this one. And why would these boys even bother? Well that’s simple – because it was there.
Clyde walked up to the stationery object and rapped his knuckles upon it. The thin metal walls rang back with a high-pitched hollow echo.
“Empty,” he said as he turned to address the boys. “Why don’t we pick the dang thing up and put it somewhere – somewhere unbelievable… like up a tree or on a roof.”
Billy walked over and tried to nudge the metal tank. “Pretty dang heavy,” he reported, “doubt we can find a way to stick it up a tree, but I suppose we could place it in the middle of the road.”
“What’s it for, anyway?” Theodore Thompson III inquired, already dubious, already concerned that whatever was in there could leak and create a public nuisance.
“Probably storage for some kind of fuel,” Billy answered, “like gas for streetlamps maybe,” but then Clyde piped up. “Nah, probably just water, I wouldn’t worry about any of that.”
“Why don’t you open it up and look inside?” asked Lew Lewis and Clyde said, “we can’t ya fool, the dang door is locked,” and he jangled the chain as proof.
“Well what are we waitin’ for?” asked Sylvester Jernigan, “let’s just drag it on over yonder to them railroad tracks and see what happens,” and before you could say my-pop-will-beat-me-with-a-broom-but-he’s-got-to-catch-me-first the boys had hoisted the large object and carried it over to the set of tracks running north and south alongside the boulevard.
Theodore Thompson III wasn’t too keen on this development. Surely no one in their right mind would just drop this thing onto these active tracks without any regard to what may indeed become of it. Trains run through here at all hours and there were real people inside those thundering steel machines. He kept hoping that someone else would speak up, that someone else would admit that this particular idea was perhaps a little too reckless, a folly, but they all kept their mouths shut and looked the other way, each individual man-child perhaps harboring doubts but as a group fiendishly committed to the performance of the deed.
False pride combined with fear of public reprisal – this is how wars get started. This is how good boys wind up in detention homes.
Off in the distance a lonely train whistle blew.
Those boys all turned and ran like hell with none other than chubby Theodore Thompson III leading the way!
Sergeant Bell had been notified. Presently there is a large metal cylinder laying across the railroad tracks along Harvey Street. A train went through there not fifteen minutes ago and narrowly escaped slamming into the object. Luckily it had been running north on the parallel track. A few Good Samaritans along with two police officers had somehow managed to roll the thing off the tracks but left it right there in the streets for Sergeant Bell to inspect himself.
That’s it! I’ve had enough!
With the young Patrolman Frank Benoseh staring at him he spat out an order: “Grab your coat Frankie… you’re coming with me.”
“Look at that!” exclaimed Clyde Bodunk as he nodded toward a group of never-do-wells leading a cow down a deserted lane. “Wonder what those boys aim to do with that old fella?”
“Probably nothin’,” replied Billy McGibbons. At least he hoped, because in the passing glare from one of the boy’s lanterns he happened to catch a glance of the poor creature’s fearful eyes, and once you view the terror in a prisoner’s eyes, be them man or animal, then the quest for pure debauchery can’t help but lessen. Unless, of course, you’re really, really, misguided, or perhaps, even evil.
“Maybe they’re just gonna drag it to that church at the end of the street and leave it in the sanctuary, make a sacrifice, somethin’ crazy like that.”
“Cow patties in the pews,” commented Sylvester Jernigan and they all laughed. But then there came a disconcerting moo after one of those bad boys had delivered a quick boot to the cow’s rear end and McGibbons and the rest of his brood sobered up quickly. The creature was clearly at the mercy of random whims from a pack of fiends as slightly tweaked with a pinch of mob mentality. This they all knew. This they all believed with varying degrees of acceptance.
Sergeant Hiram Bell and his man arrived at the railroad crossing shortly thereafter. And there it surely sat, a massive impediment to interstate commerce and potentially combustible should any liquid remain, and those boys or men or demons or whoever believed it somehow comical to perform such an act would soon be in for their own shocking revelation.
Sergeant Bell had an idea. He looked at the metal tank, looked back at officer Benoseh, then looked again at the tank.
“Crawl on in there,” growled the Sergeant. “That’s an order.”
“What do ya mean crawl on in there? What the Sam Hill for?”
“Those boys will be back. Whether it’s just to see what their evil act has wrought, or whether it’s because their consciences finally woke em up and they want to remove it, they’ll be back… eventually.”
“But I don’t think I can fit,” mumbled poor young Frankie.
“You can fit. And you will fit. All you require is a little helpful nudge. But best take off your coat and holster first.”
Frankie didn’t like the sound of it. But he was a first-year guy, in fact only on the squad for a matter of months, and this was an order straight from the Sarge that he would need to oblige. Or at least make the effort to oblige. So off came the coat, off came the holster, and he sucked in his belly while Sergeant Bell snipped the chain with some pliers. Once opened the smell hit them both. Acrid, toxic, noxious fumes held within for too long a time had finally been released and it was difficult to see inside and determine if any of its source remained.
“Go ahead now, plenty of room for your skinny ass… I’ll leave the door cracked open a ways to make sure you get some good air. You just sit there and wait. And whatever you do, don’t light anything.”
What else could Officer Benoseh do? He hopped on up there and shimmied his way through and then slid down onto the slick and oily bottom.
“Got anything flammable in there?” the Sergeant queried and Frankie said, “hell yes, but at least not liquid. More like a thin sheet of pork grease. I won’t get the stink off of me for weeks.”
“Months probably,” Bell said, and then offered, “just part of the job.”
Sergeant Bell handed over Frankie’s holster and coat. “Best that these stay with you.”
Thanks a lot you dang old fool Frankie thought.
“Thanks,” he said, trying to sound appreciative, and then, “how long should I stay put in here anyway?”
Sergeant Bell was already walking away. “However long it takes,” he said over his shoulder, and he was already hot on the trail of one hijacked Holstein.
Sure enough, those boys circled on back… eventually.
After determining that perhaps it might not be best to become obsessed with the fate of one lowly and probably already doomed cow, the gang knocked over some trash cans and saluted Thelma Jackson’s over-sized girdle as it proudly waved in the wind, then busted open a few gates and rearranged some office signs. They were mainly looking for the easy stuff now, general mayhem, nothing too strenuous or potentially calamitous, and as they approached the corner to turn and once again face the railroad tracks most of them were truly (although privately) relieved to discover that there was no evidence of any impact, no billowing smoke or urgent shouts or firetrucks clanging past toward the scene. And yet, once they turned the corner and saw that the tank had been moved off to the side, curiously, there suddenly was felt by most of them a rather tiny pang of outrage, seeing that their very own defacement had itself been so easily defaced.
So, in summation, much relief at no physical harm being done to anyone else, but mounting outrage at being psychologically harmed themselves.
“What the hell?” cried Clyde Bodunk in mock exasperation, for it had originally been his idea and if it came to it, if eventually any of the gang was caught and questioned, he’d be an easy target to take the blame. It’s true, at same undetermined point between now and half an hour ago his taking of credit had turned into the assumption of blame because that’s how these things usually go. But then again, at the time of the deed being done no one among their group had protested and all had clearly been involved in the relocation of the tank. In the end, if they were truly men and not frightened little boys, they’d all have to own up to that one fact or risk being forever tossed away into the swirling roil of Rat-Fink Hell.
“Let’s move it on back,” suggested Oscar Jackson, but without much conviction.
From someplace unseen a few blocks away there came the sound of a muted explosion. All of them heard it, all of them wondered what in the world was that? And all of them spoke not a word about it.
“Not sure if that’s worth the trouble,” said Billy McGibbons, and Theodore Thompson III was glad to hear that.
“Why not, you scared or somethin’?” inquired Clyde Bodunk, clearly scared himself, but all the same he delivered his query in a deadpan tease.
“Look fellas, the door is cracked open,” Sylvester Jernigan whispered as he pointed toward the object. This certainly got their attention but none of them viewed this development as much of a threat. Yet it was odd, knowing that it had previously been locked with a chain. They all slowly began to approach the tank together, creeping closer, unwittingly taking the bait and indeed learning firsthand how curiosity did kill the black bony cat.
The Daily Oklahoman Newspaper, November 1st, 1905 (continued):
On West Main Street the sidewalks were barricaded with the entire catalogue of vehicles, from a plebian dray to the patrician phaeton. Far down on South Robinson avenue a coal shed of more than ordinary proportions was planted at the intersection of streets. Numerous gates disappeared during the night and the transportation of office signs presents a Babylonish confusion this morning.
Several of the youngsters were captured by the police and escorted to headquarters, but as very little malicious mischief was wrought, they were detained for a time, lectured by Sergeant Bell and sent to their homes. It will take a little time and patience will be temporarily fractured, but the philosophy of the American citizen will soon bring about the normal equilibrium.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
Officer Frank Benoseh heard the boys approaching from a ways off. Muffled chatter, a low post-adolescent drone, sounding as if their previous brouhahas had perhaps squeezed the very vigor straight out of them. Good, he thought, easy pickings, the kind I like, and he slid toward the front of the tank and tried to hide his body off to the side. By golly, when one of the lads looked in, snap, he’d grab him by the head, the hair, the ears, whatever, and order the entire lot of them to cease and desist.
Frankie rubbed his hands together – they were slick and a childhood memory of fifteen rabid boys and one greased pig came to mind – ugly, futile memories to be honest – and he wiped them best he could upon his trousers which were already just about as slick.
Their steps grew louder, their words became intelligible.
Musta just popped loose when they moved it.
Not sure if we’re gonna be able to see much inside but it sure do stink!
Wonder what happened to that cow?
Go on ahead Lew, take a look…
Without hesitating the dimwitted Lew Lewis squeezed his nostrils shut with one hand and then stuck his big old head inside.
“I don’t know what happened to the durn cow but I know what happened to you!” Officer Benoseh cried out as he stuck Lew’s hairy noggin into the wedge of one arm, attempting to secure his quarry while trying to poke his head out and wave his weapon at the scattering boys. But the dimwitted one easily slipped through that hopeless hold and was over those tracks and gone before Frankie could even manage to point his unloaded gun. Enraged, in an agitated state fueled by sheer adrenaline, Frankie shimmied through that hole and flopped out onto the hard ground below, slip-sliding and flipping around like a seal upon the slimy rocks of La Jolla Cove. By the time he had somehow managed to find his feet those boys had all disappeared except for the one.
The quick of worry and slow of foot.
The chubby scout known as Theodore Thompson III stood there shaking in his shiny boots, sniffling, preparing to ask for a little mercy if he could manage to spit the words out.
Officer Benoseh approached him slowly with his weapon lowered to his side. Little Teddy was scared but even more bewildered to find himself cornered by the much-dreaded Creature from the Tar Pit Swamp. His fear lessened, his sympathy expanded, and then came all that smell!
“Names, son, I’m gonna need a lot of names. And addresses to boot.”
You’re gonna need a lot of soap thought the ensnared wanna-be hooligan.
“Look at the lot of ya! Stupid, stinkin’, unsightly and behaving like convicts – my old hound Chester has more sense than all of you combined and all he does is sit around all day long lickin’ his own purple droopin’ balls.”
Sergeant Hiram Bell walked back and forth across the raised platform of the conference room eyeballing each and every one of them.
“Will even a single one of you scoundrels ever contribute to the betterment of our civilized society? Will you make your grannie proud, will you ever earn your own damn keep? Or are you just gonna be takers, degraders, winding up like a scab on the backside of old Chester?”
Yes, they had all scattered, then soon re-assembled back at their prescribed meeting place – all except the one.
“Any of you lumps of coal got an idea of what coulda happened if that locomotive had plowed into that tank of grease possibly derailing and then slamming into God-knows-what? Can you, are your meager brain cells even capable of… envisioning the potential carnage?”
The boys had finally come to the conclusion that perhaps it might be best to surrender by their own volition rather than be fingered and then yanked by the scruffs of their sweaty necks to this reckoning. Because they knew… yes, of course, they knew that the fat tongue of Theodore Thompson III was prone to doing much more than just sweeping down endless piles of tasty vittles.
“Do any a one of you have something to offer that might explain such inane foolishness?”
Billy McGibbons spoke up. “I got the tularemia,” he choked out almost questioningly, hoping that this might account for something tenable that could lessen their overall punishment. “You know, rabbit fever, back in the summer. Musta done something to my brain.”
“Only made a bad situation worse, if you ask me,” barked Sergeant Bell. “That all you got?”
What could Billy McGibbons say? What could any of them say? Only that these boys had too much time on their hands, all these surging teen-aged tensions to be worked out, hormones run amuck, simply bored beyond words. That this night was Hall-o-Ween and therefore everybody was supposed to get a free pass?
Nobody said a thing.
“I got your names, I got you addresses, I got your stupid pimply faces branded into my brain… if I ever so much as stumble across you in any possible manner, should your countenance ever cross my inquisitive vision at some future juncture, no ifs-ands-or-butts, you’ll be summarily introduced to cold iron and stale bread and a public toilet that only works half the time… now get out of my sight!”
Officer Frank Benoseh was stunned. He couldn’t believe it. All his work, all his sacrifice… and the Sarge just let them ago. Those boys were laughing, slapping one another across the back, almost giddy as they shuffled back out into the expunged night.
Frankie could not contain himself.
“But Sarge, really now, you can’t just…”
“Oh yes I can, I just did, we got bigger fish to fry and most of those boys will get some kind a lickin’ once they get home at this late hour anyway.”
“But… but… the effort I put in?”
The Sarge turned his head to address his subordinate and smiled.
“You’re gonna need a lot of soap. A lot of soap. And one more thing you’re gonna need to go with it.”
“Time. Meaningful time spent alone. You like to fish? I hear the crappies are biting over at Silver Lake.”
“Haven’t fished in years. Don’t have a pole.”
“I’d suggest you get one.”
And in that one moment Frank Benoseh decided.
He thought, okay, sure, I’ll go to Silver Lake, and once I get there, hell if I’m ever coming back here.
“Can’t I at least borrow yours?”
~~ Noble K Thomas copyright 2017 ~~
March of a Thousand Skeletons, OKC 2012, as conducted by the Flaming Lips