Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Hall-o-Ween OKC 1905






AFTERMATH 

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.





AFTERMATH 

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.





AFTERMATH 

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.

   Guess so.

   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 one.

   The frightened.

   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.”

   “What’s that?”

   “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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Ice Cream Social

Andy Van Dyke was there.
   As well as Otto Auschwhype and Peter Jones, the latter owing Van Dyke a certain small amount of American tender as the result of a lost wager on a recent American athletic sporting event. Jones still hadn't produced and Van Dyke was speculating on the proper tact to broach the subject, if at all, for he knew well that this was supposed to be a relaxed occasion - indeed, a social one.
   "Good thing the ice cream is free, huh?" Van Dyke queried in a general (and he thought harmless) way to no one in particular, but his eyes did linger upon Peter Jones for longer than what might seem normal... or socially acceptable.
   "Yes, very much so," Auschwhype merrily chimed in, smacking his lips as he inserted the little wooden paddle smeared with ice cream back into his snug spout that was wedged between two fat cheeks. "And it's quite good," he was so moved as to add.
   Peter Jones glared at Van Dyke for just a moment, taken slightly aback by his own paranoia, but then in an instant decided that surely the guy could not be inferring anything more than the simple delight in being able to partake in free ice cream on such a mild spring evening.
   "What kind of ice cream do they got over there?" Van Dyke inquired and Auschwhype quickly responded, "Ooh, they're down to only vanilla I'm afraid."
   "Vanilla!" Van Dyke roared, not exactly outraged but clearly irritated, and he followed up with, "Ya mean they don't got any chocolate?"
   Peter Jones quickly tightened his lips around his own just-inserted spoon.
   "I'm afraid our friend here snatched up the last one," Auschwhype said with an affable grin gazing at the guilty culprit as brown iced milk dribbled out of one corner of Peter Jones' mouth, a sight which was amazingly akin to that of a naughty cat getting caught with a mouse tail sticking out of it's closed jaws.
   Damn you Jones Van Dyke thought to himself but before he could conjure a physical response there came a tap upon his shoulder. It was none other than Felicia Abercrombie, head of the PTA and reeking of a flowery perfume in which she had recently fumigated herself in a covert effort to overwhelm all other senses in hopes of deflecting judgmental eyes away from her burgeoning ass. 
   "Are we all enjoying the free ice cream?" she innocently inquired, and Auschwhype of course eagerly volunteered, "Oh yes, quite so, delicious and very much appreciated."
   Peter Jones just nodded as he licked away the remains of the lingering evidence.
   Van Dyke glared and Auschwhype continued.
   "Are seconds allowed?"
   "Why of course, help yourself while it lasts, because once it's gone, like they always say, it's gone," and now she chuckled the deep fat lady's chuckle, “and please be sure to stop off at the donation booth if you get the chance. The kids would all appreciate it."
   She was giving them her best I-gotcha-smile but the mighty Auschwhype's own smile had been wiped clear away.
   But come on Auschwhype, this is America, you should know by now that nothing comes completely for free.




So what is the true purpose of an Ice Cream Social anyway?
   Is it only to summon all good people together at the end of the school year in hopes of celebrating their children's accomplishments and the inevitable passage into a new grade? (It should be mentioned however that three children had failed to advance, but those particular identities shall not be revealed until June when Felicia Abercrombie and her burgeoning ass will be sequestered far away on some remote beach).
   Is it simply to allow folks a frosted dairy treat as suitable reward for their direct participation all year long, for their tireless efforts and determination in helping a local public institution maintain at least the bare minimum of necessities for a proper a public education? Pencils, books, chalk, plenty of erasers and one big-ass paddle with which to swat naughty tails?
   Is it to offer the chance for older uninvited boys to be loud and unruly if only to ensure that their former teachers fully understand that they are still very much alive? At this very moment there is a lit cherry bomb in the public restroom urinal where Auschwhype has recently gravitated towards in hopes that his sudden urgent cramping shall soon be relieved.
   Is it to give Ted Wilkerson the opportunity to pull up to the scheduled event in his shiny new red Corvette or perhaps allow the freshly divorced Charlene Thacker first dibs at claiming a new husband (and hopefully not yours)? She’s the buxom gal standing over there with Becky Willow underneath the glow of the late afternoon sun and in her short shorts those long firm legs remind Van Dyke that pure and smooth vanilla isn't such a bad thing after all.
   Is it to get total strangers to become acquaintances, acquaintances to become friends, and friends to become jealous rivals? Are there debts to be paid, underhanded compliments to be extended, pointy inferences to be received?
   After the cherry bomb blew there came a strange bellow from deep within the urinal bowels. Shortly thereafter a bored Peter Jones scurried off to the badminton court and a dark cloud blotted out the sun.
   Or is the true purpose of an Ice Cream Social simply to allow the school district to spend a small sum of money in hopes of attracting larger sums of money somewhere down the rocky road?
   Only this is for certain: in front of a handful of the assembled, Andy Van Dyke chose to turn to Felicia Abercrombie, nod toward a figure retiring to the badminton court, and suggest rather loudly “Please fetch my donation from Peter Jones... the guy owes me FIFTY."
   Whatever the true purpose of the ice cream social, the local Dairy Mart vendor surely appreciates the business. 

Friday, December 09, 2016

Available Now in Paperback: CHRISTMAS STORIES VOLUME 1



A collection of stories that takes the reader from the beginning of the holiday season in late November until the bitter beginning of another New Year. Ranging from the sweetly sentimental to the bitingly cynical, from the blatantly outrageous to the solemnly poignant. Two troubled men stranded in an airport during a blizzard, a son trying to make sense of his father’s recent passing, an artist seeking inspiration on a lonely Christmas Eve, a bum hoping to just make it through another day, an old lighthouse keeper struggling to find a purpose, a doubting songwriter in need of a little love, a memorable Christmas Eve in old Medicine Park, a nephew contemplating the legacy of his famous (or infamous?) relative, a man looking back on a memory from his youth, and an elf on a mission to occupy your sweet ass – they all seem to be seeking the light or suggesting rather strongly that the reader seek it for themselves.


              Table of Contents:

1 - Arbuckle Hereford Toad
2 -  Aquene
3 -  Merry Christmas
4 -  Two Hills and a Mountain
5 -  Here We Come!
6 - A Solitary Lighthouse
7 - Splendid Isolation
8 - Mercy Pie
9 - An Atheist Christmas
10 - Reflections
11 - Christmas Eve Medicine Park 1907
12 - Levitation
13 - North Woods Bliss
14 - Frank Hagney
15 - Beyond
16 - Happy New Year

Cover Photo: The Christmas Tree Nebula - courtesy of NASA

WARNING: Not intended for the spiritually rigid or easily offended.

Paperback: $12.95 - purchase here.
        




Saturday, September 17, 2016

Block That Kick



September in Albuquerque, New Mexico is quite different than September back home in the old country. Yes, there is a slightly different feel in the air these days, the ghastly summer is at long last over, but out here on the high desert the splendor of the autumn change is less pronounced. Now up in the mountains he was certain that the maples and the other leafy trees changed their color, that their leaves withered and blew away, and down there along the Rio Grande he could see for himself the change in the cottonwoods. But where he spent most of his time, uptown closer to the sloping foothills, his own apartment building was a concrete island surrounded by a sea of rock and the landscaping was sparse, bereft of color, and anything living was prone to die slowly unless tended to with an enthusiastic zeal. The only green things around there were the stubborn weeds that always seem to find a way, to squeeze through some crack, to bust on out and stretch toward the beckoning light.

It was a Saturday. Earlier he had taken a bus to Old Town where he enjoyed strolling among the tourists and sitting on a park bench in the plaza feeding the birds, whatever few that actually managed to wander by. On certain occasions he would hear that familiar sound, the thick daggered jolt of his native tongue, and he would straighten up and bend an ear. In fact, many times he’d fallen in line just behind those who spoke while trying to act inconspicuous but all the while eavesdropping and relishing the tasty crumbs of what they thought was a private conversation. But he never spoke it. It was better to be seen, not heard. In fact, it was better to not be seen either, and he was good at projecting a kind of innocuous invisibility, to no longer matter in this world, only living the sad life of a lonely old man who no one knew or cared about.

But not too sad, not too lonely.

Just sad and lonely enough to subsist but not officially exist.

For the most part he steered clear of crowds, kept his mouth shut, and wore the dark sunglasses that shielded his cold blue eyes, the color of ancient Arctic Sea ice, from all that intrusive light.

There weren’t many tourists milling about on this particular day, at least not for a typical Saturday. Odd that because the weather was wonderful, another deep turquoise sky yet not too hot, just about right. A nice breeze that kept the clouds moving and kept the sky interesting and ever-changing while soothing any burn from a waning sun. A whiskered man walked up and asked him for money, for any change he could spare, but he ignored the bum and didn’t even look up, he just kept digging into his coat pocket for seed and continued feeding his winged congregation, his faithful hungry flock. This angered the whiskered man and he screeched loudly and kicked his way across the circle of tossed seed sending the poor birds scattering.

“You got time and money for those stupid birds but not for me! Real human of you! Thanks, my man.”

The whiskered man steadied himself, thought about something, and then leaned back in.

“So what are you, deaf and dumb… or just plain dumb? You got bird shit for brains?” The man cursed loudly while shaking his head in mock befuddlement, then stormed away, highly agitated yet already scanning the environs for his next victim.

Directly across the sidewalk from him sat a couple of tired old Indians who up to this point had been minding their own business, which by the looks of it consisted primarily of simply continuing to breathe, but now one looked over at him and grinned with his four brown peg teeth.

“I guess you told him, huh?”

And now Wilhelm did choose to look up, to amiably respond out of a sense of geniality, out of deference to a member of an ancient, abused tribe. But he only offered the slightest of nods and a fleeting smile to the old Indian and went back to his returning birds and the last remnants of seed that were tucked away in the deepest crevices of his pockets. He respected these natives and in fact felt some kind of kinship toward them. They had been conquered, vanquished, marginalized and forgotten. And so had he but he could only hope that he was truly as forgotten.

~~~

When he first arrived here all those years ago he had immediately hated the culture but loved the dry air and sunshine. He had acquired an appropriate identity, a proper name and the mandatory nine-digit number, which understandably can be a tricky business. Not only the clandestine nature of the task but also the actual choice of picking the right name. A name like Sam Jones can actually be too mundane, too common, for a man such as he while the one he actually chose, Samuel Terwilliger, was (he later deduced) one that nobody in their right mind would ever choose by their own volition – it was the kind of name that had to be foisted upon the poor soul at birth. So in a way it was perfect – he had just become the odd man with the odd name who kept to himself.

       He had worked various small jobs earning small pay and yet even now he’d been retired for many years. A solitary life has its benefits, namely the lack of all those expenditures that a family man is required to make. Thus he’d had the opportunity to save aggressively which he had done but only by hoarding cash and hiding it in his tiny apartment – no interest earned, no dividends received, and no capital gains that might elicit outside scrutiny – no, he’d done just fine avoiding the American capital markets altogether while quietly pursuing his frugal existence.

       There had been few friends, mainly just acquaintances, and he’d grown accustomed to that. It felt comfortable to him now. But he had plenty of visitors, both familiar faces and total strangers, who came calling late at night once his eyes finally closed.

        And there had been one woman. Ten years younger, attractive, intelligent – a local native who had naturally altered his opinion of the region and its culture. But he had run her off with his paranoid fear that so easily turned to anger whenever the light shone too bright or her questions probed too deep. Although he had wanted to love her he couldn’t allow himself to ever be loved.

~~~

The seed was all gone now but some of the birds still lingered, either those well-fed and contented to hang out for a spell or those extremely optimistic, and they hopped around and pecked at the ground, they fluttered their wings as if in bold threat. Go ahead he thought, fly away and be free, you are all too foolish to comprehend your own good fortune.

It was late afternoon by now, time for perhaps a cold refreshment, and both knees cracked as he pushed himself up and off of that bench and now all the birds took flight, they evacuated with not one more chirp, their loud flapping leaving behind only silence and the fresh modern artwork of oiseaux de merde sur le b├ęton chaud, or as known to the locals, bird shit on hot concrete.

He strolled down a little side alley toward a favorite watering hole, a dark tavern where they actually offered stout European beers, not this lightweight American piss most others get away with peddling. The place was crowded but it was so dark that he paid the cramped conditions little mind, all he desired was one polished stool to slide his weary backside upon and an attentive barkeep who knew how to pour a decent draw. He was lucky, there was one seat still open at the far end of the bar, and he squeezed his way past the many boisterous revelers and announced his official short-term residency with a hard-earned plop and a relieved sigh.

He was old and tired but pleased to be right here right now.

What is all this fuss about he wondered now that he had settled in allowing other matters to garner his attention. Some of the patrons were yelling, hooting, carrying on like at Oktoberfest, and he saw that a great many of them were straining to get a view of the televisions scattered all about the place. In fact there was one just across from him and he could see that there was some kind of athletic contest being broadcasted upon it, one of those college football games that these Americans are so crazy about. Over the decades he’d learned a great deal about their game, about scoring touchdowns and gaining first downs and committing fumbles and such, but he still didn’t really get it. Where’s the grace, where’s the beauty? And all those pads and helmets – the players seem to want to perform in some kind of protected anonymity. Where he came from real men played their games wearing hardly anything at all beyond the scowl smeared across their face and openly boasted of their rugged reputation and identity. Oh well, it’s the modern world, let these modern men behave like sissies.

He quietly ordered a pint of Becks and now his cohabitants were almost worked into a frenzy – out of sheer curiosity, out of wondering what could possibly be so enthralling as to cause grown men to behave so foolishly, he squinted his eyes and looked at the television set. It appeared to be a contest pitting the Ohio State Buckeyes (whatever a buckeye is?) against the Oklahoma Sooners (again, and for the final time hopefully, whatever a sooner is?). The current score read the Ohio boys 28 and the gang from Oklahoma only 26.

Yet there was still some time left on the clock and, unlike the game he grew up loving and playing, he knew there could be no extra time.

The bartender slid over to the set and turned up the volume.

Block that kick! Block that kick! Block that kick!

The assembled crowd was chanting in the stadium with their arms in synchronized motion and their anthem tumbled out of the television reminding him of other long ago chants, of agitated crowds, of faraway pomp and ceremony.

Block that kick! Block that kick!

Yes, he understood, the Ohio supporters were chanting their demand, their ardent wish that somehow a buckeye might break through and bat away the upcoming kick goal attempt, but then he viewed the Oklahoma kicker and saw that he had a German name printed across the top of his jersey. His heart surged. And now that kicker was standing off to the side as the crowd continued to roar. Block that kick! Block that kick! And what is this? Now, and this even he could hardly believe, the young lad was actually orchestrating their chant with his own arms, he had become their spontaneous maestro, this sooner lad keeping their rhythmic beat to calm his own nerves.

That’s a smart boy he thought… a smart German boy.

Wilhelm’s interest was magnified.

The moment was almost at hand.

He took off his sunglasses for a better look as the boy named von Schamann studied the coming placement of the ball and his projected trajectory. The other team’s players were jumping up and down, waving their hands, trying to distract him as the chant grew even louder.

The ball was hiked back to the player who held it down in its proper place.

Wilhelm wiped his mouth.

The ball was pivoted, steadied, as the young, smart German boy approached it.

Wilhelm leaned toward the television set.

The ball was now airborne, twisting end over end, heading straight down the middle… and then Wilhelm sees him.

Over there on the other side of the bar.

Those eyes – he could never forget those big brown sad eyes – are staring right back into his own.

There were cheers in the tavern, a few groans and somewhere a fist banged into some flimsy wood partition, and everybody was bouncing all around him. Utter mayhem ensued – the world shook.

And there is a deeper quake down inside his soul.

With the rest of his family dead that young man, a much older man now, had stopped begging for mercy. So Wilhelm’s superior, field officer Schnauz, had decided to let him go, not as an act of mercy but one of endless torture.

 And yet... and yet...

A thousand miles away in Ohio the crowd falls silent, they are beyond help, they feel instant disappointment and what seems like infinite sorrow. While the Oklahoma Sooners and their brethren celebrate those poor Ohioans collapse into a heap of collected despair.

And right here not more than thirty feet away, the distance of one American football first down, the older man with the big brown eyes, but not so sad anymore, lifts his mug and nods as if in toast.

To survival.

To life.

To weeds fighting their way through tiny cracks in search of the light.



Back outside the world has changed. The sun now hides behind the church steeple and there is a sudden chill in the air. Winter is really not that far away, and once it comes, this time it will never leave. Far across the Atlantic there is a forest near Dachau where the leaves have already fallen, they collect in gold and crimson heaps covering the cold ground as if trying to conceal something buried not that deep beneath it.

But the wind blows, it knows, and the gash remains... and it is so obvious. Wilhelm understands that this man has spent his entire lifetime running toward the light whereas he’d spent that same time running away from it. And then... bang, the end times hit you, you are discovered, you are revealed, and once and for all you find yourself exposed in the most unlikely of places.

He takes off his sunglasses and gives them to the old Indian.

“Aw, just what I needed – thanks, my friend.”

Finally, a friend. And he has a sudden odd thought – those glasses never sat upon a more dignified nose as the one they rest upon now.

Then Wilhelm turns and walks away into the expanding shadows of the eternal winter.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Ducklings





Meg Simmons was running late. And the truth was that there was really no good reason for it – no late night celebrating this or that, no screaming baby waking the dead at the witching hour, not even a short bout with prolonged consciousness at some unknown juncture during the long night – it was nothing but a case of old-fashioned can’t-seem-to-crawl-outa-these-sheets laziness.
   And the gal had a spin class to lead at 7 a.m. – imagine that, a sluggish and occasionally lazy fitness instructor!
   Still, once she was present and suitably loosened up, please stand back and watch the girl go!
   One cup of coffee while she primped, another sucked down en route, and by 6:57 she’d managed to screech her way into the parking lot only to be met there with the unexpected sight of a brood of ducklings loitering across the most conveniently-located parking space. A quick toot of the horn, a polite warning, and yet the oblivious creatures hardly seemed to notice and barely moved. Mother duck was right there staring back at the rude interloper and with a coolish fluttering hopped up onto the curb and finally began to lead those ducklings safely away.
   But there were a couple of stragglers, be them defiant or only dumb it matters not, and an irked Meg leaned on that horn a little more purposely and then slowly inched forward in her vehicle. The little guys just stood there hugging the right side of the space so that Meg eventually found herself parking upon that left white-painted line, but no worries – there were plenty of other spaces available for all other arriving vehicles to park. The rest of the lot was still empty, at least for now.
   6:58 – she slammed it into park and fled inside.

By the time April Fleming turned into the parking lot Meg had already disappeared. But there sat Meg’s green Forrester, for some odd reason parked slightly askew to the left and for all intents and purposes taking up two coveted parking spaces. Now how the hell could anybody pull in right there next to that Forrester and then expect Meg to clamber back inside without first depositing a righteous ding as delivered by her affronting car? Typical selfish entitled bullshit from good old Meg, April thought.
   But she let it go and parked smack dead center in her own chosen space. Because that’s good karma, bitches!

And so on it went with other gym enthusiasts coming and going all morning long, and it should be noted that parking at this new facility was at a premium, especially nearby parking on cool windy days such as this one, and so what unfolded was somewhat of a domino effect, all future parking being affected by that original and obviously self-interested wrongdoer. Everybody was blaming everybody else who in turn was actually wronged by someone else altogether. And if you thought that you were the victim then how you parked (because you had to, what other choice did you really have?) couldn’t help but victimize the very next guy or gal who thought you must be some kind of egocentric idiot. Oh the looks that were exchanged in that parking lot! By 10:37 when Meg sauntered back out into the blustery day she saw that she would need to suck it in and shimmy sideways into the driver side door, and she wasn’t happy, not one bit, because by now she was physically spent and emotionally drained (dealing with a handful of smartass slackers like April Fleming will do that to you). But suck it in and shimmy she did because there was nothing else she could do and she even took what she considered excessive care not to push her door into the black paint job of the vehicle squeezed in next to her (and btw, she did notice that the driver of this black Hummer, no friend of hers she assumed, had plenty of room to get out on his or her own driver’s side), and she landed in a heap with a sigh and it didn’t bother her too much that despite all efforts when she did so her left knee accidentally pushed her door in an outwardly direction where it came to rest firmly stuck into that offending shiny black symbol of mindless excess.
   Oh well, she had tried to play nice.
   Meg had already backed out and been absorbed into our paved tributarial world when the next vehicle in queue whipped around the corner already ogling for the coveted just-vacated spot. Could I really be that lucky thought Oliver Johnson, fiftyish local real estate guy with the shiny red Jag (you MUST play the part of successful dealer in this town), and he was royally pissed to see that black Hummer spilling over into his space!
   The nerve of that fucker!
   It hadn’t been a good day. It hadn’t been a good week. The month was almost over and he’d only sold one ratty little two bedroom dump on the other side of the tracks. He really wasn’t in the mood for this. With all that said, with all that felt deeply in his gut all the way down to his manly gonads, it wasn’t that difficult a decision to allow his own precious car door to swing wide permitting that pointed red corner to make contact with virgin black paint.
   Ding!
   Dong!
   Dang!
   Screw it!
   Fate only exists in retrospect and the rational man can’t blame God either. But the fact of the matter is that Billy Ray Thompson had completed his Wednesday mid-morning routine (consisting of thirty minutes on the treadmill plus a complete upper body weight-lifting regimen) and had just emerged from those swinging doors in perfect time to witness the just-described transgression perpetrated on his brand new Hummer. 
   Barbed words shouted loudly as launched by bursting adrenaline and pumped-up hormones escalated into two grown men circling one another only a couple of feet apart. One of them puffed out their chest, the other tried to push it back in, and what ensued was an unfortunate episode highlighted by Thompson whirling around and kicking the door of the little red sports car followed by an extremely short round of pathetic old-white-guy put-up-your-dukes fisticuffs exquisitely topped off with an even shorter round of some really weird wrestling.
   The result: two grown men left panting on the pavement as the amused crowd slowly began to disperse.
   Well lookee over there, here come those baby ducklings again. They are so cuddling cute, so doggone sweet, absolutely oblivious to the machinations of our foolish world, but one thing they are not my fellow car-parking brethren is innocent.


~ ~ ~

(and now, for your listening pleasure, something not entirely different but actually in the same vein... Emperor of the Highway)