Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Bitter Cold

Dusty stepped from his back porch mud room onto the concrete stoop and took a long look across his driveway. He'd already moved the tractor, the line of sight was clear, and while the air was especially bitter this morning, he was dressed for a long winter's hunt.

Candice yelled to him from the upstairs bath window; the bath she'd been locked into all morning. "Don't bother calling today honey, I'm going shopping and I'll be gone all day."

"Yea, yea" he replied in his best caustic tone. The F150 started after a few tries, and with a lurch he turned toward County road Six and drove away. It was only a half mile to the turnoff, clearly within eyesight of the house if the occupant just happened to be looking in that direction from an upstairs window. Dusty knew he had to take that chance. His friend would be arriving within twenty minutes of his departure, and if he drove too far away to hide the truck, he'd never be able to walk back in time.

He slipped into the treeline and parked near the picnic tree, the massive elm that his grandfather had landscaped around so as to have a secret garden where he might take his wife and children to celebrate special events. As he walked back toward the house, his eye was struck by a glint of reflected light, and for a moment he thought to cancel this whole affair.

Carved in the picnic tree was a heart, a foot tall if an inch. And at the base of the heart he'd carved a small dent where he'd pounded in his favorite polished quartz, a symbol of his undying love. Love at thirteen is like that, the fantasy that the stone was diamond was every bit as powerful as the fact that it was not; and once his true love had seen "Dusty loves Candy" carved into the heavy bark with the stone splashing prismed sunlight onto the letters as if an open air kaleidoscope, she'd been his from that day forward.

Until a few years ago in any case, and that memory wrenched Dusty's attentions back to his task and he began to trot toward his machine shed's back wall so as to take his place.

He'd called it a deer feed, the pile of corn cobs and field trash he'd made between two outbuildings. Candy had argued for days about his moving it; she liked her yard neat and tidy. But he'd won the argument and in fact had made the pile a little taller once having tried it out and noting he could still be seen.

Now he dug his rifle from the snowpack where he'd buried it, slipped it from its case and checked for load and safety pin. He'd made it just in time, the Volkswagen Beetle he knew would be incoming as he was outbound, was just pulling into the drive.

It'd need to be one bullet if he could manage it, he really didn't want to chase anyone all over the house trying to ignore the screaming and pleading. The longer it'd take, the more likely he'd give up the quest, and he'd spent too many hours working up the courage to ruin it by letting someone talk him off his high.

He needn't have worried, it was cold, but not cold enough to stifle passion. Candy met Jack at the door to the back porch in her bathrobe and obviously nothing else, and the two stood still for a long minute to reacquaint themselves to each others' lips. Through Dusty's looking glass, the cross-hairs made a mark directly in the center of his best friend's temple, if he could wait just a moment, the two might turn that fraction of an inch that would make the job easy, less unpleasant.

As Dusty saw the scope fill up with hair and then the triangular "nape" of Jack's neck, he pulled the trigger, and ended three lives in the space of a single icy breath.

Monday, July 29, 2013

One Life In Stead

A letter to Master Siljien Hendlin from the prisoner Thomas Bauman, written on this day of our Lord, Tuesday February 12, 1701; to be opened no earlier than one month past the completion of my execution.

Sir;

It was said that the women of Welsh fishing villages would band together on Saturday nights, and by the light of candles placed inside carved field beets, crude farm lanterns called "punkies", they would parade into their town's taverns to snatch and drag their drunken husbands home that the men might be well rested for church on the morrow. The citizens of Commer's Creek are far removed from Wales, most three generations distant, and yet I'd have assumed another historical romantic hereabouts might have kept a verbal accounting of our forbearers eccentricities and folklore. Alas it seems I am the only font of petty knowledge of it’s type and sadly, it was that knowledge that has forced me into this position.

The fact that Susan Lundeen passed while in the grip of a hellish fever was sad news indeed, and more than enough one would think, to keep a small town’s populace humbled as to the mysteries of God. She was so young, only 11 years and as talented as any pianist I’d ever witnessed; and as a patron of the arts I have heard my share. And yet the Puritan fervor that has ravaged these people’s beliefs, like a well of good wishes turned sour by zealots bathing and passing waste into what was meant only to drink, to quench, to replenish… was not satisfied with medical explanations for the girls demise. Nay, some saw witchery at work, her illness too strong, engaged too quickly, her decimation too complete to be natural selection. And once they’d searched the estate grounds and came upon two jack-o-lanterns, rotting upon a wide branch of a silver Maple, facing the very window past which little Susan had contracted and been consumed by a mysterious disease, they had all the “proof” they needed.

Witchery! I was aghast at the notion that after 60 some years in a new land we’d still not have dropped our superstitions and boorish myth. Witches indeed; black cloaked hags with crooked noses riding crooked broomsticks shouting crooked curses perhaps, the gothic vision of an All Hallows Eve costumed ball replete with spooks and specters, monsters and malevolents. I’d thought ourselves more civilized, the town more intellectually advanced than to have accepted the dogma that Satan works through the hand of possessed spellcasters, flaunting evil so as to entice the young to stray from the righteous path and delve into the blackness; and laying waste to those who choose to ignore his call.

These were toys, these "punkies", these jack-o-lanterns. For what reason only their carvers might know but I can assure anyone of sound mind they are created in the spirit of fun, not in the image of the satyr of hell. And yet as I've said, only a trivial mind such as mine would care to know the history behind such magic, such tripe; and it seemed only I could do anything to right the wrong created by ignorance.

As was spewed from the pulpit of Commer's Creek Episcopalian Church, someone had hexed poor Susan unto her death, surely as a result of her having been tested by the devil and her refusal to leave her place at the foot of the Almighty’s throne. Where the pastor might have found facts that would support his theories, no one knew. But he was a charismatic man, at least as charismatic as he might describe Satan himself; so each time he was asked to substantiate his accusations, and he refused, another parishioner would come to his aid demanding “if Pastor Clarke says it’s so, then it must be so!” Until a preponderance of the voting public, spurred on by the Lundeen family’s vocal desire to have someone to blame for their daughter’s death, were in agreement that a witch or witches were hiding amongst them, and needed to be culled and eliminated before another unfortunate innocent was to pass.

I thought it all too convenient that the mob came upon the Hendlin sisters as their first suspects. Molly at age 13 was a bit slow for her years, nearly an emotional twin of her 9 year old sibling Rebecca. And neither is attractive; nay say both are homely truly, their olive skin and Roman noses starkly differing from those whitewashed Anglo-Saxon features appreciated by the nearly ethnically pure majority. And both were pranksters ‘tis true, prone to leaping from dark places shouting boos and cackles, and then running off giggling like young girls are wont to do. Now I will offer the likelihood is that they did carve the lanterns and place them where Susan might see them, and though their confessions to that fact were coerced by the rod, (gauging by the welts on their knuckles I’d noted at their trial) my guess is they’d only wanted to cheer her in their way, with the power of fright followed by a hearty, relieved laughter.

But Pastor Clarke and his minions refused to entertain alternate explanations for the girls having placed what they deemed “black magic fetishes” so as to provide Satan a portal through which to corrupt a good Christian girl’s soul.

I might have argued had I station, but though I may have intelligence, I have no scrolls proving my worth and the thought that these learned men would have even allowed me voice is laughable. Surrounding me were a few that thought as I, that these poor girls were victims of an enraged mob led by a sadistic faux priest looking to solidify his earthly grip on the pocketbooks of his flock through the fear of a fantasized supernatural evil. And yet no one spoke, no one stood in protest, and I am ashamed to say even I sat silently as these lambs were led to their defenseless doom.

It was two days I was tortured by the ghosts of my past, two days I heard the cries of coward from the brave men who had struggled to get to this country that their sons and daughters, and eventually myself, would have a better chance at a life free from the very psychic vampires that were now sucking the soul from my own village. Luckily it was only two days methinks, as that gave me but one day to prepare a hoax worthy of a court’s annulment and the retrial of a true witch.

It was elaborate and quite clever I’d admit, with gunpowder explosions and flying bedclothing dyed black as pitch, whooping voices and floating icons of a religious nature. I meant no blasphemy of course, yet to solidify the illusion that I was indeed a powerful maven of wickedness I felt the need to risk God’s disapproval for just that one scene. There is little so sacred as a crucifix, and it’s defacement is crime enough; but within the context of a presumed black arts reverie, I knew the charges would be most extreme and my identification as a sorcerer near immediate.

It was all I could do to not lose my courage whilst being tortured at the hand of the pastor’s handpicked jailors, but praise God I stuck to my tale and demanded that it was I and not those two sweet innocents that had ensorcelled miss Lundeen into premature fatality. And in the end I was believed; I fear because as a self sufficient and quietly unassuming man I was more hateable than young women and so, a more emotionally profitable example for those holy to disembowel. In any case, they were freed, I was imprisoned in their stead and as of the morrow the crime will have been avenged by the noose.

I tell you this sir not as a man begging for beatification. No, I am a sinner as deadly as any and my offering myself to this cause was far from my first instinct. I am a coward at heart, a ne’er do well by trade and my life has been one long series of faithless excuses. And yet, the sight of your two daughters in the clutch of vindictive, self serving liars, created in me the will to do the right thing if only this once. You need to know only these things;

That Molly and Rebecca are as innocent as the lambs of biblical verse and you should never think otherwise. I have no proof, no more than their accusers. But my heart tells me so and my heart, when listened to, has seldom been wrong. And secondly, if you have not already, I beseech you to move them far from Commer’s Creek and the likes of Pastor Clarke, to a place where witchcraft is a myth to be read of in books of fiction, and the devil is to be found within us all, imperfect retches that we are. Where there are none without sin, there is no one to hang but true criminals.

It is to your purview I commend this letter and verse; whether you decide to someday show your girls is your decision to make. I’ve done this for all innocents of which they were just two. Find them a home where they might learn that love is not a product of hate or fear, but only a gift of oneself to any, and all.

Humbly,
Thomas Bauman


Prepared to hang for heresy I ponder oh most tragic night
As comes the dawn my forfeit life will sway amidst the crows
In truth were not my honour born to shirk the most malicious spite
I’d willingly have long confessed those sins their lies expose
If witchery was what they mused then pray they found my poor soul black
For truly I would give my breath that innocents go free
Their accusations toward young jewels, those daughters flailed by their attack
Gave purpose to my life at last, their “crimes” now strapped to me
For in the tempest of my act my smoke and flash were e’er complete
That even those in question thought me filled with Satan’s ire
To draw the priests’ attentions so to spare a child seems bittersweet
Were reason chanced with men as these, our world should be less dire

I pray the dark would lift from eyes so blind
That they might see their heresy in kind

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Max the Magnificent (finally)

This.... is Max

Sir Maxwell Acer Fremanii to be exact; an orphan who I found at a shelter for wayward woodland fellows. (He'd been rescued from a local unscrupulous breeder you see, and I was looking to adopt a helicopterseeded fivepointer, so we were a perfect match.)

Max looked a little pale when I brought him home. He'd suffered greatly at the hands of his captor. His torso was quite large for his limbs, and his leader had been pruned to within an inch, or a few maybe I can't be sure, of his life. I had to get him in the ground pronto and he would need a special kind of fertilizer to bring him back to full health.

He'd lived his life to that date surrounded by bad vibes. The people who touched him and cut at him were only seeing him as a giant dollar sign and not a living, breathing (after a fashion) thing. He would need a transfusion of good karma to overwhelm and conquer the bad, but of course I have so little good karma on my own that I was at a loss as to where I was gonna get enough to make Max well. One day, as Max was languishing alongside my fence in his "prisoner's pot", I had a flash of genius!

I rounded up my Live Journal friends (mostly because those were the only friends I had) and I asked them for their real names! Now you may think "so what? that's nothin?" to which I would say "obviously you know nothing about Live Journal cuz that real name thing? Well it's just not done!"

It was struggle, some just didn't want to break their anonymity even to sweet harmless lil ol me, but eventually I got them all, and typed them on an ENORMOUS piece of paper which I then sliced up into small, Acer-bite-size pieces.


Outside, I dug the hole that would free my poor woody friend from his shackles. (I'd considered digging the hole INside to keep him closer to me that I might be able tomore easily sing him to sleep every night, but the little woman put the old kabosh on that great idea)

First, my supervisor and I had to prepare Max's home. (Here is a photo of me trying to get my supervisor to understand that this was not a pooping area but reserved for our special guest)


Then, Dusty the dog had to warm the hole, as poor Max would be freezing in the Minnesota winters soon enough and therefore deserved a little pampering pre north wind.



Into the hole went a freshly released Maxwell, and wound within his roots went all the names of my internet friends along with their good vibes and assorted well wishes for a healthy and happy life. 


Finally, we were finished and Maxwell stood tall and proud (albeit a little damp) in his new forest to be! (And Dusty the dog was happily pooping elsewhere, as directed)


Now I'd thought all this ingenious preparation would surely make Max so happy that he'd grow and grow and grow, soon covering my really really hot backyard and its little teeny concrete patio with life affirming shade bringing coolness and gray to all the good little girls and boys of Rontown. But sadly, nothing happened during the rest of that year. In fact, nothing happened the next year either. Max looked fine, but to my eye (which I admit is slightly cocked up due to its being a product of my slightly cocked up brain) he was just refusing to grow. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. If he was dying, his leaves would be dropping. He was obviously fine; perhaps just a little shy. 

(I considered the concept that all those people who had sent good vibes through their nametags might be really short people and so the vibes in question had a certain inadvertent growth stunter imbedded; but as I was never likely to actually meet any of those people in person I would never actually know, so while the idea may have been correct I had to reject it for lack of fact gatherability)

Max just sat there for three years. Oh sure, there was new growth... maybe a half inch of it per branch. I tried to be polite about it, saying "C'mon Max, you can do it!" like a personal trainer might use positivity to get a fat guy to lose weight. "Grow Max, let the world see your magnificence! Get so tall you can see the Pope in Rome resign without a TV!"


But nothing worked. I began to snipe at him, just a bit. I cursed him (under my breath of course) and I discussed the possibility with my wife that I might just have to dig him out and send him to the compost bin in the sky.

And then, suddenly, this year in which there was no spring but an immediate and very late leap into summer... Max began to grow. And Grow! AND GROW!

Yes, I have apologized. (Yes I do feel guilty for considering his death, thanks for asking) Yes I have sung his praises. (I pretend Maxwell's Silver Hammer was written for him) And yes I have asked him "so Max, what the hell was going on those three years?"

He explained to me that the nursery which held him captive before he was rescued had used a particularly heinous insecticide on his teeniest leaves, causing him to lose most of his ability to see. Not having proper eyesight he was unable to read the nametags I'd attached to his rootball and therefore was incapable of absorbing the good vibes, keeping him stunted and struggling for 3 long years. But finally, over the last nasty winter, a worm sauntered past the rootball, a worm Max knew was the local librarian's assistant, and he asked the worm ("Jeff" if you're keeping a character list) if he could please read the names assembled and the worm said "why of course young tree, glad to help!" Well upon hearing Jennifer and Ayoub and Stephanie and Rachel and Beth and Dina and Bie and a dozen glorious others who had given Maxwell all their best, he was renewed and rejuvinated and was bursting at the seams to come out of his funk and reach for the ever loving sky the moment it warmed up which seemed to take for freaking ever!

And so, he has, and I couldn't be more proud.

So now I'm off to find that worm, as my eyes are failing a bit and I want to see if I can contract him to read to me when I have fine print on a contract to study.


The End

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Jimmy Spinout Saga



Jim was a tough kid, a lost boy. His father had disappeared early on, the lure of alcohol trumping the pleasure of family. His mother, “Ma” as I called her fondly was a stumpy woman, very short, very thick and very hard in many ways. Jimmy was fond of expressing his displeasure with the life he was given and by the age of 13 had developed a career as a petty criminal.


I was a member of a juvenile motorcycle club when we met, two punks with a communal delinquency disorder. It was inevitable that we’d have “a moment”.


One late October afternoon while I was alone in the upper floor of a neighborhood brothel my gang used as a clubhouse and “living” quarters, Jimmy drove up in a fairly new Buick Skylark. As he was just fifteen at the time without so much as a license much less a job, and his mother the retired truck driver was too poor to buy a sporty car, I assumed it had to have been stolen; and I was right. Jim loved cars, and he took one whenever he had the urge.

 

He thought it should be stripped it of its valuables, so he’d come to the house for assistance. Sadly, I was never a mechanic; I have always been more ponderous than productive. As he listed off the items he wanted to salvage, it occurred to us that had we actually removed the tires or the carburetor, the wiring harness or the shift console and controls, we’d have a disabled car on our hands, with no way to move it into someone else’s space where the police might be mystified as to who the culprits might be. So we decided on the radio; that could be removed without making the car an albatross and it might sell for enough money to buy, say, a carton of cigarettes or a case of beer!
 

We wrenched and wrestled. We crowbarred and hammered; and nothing we did would remove the radio from the sporty dashboard. Jim was saddened by our failure. He thought the only way to cheer us would be to take a long joy ride before dumping the vehicle, and I could hardly disagree. Actually, I could disagree; though I was a full-fledged charter member of the “gang”, I had never enjoyed the criminal part of our routine. I didn’t mind intimidating people into staying out of my way, but as for physical violence or destruction of property, I avoided taking part as often as I was able. Still, a joy ride seemed innocuous enough, and I didn’t know Jimmy well enough to fear him; I’d thought he was troubled certainly, but in all other respects quite sane.
 

The drive was uneventful in the main. Plenty of tire rubber was left at various intersections, the streaks all pointing west and into the suburbs we both knew well enough to risk having to race down back roads with coppers in hot pursuit. It was fun, there was adrenaline pumping through every pore of my body, it was one of the highest natural highs I’ve ever been on. And then the ground opened up and swallowed us.
 

New York Mills road is a windy twisty thing, barely navigable at 25 miles an hour. Jim figured we were in a sporty car, we may as well act sporty; so he took the curves at something near 75. There were a few “whoohoo”s shouted as we stood the vehicle onto two wheels, but then we hit a sand patch and spun wildly out of control.
 

We hit the ground right side up, but we’d kicked up so much dirt and dust the air was visually impenetrable. So Jimmy did what he thought was right; floor the gas pedal in an attempt to regain the highway and get as far in the direction of home as was possible. We weren’t moving, though we were throwing up an entirely new layer of dirt curtain. It seems we had left the road in mid spin so as to float over a ditch, taking a few mailboxes along for a few meter ride, and had come to rest nose deep into an upward hill. All Jim was doing by gunning the engine was to throw sod a few hundred feet into the air, and slowly dig two ruts in the direction of China. Eventually the air cleared enough to note that we had destroyed a below road grade front yard, and a few people were peering from their windows trying to see whatever they could of the action.
 

Jim tossed the car into reverse and after another slight struggle, backed the car out of the ditch and onto the pavement, facing into the direction from which we’d come. A few things were obvious; the suspension system was broken, the car’s body wobbled on its frame like a blob of currant jelly on the bald pate of an elderly marathon runner. One headlight was pointed toward the sky, a definite negative if one’s plan was to sneak back into the big city without rousing suspicion. And, judging by the number of house lights that were flicking on all around us, our flight and errant landing hadn’t gone unnoticed.
 

Logic said one of two things; dump the car and run like hell right now, or take it easy and try to get as far as you can without further injury. Fear trumps logic. We were many, many miles from a safe house and we knew the cops had been called. Jim slammed the car into drive and away we went, bearing down on certain doom.
 

We didn’t get but two tight curves down the street before we again began to spin as if we had been stuck through the center by a pencil and given a twirl by the hand of God; only this time… As the world lit up I watched the rear wheels and axle pass by, headed for a lovely cape cod with almost perfect landscaping. We had dropped onto the gas tank and were still doing perhaps one revolution every two seconds. It must have looked spectacular, presuming anyone was lucky enough to have come to their window just as the twirlygig flew by.
 

It’s a moment I can re-witness any time my heart desires, in slow motion, in reverse, in Technicolor or sepia tone. Jim had taken his hands off the steering wheel as there was little point in trying to aim a juggernaut. At the moment of sparks flying we both turned to each other, our lower jaws dropped as far as humanly possible, our eyeballs escaped their sockets and our breath was held and compressed into a teeny tiny corner of our lungs. The word “wow” was meant to be said, both of us were attempting sentience and yet, we were overwhelmed. It was as if we were sitting within a fireworks sparkler, or more obvious, like we were sitting in a tub while someone used a grinder to bore a hole through the steel plates in our heads.
 

Eventually of course, what remained of the sporty car came to a stop, facing in the correct direction if you must know, but missing a few of its most necessary parts. We laughed. We roared actually. We were lucky we hadn’t wet our pants, and the magic of staring into the face of death and waving it buhbye had made us quite giddy for a moment. That is until we heard the sirens.
 

We had an idea where we’d landed, though our expertise rested on being in a vehicle on a road and not tearing through back yards in the dark. Still, we boogied, East, in the direction of the city where we’d better blend in at midnight. The first house we passed by, the aforementioned lovely cape cod, stood lightless; a good thing in that before our eyes adjusted to the dark we’d run into a few noisemakers like garbage cans and a particularly vicious clothesline that nearly turned Jimmy into an Ichabod. There was tall reedy grass ahead, and the base of a forested hill. If we could make the cover we’d be able to slink a bit and maybe throw off the FBI that was sure to be on our tail at any moment.
 

I pride myself in being an outdoorsman. Even at that age I’d camped many a time, could identify dozens of trees and a small book’s worth of plant life. So why it didn’t occur to me that reed grass doesn’t grow just anywhere, will forever remain a special secret to me. I remembered though, the moment I was knee deep in Minnehaha creek.
 

I wasn’t particularly cold until I was wet. I believe I immediately turned blue and for the rest of the night fought hypothermia by shivering my skin across my bones as if I were trying to build an internal fire the Boy Scout way.
The highway patrol car sounded much like an incoming rocket. He’d cleverly turned off his siren so as to sneak up on the perpetrators of this crime, and then sucked so much fuel through his four barrel carburetor that he woke the neighborhood dead. It was no matter, we were well away, nearly atop the hill and quickly moving out of one in a million random glance range.

 

For the next five hours we crawled and dodged from house to garage to car to mailbox to spruce tree to fencepost and so on; each block of progress taking what must have been 20 minutes. Every light we saw was assumed to be a searchlight carried by a posse of rotted toothed men carrying clubs and the leashes of coon hounds who were howling in anticipation of having a little tender teenaged meat for breakfast. Every neighborhood dog that barked made us drop to the ground, as if a dog, whose eyes are generally an inch off the ground already, wouldn’t notice us if we hugged the earth.
 

We ran perhaps two miles in all, there was far too much dodging to make any distance. Tired, less cocky and a bit unnerved, we soon found another wooded section surrounding another turn of the creek as it meandered its way toward the Mississippi, and there we rested, waiting to either be flushed out by the bounty hunters, or until sunrise when we thought we’d be safe to cross highway Seven, enter an all-night restaurant and call anyone that might consent to rescue us from a 25 mile hike on frosted streets in wet clothes.
 

We did find someone home an hour later, and he bought us breakfast in exchange for the tale. Once home I swore to myself I’d never again take a zip in a stolen car, and if I could help it, never again come within 20 feet of Jimmy as he had now made the top of my list of craziest and most dangerous human beings on the planet.
 

I stayed in contact with Ma, helping her move during the next year eight times in twelve months, a record I think compared to all those I’ve helped in my lifetime. One of the moves was precipitated by Jimmy’s arrest for drug possession and assault on his family while in a speedball stupor. He was sentenced to the juvenile correctional facility at Red Wing until the age of 21, time he assumed he could use to relax and plan his future petty criminal lifestyle.
 

Ma asked me after a year had passed to take her to visit her son; the wounds of his attack well healed and her motherly instinct pressing. I had no desire, but I did as she asked. She was pleasant enough to spend time with, and I was scary enough to protect us from the thugs we’d need to wade through to speak with Jim. But the surprise visit itself never happened. We’d probably passed each other in transit as Jim and a few ne’er do wells had “escaped” the minimum security campus and had hitched a ride with another of the group who had been let go earlier that month. As far as the guards could tell us, we were an hour behind him, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t see his mother grin, for just a second or two.
 

He’s long dead I’ve heard recently, passed during a liver induced coma at the age of 32, his alcohol content so high they likely didn’t need a mortuary as he was already pickled. I’d feel badly for him if I could, but he was in control of his destiny, he was a rush junkie and never stopped driving down windy, twisty, sand covered roads oblivious as to who he might run over. His mother on the other hand, God rest her soul. She was a good woman who did her best, she made a gentle mark on me I’ve never forgotten.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Fair Hammerman

It was 1976, my first job as a disk jockey and I was doing my gig live at the Montana State Fair. It was hard enough to sit in a dark room and chit chat with invisible strangers while playing them a little night music and the inevitable 12 minutes of commercials an hour. But take that show into the light of day and the whole dynamic changes; I am not a partyboy. Hell, I never learned to dance because I thought people were looking at me; being in a crowded room as the spotlighted entertainer wasn't what I'd signed on for.

I didn't really need to worry, the station I worked for was in fourth place of four, and one of those four wasn't even a commercial radio station but a hobby/vanity transmitter in some egomaniacs basement. How he got himself into the "arbitron" ratings book when he was generally only on the air a few hours a day is beyond me, but he kicked our demographically challenged ass. In any case, we were certainly not overwhelmed with fans that clamored for our autographs; it was pretty quiet around our booth.

I'd just been moved from overnights to afternoon drive time, and my popularity was just beginning. It was funny to look into the small crowd that  occasionally gathered and wonder whether any of them had actually listened to me; if they were only here now because of the spectacle of a radio station's appearance at "the fair". And I wondered whether this middle aged woman or that was one of the few truck driver's wives who had taken a sudden interest in calling me once I'd changed time slots; my "groupies" as it were, lonely women who thought I was their personal voice of reason and tranquility.

For seven days I did my time in the wooden booth within the exposition pole barn, a monkey in a cage more or less; waving and grinning, taking requests and being as charming and clever as God had intended when he made me a lover and not a fighter.

And then I got the fan from hell;

A wiry fellow half my size who seemed to appear with every small group that passed in front of me for days on end. A sort of "Ernest goes to the Fair" lookin' kinda guy, he wore the same clothes each day and just shuffled along behind people as if he were a pet on some invisible leash, always slowing as he got to within eye contact range, locking onto mine and then muttering to himself as he sauntered from right to left and then out of view. And yet I considered him a distraction for the most part, a loony for sure, but a harmless entertainment for a bored and mildly neurotic dj.

Finally on the last day of the fair he stopped and stared at me as I was working the news, leaning up against the opposite corrugated steel wall and rubbing his chin as if a theologian gathering his far too many thoughts with the help of far too many extra voices.

Never breaking his blinkless glare, he slowly walked to our brochure table where a station clerical worker would normally glad hand and chit chat with the adoring throng; but today she'd taken sick and I was left to my own devices, forced to answer questions and pass out free junk between my little witticisms that were 3:36 minutes apart on average.

He began by making a few requests, no doubt just the hits of the moment as I don't recall the titles. But then he began to ask me pointed personal questions; what my wife's name was, what part of the city I lived in...and on for what must have been 20 minutes.

It was a slow night, near dinner hour and Heart was the featured rock group at the sold out grandstand, so this guy and I were near enough alone that I couldn't shake him off. I tried to be as tactful as I could in refusing to answer his questions, but he became more and more upset anyway. Once he'd moved into discussing politics and Vietnam policy he was damn near frothing at the mouth and I was actually beginning to get nervous.

I did my normal stand up and stretch to show my size and fake my Herculean strength thing, but that only agitated the guy. A few times he actually lifted his leg as if a dog having a chat with a fire hydrant, but I was sure he was testing the height of our booth's counter to see what it would take to leap it. And then my guess came tolife  as he jumped onto the counter and began to walk toward my raised stage.

He'd forgotten why I was where I was...I was on the fucking radio d00d! (Actually I'm a little surprised it occurred to me so quickly lol, his action stunned me a little) Immediately I switched on my mike and started loudly making clear to all within my few thousand square mile listening area that I had a little problem with a midget wrestler and if a copper didn't show up at the Karr/Kopr booth at the Montana State Fair within a few minutes they would need to drag a dead carcass from the exposition building as one of us would certainly perish if.....

Of course I was amplified within the booth itself much less across most of big sky country, he heard my verbose call for assistance and set off running, leaping over the counter like a frustrated sheep in an insomniacs dream.

I slapped on Gordon Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy"; the bathroom song as we called it because it was over seven minutes in length and the only format approved tune that would give you time enough to deal with your humanity in a dignified way. I ran to the counter and jumped it, so as to keep my eye on the little twerp that I might point him out to the gendarmes that would surely be arriving any second.

None did, everyone thought I was bored and joking, or maybe had inadvertently left my mic on while babbling to someone. Not only did no one show up to save me, but no one even called to check my bluff. I'd only felt that alone one other time, and that was in my one true violent nightmare. Who knows what might have happened if he'd ignored my raving.



No matter; after 7 minutes and a few seconds of private eying I was back behind the counter, thanking Mr. Lightfoot for the opportunity to stretch my legs, and moving on to another piece of pop music.

Less than an hour later there was a huge commotion in the building, maybe 50 yards from where I was finishing up my shift and packing the equipment for the trip home. There was a scream and then shouting, a scuffle and a gun went off, and then all was silent again save my own chatter about what mother nature would bring the city of Great Falls through the following week and the rest of the top of the hour crapola.

I was told the guy in question tackled a random woman as she was eating her popcorn and lazily browsing the booths in the exposition building. He'd knocked her to the floor and as she tried to crawl away, he'd removed her slip on pumps and tossed them aside. Where he found the hammer I'm not sure, but one hit was all the woman needed to understand that her bare feet were his target and that this wasn't funny anymore. She flew from him like a mouse in the shadow of a hawk, and as he stood for the chase a half dozen bystanders wrestled him to the ground. He'd pulled the gun in self defense he told officers later, he wasn't trying to hurt anyone when he pulled the trigger, just warding off the demons.

I suppose I could have let him come, had our tussle and hopefully been the victor, and then held him for the police. It might have saved a grievous injury to that poor woman and lord knows I know what foot pain is. I can only guess things happen for a reason, and it was not my day to take a bullet.

I love the fair though I don't go every year anymore. I especially love seeing the animals in their dusty cages, minding their own business as if the world around them is a safe and happy place. They remind me of me many years ago, before I learned the truth and ruined my outlook forever.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

By Fear, Poeseussed



Whimsy dreamed of walking in her father Sorrow's woods
Her mother, sweet Confusion warned "you never, ever should."
"There's Fears and Dreads and Sycophants and they might eat you up!
My Sorrow's woods is not the place for happy buttercups."

"But Mother dear" our Whimsy cried "you've come to sad conclusions"
"No wonder Gramma Reticent has named her love Confusion
I'd never go alone my sweet, I'd take my bestest friend;
with Happiness to guide me your anxiety should end!"

"A disobeying daughter is a curse upon my head!
You might be hopeless, I should spank your wisdom bottom red
But since you speak impertinence, I'll leave you to your quest
And take your puppy Comfort too, he seems a little stressed"

So Whimsy gathered Comfort and with Happiness set out
to have a new experience, to rid herself of doubt
they reached the edge of forests dark, all felt a tinge of fright
but promises were made to keep, they'd cure their angst tonight.

With whistles for a signal, they'd agreed to split a bit
They'd learn to be more comfortable, find courage, build up grit
Indecision still attacked the girls and Comfort even cowered
they suffered bouts of nervousness, their fatalism towered

But on and on the lassies strode they soon obliged obliquely
the needs of self discovery: overcoming living meekly
And sure enough, they stumbled on a pack of Fear and Dread
that chased away the sugarplums that danced in Whimsy's head

She held her breath, she closed her eyes, she'd chase these demons out
she'd had them stopped with fallacy, but soon she'd see self doubt
The monsters crept into her soul and blackened it to light
she lay back in complacency, she'd given up the fight

But Happiness and Comfort went a'running for some help
They thought they saw a hunter, Comfort gave a little yelp!
The man that lumbered toward them was Self's Hunter, named Esteem
and yes, he'd come to Whimsy's side and kill these hateful themes

He pulled the axe of knowledge and he flailed his mighty arms
He struck one fear and cleaved it clear of Whimsy's many charms
an hour later she was safe, less petulant, but proud
she'd won the day with Self's Esteem, she cried her joy aloud!

"Now let this be a lesson", her dear mom Confusion spoke
"Don't play with Sorrow's many toys, they're not for weak-kneed folk"
Before our Whimsy went to bed, she stood at Comfort's door
And said "I know you'd swallow Fear, but mom said....nevermore."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Goodliness Intervention

It was one of those Satan moments I suppose, when the little angel on your right shoulder telling you calmly to be a good boy is shouted down by the devil on the left hollering "DOIT DOIT DOIT!!!!" Perhaps there's some profound justification for all things bad to be found in the fact that the word "good", is one more letter than God, and how can you surpass God for God's sake even if it's only by one letter?

My first wife and I lived in an old victorian mini mansion. It had been cut into a couple apartments, but the owner had not bothered with simple amenities like multiple mailboxes and doorbells. As in all good neighbor situations, we were responsible for each other in certain ways, like, if the doorbell rang, we had to answer it for the building.


We didn't have many visitors that didn't simply walk in or even climb through a window as hippies and bikers were known to do, so when the bell rang I was a bit confused. We were on the cusp of the poor neighborhood where blacks and whites shot each other over their share of a summer's Popsicle, so door to door salesmen generally stayed clear; unless they happened to be the most heinous Alpha dogs who would attach a single mother's welfare check to a monthly payment book, 200 installments for a 400 dollar vacuum cleaner complete with meat grinding and Margarita shaker attachments.

So I couldn't imagine who would be persistently ring/knocking in the middle of the afternoon when normal people would be working. But as I was just hanging out watching traffic from an open window, I decided to answer rather than ignore.

It was my first experience with Jehovah's Witness missionaries and before I continue let me assure you that I have no animosity toward anyone's religion. I'd just as soon they leave me alone, but I can't even get Viagra salesmen to do that, so a once every few year visit from neighborhood saviors is hardly a chore. That said...

Being new to the routine I took the paper they gleefully handed me and gazed into their lovely, well scrubbed faces. Contrary to the families I would receive later in life at my home in the boondocks, (the young men helping gramma to my door as their ploy, gramma who is too weak to stand on her own thus making her turnaway a true "guilty pleasure",) these two were young, one boy-one girl, probably divinity students and quite attractive as I remember; always a great ice breaker in the God sales business.

They asked if I was a Christian and what did I think about so and so, inferring the moment I reluctantly answered yes to the Christian thing that while they agreed to a point with my dogma whatever it was and that I was certainly in no danger of having the earth open at my feet while Satan's tail snapped about my legs and dragged me off to hell, they had a series of wonderful adaptations to bless me with if only I'd open my soon to be "formerly" black heart.

I quickly grew tired of the speech; even Joan of Arcadia on my stoop couldn't have made me sit through much more of what they were feeding me and I had a celebrity crush on her, but I was just too damned nice to stop them or slam the door as my wife has done once or twice in our life together.

They had the good angel, better angel thing down, rattling off verse after verse, jumping on each others last words on cue as if there was a teleprompter in the Balsam fir that sat next to my doorway. I stood there slumping, being hammered by God's personal representatives who'd hoped to find the chink that under pressure would break my resistance into so many tiny pieces of apology for being stubborn, followed by a round of "hallelujah I'm saved!"s.

And then they said the phrase that pays. "Do you mind if we come inside and compare bibles?"

My shoulder angel was shocked; I could hear her sighing heavily like a recently grounded teenager. My shoulder devil on the other hand knew just what to do.

I did invite them inside (as they were so insistent I didn't want to suffer a random black mark on my soul for refusing) and led them into my red and blue laboratory where I sat them on my black naugahide couch still faintly smelling of last night's sex, a minor point of likely uncomfortability that I still can't gauge as to its effectiveness. (Do Witness missionaries have sex? I suppose they do; but do they know that non Witness' do too? And once confronted with evidence that they are not alone in the universe, does it make them squirm? Or kinda turn them on like it does for most of the rest of us...I'm just sayin...)

I begged them to wait a moment while I poured each of us a paper Dixie cup of cherry Kool-Aid. I was being as gracious as I could be what with my being a biker/taxi driver/pot smoker/alcoholic and all. I was unaccustomed to having actual guests in my house; guests that had the respect to dress accordingly for a possible audience with the likes of me. The last time I'd been in someone's living room with a man in a suit was at my grandfather's Irish wake, and that wouldn't have been much fun without refreshments either.

Once gathering my reference book from my makeshift library in the dining room hutch, I gave them their drinks and pulled up a chair directly in front of them; my back to the wall converted to black mirror tile pool so that my form would be encircled by red shag carpet tiles as a frame, and my body laid into ebony mirror as if I were a thing of fantasy, cut from a book and glued, then airbrushed into a new surrounding. Always form over function I am.

They smiled and pulled from their briefcases the New World Translation version of King James, the Watchtower Society Wonder as it were. And then they asked what book I might be comparing that they might know its contents and be able to shout page numbers for easier perusal and eventual disavowment.

I didn't have a King James, or anything like it in fact. Sure I'd read it, I just didn't own a copy. Us poor people don't have much "stuff" ya know. But I did have a book bought at a local occult Shoppe, written by a geek named Anton Szandor LaVay; a man that called himself the "Black Pope" and had written a piece of secular humanist tripe, tagged a few "spells" and dogmatic rituals at the end as an all but admitted ruse to sell more copies and so, created a working manual for his very own faux church.

I said nothing, as nothing needed saying really. I simply turned the cover toward them, the black glossy stock glaring in the afternoon sun, the embossed pentagram in blood red plainly visible to even the most severely afflicted narcissist whose every thought was pre-creating the next thought, and the next.

"The Satanic Bible" it said in bold block lettering that must have seemed as tall as the pillars of salt that served as advertising kiosks for the wonderful retirement benefits to be had once employed by the cities of Sodom and Gomorra.

They said nothing...as nothing needed saying really. The girl choked, followed by a coughing fit, during which in an attempt to re-swallow her heart she spilled cherry Kool-Aid on her pretty dress. He gave me the customary harrumph that pretenders to the Kingdom are known to hurl when desirous of vulgarity, but unable to use it without risking eternal damnation.

And so the little bit country and the little bit rock and roll walked purposely toward the exit, and without so much as a thanks for the sugar water, they left the infernal darkness and burst forth into the blessed light of day; intent on reaching their vehicle before my imps and underghouls could capture them and drag their silly carcasses back into my lair.

It was a hoot, but I paid a price. For my sins, my self imposed penance was to ignore Satan for a few years and be a good boy for my little angel. But it was worth it; Even Satan had to agree.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ahoy the Glug Glug Glug

A writer friend who I'd written songs for over our ten year history called me one day and asked if I'd join him for breakfast. There he told me he wanted a partner in his sailboat; not so much a financial partner as a workmate, someone willing to polish teak, strip paint and swab the decks. He barely got his speech out before I'd agreed, impulsive creature that I am; and once I had, it was time to learn to sail.

I took to it as if it was riding a motorcycle, I seemed to have a knack for seeing the invisible wind and for dead reckoning; the art of knowing when to tack across and into the wind to reach maximum speed and efficiency toward a single point on the horizon, without eliminating comfort by having the boat at a 40 degree heel at all times.

We sailed together for some time, a blessing for me as I was quite unnerved by the possibility of making a major mistake with a huge piece of fiberglass that might cost an enormous sum of cash to repair. But then, Leo left town on a job for a few weeks, and the Never Again Two and I were left to our own devices.

I'd made the decision to take on my first solo one morning, and by midday my ex wife and I were sitting in the Harbor View restaurant in Pepin Wisconsin, psyching up for a day's adventure on the high seas.

Of course, high seas is a minor exaggeration as Lake Pepin is really a wide spot in the Mississippi, likely no more than 50 feet deep in its navigation channel and about four miles across at it's widest. But to a novice Captain, even a bathtub would have seemed an eighth sea, so I was still a mite intimidated by the chores at hand.

Marie and I climbed aboard the 28 foot Lancer and chucked our sodas and suntan oil into the hold before de-docking. I can still smell the teak oil, the lemon scented soap scum that remained after the boat's last cockpit wash and rinse, the new canvas saddle that was firmly snapped over the mains'l which lay folded neatly atop its boom.

Untied, cast off and adrift in the little pristine harbor, I connected the gas tank to her outboard motor, primed, and tugged a few pulls before the "Johnson" popped to life. And then we were away, under power and pointed toward the breakwater that would lead out to sea.

Strangers nodded and waved without fail as we passed by slip after slip, whole families puttering aboard their boats with no intent of actually sailing but only drinking in the essence of what it is to be a sailor, to have a symbiotic connection to the water and therefore to nature herself.

It's the same emotional tug one gets deep within a forest or standing atop even a middling mountain; that you are both at one with the universe, and in command of your immediate destiny.

Once beyond the breakwater I turned into the wind and had my true love of the moment hold our rudder that we might stay the course. Unfurling the sail, I yanked the main sheet and pulled the polyester triangle to the upright and locked position, its uncontrolled flapping in the eye of the breeze nearly deafening but somehow, titillating as well.
 

With a snap the wind caught and we were away, being dragged through the muddy Mississippi at speeds approaching 6 knots...almost what a grown man can walk if he steps lightly and with malice toward his always expanding paunch.
 

If you've never been I might advise you that six knots on a giant craft of steel and glass, iron and nylon rope is like 50 miles an hour in a car cruising the back roads. It's smooth, clean and powerfully fast, and when it's you in control, your heart races right alongside the boat but can never seem to keep up.

The tighter you get to the center of the wind, the tighter you pull your sail to the center of the boat, the deeper you lean until the sea itself creeps up your gunwales and nearly into the cockpit and cabin. I so loved tacking hard that if the boat hadn't been self righting, (meaning that eventually the rudder would come out of the water and once losing steerage, the boat would stand up and straighten itself out) I'd have sunk the poor thing near every time I sailed it.

It was a glorious trip on a glorious day with a glorious crew and if it hadn't been for the storm, I could have marked it down as one of a few perfect adventures I'd been party to.

But as it was we found ourselves miles from port, lazing on the shallow, sandy leeward side of a cove shaped peninsula sipping cokes and dangling hot feet into lukewarm waters when the squall line made its first appearance over the top of 400 foot tall sandstone bluffs that stand guard over the river.

What little I knew told me that riding out a storm at sea was preferable to being tossed ashore by an errant wave, so we shoved off the sandbar and raced for open water as damn near every other boat in sight raced for shore.

It was an overwhelmingly beautiful sky, the roiling mammatus clouds in rich purples and oranges, the cloud to ground lightning that ripped through the ozone like fiery javelins pounding the earths crust, the swath of opaque blackness that trailed the front as if a toddlers blanket hanging off a clothesline.

I had Marie load up the cassette player, something we'd ignored 'till now as it seemed almost sacrilegious to play manmade music over the gentle sounds of surf and sail.

I was aiming dead center, due south as the sun winked out and the far reaching fingers of death's grip stroked the gooseflesh from beneath my skin. It was cold, the wind howling and the skies a midnight blue as the first of a thousand hailstones pelted my face and hands, the only two body parts I'd not had the luck to get covered before hell started to yank on my chain.

The waves were suddenly six foot if an inch, the screaming motor barely audible above the creaking of straining wood being tossed to and fro by Neptune's hordes. And that's when I heard the trill of violins, wafting loudly from the cabin below. Marie had switched on the boom box and started my specially purchased tape just at the right moment.

As I struggled to keep the 3 ton bobber afloat and my wife and I safe from the iodine and pcb tainted carp that would surely pick at our corpses should we capsize in this "midwester", the wind of the opening bars of Wagner's Ride of the Valkieries oozed from the weathered teak slats that comprised the door to the mate's cabin and porta-potty berth. It was so fucking fun right at that moment I howled my best wolfcall, taunting the Mother to have at me with her best as I was in the zone and likely indestructible at that very moment.

Bum Bun tadadaaaada-Bum tadadaaaada-Bum tadadaaaada-Bum tadadaaaaaaaaa.

God! It was indescribable handling 28 feet of floating hammer in the most wicked of thunderstorms. In 30 years I'd not felt as omnipotent as this; not flying, not climbing, nor sliding a motorcycle down a gravel road toward a 400 foot mountainside cliff's edge brought me the same visceral pleasure as that few minutes of rockin' the boat.

And then it was past, in the same fashion as it had started; calm, warm, sticky and only the ankle deep waters in the cockpit to prove I'd faced Satan and booted his ass back to never never land.

I spose if I were a cliché bitten man I'd say it was a "king-o-the-world" moment. But I never saw Titanic, and besides...that ship sank didn't it? Perhaps they needed a more weathered and fearless Captain. "King-o-the-world" indeed!