Monday, May 12, 2014

The Not At All Surprising Outcome of Booper O'Montauk's Loan Application

Arthur Higgins Moneybottom III
Loan Officer
4th Bank of Sand Patch Grade
Cumberland, Maryland

October 5th, 1937

Booper O'Montauk
The Woods
Near the Catoctin Tunnel, Maryland

Dear Mr. O'Montauk,

     I regret to inform you that this institution has denied your application for a loan in the amount of $125.  There are two reasons for this decision.

First, I must emphasize that neither your business plan nor your proposed product are to blame.  On the contrary, we have no doubt that the public would be willing to buy your "Fluff of Happiness."  However, the product sample which you provided was determined to be nothing more than ordinary pocket lint, albeit a very large and especially fluffy specimen.  It did not bring happiness to any of the bankers who handled it.  In fact, despite your claim that it would "stay happy, even when wet" proved untrue, as the fluff was found to rapidly dissolve when exposed to rain.  In time, with the proper improvements, your invention may yet be a successful product.  

However, I find some fault with your motives.  I appreciate that the untimely loss of your parents - one to a sink hole in the park, and the other to a brain injury resulting from the attack of an especially territorial and aggressive starling - must have been devastatingly traumatic for you.  

I am moved by your story of woe, of toil and travel along the hard road of the hobo, of shoeless winters and shadeless summers.
Further, I know all too well how consuming an unrequited love can be.  This young woman you describe so glowingly in your loan application is, as you pointed out, betrothed to a man of considerable means, a man beloved by all who know him, by all accounts, a good man.  So your plan to prove your worth, to outshine him by working harder, by bringing your "Fluff of Happiness" to the world, thereby stealing the attention and affections of his fiancée is, at best, misguided.  I cannot grant a loan in support of such an endeavor.

I do wish you the best of luck, young man.


A.H. Moneybottom III

Another doubly-prompted post (triply-prompted, if you count the hobo name itself)!  This one combines the Studio 30 Plus prompt, "Fluff of Happiness," from The Innerzone's post BOYS with the Light and Shade Challenge prompt "Sometimes glass glitters more than diamonds because it has more to prove," a Terry Pratchett quote.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Recalibration of Billy Creak Knees

Train Robbery - Cumberland, MD. 
Photo by Joe Scott

Some of the tales I heard from old Buck Mope were a bit on the tall side.  Others were utterly ridiculous.  The story of Billy Creak Knees was neither of those things, but it is still one of my favorites.

Born in Philadelphia in 1899, Heiko William Bowie was the only child of Cassandra and Günter Bowie.  His father was a master tailor from Germany, and his English mother kept the books.  Early on, he had designs on a career in law.  He was the first in his family to finish high school, but his parents' pride turned quickly to heartbreak, when at age 17 he enlisted in the Army and was hastily deployed to the front lines of the Great War in France.

He did what most boys did, over there.  He witnessed hell.  Unlike nine of ten guys in his unit, he survived.  He was shot - twice - but spent only a few days in a field hospital before being hurled back in the direction of the enemy.  When he returned home in early 1918, it was immediately evident to his parents and friends that there would be no college, no law degree, no life of security and professional achievement.  His achievement was that he had survived the bullets and shrapnel of the war, but at an incalculable cost.

He drank, he whored, he fought, he even found his way into an opium den, once.  He got arrested.  Soon, he withdrew completely into his post-traumatic private hell.  They called it shell shock, and that was as good a name as any for what was going on in young H. William's brain.

One late-winter morning, a dissatisfied customer strangled his father to death with a tape measure, and bludgeoned his mother with an adding machine, when she tried to intervene.  She clung to life in a coma for a week before succumbing.  William had held it together for his father's funeral, but the thought of seeing his mother buried overwhelmed him, and he ran.

His first year as a hobo was much like his time in the trenches of France, in that he just barely managed to survive it.  He acquired the moniker Billy Creak Knees, although he was so immersed in his pain and hopelessness that he didn't learn it until years later.  In those early, lonely days on the rails, his despair kept potential hobo friends at bay.  On three separate occasions, he stood in the middle of the trackbed before an oncoming train, and three times he leaped to safety at the last conceivable instant.  He didn't much care to be alive, but he did not want to be hit by a train, either.

"Can't say for sure what pulled Billy Creak Knees from that black pit," Buck Mope told me, shaking his head.  "Some say it was the sight of those trains, coming for to pulverize his mortal body.  I heard it might have been breakin' up that Western Maryland robbery that turned his life around.  Silver Jacket Man said he found God.  Could be, could be.  But me - I think he just woke up one day.  Smelled the air, heard the birds, all that.  Did the math and saw alive greater than dead.  Who knows?  But turn he did."

Billy Creak Knees became what was known as an expert hobo.  He could start a fire in seconds, cook anything into an edible entreé, avoid cops and dogs, rather than engage them, and talk strangers into hiring him for a wide variety of day jobs.  He scrawled hieroglyphic poetry on bridges, sheds, and boxcars, inspiring his brethren to hold their heads high, live with honor, work hard, and survive. 

I asked Buck how Billy met his end.  I was used to hearing about the wretched fates of so many of his hobo acquaintances, but this time, I was simultaneously disappointed and relieved.

"Billy Creak Knees - far as I know, he still alive," Buck shrugged.  "Must be about a hundred-eight, now.  All I know for sure is he learned to love the road, and mentored every reckless young 'bo he could find.  Heard a rumor back in the seventies - they said he was working for Amtrak, tellin' stories for tourists.  Don't matter to me.  He survived.  He found hope where there was none.  That's what he did."

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Poisoned Sleep

"Honestly, Tucker - another Mountain Dew?  You'll be up all night,"  Dia scolded.

"That's the idea, Dee.  I'm not getting along with sleep, right now."  Tucker checked his monitor, touched a key, and for the three hundred and fifteenth time in the past six hours, professionally greeted another pissed-off customer of the Flagship family of insurance companies.  Above him, ancient fluorescent bulbs flickered, buzzed, and bleached away his belief in anything good in the universe.

Dia logged out of the queue and waited for her friend to finish his call.  "You have to sleep.  You can't just not sleep.  It's bad for you."

"I hate sleep - that's all.  Besides, what's it to you?"

"Hey - we've been friends for three years.  I'm concerned," Dia said.  "Talk to me."

"Ugh.  Fine.  It's simple, Dee.  I keep having this dream..."

"That's it?  A dream?  Is it a nightmare?"  Dia teased.  "Do you wake up screaming?"

"It's not a nightmare.  Never mind.  We'd better take some calls, or Cina The Warrior Princess will write us up again."

"In a second.  First, what kind of dream is it?  Is it a sex dream?  Is it a stress dream.  Are there ninjas, all quick and lethal and whatnot?"

"No sex, and no ninjas.  What is it with you and ninjas, anyway?"

"I don't know - I just think they're sexy.  But this is not about me.  Talk!"

Tucker sighed heavily.  "The dream is always the same.  I'm at some beach, painting watercolors of seagulls and lighthouses and sunsets - and they're really good.  I have a bottle of wine, and there's a girl there.  Please don't be offended, but sometimes it's you."

"That's sweet.  I'm not offended - at least, not yet..."

"It doesn't get offensive or anything," Tucker continued.  "It's just peaceful.  I can smell the ocean, feel sand between my toes.  It's like I belong there.  It envelopes me.  The call center doesn't exist.  There is no queue, no call count, average call time, no resolution scores - none of this shit.  It's not that I've left it; none of it even exists.  I don't live in that ridiculous little dump of an apartment.  I never get to see where I live, though."

"Well, that sucks.  What happens?"

"I walk back to my car - some old convertible, like a Mustang or something - and I open the door, sit down, and just bathe in contentment for a few minutes."

"Yeah?  Then what?"

Tucker sighed and looked around.  "Nothing.  I wake up."

Dia stifled a chuckle.  "You wake up."

"Yes.  I wake up - in this life.  That apartment, this job, these callers, this life."

"Ah.  I see.  It is a bit bleak, isn't it?  I guess seeing what you see while you sleep, and then waking to this, over and over, would get pretty old."

"It does."  Tucker nodded.

Somewhere deep inside Dia, a tiny, smoking ember began to grow.  "Maybe we just need to wake up somewhere else."



Greetings, friends!  This week, for the first time, I used TWO prompts in one piece.  I couldn't resist putting "QUICK AND LETHAL" from Studio 30 Plus member Tara's LIGHTNING FLASH into a short conversation inspired by "A DREAM HAS POWER TO POISON SLEEP," from the good people at LIGHT AND SHADE CHALLENGE.  I hit their word count limit (500) with great precision.  The same cannot be said for my going 350 words over on the S30P prompt.  I hope they forgive me.