Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pride Goeth: The Song Of Jeremiah Tip Top

Jeremiah Tip Top never had much.  As a child in the 1920s, he wore ratty clothes, had about two halfway decent meals a week, and was constantly on the move.  When his traveling salesman father, a single parent, met his untimely demise in the form of an escaped roadside-zoo ocelot, fourteen-year old Jeremiah became a hobo.  He wore ratty clothes, had about two halfway decent meals a week, and was constantly on the move.

He learned quickly the ways of the road, and embraced the life of the transient in search of employment.  After seven years of wandering and working and having nothing, he obtained a single unopened stick of Wrigley's spearmint gum.  That day was the happiest he had ever known.  A hobo with gum and temporarily minty-fresh breath was a rarity in the early 1930s, and Jeremiah's heart swelled with pride, and he chewed his gum with great gusto.

Five years later...

"Jeremiah, for the love of all that's holy,"  Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick snapped, "if you don't stop cracking that damnable gum, I swear I'm gonna--"

"Stab me?" Jeremiah suggested. "Stab me quick?"

"I'll do it, smarty.  You've already had more warning than most.  Just stop."

"I can't help it."

"Yes you can."  Ol' Barb stopped, quickly dragged a tattered sleeve across her sweaty brow, and shook her head at Jeremiah.  "Yes, you have gum.  We're all very impressed.  Chew it quietly, please, or I'll murder you in your sleep, take your stupid old gum, and use it to patch one of the holes in my shoe."

"I believe that you'd kill me without a second thought," Jeremiah said, "but don't you dare take my gum.  Do you have any idea how long I've had this gum?"

"Oh, for Pete's sake - yes!  Everyone you've met in the past five years knows exactly how long you've been chomping on that stuff."

"Five years, two months, sixteen and a half days.  I've never once taken it out of my mouth, since the day I traded all my lint for it," he declared proudly.  He reached down and pulled at his left trouser leg until a gnarly scar on his shin was visible.  "See this?  I got shot for my Wrigley's spearmint!  Every hobo dreams of having a stick of gum.  I didn't give it up, though.  I got away, and just kept chewing..."

Ol' Barb produced a large, dirty hunting knife from somewhere on her person, and brandished it at Jeremiah.

"Okay, okay. I'll chew quietly," he said, backing up a few steps.  "You're just jealous.  Everyone's always been jealous of my gum.  I can't say I blame you.  Chewing gum is what separates us from the animals, you know."

"Do you know what hubris is, Mr. Tip Top?" Barb asked.

"Nope.  Don't need to.  I have gum."

They camped that night in the woods.  Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick did not stab Jeremiah Tip Top, but he did die in his sleep.

He choked on his gum.

Ta-DAH! Two weeks in a row! STUDIO 30-PLUS prompt "Hubris and/or conceit."  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Conclave: The Indictment of Waldorf and Statler

Chairman:  The Council will come to order.  We are here convened this 22nd day of February, in the year of our lord 2015 to indict the accused here before us--

Joe:  Objection!

Chair:  You may not object, sir.  This is not a trial.

Joe:  Then what's this business about indicting us?  Don't you mean something more like, "to consider the indictment of?"  Plus - 2015, I can assure you, is NOT a lord's year.

Chair:  Oh, Mister Scott.  So cute.  Rest assured that by the end of these proceedings, even you would have no choice but to indict you.  And don't mess with "in the year of our lord."  The lord is bigger than the both of us.  Now, sit down.

Joe:  Whoa - what happened to the separation of church and state?

Chair (shaking head, laughing):  Oh, Mister Scott, Mister Scott, Mister Scott.  They were right; you are funny.  

Joe:  Whatever.  I have to admit that it will be nice to finally get to hear the crime of which we are accused.

Chair:  Indicted.

Joe:  Not yet!

Chair:  It's a foregone conclusion.

Joe:  Seriously?

Chair:  Yes.

Joe:  Okay.  To reiterate, and with all due respect to the Council - which is no respect at all - whatever.

Clerk:  You are hearby formally charged with doing it wrong.

Joe:  You spelled hereby wrong.

Clerk:  What?

Joe:  It's spelled h-e-r-e-b-y, not--

Clerk:  Sir, I am speaking.  There is no spelling - right or wrong.

Joe:  It sounded misspelled, to me.

Clerk:  Shut up.

Chair:  Okay, okay.  Order, please.  Let's get this over with.  I have a 1:30 tee time.

Joe:  And I have to meet [Maris] at Dogfish Head while it's still happy hour.

Chair:  Count One.  It has been reported that you and [Maris] - if that is her real name...

Joe:  It's not.

Chair:  Anyway... Count One - you finish each other's sentences.

Joe:  Millions of people do that.

Chair:  You finish each other's weird sentences.  When you first started dating, it was cute.  Almost two decades later, it's annoying.  No one else gets it.

Joe:  Weird?  Weird how?

Vice-Chair:  On December 19th, 2014, speaking about the disastrous roll-out of your employer's new lockbox vendor, you said, "It's not like I was expecting  this process to be all..." and [Maris] immediately said, "rainbow sparkle purple bunny pancakes."

Joe:  Yes.  I remember that.  Friday night.  Shots, chips, salsa, and venting.

Chair:  And you knew what she meant?

Joe:  Of course.  She was finishing my sentence.

Chair:  You were going to say "rainbow sparkle purple bunny pancakes?"

Joe:  How else would I finish that sentence?  I'd say Count One is kind of bogus, sir.

Chair:  Moving on.  Count Two:  Hand-holding, especially in public venues.

Joe:  Seriously?  Hand-holding?  We don't do that.

Vice Chair places a twenty-by-thirty inch mounted print on an exhibit easel:

Busted.  Photo by Mary Wiecek, Joe's favorite sister.

Joe:  You can't prove that's us. 

Chair:  And you do it all the time.  You're both way too old for such displays.  Count Three:  We have obtained the following testimony from a Mr. Godfrey O. Ozzenbarq III - if that is is real name:

"Truth Be Told... you and Curvy Scott do dig each other, do still duck in and talk low and witty and flirty and mocking (who wouldn't mock my hat, wrist-sandals or homemade Raisinets?), and are not in the least sick of each other's clammy lighthouse stink... even after your coastal historical structure search and kinky spike-booted dominatrix submission sessions (by J.Mac) in seedy, "independently operated" Texas and Florida bed bug farms.  We, the other 2 peeps who like each other, We Salute You.  (Cue cannon fire etc.)"

Joe:  It is not real name, and that's not testimony - that's an email!  You hacked my email!  Can you produce a warrant for that invasion of my privacy?


Joe:  I didn't think so.  Maybe you're the one who deserves an indictment.

Vice-Chair:  YOU'RE an indictment!

Chair:  Order!  Order!  One more.  Count Four:  It has been said that you and [Maris] do not work at your marriage.  Marriage is hard work.  There's fighting.  You complain about each other. You argue.  You compromise.  You two, it seems, do none of that.  It's lazy.  It's offensive to the rest of us, out here putting in the work to keep it together, and it's just plain wrong. 

Joe:  I refuse to accept that that is a crime, and I will not apologize for it.  We can't help it.  Life's too short, and we really just don't have the time or patience for all of that.  I am on her side, and she's on mine.

Chair:  Council?  All in favor of indictment?

Council (in unanimous unison):  Aye.

Joe:  Aw, nuts.

It's been a while.  This comes in belated response to the writing prompt Conclave and/or Council, from my writer friends at STUDIO 30 PLUS.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Saving Punxsutawney Pete

This is neither Phil, nor Pete.

On this Groundhog Day, 2015, we are all quite fed-up with Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticating groundhog of seasonal change, who makes his home in Gobbler's Knob and who - let's be honest - wouldn't know his shadow if it reached up and bit him.  He supposedly saw his shadow, this morning, which, according to legend, means six more weeks of winter - as opposed to an early spring.  I won't bother you with the boring fact that winter officially ends seven weeks from now anyway, because the whole exercise is supposed to be fun.  I do have a problem, just on principle, with the fact that it could be pouring rain during a total eclipse of the sun, and that furry little f**ker would still "see" his shadow.  Whatever, Phil. There are 17 more days until the REAL turning point.

This is not a story about Punxsutawney Phil.  This is about his predecessor.  For decades before Phil took over in 1952, the prognosticating job belonged to Punxsutawney Pete.  Obviously, since captive groundhogs typically don't live much longer than ten years or so, there were many Petes.  

Only one, as far as we know, was stolen by a hobo.

It happened on February 2nd, 1936.  The Inner Circle had proclaimed that Pete, having seen his shadow, was predicting six more weeks of what had already been an especially cold, icy winter.  But there was a problem.

Late that morning, Nicknameless Norris Shine, the local hobo, was passing through.  He regularly wandered the rails between Youngstown and Scranton, so to the citizens of Punxsutawney, he was "local."  He helped at the freight depot when he could, and made a point of looking after the youngsters in town, and was treated with much more respect than the average feckless rail-rider of his day.  Norris happened upon the gentlemen of the Inner Circle on the bank of Mahoning Creek Lake, near the east end of the train yard.  They were arguing over the best way to kill their famous groundhog, given the fact that the frozen state of the creek had rendered drowning impossible.

After a heated debate, it was decided that Mayor Aldous D'Zmjcka, since his house was closest, would fetch his rifle.  The rest of the Inner Circle accompanied him, leaving only one man, young Heiko "Bud" Niederlenten, to mind the wood-and-wicker clothes hamper that contained poor Pete.

Nicknameless Norris Shine shambled out of the woods.  "Say, Bud," he called, "what's going on?"

Bud knew Norris.  Everyone did.  They liked him, too.  They just never bothered to give him a nickname.  "Huh?  Oh, hey there, Norris. Don't sweat it, fella. Let's just say it's time for a new Pete. This one's... this one's, uh, maybe a little bit rabid, or something. Gotta put him down. You probably ought to move along."

Norris hated being lied to.  "I heard what the Circle was saying, and the one word I didn't hear was 'rabies.'"

"This don't concern you, man," Bud said. "Suppose you just keep walking, okay?"

Norris shook his head. "You know, if I thought that critter had rabies, or was lame or suffering in the slightest, I'd dispatch him for you and feel fine about it.  But if I heard you fellas right - and I know I did - ol' Pete ain't rabid at all. So if you don't mind, I'll just be relieving you of custody of the little guy." He strode purposefully up to Bud and reached for the hamper.

Bud Niederlenten grabbed Norris' arm. "I can't let you do that, friend. This guy saw a shadow, today..."

"So?  That's his job, ain't it?"

"So... It wasn't his shadow. It was the shadow of some kind of bird."

"Say what?"

"This animal cast some other animal's shadow, and it's got the old-timers in the Circle spooked something awful, so this accursed varmint has to be put down."

Norris snorted. "That has to be the dumbest thing I've ever--" he snatched the hamper from Bud, used it to shove the young man halfway across the frozen creek on his ass, and sprinted off into the woods.  He headed east, but kept to the wooded creekside, knowing the men of the Inner Circle would be all over the train tracks.  He didn't stop until after noon, as he approached the village of Big Run.  

The barking - of men as well as hounds - had faded into the distance. He sat on a dead tree by the creek, opened the hamper, and looked inside.  Punxsutawney Pete glared up at him.

"I don't care what kind of shadow you threw this morning, pal. You don't deserve to die, and you shouldn't have to live in a cage and get hauled by the scruff of your neck out of a sound sleep and held up in front of a bunch of hooting drunks, once a year. You are a smart and handsome fellow, and--"

The groundhog sprang up and bit Nicknameless Norris Shine on the thumb, instantly drawing blood.  "Ow!  Goddammit!" the hobo shrieked.

Pete scampered across the frozen surface of the creek, stopped and stood on his hind feet, and glanced over his shoulder at the human who had freed him. He sniffed twice, then turned and raced to the far bank, and disappeared into a thicket of holly and pine.

Despite the cold, burning pain in his thumb and the knowledge that he would now have to find a new stomping ground, Norris felt good about himself, and about what he had done for Pete.

Almost five weeks later, as central Pennsylvania enjoyed an extremely early, warm spring, the kindly hobo with no nickname died of rabies, in a barn on the outskirts of Wilkes-Barre.

This bit of drivel was prompted by - guess who - my friends at STUDIO 30-PLUS, who this week gave us FECKLESS.  Hoboes... Groundhogs... feckless...  It practically wrote itself!