Monday, February 20, 2017

Unger And His Duststorm Bride

Trouble Brewing

Unger pulled his pocket watch from its home in his coat, glanced at its face, and scowled. "She'll be comin' 'round the mountain, as they say..."

Zachary Goatflirter and Whiskeyblood Willie Sot scoffed in unison. 

Unger looked again at his watch. It read six-forty-two and a half, the same time it had announced for the past four years, since it had been run over by the famed Wabash Cannonball and rendered useless as anything more than a pocket weight. Truthfully, "run over" is misleading. The watch, which had been placed on the tracks by an angry woman who said it was either gonna be Unger's prized possession - or a quick stabbing, had actually shot out from under the leading wheel of the Cannonball and smashed into a telegraph pole. But it looked like the train had run over it, so let's just say it was run over.

"She'll be here," he sighed.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Zachary sneered.

"Her," Unger corrected.



Willie Sot cleared his throat. "Where did you say you met this supposed sweetheart, again?"

"Don't say 'supposed,' you old drunk. It's judgemental," Unger complained.

"How do you figure?"

"It means you think I've invented my dear sweet swain, and that you judge me to be batty."

"Huh. Alright, drop the 'supposed,' then," Willie said. "Where did you and your lovely bride meet? Zach's heard the story, but I haven't."

Unger smiled up at the deepening purple of the Arizona dusk. "It was two years ago - right after Roosevelt's third inauguration. I was walking the Southern Pacific rails southwest of Phoenix, near what's left of  Papago. I'm sure you've heard of Papago. It was the largest city west of Chicago, before the haboob hit..."

Zachary Goatflirter held up a stop-hand. "The what?"

"Haboob," Unger repeated. "You know - dust storm..."

"Gee whiz. Just say 'dust storm,' man," Willie groaned.

"Anyway," Unger continued, "Folks say that dust storms turn day into night, but I'm here to tell you, that ain't so - not at first, anyway. I was mostly looking down as I walked, that day, and the first thing I noticed was the glow. The rails started to glow. I stopped and looked around. Everything was glowing. Damnedest thing I ever saw. The sky - the whole world - was a bright, golden-brown. It was like the sun had been plucked from the sky and replaced by a million electric lights behind a universe-size screen of dirty yellow glass..."

"You talk funny," Old Willie Sot interrupted.

Unger glared at the drunkard for a moment, then continued. "As I was saying, it got super bright for a half-hour, before the glow became something else. It darkened, and it started to have features, like a wall of thick yellow-brown smoke, billowing toward me, across the scrubby hills. I stopped and stared at it and said a prayer, one hundred percent certain that I was about to die..."

"You do talk funny," Zach said, nodding at Willie. "Plus, Papago? Bigger than Los Angeles? San Fran? No way."

"Until the dust storm, I said! Ask anyone! Now let me tell it."

"Oh, for the love of Pete - please continue."

"So I'm standing there like an idiot, gawking at this big ol' fist of a sky, and I look down the tracks to the point where they disappeared into the brown cloud blowing toward me at the speed of hellfire, and she... she just sorta jumped out of the dust and ran toward me..."

"Faster than a dust storm," Zachary said flatly.

"Yes, faster than a dust storm. Shut up! I could tell she was a hobo. She had dungarees and a jacket more torn-up than mine, and a ratty little pack of whatever slung over her shoulder. Her hair was flying like copper-colored flames around her, and she clutched an enormous blanket to her bosom. She reached me a half-second before the dust, unfurled that big ol' blanket, threw it over my head and hers, and tackled me like a Notre Dame linebacker."

"I like this broad," Willie laughed. "Tough one."

"She ain't a broad. She's a woman," Unger growled, looking again at his pocket weigher-downer. "Anyway, we rolled down off the track-bed and into a ditch, and ended up face to face, wrapped up in that blanket. Before it went dark - and boy did it go dark - I saw the face of an angel, and looked into the smiling, starry eyes of true love..."

"That's it," Zachary declared. "I ain't listening to any more of your oddball description. Sand storm. Mystery girl. Blanket. True love. Saved your life. Blah-de-blah. All I know is, you talk funny. Now, Is she comin' or not?"

"She's coming, but you know what? I don't think I want you two bums around when she gets here. You ain't worthy to put your mean, dirty eyes on her perfect face. Now go on - get..."

Zachary Goatflirter put an angry finger in Unger's face. "Watch who you're callin' a bum, mister."

Willie tugged at Zach's coat sleeve. "Lookit - someone's coming up from the gully. Think it's a woman. Say, is that her, Ung?"

Unger fixed his gaze in the direction of Willie's gesturing. "My love," he sighed.

Zachary squinted, struggling to get the woman to come into better focus. Willie did the same. Unger walked toward her, meeting her some thirty feet from where his two fellow hoboes stood staring. Willie and Zachary shared a moment of simultaneous recognition, then alarm.

"Unger!" Willie shouted. "Get back - that ain't no woman..."

Once again - I was prompted! The words du jour at Our Write Side's Two Word Tuesday were "swain" and "sweetheart," and what do you know - I used both!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Battling Joe Frickinfrack And The Art Of Walk On

Look back in wonder...

Today, I completed my 50th circuit around the sun. Fifty times, I've made this 584-million mile trip. 


They say it's not the years; it's the mileage. Yeah, so... that's 29.2 billion miles. I've been around, man - and that's just the miles I've been carried by the earth. Add to that all the endless walking that I've done, and the total is surely hundreds more. Now, although I haven't the energy or the clarity to reflect in any meaningful way on the prospect of turning fifty, I naturally find myself asking questions like "What have I done?" and "How's it going?" 

I've walked. My miles have been aimless. I've gone out of my way to avoid most of life's challenges, and as a result, the rewards I've received have been scant - by society's standards. But it has always been MY walk. MY challenges, or lack thereof. MY rewards. Once or twice, when I walked into utter imbroglio, that too was MINE.

So I'm not going to sit here drinking Cruzan and Coke, watching "Rick and Morty" and waiting for tonight's suddenly-relevant "Saturday Night Live," and waxing nostalgic about where my walk has taken me (or where it hasn't). I'm nostalgic all the time, so turning fifty really is just another birthday. I was pining for 1983 by the end of 1985. I missed the Soviets before the wall came down. I still play Pac Man. My iPod has thousands of songs from the eighties. Wallowing in the past is so much a part of me, it frankly would be more noteworthy to find me not looking back.

That said, there has been an uptick, lately. How could there not? This is the "How's it going?" section, and I'll make it really brief:

All around me, it's going very, very badly. I don't even need to get into the politics of today. Unless you are a billionaire, it's going badly. The global three-ring shit show has only just begun to begin. But that's big picture stuff. How's my walk going? 

Who cares? I'm walking. I've never stopped. Trains come. Paychecks come. Good drinks, good meals, days spent staring at the sea. Little victories and setbacks and blah blah blah. Fifty years' worth have come and gone. I'll say this: I like it, here. I think I'll keep walking.

I have everything I need. 

I walk with [Maris]. 

I also have a bunch of balloons. It's not every day you turn fifty, you know.

This post was prompted by my friends at Our Write Side, who gave us "imbroglio" for this week's Two-word Tuesday feature.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Jack Skunk Fils And The Ghost Of Hope

Yeah, I see you...

"It's too cloudy. I don't think we'd be able to see the dawn, even if there were three suns. I'm going to sleep," Tommy Lice-Comb muttered. "And my scalp itches."

"I think I can see a couple of stars peeking through, over that way," Jack Skunk Fils said, gesturing by way of dipping his right shoulder toward the west, "and of course your scalp itches. You're pretty much just lice, from the neck up."

"You makin' fun of my condition?"

Jack held up a defensive hand. "Now, don't get sore, fella. You know what I mean."

"And you know that lice killed my mother."

"Yes, I know. Everyone's mother was killed by something awful and strange. I'm sorry to know about your mum's passing - and the lice that done it."

"I appreciate that," Tommy said. "Now, tell me again why we had to hoof it all the way to Maine in the middle of winter - no food or jobs or friendly folks in sight for miles?"

Jack Skunk Fils, son of the late, smelly, optimistic hobo Jack Skunk, re-explained his mission. They had made their way as far east as the railroads of America would allow, so that they could resurrect Jack's father's tradition of being the first hoboes to see the dawn of the new year on the morning of January first. Hearing himself recite it aloud, Jack suddenly felt that he'd been rather officious in his insistence that poor Tommy Lice-Comb accompany him, but what was done was done. "Pop died ten years ago tonight," he added. "It's only fitting."

Tommy sighed and poked at their struggling campfire, which had begun to hiss irritably as icy raindrops fell into it. "Your old man sure loved that New Year, new hope jazz. He ever lose that?"

"Nope. The sicker he got, the more broken the world became, the uglier people grew, the more hope he had. It was downright bizarre, to me. Still is, really."

"You don't feel that same hope in the first light, then?" Tommy said.

"Not for years now. I'm just doing it to honor Pop's memory, at this point."

"That's sad, man. Just give it up. Maybe visit his grave once a year, and say a little prayer for him on New Year's - which you can do from, you know, someplace warmer - where the smart hoboes are. Somewhere like Jacksonville, maybe?"

Jack stood up and stomped an angry foot in a ratty shoe. "I am NOT going to spend another night in Florida! Not after what happened in Baldwin!"

"Oh, shut up about Baldwin," Tommy groaned. You know as well as I do that that wasn't a turkey. It was a groundhog, and probably rabid. Those kids did us a favor, stealing it."

"I don't care. It was rude. I'm gonna stop talking for a bit, and just get drunk."

"Good idea," Tommy said. "Me too."

The first of January slogged its way from midnight to one, then to two, skipped three, four and five, and lurched unsoberly toward six-thirty. The rain got bored and wandered northeast from Portland, and ever so grudgingly, the clouds thinned and eventually parted - sliced open by a blade of golden dawn.

Jack Skunk Fils stood and stared, as his traveling companion and only friend, wrapped in an old burlap sack, snored his way toward his traditional New Year's hangover. Jack had expected to feel a renewal of grief, a fresh sense of the loss of his father, ten New Year's sunrises ago. On cue, it washed over him in a cold wave. "I miss you, Pop," he whispered.

Gazing at the first light of 1952, what he hadn't expected was the hope. It felt like a physical presence, as if his father were suddenly standing there next to him, and it made no sense whatsoever. The world was still an alien place to which an old (32 whole years old) hobo could not return. For over a year, trains full of tanks and trucks had been rumbling west to feed the war in Korea. The hobo code was beginning to lose its meaning, and the dwindling population of hoboes was increasingly drunk, lazy, and hostile. Jack had pains a healthy man shouldn't have. Nothing was looking remotely hopeful.

But there it was again, standing with him and imploring him not to give up. Jack marveled at its persistence, its ridiculous resilience. It just didn't know when to quit.

He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and sighed, "Anything is possible, Pop. Anything."

Okay, so this was supposed to be a New Year's post, but the world has really gotten in the way, lately. Then I saw the "Two for Tuesday" prompt (Officious) last week at Our Write Side, and I just had to push on through. Thanks for bearing with me whilst I work thought this bleakness...