Thursday, December 31, 2015

Waiting For Buck Mope, or Jack Skunk's Last New Year

Remember Jack Skunk and Jack Skunk Fils, his son? And remember their New Year's tradition? I think it was something about how the father-son hobo duo made their way as far east as possible every December 31st, so that they could be the first to see the dawn of the new year. We last witnessed this feat as 1931 became 1932. Jack Skunk was twenty-seven, and his son was all of about twelve. 

Fast-forward ten years. Jack Skunk Fils, after missing two New Year's Eve celebrations with his father, has joined him at the muddy edge of the San Sabastian River in St. Augustine, Florida. They're camped beneath a few scruffy trees, wedged between Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway and North Ponce de Leon Boulevard. Jack Senior's old friend Goofus is there, and is a welcome addition to the evening, as it appears that Jack and Jack Jr. have little to say to one another. We're not sure why.

"Take it easy on that wine, young man," Goofus said to Jack Jr.. "You don't want to pass out before the sun comes back."

Jack Jr. snorted. "Yeah, yeah. I know what I'm doing, old-timer - but do you really think it's fair to call this hooch 'wine?'"

"Oh, it's wine, alright," growled Jack Sr. as he dropped a freshly-gathered pile of sticks next to the fire. "You gonna do anything tonight besides complain, son?"

"Probably not, Pop." The younger Jack watched as his father bent over to poke at the fire for a moment, before groaning through the obviously laborious task of returning his body to an upright position. The old man was a couple of years shy of forty, but he looked twice that.

Goofus watched as Jack Jr. watched his father. He nodded sympathetically, and his customary jocular demeanor burned off like a morning fog in time-lapse. "Yep," he said softly, "yep."

"What's goin' on, Pop?" Jack Jr. asked. "Is it your back?"

Jack Sr. coughed out a dry laugh. "It's my everything. Say, Goofus - my cup is empty. Help me out, here."

Goofus obliged. "You see why we had to come to Florida for this New Year's, kid? Your old man never would have made it to the coast, up north."

Jack Jr. stared at his prematurely ancient father as if seeing him as he actually was for the very first time. "So, what is this - you're dying? What are we doing out here with the bugs and the damned gators and who knows what else? You need a doctor!"

"Let's change the subject," Goofus suggested. "I had the most glorious dream, this morning."

"Aw, nuts to your glorious dreams, you screwball!" Jack Sr. barked. "Let's list our resolutions. I want to be done before Buck Mope gets here."

Goofus gave an exasperated shrug to Jack Jr., as if to say "do you see what I have to put up with?" He cleared his throat demonstrably. "I resolve to get cleaned up and join the army," he declared. "Also, Buck Mope is a fictitious hobo who is not coming, tonight or ever."

Jack Sr. choked on his hobo wine (it was closer to a paint thinner than an actual beverage, but it did its job and seemed to take great pride in it). "You're fifty! I don't care how many Japs there are - Uncle Sam doesn't need fifty-year old infantrymen. And Buck is real, and he'll be here - you'll see!"

"I'm fifty-three, Jack. I'm not talking about fighting - much as I'd like to, after what they did to our boys in Hawaii. I think I could be a hell of a trainer."

"You couldn't train a monkey," Jack Sr. laughed. "Leave the war to the young men. That's how we win."

"That's how we lose another generation of men," Jack Jr. muttered.

"It's how we win, son."

"Anyway," Jr. said, "What makes you think Buck Mope would want to watch the first sunrise of 1942 with us? I mean - he's sorta famous, ain't he? He saved all those fellas from the Hindenburg."

"He gave his word," Goofus said. "He'll be here. So, you got any resolutions this year, kid?"

"You know it," Junior said. "As always, I resolve to survive."

"Ugh!" groaned Jack Sr..

"And I resolve to finish my hieroglyphic novel, scrawled in creosote on bridges, sheds, and telegraph poles from coast to coast. I think people are going to like--"

"That reminds me," Goofus interrupted, "I also resolve to write down all my best jokes and magic tricks, and find a worthy heir teach them to."

"What about you, Pop? Are you going to make yet another New Year's resolution to get cleaned up, find a job and rejoin society? Again? For the umpteenth year in a row?"

"Don't be smart, Junior. And as a matter of fact, I have a new resolution. I resolve to enjoy the hell out of this sunrise, and to relish the next breath."

Goofus and Jack Jr. looked at each other, then at Jack Sr.. "That's it?" they chorused.

"That's it. Sunrise. Next breath. Done. Look fellas - speak of the devil..."

"Buck Mope?" Goofus looked around excitedly - or perhaps in mock excitement. "Where?"

"No, you dolt. The sun. Ol' Buck Mope's gonna be sorry to have missed this. Look..."

Jack Jr. moved to his father's side and put a steadying arm around him. 1942 was dawning, and he recognized the magic in that first light. "It's nice, Pop. Real nice."

Jack Skunk raised his chin, as if sniffing at the glow rising in the southeast, over the river. He smiled the smile of the fully contented, then sat on the ground, leaned back against a tree trunk, closed his eyes, and thoroughly enjoyed his next - and final - breath.

Buck Mope arrived two hours later, with new hats for everyone. He was indeed sorry, but then, goodbyes never were his thing.


Happy New Year to you all, and don't forget to check out some of my friends at Studio 30 Plus, who prompted us this week with "jocular."



  1. Replies
    1. Heh heh heh... Aren't they all? :)

  2. I've actually never thought about it, but St. Augustine is a doable road trip for me. I need to make this trek some year. I do love a good sunrise. (minus the paint-thinner wine, of course.)

    1. It's a cool old town. Avoid the touristy spots (ahem - Fountain of Youth), and it's nice. History and architecture and a great lighthouse, train tracks, beach, river... I recommend it! Probably no hoboes, though.