OCTOBER 5th, 1957
by tom lyford
In PJ’s we pad over the dewy grass in the
October-cool dusk and mount the old
’48 Plymouth, lying like a cold black boulder
under the studded nightvelvet sky
(me on the roof— lying on my back)
And we are early so it’s like the drive-in movie
almost dark enough for the horns to start honking…
only we’re not out here for a comedy or cowboy
flick but something dark, something sci-fi, something
because nothing save the Aurora Borealis,
the random meteor, or the occasional
prop-driven airliner’s blinking beacon
ever moves up there in my nightsky…
and so we fidget
waiting on that corner of heaven we’ve been
warned to watch, whispering in hushed reverence…
consulting the big radium-dial pocket watch…
when suddenly: there it is! there!
right there! see it!?
The first untwinkling ‘star’ ever
to swim right through the big dipper,
crawling its geometrically-precise straight line
and clocking a faster transit of the firmament
than a four-engine TWA…
stunned with awe, we quietly mouth the holy word
“Sputnik!”and perhaps feel the mild jolt as our life
and our world, mine and America’s, banks left
to dive down into still one more
alternate & parallel universe
where education will be
radically different now
will be possible
BORN TO LOSE
You could usually be found in your
steel-toed engineer boots, fearing no
evil down in the valley of the shadows
beneath the marquee’s dying red neon
reflecting off the bumper-hubcap chrome
of someone’s low-slung Merc’ with the
windows cracked and The Crystals
belting out your personal soundtrack…
He’s a rebel and he’ll never be…any good…
You, manning the night, our graveyard-shift
sidewalk-superintendent, the grim midnight-
crossing-guard… our small-town cross
between James Dean and Brando with
a little James Coburn sprinkled around
that toothpick or Camel poking out
the corner of your rugged mug
and ‘BORN TO LOSE’ tattooed blue
like a bruise on the back of your wrist…
and we half-pint, shrimp-boat, wannabe
street-urchins hanging pilot-fish close
when the bullies were putting the pressure on…
because belying all that bad-asss badness
was a scarred, tarnished-white knight willing
(for some reason) to champion the justice of
us little guys and underdogs looking
up to you through your crummy self-esteem
and wishing that we too, like you,
could be born to lose…
Tales of Trickery, (Early Morning, November 1st, 1959)
(the morning after Halloween)
Behold this carnage— the battle must have raged fierce,
the air thick with exploding water-balloonery and raw
launched-egg artillery (the storefronts and telephone poles
still bearing the tell-tale powder burns of dried splatters)
and pumpkins cannonballing out of the midnight sky to
pummel the pavement pulp-slick and slimey, littering
the streets with the shards of skulls eviscerated and oozing
their brains, that pithy orange, seedy syrup gore
congealing now, coagulating,
Look here: a vacant triangular eye socket, cock-eyed and
flickerless now, gaping blind up from from the asphalt…
And over here in the ditch: its leering, gap-toothed jawbone
now a shriveled rind, but…
Looming in the morning mist in the middle of Merrick Square,
like some Trojan horse left by the recently departed forces of
occupation, sits the trophy: the annual, uprooted outhouse
(a two-holer deluxe this time) ripped from its roots, liberated
from the tyranny of its native soil (the captured flag) flaunted
as a dire warning for those who, next year, might still dare
to withhold the precious spoils
demanded in the soap-scrawled
war-cry painted across every
store front window:
Trick or treat!
The first of the fifties, boy, we had it rough
you’d never’ve made it—hell, you’d lack the stuff!
You believe you’re sufficiently physically fit…
that emotionally, spiritually, you’ve got the grit
to have survived all the rigors the fifties afforded?
A Darwin Award is what you’d be awarded!
Imagine a world where there aren’t any malls!
(I know it—a horrid idea that appalls!)
No place to hang out on a weekend all day
(and be free from the rain wind or snow, by the way).
Uptown or down, all the shops were spread out
so to “shop till you drop” meant a mile walkabout.
The specialized stores sold just tools… or just shoes…
Imagine yousinging those No-Walmart Blues?
There were no Golden Arches, not one fast-food joint,
so a quest for fast burgers? You’d think, What’s the point?
No Kentucky fried drive-throughs, no styrofoam plate.
In your restaurant booth you’d learn to patiently wait.
ONE TV per household—and it’s black and white
just one channel broadcast, and only at night
no color, no cable, just 10-inch-wide screens
meek violence, no r-rated nudity scenes
and no household then owned a single remote
your family’d crowd ‘round as if in a lifeboat
packed in like sardines round that TV you’d sit
like cave people ‘witched by the night-fire pit…
Most radios back then were dishwasher-size,
polished oak chassis—a sight for sore eyes!
And most of the smaller were crafted in wood
and weighed twenty pounds or more, solid and good.
It wasn’t some boom box to shoulder downtown.
Plugged-in. In the parlor. Sundown to sundown.
Inside, huge vacuum tubes, oven-red-hot
explains the grand size of the models we got.
Took 55 seconds to warm up! And so
you had to learn patience: the sound came up slow.
Oldies were all that the radio’d play
(‘course they were top forty new tunes of the day).
Oh, one feature (lacking) you’d surely condemn
fm was unheard of: you just got am
so lightning from any storm counties away
interrupted, with static, the radio-play.
One punch-bowl-sized speaker— no stereo then:
just static-y “hi-fi” is what we tuned in.
Not a single computer in anyone’s home.
You’d suffer No Chat Room No E-mail Syndrome!
No passwords, dot.coms, no website user names!
No .mp3 downloads, no videogames!
No printers, no scanners: you haven’t a clue,
So you must be like: What the hell they all do?
Well you’d better sit down: this might make you cringe.
On puzzles and board games and cards we might binge
Monopoply, Scrabble, and Cribbage, Go Fish
Freeze Tag and Hide-‘n-Go-Seek, if you wish
You top guns of that hi-tech video game?
We cool pinball wizards had our halls of fame.
Unpleasant details? Getting weak in the knees?
Thought life in the fifties would just be a breeze?
Most cars big as boxcars derailed from the track
Unwieldy, cumbersome—most of them black
Like a buffalo herd when left parking in lots
Their big steering wheels could “hold course” for large yachts!
Their back seats so roomy you could dribble a ball
and transport the ball team, its mascot, and all
With something called suicide doors, with the knack
of ejecting your passengers out of the back—
a phenomenon back then primarily dealt
by the absence in cars of a single seatbelt.
The world was a hazardous threat to one’s health;
on highways and sidewalks you’d venture with stealth.
Though there were no signs warning “Tygers be here,”
dogs free-roamed in “wolf-packs” inspiring fear
(when there are no leash laws to curb your wild curs
a hound of the baskerville lifestyle occurs).
A ride on your bike was a roll of the dice:
would your leg become clamped in those jaws-like-a-vise?
You’d be hounded and hunted and hamstrung again
by some psychotic Lassie or crazed Rin Tin Tin.
My town was patrolled by these Great Danes and Pugs
and Airedales and Boxers— all of them thugs.
You’d have scars on your ankles or forearms or butts
if you lived (and survived) the harassment of mutts
And if dogs didn’t getcha, you’d be gotten at school;
the discipline policies you won’t find “cool”:
corporal punishment! physical force?
Being pinned ‘gainst a locker? A matter of course.
And before you blurt, “They’d never do that to me!”
Keep in mind: with these rules did our parents agree--
Keep in mind that the principal stood 6 foot 2
A shaven gorilla procured from the zoo.
Male teachers? Drill sergeants, wrestlers, ex-cons!
And the ladies were ex-prison camp commandants.
They’d threaten you, traumatize, torture, and scheme--
No one gave a rat’s ass then for your “self- esteem.”
But I’m wasting my breath and I’m wasting your time.
I could go on and continue this rhyme
But you’re rolling your eyes, and your sneer is so smug
And you fidget and shuffle, impatiently shrug
you see this old man stand before you and rant
(and to say something you want to hear, well I can’t).
So: long story short—I’ll sum up and be brief
Here it is, my advice, my sincerest belief:
If ever a Time Machine’s left in your yard
With the key in the blinking ignition: try hard
To ignore it ! Just say NO to travel in time!
If you must, though, go forward! It would be a crime
to go back to the fifties, to rewind the clocks
like in Back to the Future, with Michael J. Fox
when you’re so ill-prepared when that going gets tough…
I am finished…
I’ve said quite enough.
WHEELS by Tom Lyford 08/2011
Johhny and the Hurricanes’ neon pennywhistle pile driving
“Red River Rock” into the electric dark, pumping it through the
trundling thunder of a thousand fiberglass wheels grinding like
sea-polished stones beneath this regatta of seniors and sophomores
and seventh-graders in plaid skirts and Madras shirts, in shorts
and skorts and pink pedal-pushers whisking past the concession…
the prom king and queen, the Sandra Dee and James Dean wannabe,
and all the rest of us lonely wallflower don’t-wannabes, wafting up
a tailwind, our wakes musked in coconut oil Coppertone, Off, and
Right Guard… gusting little sea breezes stiff enough to feather bangs
or flutter cowlicks… all of us being swept downstream and away to
the pavilion’s far end and back again, carried on a rip tide wheeling us
round and round, the white skates, the black skates, the expensive and
the hand-me-down skates, and the hundred scuffed, over-the-counter
rentals freshly fumigated in anti-foot-fungals; all the summer-sun-
bronzed limbs coming and going, going and coming, and all of
us handsome and beautiful… tonight being everyone’s personal
teen-dream summer movie starring the little, lonely-hunter hearts
pinned to our sleeves, and each of us with the finger-crossed prayer
for that big Happy Ending when the final credits start to roll…
Thunder Road -1958
“Let me tell the story... I can tell it all
about the mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol…”
A twelve year old Walter Mitty, I got 'older'
after Thunder Road left me and the movie
theater in its black and white dust…
hung up my Neverneverland shadow in the
closet and began getting in touch with the
darker side of getaway-car noir...
resigning myself to a future of rum-running
Kentucky moonshine over moonlit mountain roads,
outrunning the revenuers and rival bootleggers…
“His daddy made the whiskey... the son, he drove the load... and
when his engine roared they called the highway THUNDER ROAD!”
well… somebody had to
drive the load... might
as well've been me...
And in the bathroom mirror, honing my best “Bob
Mitchum,” practicing the sleepy bar-room eyes, trying
to will the cleft of his jaw into my own undimpled chin
talking tough with the wooden match
dangling— the playful 'Pall Mall'
glued to a wry grimace:
“A man has a right to do anything, including making
whiskey as long as he does it on his own land”…
I logged hours as Mitchum's 'Lucas Doolin,'
languishing behind the big wheel of that black
derelict rusting out in the field behind the barn
witch grass growing up between the manifold
and floorboards, exuding its mild halitosis of
mold, mildew, iron oxide, and the sun-rot of
flat-tire rubber,... just a long-forgotten,
walk-in bank vault of car dreams
and captured time…
right hand on the wheel, left elbow propped out
the window, me elevated on a stack of sofa
pillows gone a.w.o.l. from the living room--
and in the rearview mirror, me
entertaining the question:
who would get me first...
the Law, or the Devil? And having seen
the movie twice, well... the Devil
was just a matter of time.
“And it was moonshine, moonshine, to quench the devil’s thirst
the Law they swore they’d get him but the Devil got him first!”
Me... goin’ out with that ol’ Hollywood
crash and burn down at the bottom
of the mountain gorge!
Mister Lucas Doolin because…
When my engine roared they
called the highway THUNDER ROAD!
from Chapter One...Lanpher’s Rexall is our local ‘watering-hole,’ the after-school ‘saloon’ for the Academy and junior high kids. After the long day’s ride in the classroom saddle, a kid can belly up to the bar and while away his hour or so till supper time here nursing a lemon-, cherry-, or vanilla-Coke while studying himself in the bar mirror. And there’s the juke box ready to fill in as his personal soundtrack, whenever someone’s lucky enough to have a quarter to spare.
The soda jerks are the bevy of housewives and moms who, for some reason, seem to take a motherly interest in our tiny soap opera lives, plus (the biggest reason we guys hang out here) a couple of hot, part-time ‘teen angels’ from the high school. Being God’s gift to an otherwise bored world, we good ol’ boys must ‘entertain’ our hosts with the witticisms picked up from older brothers.
“So …” she continues, “will you be wanting some dessert, after all this?”
I look left and right, surveying my potential audience. The high-schoolers have pretty much cleared out. They get uncontested first counter rights after school lets out (us half pints, lest we want to get ‘de-pantsed’ or something worse, know better than to try to grab a stool in that rowdy crowd). OK, so there are a couple of dumb girls down at the far end who look like they could stand to be impressed, so I call, “Make it a zombie, Beryl.”
This elicits a delightful “Eee-YUCK!” and “Gross!” from my intended targets. Cool!
Beryl obediently retreats to the long row of spigots with a clean glass in hand.
“Make that two,” says my little shadow.
Actually, I’ve been known to gag on a zombie or two in my time, a concoction fine-tuned by generations of boys requesting random ingredients in the quest for the ultimate girl-gross-out beverage. A phosphate conglomeration of malted milk and every flavored syrup known to man (orange, strawberry, lemon, lime, vanilla, Coke, root beer, cherry, ginger ale, and sarsaparilla), it is secretly believed, in the underground urban legend kind of way, that something tasting this bad almost definitely hasto get you at least a little drunk.
My real drink of choice is the ever-popular root beer fuzzy. Fuzzies come in the frosted, crystal-clear steins, and sport huge heads of foam like real beer. It’s velvet ambrosia of root beer, vanilla, and phosphate—a delight on my taste buds. But when you’re out on the town with the boys and having the what’s-your-poison discussion, ‘fuzzy’ doesn’t really have a manly ring. My regular, though, is the lemon-Coke when I’m with the guys. Girls invariably drink cherry-Cokes.
“Sorry,” Beryl apologizes, nudging a frosted tumbler of khaki murk toward me, “but only the pine tree floats are on the house this afternoon.”
“Not a problem!” My hand gropes down into my pocket to ferret out the thin dime I’m praying hasn’t bailed through the little hole down there that Mom never gets around to darning. “Plenty more where that came from,” I lie, slapping it on the counter as my cuz spills his load of pennies and pocket-lint all over the Formica.
As Beryl mixes his, I leer straight down the counter at the girls. Glass hoisted in a mock toast, I cry, “Bottoms up!” Then, tilting my head back, I perform the ritual chugging.
A difficult balancing act… appearing ‘debonair’ (got that word from the movies) while guzzling something that makes Pepto-Bismol appealing. But I manage seven or eight controlled swallows before my autonomic nervous system sets off the inner alarm that threatens to drop-kick me right into Regurgitation Mode. Slamming the glass down hard on the counter, I convulse with a couple of involuntary lurches like the python trying to disgorge the half-digested rabbit. This, followed by a series of desperate swallowings while my nostrils flame with the volcanic backlash of carbonated lava. A twin discharge trickles over my upper lip while a violent shudder wracks my body once… twice… nearly dislodging me from the barstool…
“Ya got post-nasal drip,” titters my cousin.
I just sit there, motionless and dazed… taking an internal inventory. The climax arrives in the form of a four-second-long, mirror-rattling, bullfrog belch!
“Eeee-YEW!” and “Ohmygod… you are so… disgusting!” comes from the other end of the counter.
Beryl places my sidekick’s drink in front of him, sweeps his damp, sprayed pennies into her palm, does the cash register thing, and washes her hands in the sink. Thoroughly. Bringing a wet dishrag back with her, she mops up the rest of the toxic spill along with any flotsam it might contain, and even dabs the chrome surface of the napkin dispenser. “Napkins are right here, Tommy,” she says in her patient, motherly voice. “Would you like me to wipe your nose, or would you prefer to do that?”
I glower, and pluck out a hank. She returns to the sink to re-wash her hands, while I buff my upper lip dry and, once again, shoot a leer down toward the girls… but they’re hunched with heads together, sharing some gossip or other and already oblivious to me, if you can believe that.
My cousin struggles to get down a sip or two of the poison du jour. The odds are pretty good he’ll give up on it before long. It’s hard to believe the kid’s even related to me.
To kill time, I launch into a spin on my rotatable counter stool… Oops!
Apparently some tall kid I’d failed to notice come in (probably a high schooler) has claimed the seat to my left, and my knees just bumped him in the hip! “Sorry,” I apologize, braking myself to an abrupt standstill by clutching the counter edge…
“Watch it, squirt,” he warns.
“Sor-reee…” I repeat in a whisper. I don’t want to make any waves.
He snorts at my limp apology, and sneers down upon my half-full glass. “What… lose your appetite, didja?”
“No, I… Uhmmm… I’m…just waitin’ for my friend here to catch up, is all…”
“Sure you are, shrimp boy, sure you are.”
I resent this implication that I don’t have the ‘stuff’ to down the drink in a single gulp. So I bring the glass to my mouth and… stare down into the sickening sludge. I’m thinking about going for it. I really am. It’s just that I don’t quite have the stomach for it, not yet.
So I install my lips onto the cold rim, tip the glass back, and take a pretty good pretend swig. Even mere lip-contact, however, rocks another involuntary shudder through my frame. Sporting a fresh zombie moustache, I drop the glass back onto the countertop and produce a long, satisfied, Hollywood “Ahhhh!”
“You could really use some acting lessons, know why?” says my new acquaintance. “‘Cause you stink at it.”
I glare into my drink, not wanting to catch sight of my suddenly pathetic reflection in the bar mirror… or especially the other end of the counter because, oh yeah… now, no doubt, you just know the girls’ll be eyeballing me! Time grinds down to a halt, like it always does when you’re humiliated. Suddenly, though, I’m startled by a rock-hard click click click on the counter top. I glance up.
My new nemesis here is tapping a quarter on the Formica… as if sending an urgent Morse code message, or something. Then again… click click click! “Beryl!” he calls. She looks up from the dishtowel in her hand. “Whattaya say? Hit me with a Hot Shot!”
Sudddenly, I’m thinking, whoa… a ‘Hot Shot’…? What the heck’s a ‘Hot Shot’?
Patiently appraising him with her saintly smile, Beryl dries her hands. “Oh no,” she clucks, the mother hen who knows what best for her chick and must gently dissuade him from a rash and irresponsible choice, “You don’t want one of those…”
He holds the quarter up like a playing card. “But I do though.”
OK now, see, here’s the thing. I practically live at Lanpher’s. So I know all the ins and outs … know even the unwritten menu backwards and forwards. This conversation is making no sense at all because there is no ‘Hot Shot.’ If there were, then I could tell you all about it.
Not only has he asked for an unknown entity… but she seems to know what he was talking about. So naturally, my ears have pricked right up.
“No,” she says, shaking her head in a kindly, agreeable fashion. “You don’t.”
What is going on here?
Here he does something really cool. He lays the quarter down on the counter, and just stares at it for a moment. Then he places the tip of his index finger on it, dead center, and looks up at her, silent, like he’s James Dean or something. Then he begins inching it forward like a poker chip…
“Like I said, one Hot Shot.”
Oh man,see, that’s how I should’ve paid for my zombie. My index finger twitches as I imagine sliding that imaginary dime…
“Please don’t ask me to do that, Jimmy. I don’t think you …”
“C’mon, Beryl. I got things to do… places to go…”
“But after a Hot Shot, you won’t be able to remember what those are.”
She’s smiling, but with an uncomfortable worry. He’s looking at her. She’s looking back at him. It’s a standoff. What the blazes…? Finally, though, she blinks. “I’m against this,” she says.
“Save it, Beryl.” He picks up his quarter and holds it out to her at arm’s length. “Customer wants ta buy a drink…”
“Well… all right then.” Resigned, she takes his money. “I wish we’d never started this, though…” She rings it up at the register.
In spite of my recent put-down, I’m intrigued. Guys like me are always on the lookout for tips on being cool. Learning the moves is everything. We get a lot of it from the Cary Grants and Clark Gables on the silver screen. Once in a lifetime do we get a real live model.
Suddenly I’m an apprentice in training.
She steps over to the high shelves to the right of the big mirror, looks up, selects an object, returns, and clunks a little glass-stoppered vial down onto the counter. An inch of a perfectly clear liquid languishes in the bottom. What the…? Could be water. Could be white vinegar.
It clinks when she uncorks it. “It’s not too late,” she advises. He just shrugs that off. So with a sigh and a shake of her head, she produces a long-handled ice-cream-soda spoon from under the counter and just stands there, head tilted in a silent, questioning pose.
He nods: proceed. Man, am I glad I’d decided to come in here this afternoon!
Carefully then, lest she spill any, she collects a few droplets in the spoon. Hah, I laugh to myself, looking at the glass of swill that was filled to the brim for my gagging performance. I mean, come on… less than a teaspoonful? This guy’s not so tough.
But I’m flummoxed. What is it…? What’s it taste like…? I’m getting thirsty…
“Last chance…” she offers with empathy.
“Down the hatch,” he giggles. “But oh, wait a minute!” Here, he looks her in the eye, draws in one long, deep breath, and then holds it for about ten seconds. This guy’s really something. He blows it out hard and says, “Now!”
I’ve never seen a kid his age get spoon-fed like he’s some big, bibbed baby in a highchair. Hunched forward on his stool, eyes all closed and mouth parted like someone receiving a Communion wafer and me, taking notes in my head, and chewing on just how long it’s going to take me to dig up my own twenty-five cents… and what the best day might be for me to do this, someday when I could drum up a suitable audience…
But boy, will my twerpy little pals drop dead with envy, or what!
The spoon’s scoop trundles in between his teeth, and his lips close upon the handle. He swallows. The spoon withdraws, empty. I lean back away from him, the better to frame his reaction. Still, he and Beryl are locked in eye contact, when…
Wham! A violent spasm snaps him like a wet towel in the locker room! He goes rigid! Then his head starts cranking around, machine-like, back and forth, left, right, left… slowly at first, then faster and faster, and a rising, low-pitched siren is moaning out of his open-mouthed skull, growing louder by the second, approaching air-raid warning proportions—I picture fighter pilots scrambling their jets on the tarmac. But at the same time my Hollywood brain is also thinking, Look out… here comes Mr. Hyde!
Beryl shoves a clinking water-and-ice-cubes glass toward him. “Here!” she says, and he tears it right out of her mitts, cracks the rim of it off his front teeth, upends it ice and all down his funneled mouth. The siren extinguished, he freezes once again for a moment, seeming to stare off at some ‘vision’ over Beryl’s shoulder…
…and then he’s back to thrashing his head back and forth, his jowls rattling with ice. It’s incredible! And I have a ringside seat! “More ice!” he commands, the surgeon demanding a scalpel. Beryl, ever the obedient nurse, wheels away at once to retrieve. But then his head jerks around and his wild eyes settle upon… me…
“The hell you lookin’ at?” he snaps.
“Errr…” I don’t know what to say. Hey, I’m just the innocent spectator here…
“WHOA!” He spasms, nearly jumping me off my stool.
He’s staring wide-eyed now, as if he’s just experienced some unbelievable, world-philosophy-shattering epiphany, and then his gaze goes flitting up and down the counter as if searching out a pencil to scribble it all down before he forgets it and oh, he’s blowing rhythmically now. His eyes lock on my zombie all of a sudden and “WHOA!” he cries with another jolt, as if his previous unbelievable epiphany has just been replaced by an even more incredible one! He swipes the glass out from under my nose, dramatically throws his head back, and chugs like a sump pump!
Time to move down a few stools, I think to myself.
Nurse Beryl is here again, offering the refill of ice and water but, with a vehement head shake, he declines. He seems to be meditating on the last remaining swallow, which he is now squishing around the inside of his mouth like mouthwash. “This… works… better,” he growls in a lower octave, wildly scanning the counter once again.
Then suddenly, he’s digging down deep into his pants’ pockets… he slams comb, book of matches, small jackknife, and a handful of change onto the counter. Rifling through the coins, he plucks out a couple of dimes—one he plants on the counter before me, the other he pushes over in front of my cousin. Then, with a shudder, he swallows, cocks his head as if in deep thought… clenches some decision apparently, snatches up my cousin’s glass, knocks it back, and slams it back on the counter, half-empty… “Jeez! Taste like crap! But they work!”
Then, glaring down into my cousin’s sheep eyes, he growls, “Doin’ you a favor, kid.” He takes a cautious sip then, and sluices it around inside his mouth. “But man, this is makin’ me sick.”
“I tried to tell you,” Beryl offers.
“Listen, Beryl,” he says, yanking a pack of Kools out of his shirt pocket. Hmm... He smokes… “You’re the official witness. All right?” His breathing is labored. “You saw me do it. So you tell ‘em… OK?”
“Of course I will, Jimmy. Oh, you needn’t worry about that. I’m sure they’ll…”
“I’ve got a little something riding on this, if you know what I mean.” He plugs a cigarette in between his lips. “But they’ll believe you, Beryl. You’re honest, and everybody knows it.” He folds the cover-flap back on the matchbook, rips off a match, and brushes it across the abrasive strip. It flares. “I mean, you say I did it…? Then OK! I did it!” He lights the Kool, takes a deep drag, and chases that down with another swallow of zombie.
“Oh, you did it all right.” Beryl pushes the nearest counter ashtray over in front of him. “Despite my misgivings.”
“Yich!” he says, and takes another hit off the smoke. “Man! That ol’ Hot Shot!” He’s grinning a very grim grin. “It just… keeps right on a-burning, don’t it! Thank God for menthols! By God! Whew! OK, then…”
He taps off a fleck of ash from the tip of his cancer stick, downs most of the rest of my cousin’s grog, and shivers hard. “Gotta get me some fresh air…” he says, and with that breaks for the door, puffing up a storm.
Leaving me with much to think about…
OK, I already have ten cents in hand. Somehow I need to scrape up the other fifteen… but hey, that’s what returnable bottles are lying in ditches for, isn’t it? But I’ll need to get it by Thursday night, won’t I. ‘Cause I just remembered Thursday night is Boy Scout night over at The Hall, just across the street from here, and there’ll be plenty of my buddies comin’ in to wait for their moms to pick them up and take them home, like me.
The perfect audience. It’ll be great!
~ ~ ~ Thursday (at last!) ~ ~ ~
FIRE AND ICE
(with apologies to Robert Frost)
No, it wasn’t as big, say as carnival trucks
pulling into the fairgrounds with tents and
tilt-a-whirls to erect, but this was at the end
of cold dead December— not August— and
therefore all the more crucial when the
Riverside Texaco pick-up would first trundle out
onto the cove (on ice at last officially sanctioned “safe
enough”) and begin off-loading six-warm-months’ worth
of discarded tires and then dousing the black pyramid
with kerosene… meaning that when the sun went down,
that ol’ bonfire black-magic would draw in those
pretty-in-pink, varsity crowd, glamour girls in their new,
white Christmas-present skates (even a few with their
mittens tucked all warm-snuggly into the sleeves of
one of those white-fur muffs you never see any more
except on the old Currier and Ives Christmas cards…
and me a shabby small-fry costumed up as some
Charles Dickens’ waif in overlarge hand-me-downs…
red-and-black flannels and wools, and those black
second-hand hockey skates… yeah, me, looping round
about the flames and the beauties like some dark little
bat, imagining in my Hollywood heart: I’m some
silver-skated Hans Brinker: Look at me! Check
me out! Skating backwards over here!
Until the excruciating pain of frostbitten toes
cinched tourniquet-tight in socks soaked in
melting ice water over the passing hours left me
in utter defeat… to limp lamely homeward from
the arena... largely undiscovered… as always…
MAMA SAID, MAMA SAID
Mama said, Whatever you do, just stay away
from the river… so I became Tom Sawyer
and made the Piscataquis my Mississippi
where we'd fish from small boulders and
fall in every day, trying to float that old
door as a raft poled by broomsticks, just like
Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen in the movie
Davy Crockett and the River Pirates— and
we'd haunt the old off-limits Indian cave
where some kid fell off a ledge and died
the year before, us believing we'd find
arrowheads and maybe his ghost, but
finding only graffiti… and after watching
Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner rappel
down those sheer rock faces in The Mountain,
we scurried over to Nat's dad's garage for a coil
of rope, climbed up on the river's highest ledge,
and tied one end ’round a tree trunk… me going
first ’cause the squeaky wheel gets the grease…
only smoking rope-burns blistered my palms
and the fall to that rock-bottomed river bed
practically fractured my kneecaps… but I had
to keep all that secret because Mama said,
Whatever you do, just stay away
from the river…
THIS IS IT--