My Captain “O,” My Captain

Captain “O,” I owe you an apology.  You’re nowhere near as annoying as the “Talking Box” character in Progressive Insurance commercials.  How would you have fared during the Q & A session, on elementary school career day?  It could have gone, as follows.  

“Are you a real Captain?”

“Why, yes I am–it should be obvious.”

“Is your beard real?” 

“Yes, It happened when I stopped shaving.”

“Are those ropes on your shoulders?”

“Yes, they’re pieces of rope.” 

“A complete rope would be too heavy.”

“I like your hat.”

“Thank you–it’s a Captain’s hat.”

Equilibrium achieved, because answers equaled the questions in annoyance.  Captain “O,” you Sir, are a genius. 

Captain Obvious, thankfully, stayed out of my hair this spring.  He’s been remarkably restrained since his last visit two years ago.  Maybe it’s a new soft-sell for the upcoming vacation season.


A Visit From Captain “O” (And Others Like Him)

I was cleaning winter-killed branches and leaves; enjoying a warm, sunny day in the backyard with my two mutts.  That was, until Captain Obvious came to call.

Captain “O” has become even more obnoxious since becoming a celebrity on television commercials.  I didn’t think that was possible.  He leaned up against a tree, watched me clean and rake the backyard.  On the last trip, he could be silent no longer.

“The reason you have so many leaves and dead branches, is because of the trees,” He observed, stroking his chin.  I wanted to bop him over the head in the worst way; but, refrained–him being a celebrity and all.

“Thanks for the news flash, Genius,”  I muttered under my breath.  “Did you say something, Sir?” The Captain asked.  “No, it wasn’t anything important,” I replied.

I walked back-and-forth, carrying armfuls of branches to a pile near the back fence–careful not to step in random piles of dog droppings.  I hoped Captain “O” wouldn’t notice–but, he did.

“There’s twice the amount of dog excrement in your backyard, because you have two dogs,” Was his burst of brilliance.  Like I would get rid of one of my dogs to cut down on yard mess?  That wasn’t going to happen.

“Well, that’s all for today,” I answered.  “Thanks for stopping by.”  Stay away longer next time–was what I really meant.  I fetched the empty trash bins from the front curb. Lucky for me, the Captain had a sudden boredom attack and left to annoy someone else.

LEGENDS OF CREEPY HOLLOW

painfully-awkward-rob-lowe

According to statistical data, Earl was off the hook–he was from the tenth most obscure state in the nation.  That, in itself, was justification for leaving Christmas lights up year round.

Things hadn’t been the same, since Brother Dudley, down at the church, died.  Earl held on to beliefs; that someday, things would get better–but, they never did.

Heavy dew, dripped in mini-rainstorms, under long-leafed pines. Unfiltered anger came out in waves.

“Sumbitch, I don’t think I’m hip enough for this crowd,” Earl said, as he departed.  “I’m going back to the trailer park–cracking open a six-pack.  If this damned truck don’t start; I’m gonna’ shoot it.”

After the infamous, “Fluffy Buffalo” potato chip kerfuffle, and pinochle debacle at the VFW–Earl’s patience was worn thin.  He’d apologized–wasn’t sure what for.  Somebody else started the whole thing–he got the blame.

So, Hallelujah!  I’m their bum, bum.  What else was new?  It’ll be somebody else, next time.  Wrong place, wrong time–he figured.  When would Fred and crew, forget about the unfortunate event?  It was last October–for Cripe’s sake.

Bob “the biker,” pedaled his way to work.  “Movin’ Mary,” was on her front stoop, talking with neighbor, Marge.  Marge, talked with her hands.  Mary shifted, from one foot, to the other, as she talked; it was quite a picture.

Stan, the resident, recluse–aka, “the talker,” peered out from behind living room curtains, across the street. Could he be missing out on something?

Earl pulled down the visor to block the blinding sun.  Several scratch-off lottery tickets, fell to the floor.  If Earl couldn’t see the sunrise everyday–he may as well have been in jail.  Earl parked, held the storm door with his foot; opened the front door.

He collapsed on the living room sofa–switched on the television. Temptations resumed from the day before.  Earl continued the life, of someone, voted, least unlikely, to succeed.

ROCKIN’ WITH OLD JAKE

fishing 1

I remember this one time, when my best friend Dave and me, drove out to Jake Murphy’s before the sun came up.  Jake’s coon dog’s were raising ten kinds of hell, soon as we drove down the dirt driveway.  “I hope Jake remembered that he promised to go fishing with us this morning,”  Dave said.  “He knows, now,” I answered when the lights came on.

Trust, honesty, and fear, went along with knocking on someone’s door at five in the morning.  Jake answered the door, half-asleep; pulling on his bib overalls.  He didn’t have an undershirt on.  Neither Dave, nor myself, wanted to know, if anything else was missing.  Jake grumbled something unintelligible, stumbled across the porch; sat on the steps; put on socks and shoes.

“Good morning sunshine,” I greeted.  “I knew it was you guys when I seen them headlights,” Jake bristled in defense.  He tossed his fishing gear and cooler in the pickup bed.  Jake’s slouchy railroad conductor’s cap barely covered his wild gray hair.

Jake, secured himself in the window seat, closed the door.  It was a good thing, it was summer, and the truck windows were down.  Because the stench of musk cologne was overpowering.  It almost made up for Jake’s poor hygiene habits.

Junked out lawn mowers, an old wheelbarrow, an old green pickup truck bed–converted into a trailer, and other miscellaneous junk, leaned against Jake’s old garage.  Inside, his trusty Mercury Marquis, sported a crude, hand-brushed, dark blue repaint job.

When he wanted to work, Jake did odd jobs around town.  But, mostly, when he needed more whiskey.  He was a better house painter half-drunk, than most people were, when sober.  Most people avoided him.  They thought he was odd–a little too strange.  He wasn’t “funny strange” or anything like that.  He just wasn’t sociable.

That wasn’t why we invited him to come along.  Jake Murphy was a “fish witcher.”  It was spooky how good he was.  He could read water ripples like pages in a book.  “Throw over yonder–by that stump,”  He’d say.  “There’s a big bass waitin’ to strike.”  And sure enough, he’d be right.

We stayed all day at Jake’s favorite fishing hole.  Caught a few keepers.  The sun went down, day gave way to darkness–cricket chirps, and bellowing bullfrogs.  An ambiance that called for a roaring campfire.  The mosquitoes were hungry–we were too. Jake and I whittled points on sticks to roast hot dogs.

None of us thought to bring hot dog buns.  It was too late to do anything about it–so we did without.  “That’s enough to keep us from starving–I reckon,” Jake said.  “I would sure liked to have had some beans to go with ’em.  I’m going to stay up here for a bit–take a smoke break.  You fellas go ahead and fish some more.”

“I’ll bet Jake eats lots of beans,” I said.  “That’s probably why he farts so much,” Dave joked.  “I’ve heard that he survives on beans and peanut butter.”  Neither of us knew for sure.  On the opposite side of the pond Jake’s cigarette tip glowed bright orange. Campfire light glinted off his raised whiskey bottle.

The catfish didn’t cooperate, we landed a monster snapping turtle, instead.  It was an ugly, moss-covered creature, not one bit happy about being caught by two teenage boys.  “You want to keep it?” I asked, looking over at Dave.  “Naw,” He answered,  “Let’s cut it loose.”

Jake sat in an old rocking chair on the dock–nursed a bottle of “Heaven Hill” bourbon whiskey.  He sang some nondescript  old country song.  The drunker he got–the louder he sang.  It was more like, wailing from tortured souls in hell, than singing. Nobody was around to complain.

None of us knew exactly how it happened.  Jake might have leaned over too far?  In his inebriated state–who could really tell? Somehow, Jake rocked himself off the dock into the water.  He didn’t really holler much–it was more of a moan.

Dave and me jumped in, pulled Jake out–wet overalls and all. Almost drowning sobered him up pretty quick.  He began dancing, jumping, and hollering around the campfire to dry out.  Jake’s “war dance” was hilarious.  Jake laughed, checked his pockets for fish.  What else could he do at that point?

People around town joked about, old Jake rocking off the dock, for a long time after that.  The story got twisted into, “While everybody else was rocking ’round the clock, Old Jake, was rocking off the dock.”  The joke was really on them–because they missed the big dance!  When Jake was drunk, things could get pretty weird.

YOU MAY EXERIENCE SOME DISCOMFORT

dentist

“Hold still–open wider.  You may experience some discomfort.  Raise your hand if the pain becomes unbearable.”  This phrase is used universally, by dentists and doctors, and covers the entire pain spectrum–from little stings to gushing blood.

Last night was stormy, with thunder, lightning, rain and wind.  I was awakened in early morning–around two o’clock.  With insomnia came the specter of brutal honesty.  Too many household tasks remained undone.  I feared my blog was stale–like a fifties sitcom plot.  It reeked of mold, mildew, and smelly gym socks.  If this blog wasn’t here–would anybody care?  My pain was far from unbearable.

If this were a novel or movie, there’d be a turning point.  The main character would have an epiphany.  George Bailey, in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” had his.  Clarence, his guardian angel, came along–all became clear.  Nothing came clear, for me, last night.

Just the opposite happened.  Writer’s block and self-doubt came to stay.  I will attempt to “walk it off” by talking about it.  I’m indebted to the faithful followers of this blog.  They deserve better.  There isn’t a formula to make lightning strike twice.  If there was, I’d reprise Pamela and Alonzo, characters from “Off the Grid.”

Some of my favorite blogs feature recurring characters.  Do you like recurring  blog characters?  Are recurring characters more realistic if portrayed with gut-wrenching agonies?  If that’s true–then Fred Barnes, opinionated, sometimes annoying, Korean War vet with a big heart, and Charles “Skip” Dumas, veteran reporter and columnist for the “Cleveland Daily Times” better beware.  My characters are about to experience some discomfort.

OLD WARRIORS, FARMHOUSES, & SUICIDE TREES

rusty relics

Fred Barnes aspired to fame and fortune, settled for notoriety.  There wasn’t room in Fred’s world for a wife.  Feminine touches around the farmstead were all but gone.  Only overgrown rose bushes, a few daffodils and irises remained.  Locals were wise to his get rich quick schemes.  He was tolerated by most, hated by some.  His forty-acre spread was a testament to failed enterprise.  Chipped paint on the old farmhouse exterior revealed its history.  The deteriorating barn and outbuildings gave shelter to raccoons and owls.  Hay bales faded to silver-gray.  Formerly yellow ears of corn no longer enticed rats.  Outdated farm equipment stood like dinosaur skeletons rusting away.  Small saplings grew through steel spoked wheels.  Fred’s priorities were elsewhere.

The pot-holed gravel lane required considerable skill to navigate.  According to Fred, “His blue Cadillac knew the way home.”  A large diseased silver maple stood in the front yard.  “Fred, when are you going to cut down that old tree in the front yard?”  Asked a neighbor.  “One of these days it’ll blow over on the house.”  “I’m not worried about it,”  Fred answered.  “It still gives me a little bit of shade.”  “I don’t see how it could, there aren’t many limbs left.”  “It’s all right–woodpeckers and squirrels still like it.”  The tree was left alone to die a slow death.  It became Fred’s unofficial “suicide tree.”

The only vacant furniture store in Willow Branch, with its stuccoed concrete walls, was rechristened “Fred’s Bargain Basement.”  “Couldn’t he think up something more original?”  Mabel Richards asked at the grocery store.  “Something like, Your Grandpa’s Mustache.”  “Yes, Mabel I like that.”  “It’s quite clever.” “Fred should have asked us first.”  Answered Doris.  Chuckles subsided, turned to serious matters.  “Look at the price of lettuce?” “Produce gets so expensive in the winter.”  “These tomatoes are hard as rocks.”  “I know, that’s why we put up everything we can from our garden.”  Mabel answered.

There wasn’t a basement anywhere to be found–only an attic.  The newest member of the Willow Branch Merchant’s Association turned out to be the most opinionated and obstinate.  Fred’s diploma from the Carthage School of Auctioneering & Livestock Judging was prominently displayed along with his business license.  An antique ornate brass National cash register was still used daily.  Personal mementos were hidden away in Fred’s office.  An upside down aircraft engine piston served as an ashtray and paperweight.  Fred’s high school football team picture stood propped up on the desk.  His two favorite books, “Robinson Crusoe” and “Oliver Twist,” were within easy reach.  Sometimes, Fred stayed all night at the store.  He had a hot plate and coffee pot–all the comforts of home.

radio

The store was a clearinghouse of new and used furniture, antiques, and military surplus–a virtual cornucopia of hodge-podge.  Boxes of newly acquired merchandise were stacked in the back of the store.  Gene, his part-time employee, did cleaning and stocking.  Looking for an art-deco tube type table radio?  It was there along with cream separators and old horse collars.  An old buggy hung from the ceiling.  Regular posted hours weren’t promised–only suggested.  Fred kept his own schedule.  When the mood struck, he  disappeared for hours.

Genuine antiques were strategically placed with ordinary furniture.  Out-of-towners wouldn’t know the difference.     What made something a valuable antique?  The main criterion was, that it had to be old.  Moth holes and rust added value.  Value existed in the minds of buyers.  Fred had to convince the customer.  Every deal was a big deal.  The latest was always the biggest.  Everything Fred did was a big production.

If Fred feigned hurt feelings, it was an act–using emotion for personal gain.  It was an ongoing process of dehumanization.  …Pretending to be someone’s best buddy…Faking insult while low-balling someone…Whatever it took to close the deal…Congratulating customers on the value and wisdom of their purchases…Cementing the deal with trinkets…This process Fred called, “greasing the wheels of commerce.”  Was he being personable or practicing the art of the deal?  At the top of his game, it was hard to tell.  Audiences were harder and harder to find.  He loved the challenge.  In Fred’s own words, “Any port in a storm.”

“Why can’t people see what’s wrong with our schools?”  “It’s so obvious.”  Fred pontificated from his favorite bar stool.  “What’s that, Fred?”  Asked Stan, bartender and confidant.  “We need to “de-dummify” the educational system.”  “We’re raising a generation of dummies.”  It’s no wonder those Russians got ahead of us and launched the Sputnik.”  “They’re filling kid’s heads up with junk instead of the basics.”  “Kids waste time watching television, reading comic books, listening to rock-and-roll music.”  “I’m with ya’ there, Fred,”  Stan agreed.  “I lay down the law with mine–no television till homework’s done.”

“And the way they dance.”  “They don’t stand close to each other.”  “…Jumping, twisting, and twitching…”  Fred continued.  “Besides that, the Sputnik doesn’t look like anything, but a basketball wrapped in tinfoil–antenna stuck out all over it.”  “I wouldn’t put it past those sneaky Russkies to do something like that.”  “Reading, writing, and arithmetic is all they need to teach.”  “Kids can’t read, can’t make change.”  “They shoulda’ never replaced the old “McGuffey” readers.”

“What about science?”  Came a question from out of the blue.  “What about it?”  Fred retorted.  “…Can’t forget about it…”  “If it weren’t for science, there’d be no polio or smallpox vaccines.”  “Hell, maybe neither one of us would even be here.”  “We woulda’ died from some childhood disease.”  “Well, I suppose,” Fred agreed, reluctantly.  “I don’t believe we’ve met, I’m Fred Barnes.”  “Marty Wingler,” replied the stranger, extending a firm handshake.

tavern

“Marty, no offense to you, I don’t trust hospitals or doctors.”  “Don’t like those open in the back hospital gowns?”  “…Getting poked and prodded…?  Asked Marty.  “No, it’s more than that”  “Doctors and hospitals charge too much money for their services.”  “If you go there, you won’t get out until they find something wrong with you.”  “They’ll run test after test.”  “If you weren’t sick before, when you see the bill with five dollar aspirins, fifty dollar enemas, and all that other stuff added up, then you’re really sick.”

Fred’s mistrust of the Russians was well founded.  He was seriously wounded in the Korean conflict.  Not many people knew about his purple heart.  His war experiences were kept locked away.  Nobody cared about old warriors and forgotten wars.  The Korean War never ended, there’d only been a truce.  Experienced Russian WWII pilots flew MIG 15 fighter jets for the Chinese.  We’d fought the Russians and Chinese during that war along with the North Koreans.  General Douglas MacArthur was the only person with enough guts to stand up to the Communist Chinese.  President Truman relieved him of his duties.  Fred felt betrayed by his own country.  Now, we were fighting the same communists in the Vietnam mess.  It brought back unpleasant memories.  

farmhouse 2

SUNDAY MORNING (At the Midnite Diner)

Sandwiches from last night’s roast
Hot chocolate and well-done toast
Reverential, talk and laughter
This was here and now
Not the Great Hereafter
Some said nary a single word
Some not used to being heard
Some stared at walls and floor
Some waited near the door

______________

Imposters, impersonators
Humanness barely recognized
Bounce back queens and kings
Diner friends, familiar feelings
Fallen stars worked the room
Raw emotion, killed inner gloom
Janitor took a welcomed break
From cleaning, mops, and brooms
Newcomers came, just to stare
Bingers hung over, barely there

__________________

Homeless from nearby park
Sought relief from the dark
Newfound, ill-gotten gain
Killed nothingness, hunger, pain
No one cared, they were all the same
Familiar characters buttoned their coats
Strong backs bent over, saluted the wind

___________________

 Local charlatan, welcomed in
Clever ruses, left outside
Sinners, saints
Self-righteous
Paupers and pawns
Congregation left at dawn
Another Sunday morning
At the Midnite Diner