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Kicking the Tires

15 Jun

 

Kicking the Tires

By L. Stewart Marsden

My dad was an auto mechanic for years. On the weekends he and me used to work on an old jalopy he bought for practically nothing. Said it was his therapy. Well he musta had a severe case of the crazies on account he worked on that car till the day he died.

Sally, he called her. And she was the jumpin’ off point for many a life lesson I never forgot.

“Sally is just like a woman,” he said a lot. “She may be old, and may not work the way she did when she rolled off the assembly line, but she’s reliable and fixable. Not like the shiny new cars you see in the dealerships. No. And she wasn’t made for the smooth life of the highway, but the bumpy backroads.

“Once she’s back in shape, she’ll purr like a kitten and be the envy of every guy within three counties.

“Not like those fancy-finned gals with all kinds of gadgets. The ones what seems great the first time you take ‘em on the road, only to fall apart after not too long. The ones with built-in ob-so-lescence. Cosmetic crates, I call ‘em. Lemons with a fancy paint job.”

My dad’s ability to hone in on Sally as a universal roadmap to life was better than a lecture from a triple-PhD at some high-powered college or university. According to my dad, those guys had nothing but wind chimes for brains, which tinkled loudly whenever a fresh wind blew.

But Sally was the real thing. The true compass. From sex to marriage to being dependable and trustworthy as a worker. She was the rusted splotch-polished real McCoy example of how life should be, and once was.

“The thing about marriage is you are drawn by the sleek sexiness of a sedan or a convertible under the lights on the car lot. Never buy a new car at night, by the way.

“Oh, the shine and the new vinyl smell and the reflections of city lights as you cruise the boulevard make you think you’re in heaven! The AM/FM works just fine, and the steering is tight. The big rubber whitewalls grip the road on every turn, and you only have to tap your breaks to slow or stop on a dime. The clutch is taut, and the gears slide like butter from first to third.

“And there ain’t no crusted-over milkshake spills on the floorboard. The cigarette lighter is virginal, and the ashtray slick and clean. The visors hold where you place them, and the rear view mirror ain’t spotted.

“And it’s just fine as it can be, you say to yourself.

“But you worry. About the first bug marks on the silver bumper that won’t scrub off. Or a ding on the side where some jack-ass parked too close and swung open his door. Or the temperature gauge light popping on suddenly when you are miles from a filling station.

“That first slow leak from a nail in the road. Is that person going to stop at the light or not?

“It’s all a worrisome time.

“Plus your car needs the high-priced gas, not the cheapest leaded fuel, although you are tempted to ask the attendant to use regular instead, knowing your baby will eventually chug and shudder on the road –– right when you’re trying to pass a semi on a two-lane county back road with oncoming traffic.

“And you begin to try to save in other ways, avoiding the manufacturer plugs and points and air filters for the cheaper no-name brands. Less expensive motor oil. Maybe you don’t change the radiator fluid for a while. You quit hand-washing and waxing and zip through the new automats.

“Then it’s not too long before you hear the door hinges and springs creak loudly, and there is a crusted-over milkshake spill or two on the floorboard. The vinyl smell is gone. The cigarette lighter has turned gray-white on the coils, and the ashtray is dusted over and no longer shiny. Rust spots dot the bumpers and other chrome trim. And when you idle at a light, blue-gray puffs of lead-filled exhaust spew from your loud muffler.

“And you think to yourself, ‘It’s time for a trade in.’”

Don’t get me wrong. Dad loved Mom. And he always treated her like the fine Cadillac convertible he saw her to be.

But he was at his happiest when he worked on Sally. And he whistled. And he compared life to his life-long restoration project.

He and Mom stayed married sixty-seven years.

“Don’t ever forget, Son. You gotta kick a few tires to find the right one. And never –– ever –– buy a new car at night.”

Words to live by.

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God’s Farm … A Story. Five.

3 May

 

 

 

God’s Farm … A Story

Five.

Chandler pickup up Billy for the meeting. Along the way they caught up. They had once lived next door to each other, and were like Yin and Yang as friends. Chandler was more athletic — always the aspiring quarterback type; Billy was less agile, bulkier, and more the grind-it-out lineman type. Chandler loved the beach — Holden and Ocean Isle. Billy, some lake in upper New York where the swimsuits were skimpy.

Even though Chandler’s parents were from Minnesota, he was a Dixie boy in the sense everything he saw on TV, like The Rebel and The Gray Ghost, which romanticized the South and vilified the North and the Yankees. He made no connection at the time with the horrors of slavery.

Billy’s father traced their lineage back to William Tecumseh Sherman. Chandler bit his lip whenever his friend brought that up. And he kept mum that his own father alleged their heritage traced back to Ulysses S. Grant. The alcoholic president. A Yankee.

But they were pals despite the differences, and it felt good to Chandler to reconnect. Billy understood Chandler’s need to do something. He had also mildly protested on the campus of Guilford College in Greensboro, where he was a freshman. He had repeated a year at Randolph Macon Military Academy prep school, otherwise he and Chandler were the same age.

“So what’s your plan?” asked Billy.

“I don’t really have one. Figured we’d go to the meeting and see what’s going on. You remember Alice Price?”

“Not really. A vague memory at best.”

“Her dad’s church bought the house I used to live in before I moved next door to you.”

“Yeah? She a babe?”

“Not that I can remember. Studied a lot. Wore glasses.”

“Oh. About my speed, then.”

Chandler laughed as they pulled into a space in the St. Mary’s Episcopal parking lot, and wandered about the church until finally being directed to the sanctuary. The meeting was already in progress. As they entered and the doors closed with a loud click, all eyes momentarily turned toward the duo. Chandler and Billy quickly found seats and the meeting continued.

“I will need to know by Monday who can commit to the trip. We will either provide the church van for transportation, or if there is overwhelming response, which I truly hope there is, we will charter a bus and there will be a charge for that, which would be more than the expense of the van, of course.”

A slim blonde, wearing thin-rimmed glasses, addressed a handful of people seated in the pews in front of her. Chandler recognized her to be Ann Price. Other than her living in his old house and the time he showed up on the doorstep of the Colonial residence to see “the old place,” he had not had much contact with her. During junior high he had never considered her or regarded her to be more than a studious and dutiful preacher’s kid. He was a bit surprised at her organized and officious manners, though she was still a bit stiff, he thought. He didn’t recognize any of the people gathered.

Off to the right, somewhat isolated from the main grouping of people, sat a balding man, dressed in shirt and tie. He was flanked by kids Chandler judged to be about his age, or perhaps younger, and dressed in a way he knew they were not from Emerywood. A teenage girl with long blonde hair, a skinny curly redhead, a black kid with an Afro and another burly kid with bushy hair comprised the band of obvious tagalongs.

Chandler raised his hand.

“A question? Oh, hi, Chandler!” Price recognized him. He stood nervously.

“Hi, Ann. What’s the purpose?”

She smiled patiently. “The purpose of what?”

“Of going to Washington. I know I came in late, and maybe you already covered that.”

Obviously a little irked at the interruption, Price gathered her thoughts.

“It is to demand that our government address several very important issues. Being there in person will help to flesh out the reality to our elected officials that we cannot as a nation continue along this path.”

“Which path?”

“You don’t know? Where’ve you been? The path to peace in Vietnam! The path to peace in the rights of black Americans! The equalization of women to men in terms of opportunity!”

Ah, he thought. The very triumvirate he had highlighted in his Shakespeare final exam.

“And you expect the politicians in Washington to even listen, much less respond?” Chandler’s father had at least taught him that politicians were in it for themselves. Less government the better. His dad’s favorite quote was Mark Twain’s: Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason. He had struck a chord with Price, who was now more than a bit flustered.

“Do you have a better way? I mean by going to Washington at least the media will cover it. What bright plan do you have?”

“Well, it strikes me that you can’t have peace in the world, or peace in the country, until you have peace in the community.”

An uncomfortable pause filled the sanctuary.

He continued. “Look, I watched the protests on my campus this year. What has changed? We’re still in ‘Nam. Whites and blacks are still alienated. And the only thing the bra burning did was to pollute the air — which seems a bit ironic if you ask me.”

“Nobody asked,” Price said louder than she meant.

“Spend your energy organizing efforts to bridge these gaps here in High Point.”

“And how do you propose we do that?”

“I don’t know! I’m new to this.”

“Obviously. Well, Chandler, I’m sure we all appreciate your thoughts and wisdom on the matter, but the fact is, we are going to Washington. We don’t have the time nor do we have the inclination to sidetrack from our original goal, which is, to go to Washington. Other than going to Washington, we will not be getting involved locally.”

Each time she said “going to” or “to go to” Price slowed down and enunciated the words, so that Chandler might understand that Washington was the intent. Chandler sat down, effectively put down.

In his defense, Billy stood and said a few choice words in the direction of Price that were more than angry, then sat, satisfied he had at least exercised his coveted right to express his opinion.

“Well!” she responded uncomfortably, “If there is no more discussion,” where she paused, and there were no other hands raised, “get back to me ASAP regarding your plans to go to Washington’ — (again with exaggerated emphasis) — and we will see you soon!”

Before Chandler could get to her to apologize for his disrupting the meeting, Price disappeared among the group that milled about her, perhaps to protect her, he thought. He and Billy stood and shrugged at each other as the balding man and his motley entourage approached. The man stuck out his hand to Chandler.

“I’m Tom Kirby,” he said, and Chandler shook his hand.

“Chandler. Chandler Wilson. This is my friend Billy.”

“Hello, Billy.” The man shook Billy’s hand.

“Hi.”

“Chandler, what you had to say today is very interesting to me. Ever hear of the Kum Ba Ya?”

“I know the song.”

“I’m the director. We have an outreach ministry to the community that normally no one cares about. Kind of like what you were talking about in the meeting. We’re down on Greene in a warehouse the city lets us use. Think you can drop by some time? I’d like to talk to you about your ideas and where you’re coming from.”

“Sure.”

Kirby handed Chandler a business card.

“Give me a call soon and we’ll set up a time, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“What about you, Billy? Interested?”

“Nah, not really. I’m here for moral support. I’m the kind of guy who would go to Washington to listen to the music.”

“At least you’re honest. Which is a rarity in Washington, by the way. See you guys.”

Kirby passed by and out of the church with his band of follows. The blonde girl had the redhead boy by the arm and was whispering nonstop in his ear. The redhead laughed out loud and turned back to look at Chandler, then winked and laughed again.

Later Chandler found out what the girl had said to the redhead that made him laugh.

“That’s the guy I’m going to marry!”

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God’s Farm … A Story. Four.

27 Apr

 

God’s Farm … A Story.

Four.

 

Chandler hoped his confession would go much better than he could imagined. It always had in the past. This was not the first talk he and his father had had.

The earliest he could remember was when he was a child, and the family lived in a large two-story brick home on the sloping side of Colonial Drive. He could not remember what he had done, but it was the final straw for his mother, who had uttered the dreadful decree, “Wait till your father gets home.”

He figured she said that because, with him, her next disciplinary step would have been murder. Scoldings, spanking the hand, then the bottom, and finally whipping bare legs with a switch torn from the bumblebee bush outside the kitchen door comprised her repertoire of behavior modification. Plus, there were three of us, my two older sisters and younger brother, although Daniel was only a toddler.

He sat in the sun room “to think about his sins.” He didn’t really know what a sin was, except it must be bad, because the word echoed about the huge stone sanctuary from Dr. Watt’s on Sundays.

His friend who lived next door, and whose family was Baptist, said a sin was a kind of fish. He thought that because once he had looked in the baptismal pool where peoples’ sins were washed away, and noticed what he thought were fish in the water. It later turned out it was algae, and after several years of baptisms, people began coming out of the water only to develop severe skin rashes. The pool was finally drained of the sins, refilled and chlorinated against further sin infections.

Chandler and his family were Presbyterian, and members weren’t dunked, but sprinkled. If you were sprinkled as an infant, the baptism “stuck” for the rest of your life. There was no danger, therefore, of getting infected by sin, because you weren’t put in the font, and Dr. Watts towelled your head off afterwards. Chandler figured the worst that could happen to you was maybe head lice.

So he waited for his dad to come home, and when he heard the loud roar of the Corvette pull into the drive, began to get nervous.

“He’s in the sunroom thinking about his sins,” he heard his mother say when his dad walked through the front door. No hug or kiss. Just, he’s your problem now.

Chandler loved the way his dad smelled. It was a mixture of cigar and aftershave. So he had mixed feelings when the door opened to the sunroom, and his dad peeked in.

“Maybe we ought to do this in my office,” he said, lips pursed.

The office. Chandler had been to the office of the principal on his very first day as a first grader. He and his older sister Leigh (who should have known better) were late walking to school, and crossed the final street without the help of a crosswalk patrol guard, a Sixth grader with a white safety patrol belt strapped about his torso.

“Hey, you two! C’mere!” And they were hauled off to the principal’s office, whimpering along the way. He discovered that the rumors Dr. Dingman kept a large paddle hung on the wall next to his desk were true. Also true was the lettering on the paddle: Board of Education.

Chandler’s dad closed the door to his office and pointed to a chair, where the young boy sat obediently. He asked the offense Chandler had committed.

Chandler told him.

“Are you sorry you did it?”

Yes.

“Will you ever do it again?”

No.

Now for the punishment. Chandler sat up straight, prepared to take it like a man.

“When I smack my hands together, I want you to yell and scream, okay?”

Wha –– ? Okay!

“Do you think you can make some tears?”

Think so.

His dad slapped his hands together, and Chandler wailed loudly. This went on for about thirty seconds, and his dad stopped, then opened his arms to Chandler, who hugged his hero for several precious minutes, really crying now.

Chandler’s dad was an only child. His father had died in the Great Flu Epidemic of 1916. At the time they lived in Luverne, Minnesota, near the southwest corner of the state. His dad’s father contracted the flu in October, and his condition worsened as he did not respond to treatment. Actually, he did respond, because the treatment killed him. It was believed that fresh air was part of the cure for the flu, and the windows of the bedroom his father lay ill in were kept wide open. He died in November of pneumonia, brought on by the flu and exacerbated by the freezing Minnesota “fresh air.”

Chandler’s grandmother, Bapa, was pregnant with his dad at the time, and moved in with Great Aunt Vi, the matriarch of the Wilson family, a widower whose husband had owned the town bank. She inherited the deeds and titles of nearly all the farmers in Rock County, and was more than glad to raise Charles Chandler as her own –– conditionally, of course. Bapa was a school teacher at her husband’s death, and Great Aunt Vi secured her pledge not to remarry. The payoff? Charles C. Wilson, II would become her sole heir to a considerable estate.

As a result Chandler’s dad was reared (the correct term, his grandmother insisted. You raise chickens and cows, you rear children) by his mother and great aunt. There was no male present in his life at the time –– other than his friends.

He had no idea how to rear a son. And, as his nature was in the more lenient direction, he abhorred the thought of striking any of his children, and all were coddled by him, much to his wife’s consternation.

Chandler uncapped a green bottle of Coke, and pried the top off a can of Charles’ Chips to eat as he awaited his father’s return home from work. He had avoided any conversation about his impending confession to his mom, murmuring things like “fine,” and “okay drive” and “I’m bushed” to her questions. He had already dumped his duffle crammed with dirty clothes in the laundry room, and Virgie Mae was busy starting loads of laundry.

He heard the garage door below open automatically as his father pulled into the driveway in the Stingray. He heard it close. He heard his father’s heavy steps on the wooden stairway thumping up to the main floor of the house. His father was whistling Oklahoma, one of his favorite musicals. When he came through the door at the top of the steps, he saw his son sitting with the can of potato chips in his lap.

“Cee-Cee!”

Chandler put the chips and Coke down and stood.

“Hi, Dad!”

“God it’s great to have you home! How long did the drive take?”

No matter where they went, family always greeted each other with an accounting of how long it took to get wherever, like the beach.

“Took me three and a half hours.”

“Not bad! Not bad at all!”

“Dad, I need to talk to you about something.”

“Can it wait till after dinner? Haven’t hugged your mom and I’m starved! Where’s Daniel?”

“Next door I guess at the Lynch’s.”

“Can I fix you a G and T? I mean, you are a college man, right?”

“Sure, Dad. That’d be great.”

Which was the way it went for two days –– his dad putting off the talk because of this or that, which was perfectly fine with Chandler. He began to think he might be able to get away without any kind of confession until his grades arrived in the mail. But even then, since he was expecting the grades and knew when the postman came by, he could intercept them. Perhaps it would be better for all concerned if his kept this bit of news from his parents for a few years –– say ten or twenty. Then he could bring it up in a laughing manner, as if looking back into the past at everything he had done they didn’t know about.

“What you don’t know can’t hurt me,” he thought, realizing that was not exactly the way the phrase went.

On the third day, he opened the High Point Enterprise, and drifted through the various sections. World News, local news, sports news, social news, and finally, community news.

A photo of a girl he knew was featured, with the headline, Price Organizes Local Group For Peace March on Washington. Alice Price! Her father was a minister, and the church he was pastor of had bought the two-story brick Wilson home on Colonial years before.

“This is fate!” A box at the end of the article gave the day, time and location of the organizational meeting. He tore the item from the paper, folded it, and put it into his billfold, then walked quickly to the phone and dialed.

“Is Billy there? Hey, Billy, what are you doing this coming Thursday afternoon? There’s a meeting about organizing a group from here to attend the Washington peace rally this summer. Want to go?”

He and Billy chatted a bit, then Chandler hung up. He was psyched! He was going to actually do something to make up for all of his sins.

“This calls for a beer!” And opened the refrigerator.

 

 

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God’s Farm … A Story. Three. Point. Five.

25 Apr

 

 

God’s Farm … A Story.

Three.Point.Five

Chandler jammed on the breaks, at the same time shoving in the clutch and downshifting to 2nd gear when he saw the bright red brake lights suddenly appear in the fog. The Firebird skidded slightly to the right towards the curve rail on the road, but he managed to bring the car to a stop before hitting it.

“Damn!” he said, holding his arms locked straight, close enough to the back of the semi trailer to read the mud flaps.

He had driven nearly ten miles without being in conscious control, lost in his memories and worries.

A hand appeared out of the driver’s side of the semi with thumbs up, either in a gesture meaning either “you need to drive stock cars,” or, “I’m okay –– you okay?”

Chandler flashed his lights “I’m okay,” and the truck continued forward slowly, navigating around a large boulder that had apparently fallen into the road and come to a rest in their southbound lane.

Both vehicles crept forward, emergency lights now flashing. Chandler hoped the truck driver radioed the nearest highway patrol station about the rock, otherwise some other fool might come speeding down the grade and not be so lucky.

Highway 52 was the best –– meaning quickest –– route to and from Blacksburg, and Chandler had driven it dozens of times in the past. He had no memory of passing through what he called The Slaloms –– a stretch of the steep two lane road that swooped down in hairpin curves just below Galax.

“Damn!” he repeated, and turned on the car radio, forgetting he would find nothing clear where he was in the mountains. Still shaking, he flipped off the radio  and reached an eight track tape of Crosby, Stills and Nash, shoving it into the tape player mounted under his glove compartment.

Our house
Is a very very very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy ‘cause of you …

He and Teri had sung the lines at the top of their lungs not over a year ago. Sound turned up and windows rolled down; the wind in their faces and their hands tightly gripped on the console –– everything was easy ‘cause of her.

O wha tafoo liam.

They met on a blind date. He was home for spring break from Woodberry Forest where he was a junior. His childhood friend Judy Sloan had arranged the date, and she paired up with Sandy Lyle, Chandler’s best friend from school.

They went to see the movie In Cold Blood in Greensboro. Teri, who reminded Chandler of Sophia Loren, gripped his hand during the entirety of the film. Later, on the drive back to High Point, he and Teri snuggled and kissed in the back seat while Sandy chauffeured and chatted with Judy.

Teri Carson was his first love. While there were problems to overcome if the relationship was to grow, their love could handle anything.

He lived in the posh section of High Point, called Emerywood. She did not. He lived in a huge home with air conditioning and a two car garage. She did not. His father was a successful businessman making lots of money –– enough to send him off to private school where public school integration would not be a problem. Her father was an upholsterer for a small shop that renovated cars. Her mother sewed handbags in the basement of their small two-bedroom house using the vinyl fabric from discarded end rolls from her friends who worked in upholstery businesses and grabbed remnants for her at the end of the day.

Teri was, his father had hoped, a passing fancy.

But Chandler was slain by her. Smitten far worse than he had ever been smiled before, he liked to tell her. He even invited her to the Senior Formal at Woodberry that next fall. Woodberry Forest was and remains an elite prep school in the southern drawl area of Virginia, replete with acres of wandering rural grounds, the best education afforded south of the Mason Dixon, and steeped in a tradition of Southern aristocracy.

When the seriousness of the relationship became obvious to his mother, she nudged her husband to “do something about it.”

Chandler’s father invited Teri and him out to dinner on the occasion of her 18th birthday.

“We’ll go to the Plantation Supper Club,” he said.

Located on the edge of Jamestown between High Point and Greensboro, the club offered good food and dancing to live music. Not exactly a club per se, it was still somewhat exclusive, and offered brown bagging –– a requisite for success in the city limits of Jamestown, which had not yet voted in liquor by the drink.

On Sundays, the club served a ridiculous buffet, with meats and fish and all sorts of upper end dishes and desserts. Sundays were Family Day. Years earlier Chandler remembered that children were invited by the band leader to come up and direct the band in order to earn a huge, multi-colored lollipop –– one as big as a dinner plate. Chandler and his older sisters were prompted by their parents to go up, and Carrie and Leigh took turns swishing the baton in the air while the band played a popular tune to a beat not even close to their arm waving.

At Chandler’s turn, he asked if he could sing a song instead of leading the band.

“What song do you want to sing?”

Jesus Loves Me.

The diners and the band leader laughed.

“Well, that’s fine with me. Do you boys know the song?” He was pretty sure it was not in their repertoire of favorite music. They grinned back at the leader.

“Okay, then. Jesus Loves Me it is. Hold this mike close to your lips, son –– and sing away!”

The diners laughed again.

Chandler began softly.

“Jesus loves me, this I know …”

His mother often recalled the moment that this sweet little angel of a voice began, a bit nervous at first, but in perfect pitch.

“For the Bible tells me so …”

The band, still trying to figure out the tune in the background, was hushed to silence by the band leader, and Chandler continued a cappella.

“Little ones to him belong,
They are weak and he is strong …”

Then the diners began to sing along, like a congregation at church in accompaniment to a church soloist on the chorus.

“Yes, Je-sus loves me …
“Yes, Je-sus loves me …
“Yes, Je-sus loves me …
“The Bible tells me so.”

Chandler’s dad said you could have heard a pin drop, and Chandler’s grandmother, who was with them, pulled out a handkerchief to dry her eyes.

Grabbing the lollipop payoff, Chandler hopped down the steps and ran back to the table.

It was this same location Chandler’s dad took Teri and him for her birthday dinner –– though not on a Sunday afternoon.

A band played various tunes onstage, again led by the now aging band leader. The maitre d seated them close to the stage. He handed out menus and asked for their drinks. Teri and Chandler were not of legal age, but Chandler’s dad requested a chilled bottle of Chardonnay and glasses for everyone.

“Not to worry,” he said. “This is a private club and the police know better than to raid it!” He winked at Tina, who blushed.

They ate their dinner, chatting nervously about practically nothing, except for his dad. “So, Teri, what does your father do?” And “Teri, do you have college plans?” And “Teri, have you been to Cozumel? We went last winter. A great place to escape the cold weather here.”

Teri found it difficult to respond. Chandler seethed, trying to make eye contact with his dad to get him to stop the embarrassing grilling.

Suddenly the band leader broke off the music and, stepping forward to the edge of the stage, announced in circus barker style,

“La-dees and Gen-telmen! Now for the main attraction of this evening’s entertainment, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! From the lurid lairs of New Orleans, where legs and hips and other feminine parts gyrate and leave you nothing to speculate! Please welcome in whatever manner you wish, the bump-and-grinder who has come to remind you what a measure of pleasure is all about, from Winder, Georgia where –– truly –– nothing could be finer! The quintessential snake dancer of sensuality … Miss LAVI-TAAAAAA … HOT!”

The band launched into bump and grind mode as a spotlight focused on the side curtain of the stage. A net stockinged leg slowly emerged — like a writhing snake. Chandler suddenly realized that Tina was the only woman in the club, and the other tables were occupied by delighted and overly tippled men. He and his father were the only ones wearing ties and jackets.

Out squirmed Miss Lavita Hot, dressed only in a lacy bra and panties, plus the net stockings held up by a black garter belt. About her shoulders she held outstretched a see-through shawl. Her assets rippled with each step, and her more-than-ample breasts swayed like pomegranates in the wind as she wriggled onto the stage under the spot light.

Later at home, an enraged Chandler screamed at his father, who seemed as surprised as both he and Tina at the striptease that ensued a mere feet from their table.

“YOU PLANNED THIS ON PURPOSE!!! Oh, God, Dad! And TOTALLY like The Graduate, too! Jeesh! What the hell were you thinking?”

His dad’s sheepish responses only added fuel to his rage. Still, Charles C. Wilson, II held on to his insistence that it was all a horrible mistake, and he didn’t mean to embarrass Tina, and yes, he liked his son’s girlfriend, and not to worry –– this, too, will pass.

“I’m the victim of circumstance!” he pled to no avail.

Owha ta foo liam.

As he neared High Point, Chandler could feel the blood beating a pathway up his carotid arteries to his brain. He gripped the wheel and tried to calm himself. After all, the roles were about to be reversed. Instead of his father being the defendant, Chandler was about to go before his father and plead nolo contendere, except in this case, the guilt was not in question –– only the sentence.

He had eventually forgiven his father (who never confessed), and hoped that he would receive his father’s compassion for his own stupidity. His mother? She was another story. She had never denied help to plot to rescue her first-born son from someone she saw as an adversary. On the other hand, Chandler knew better than to ask his mother regarding her complicity. Plus, her rule of thumb was if you aren’t asked, don’t tell.

As far as her punishing him, she would simply say she was “disappointed” –– which was far worse than forty lashes.

All to quickly he found himself turning up the driveway to his house. He hoped his father was at work, or better, was away on business. He parked the car and set the hand brake. He hesitated, breathing a prayer.

“Lord, if you are there, I’m asking for your help.”

This is getting to be a pattern in my life, he thought.

 

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God’s Farm … A Story. Three.

22 Apr

 

God’s Farm … A Story.

Three.

The drive home at the end of the quarter was a time for reflection and self-castigation. Chandler remembered a skit performed during his time as a junior counselor at Camp Cheerio during the summer. Camper volunteers were selected to join The Secret Society, and were lined up in front of the camp in the dining hall. They were told once they figured out the significance of the secret chant, they were to whisper it in the ear of a counselor and could sit down.

“Here’s the sacred chant. Repeat it very slowly after me, with awe and reverence,” one of the counselors directed them. “O-wha …”

“Owha,” the campers repeated slowly.

“Tafoo …”

“Tafoo.”

“Liam.”

“Liam.”

“Now, say it again, only quicker.”

“Ohwha-tafoo-liam.”

“Quicker!”

“Ohwhatafooliam!”

And, one by one, the campers began to realize the significance of the chant, they whispered it into the ear of the counselor, beet red in the face as the rest of the camp began to titter and laugh aloud.

“Oh what a fool I am!”

That’s me, he thought. A big, fat-ass fool!

He groaned and shook his head with remorse during the entire trip as he recalled his parents’ expectations and his failure to measure up. How Hump Day, which first began on Fridays, gradually slipped back to Thursday, and then Wednesday. How the fraternity had become the hub of his existence, and school and studies an inconvenience that loomed on the periphery of his consciousness.

Gotta paper to write.

Have another beer!

Gotta important class early tomorrow morning.

Have another beer!

He vaguely remembered house-hopping one night in the middle of the week after a $2 all-u-can-drink keg party. What he couldn’t remember at the time was what was that phrase again? Beer after whiskey, mighty risky; whiskey after beer, never fear? Or was it the other way around?

Have another beer!

Someone poured him a large Dixie cup of straight vodka and dared him to drink it in one gulp. “Never dare a daredevil,” he replied. And to the cheer of blurry and bleary-eyed spectators, he drained it. Then someone handed him another Dixie cup.

Have another beer!

As he staggered up North Main Street towards the Delta Pi Zeta frat house (aka, Zeta Zoo), Chandler noticed a harvest moon rising in the black sky above, and tilted his head back and howled like a wolf. In his stupor, he imagined he was a werewolf, and his timing was incredible. Wednesday night services at the Main Street Baptist Church had just let out, and very prim and proper and perfect parishioners streamed out of the front door.

Ha-woooooo!” he wailed loudly, the eyes of every church member drawn to his direction.

Snarling, he leapt over a picket fence and ran though a yard to escape what he imagined was the angry mob chasing him. Dogs began barking as he caromed off bushes and sheds and clotheslines in his frantic efforts to find his way back to the fraternity house.

Owha ta foo liam, he muttered to himself at the memory.

Then there was the time he and Joe, a fraternity brother, were walking at night from the Zoo to another frat house. It was winter, and snow had fallen, and he and Joe reeled and slipped in laughter up the sidewalk.

“Watch this!” Joe said, and scooped a handful of snow which he packed into a perfect snowball. A sputtering Volkswagen bug was struggling up the hill, it’s rear wheels spinning in the snowy slush. A southpaw, Joe cocked his arm and let fly a perfect throw which smacked the driver’s side window. The bug’s breaklights glared as two huge men crawled out of the tiny car. Each wore a Virginia Tech football letter jacket, and as they approached, one angrily shouted,

“Who is the fuckin’ moron that threw that snowball, ass holes?”

Joe and Chandler looked at each other, then around. They were the only fuckin’ moron ass holes to be seen.

Chandler stepped forward. He wasn’t small, but he was nowhere nearly as big as the jocks bearing quickly down on them.

“It was me,” he confessed. “You guys know Rod Caughlin?”

“Who the hell is Rod Caughlin?” growled the bulky driver, his grizzly-sized paws balled into iron mallets.

“Rod’s a freshman who plays for the Hokies. He and I played football together in high school.” Chandler hoped the association would somehow get him and Joe a reprieve. As he remembered the scene, it struck him, along with his Dear Professor Calloway letter, he was in the habit of doing things like that.

“Don’t know no fuckin’ Rod!” the grizzly bear snapped, poised ready to knock somebody’s head off. His passenger, not quite as big, but no less imposing, grabbed the bear by the sleeve.

“Wait a minute, Larry! Let’s think this through.”

Chandler immediately liked the other guy.

“You know what Coach told you. Let it go. They’re punks.”

“Ass-holes,” Larry corrected.

“Ass-holes. We gotta party to get to.” Then he turned to us. “Let me advise you guys to leave the snow on the fuckin’ ground, and to quit while you still have your heads.”

Chandler was about to say, “Don’t you mean quit while you’re ahead?”, but thought better of it.

When he and Joe reached the other fraternity they began to boast about the snowball incident, including the fact that “Larry” had backed down because of his friend’s intervention. Someone in the know countered,

“That’s not why. That Larry is Larry Creekmore, a starting defensive lineman who got in trouble last week because he broke into a store on Main when he was drunk. Claiborne threatened to put him on the taxi squad if anything else happened. Otherwise, you would both now be bloody pulp.”

Owha tafoo liam.

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God’s Farm … A Story, Two.

21 Apr

The continuation of God’s Farm … a Story.

 

God’s Farm … A Story.

Two.

Charles Chandler Wilson, III picked up his pencil and began to write in his blue book. It was too late to rue what had gone before, and now he had to craft something compelling in order to “right the ship,” as his dad often said.

His dad had served in the South Pacific during the war on an attack transport — the USS Doyen. Its prewar design was the masterpiece of a New York yacht building firm known and employed by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, FDR. The idea was a smaller vessel with a shallow draft, or hull depth, would enable troop transporters like the Doyen to come in closer to shore than the traditionally deeper-hulled troop carriers. Lives would be saved, it was reasoned, due to men and artillery reaching invasion beaches more quickly rather than bobbing through long distances of water like sitting ducks.

The concept wasn’t without its detractors, who argued the ship would capsize in high seas due to the lack of hull depth. Roosevelt persisted in the experiment, and the Doyen splashed into the water untested in July, 1942. Contrary to the naysayers, the Doyen proved seaworthy.

Which is more than Chandler could say for himself. He had figuratively capsized at Virginia Tech as a student since pledging and becoming a brother in Delta Pi Zeta, one of the many unrecognized local fraternities scattered about Blacksburg. His success in partying had blown a hole in the shallow hull of his academic pursuits, and after five quarters of ribald pursuits, he was listing badly.

Chandler’s parents were totally unaware of the disaster. It was time, therefore, to sober up and right the ship.

Dear Professor Calloway,

As you know, the country is in the throes of social and cultural upheaval that has found its way to the Virginia Tech campus over the past two semesters. Vietnam, civil rights and women’s rights issues have converged in the forms of protest, anger, and demand for change.

Make Peace, Not War is the message shouted and sung on college campuses throughout the nation. The situation is dire, not only because the body bags keep arriving from Southeast Asia despite President Nixon’s promise to de-escalate. Racial tensions (yes, even on the Tech campus) continue to smolder as those in power seem to want to roll the clock back on any gains made by our black brothers. And women (of which you are one, I might add), are waking up to the fact that barefoot and pregnant is not a desired status.

Chandler continued to pour it on, hitting every button he could think of to help his cause. He was particularly careful of his grammar, and when he wanted to use a particular word, if he didn’t know how to spell it, cast it aside.

In terms of what our nation and we are dealing with, it is the worst of times; as to the hope we all hold onto dearly, it is the best of times. Or as the Bard wrote: To be, or not to be, that is the question. Will we be and continue to thrive as a nation? Or, will we not be?

He figured he ought to at least quote some Shakespeare.

Winter Quarter I watched the anger and frustration of many students play out on the Quod. It dawned on me then that merely balling up one’s fist, or singing “If I Had a Hammer,” was not enough to change things.

He thought about using “effect” or “affect change,” but didn’t know which was correct. He nearly tore through the page erasing both words before deciding not to use either.

So I decided to go to High Point, my home town in North Carolina, and spend the Spring Quarter working to improve conditions between whites and blacks. I volunteered to help not just bridge the racial gap through dialogue, but through action by rolling up my sleeves and helping to clear large areas of dilapidated houses and trash. These blighted areas are places in High Point where rats find shelter and breed unrestrained. Earlier this year, one of those rats snuck into the home of a poor black family and into the crib of a sleeping infant. The rat chewed off several toes of the baby before her parents awoke to her screams, rushing in to kill the rat.

His mother had sent him the article of the incident published in The High Point Enterprise. The story caused a mixture of outrage in the black community, and about cleanliness is next to Godliness in the white community. Chandler thought it would punctuate his argument.

As a result of feeling compelled to spend my time helping to solve some of the problems we are facing, I was not in class.

I hope you will allow me, therefore, to return to campus sometime this summer, after I have been able to read the material on your syllabus, and retake this exam.

Yours sincerely,

C. Chandler Wilson, III
Student # 286-84-9125

Chandler reread his missive several times, debating whether to change anything. He felt his creative juices were flowing, and trusted his initial writing instincts, preferring to keep all as it was. Plus, erasures looked messy.

Surely any self-respecting liberal arts college professor would discern the truth that action was far better than merely sitting around listening to heavy metal music and smoking pot. Or even sitting in Shakespeare class with the country in turmoil.

He was confident Professor Calloway would not only be impressed by how he had spent his Spring Quarter in High Point (even if it was a lie), and would allow him to make the five-hour drive back to Blacksburg to retake the exam†.

“Time is up,” his professor announced. “Please sign the pledge on the outside cover, put your exam sheet in your blue book, and pass each forward.”

Chandler looked at the pledge statement and hesitated.

On honor, I have neither given nor received help on this exam.

If he signed it, would he be guilty of cheating? Then he breathed a sigh of relief as he realized the only thing he would be guilty of would be lying, and since he didn’t receive any help making up his story, he could sign it in good conscience.

He carefully placed the test sheet in his blue book, closed the book, and passed it to the student sitting in front of him. All of the tension he experience prior to the exam was gone. He had pulled it off, and began to think about how he would begin studying Shakespeare. It was important to be earnest, he grinned. Get the ship righted. Go on with life, which was now good again.

It was time for a beer.

†Years later Chandler saw the movie A Christmas Story on television,  and cringed at the scene where Ralphie wrote his masterpiece essay for his teacher, “What I Want For Christmas.”

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God’s Farm … A Story

20 Apr

 

 

God’s Farm … A Story

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

One.

Charles Chandler Wilson, III walked into his Survey of Shakespeare class at Virginia Tech and sat down in one of the combination chair-desks at the back of the room. Looking about him, he saw no one he recognized. The class filled in, students plopping into desks that formed several straight rows towards the large desk and wooden lectern at the front of the room.

On the front wall chalkboard the name “Professor Anne Calloway” was scrawled in large white cursive letters, and below that, ENG 308 – Shakespeare. A stern-looking woman in her thirties sat at the desk, bent over and writing something.

When the final bell rang in the hallway she began to call out the roll, the names responded to by here from scattered randomly throughout the class.

“Wilson,” she finally called out, and Chandler cleared his throat and answered here much too meekly, he thought. She paused and looked up, scanning her eyes in his direction until she found him, then marked something on the paper she read from. Thankfully, his was not the final name called. That would have been more than he could bear, having his name linger in the air conspicuously. Today he wanted to be anything but conspicuous.

Professor Calloway stood and gathered a stack of pamphlets with light blue paper covers. She walked to the far row, counting out books which she handed to the first student in the row, then stepped to the next row and repeated the act.

“Pass these back, please. Put your name in the upper right-hand corner of the outside cover of your blue book. Put the course number and my name under that, and today’s date and class period. Print your name, last name first, above the pledge. Do not sign the pledge until you have completed the exam. Do not begin the exam until everyone has received the questions. Place your question sheet face down on your desk until I give you the okay to start.

“Penmanship is important. If your answer is not legible, it will be marked wrong. If you want to print your answers, that will be much easier on my graduate assistant’s eyes as well as mine.

“No books, notes, or other materials should be on your desktops other than your blue book and test questions. Put all else away now under your seats, and do not refer to them during the exam.”

The sounds of books and papers fluttered through the room.

The professor returned to her desk and picked up another stack of papers which she began distribute in the same manner as she had the blue books.

“Do not write anything on the question sheets. If you need a pencil, raise your hand and my assistant will get one to you.” Several hands went up. The boyish graduate assistant responded with self-importance, plucking a sharpened pencil from a shoe box and placing it on the desk of each raised hand. “And if you should need another pencil during the exam, raise your hand and one will be provided.

“There is no talking of any kind during the exam. Should you need clarification about a question, come up to my desk. You have until the end of the class period to complete your exam, which is now about 80 minutes, ample time.”

She hesitated a moment, allowing the tension to build. It was like those moments at the starting gates of the Kentucky Derby, when each stall is finally filled with thoroughbreds and their riders. It was nearly an eternity. Chandler would have preferred to be at the horse race.

“Good luck, and you may now begin,” she finally said.

A flurry of question sheets being turned over was followed by various gasps, groans, and blue books opening. Then the classroom went deathly silent, disturbed only by the low crackling of one of the ceiling fluorescent lights and the hurried scratching of lead on paper.

Chandler turned over the test sheet and shook his head as he read the first question.

1. Shakespeare’s authorship is questioned by a number of scholars. In addition to Sir Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe and William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby have been identified as the more likely persons who penned plays and poetry held to be Shakespeare’s. Is that argument valid? What do you believe? Support your thesis. Quotes from the works will result in bonus points.

There were five more questions –– all requiring written answers. He quickly did the math in his head: six questions at a value of just under 17 points per question. Already he was cut down to a potential 83 for the exam. The second question was no better.

2. In Hamlet, foils for Hamlet include Horatio, Fortinbras, Claudius, and Laertes. How does each compare and contrast with Hamlet? In what ways are they alike or different? How does each foil react to the conflicts faced?

He felt his grade slip to a 66.

Jeesh! Whatever happened to multiple guess questions, he thought. At least then I would have a remote chance of passing!

Chandler leaned back in his chair, his head beginning to throb. What the hell did any of this have to do with Shakespeare? Then it dawned on him perhaps he had made a mistake signing up for this course. Perhaps he had made a mistake taking the eight o’clock class. And, just perhaps, he had made a mistake not attending class except for the first and last day.

He flipped the test sheet back over on its face and opened his blue book. Gripping his pencil close to the shaved point, he began to slowly scrawl.

Dear Professor Calloway . . .

 

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The Great Blood Compromise

16 Mar

 

The Great Blood Compromise

By L. Stewart Marsden

When the agreement reached the public, there was understandable criticism from many sides. But the overall fact was the two sides, having waged futilely at many levels for many years over the issue, had reached a compromise at last.

“It will ultimately save lives,” the Speaker of the House proclaimed, a solemn look etched by deep lines furrowed into his face as the cameras flashed. “No legislation is perfect,” he added before stepping down amid a hail of questions from reporters. He ignored them all.

When the law came into effect, thousands of semiautomatics and gear to upgrade them to automatic weapons were surrendered to Sheriff’s offices and police departments throughout the country. These were shipped to a central location in Iowa, where metal-crunching machines and huge vats, originally designed for the steel industry, were repurposed to destroy and melt down gun upon gun, including bump stocks and high-capacity rifle and gun clips. Armor-piercing ammunition was also, carefully, destroyed.

It took six months. Whether or not every weapon or ammunition clip had been collected and destroyed was a matter of fear among some. It was a matter of anger among gun owners and extreme 2nd Amendment supporters. It was a matter of hope among the survivors of past victims.

On February 10, one volunteer from each state, the country’s fourteen territories, as well as the District of Columbia were gathered in Washington at taxpayers’ expense. Their ages ranged from 18 to 93, and the ethnic and economic composite of the group was as diverse as the nation’s population.

They were quartered in the Trump International Hotel, in which each individual’s room was complete with a lavish supply of the finest cuisine and refreshment. Each was treated to exclusive amenities at the country’s expense, from spas to manicures; massages to coiffures.

They toured Congress, and met with dignitaries and the rich and famous who had gathered, and were touted in a televised ceremony that aired world-wide.

Part of their schedule was an unveiling of a memorial sculpture, onto which the face, name, age, and other personal details had been already etched. The President spoke solemnly at the event for a few moments, then posed with each of the volunteers.

The evening before February 14, Washington went dark for 65 seconds in tribute to the volunteers. NASA captured the event from space, which, again, was aired world-wide.

That first February 14 was chilly and rainy as the volunteers were bused to a point just below the Lincoln Memorial. One by one, they filed out of the buses and stood side-by-side along the western end of the Reflecting Pool, turned in the direction of the Washington Monument. Each was dressed as they would for a normal day wherever they came from.

Once positioned, members of the Marine Corps, in full dress, marched up and, one-by-one, stood behind each volunteer. The Marines covered the head of the volunteer they were assigned to with a black hood, then retreated a few steps back, rifles at the ready in stands.

“The Star Spangled Banner” was then played by the Marine Corps Band from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Spectators surrounded the mall, kept from the grounds by police barricades and officers at the ready. Family members of the volunteers stood at the west end of the Reflecting Pool, attired in black.

At the center of that gathering stood the chaplains of the Senate and the House behind a podium and microphone. Each prayed in turn for the volunteers, the Marines, and the nation. The chaplains stepped back and the Marine Detail Commander stepped to the podium. As he spoke, his orders echoed along the mall and seemed to hang in the air.

“Attention!” With rifles to their shoulders, the Marines came to a motionless stance.

“Half right … Hace!” Each Marine turned slightly to the right.

“Port … arms!” Rifles were positioned across each Marine’s chest at the ready.

“Ready … unlock!” The clicks of safeties being released sounded like metallic chatter.

“Aim!” Rifles were raised to shoulders, and each Marine pressed his/her cheek to the weapon and eyed down their sites.

A murder of crows chose the moment to fly from trees surrounding the mall and curved down the expanse towards the Washington Monument, loudly cawing at intervals.

A hesitation, then the Commander ordered,

“Fire!”

The volley of individual rifles sounded like rapid-fire to the untrained ear. Each volunteer crumpled to the ground differently, their life-blood seeping into the grass before the concrete walkway that surrounded the Reflection Pool.

There were gasps and moans, and finally weeping from the masses that had gathered to witness the event.

From the east end of the Reflection Pool a canon volleyed three times, its whitish smoke residue slowly dissipating, blown by a slight breeze.

Immediately more details of Marines marched in caskets for each body, carefully placing the volunteers into them. Each casket was then slowly hefted by Marine pall bearers, and taken to black hearses awaiting nearby, which drove slowly away.

A queue of funeral cars eased forward to pick up family members of the volunteers, and transport them to Arlington cemetery, where a special area had been designated for burying.

The media quietly and respectfully covered the day’s events without comment.

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Mary Cullens watched the coverage on her open laptop computer as she carefully packed her pink teardrop backpack in her bedroom. Focusing a bright flashlight beam on colored wires, she flinched when the seven honor guards at the special gravesite area fired three times, then carefully twisted various wires together with needle nosed pliers. She knew she would not be afforded those honors, but she also knew her name would reside in the annals of history as the first mass murderer after the initiation of what had become known as The Great Blood Compromise. After all, if one can’t be famous for something, why not infamous.

The Fiftieth

25 Feb

 

 

The Fiftieth

L. Stewart Marsden

Barton Chandler looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and was not pleased. He pulled the bags under his eyes down with his index fingers, widening the spider-veined eyeballs until he began to tear.

There was no doubt about it –– the old man staring back at him was nothing like the taut-skinned pimply face of the 18-year-old he once was fifty years ago. He wondered if any of his classmates would even recognize him, and was a little fearful they might.

Taking the bar of soap and wetting it, he worked up soft white suds, which he gently massaged onto his cheeks and forehead. It was Dove. His mother swore by it, telling him it hid a thousands faults that had lined her face. He hoped she was right. It smelled good, anyway.

Rinsing and toweling off, he began to comb his hair. In his effort to distract from numerous bald spots, he had let it grow. He had never done the “old man thing” –– that of growing out the hair on one side of his head and combing it over his pasty dome. He had seen many of his father’s friends do that. Or pull it forward from the back in a quasi-Italian mafia style. He cringed at the thought. No, he preferred what he called the George Carlin look, and let his now fine and brittle hair grow long, into which he rubbed a special holding cream that cost far too much. He then combed everything back and into the nub of a ponytail, which he held in place with a tiny black rubber band. With his trimmed snowy beard and mustache, he fancied he did indeed look like the comedian. It was his homage to Carlin.

This, he thought, was the best of two worlds. He wasn’t hiding his hair loss, and he was making connection with the 60s and the hippy movement when he had been a fringe member in college –– until his dad sat him down and read him the riot act.

“I don’t spend good money on your education so you can traipse around looking like a long-haired freak, pretending to hate everything I’ve worked and stand for! Get it together, or get off the family dole!”

So he got it together. His dad was right on the money. The fling with the protest movements and anti-establishment was more or less a facade. Deep down he no more wanted to live in a commune with drug-heads than any other person. And while he shook his fist in rallies protesting the war, he was more afraid of being shot or blown apart than upset with the ethics of American presence in Vietnam. Plus, he had become used to the fineries his social and economic status afforded him.

He continued to primp, taking a small electric nose hair clipper to each nostril, and carefully plucking long eyebrows gone amok. Then he examined his ears, where to his horror tufts had appeared in recent years in the canals, but worse –– single hairs from his earlobes.

This was the first night of three at Caulden Academy for Boys. It was the must-do anniversary. The Fiftieth. After his graduation in ‘68, Chandler had been sporadic in his attendances, hitting the one-year and the five-year events. The first gathering was special because he knew many of the students and faculty still at the school. It was his opportunity to strut about on campus as a College Man; to flaunt the fact he could smoke there with impunity, and drink sherry with a faculty member without fear of being expelled. His second gathering he had graduated college, and was in his first year as an underling in the Chandler Corporation –– his gateway to ancestral sameness. His classmates were like him, many starting career paths. Still others were toe-deep in their post-grad pursuits of the law or medicine or some other impressive occupation. Fewer attended that reunion, although none had died yet.

Until tonight, there had been a drought lasting years where he had been too busy, too far away, too fearful to make an appearance. He had kept abreast of classmates who were featured by graduation class in the school’s annual report. It was how he found out the first death in his class was due to suicide. Other news items storied a variety of impressive and ho-hum feats, from world travel to partnerships in medical practices or prestigious law firms to various honors and accolades.

Chandler never sent in news items to the school about himself. Asked by his starter wife (he had gone through two wives) why that was, he couldn’t answer.

“You’re embarrassed, that’s why,” she said dryly.

He fell off the map where Caulden and his classmates were concerned, despite the regular requests for money, or invitations to attend school soirées held in local communities. Even his best friends at school grew distant, and he was totally out of touch with guys who helped him endure the prep school and its idiosyncrasies.

Satisfied he had soaped, cut, rubbed and covered enough to look presentable, Chandler reached for the starched dress shirt hanging from a hook on the hotel bathroom door. As he buttoned, he practiced smiles and looks of glad surprise. “Oh, you haven’t changed a bit!” he said mentally.

He opted to button his monogrammed sleeve cuffs, and not to insert the gold cuff links he brought. He preferred the toned down look. Tie, or no tie? Should he go casual, like a jet-setter? He chose a tie. It was a good juxtaposition to his ponytail, he thought. Go with who you are, his dad had told him. This is who I am, he thought.

As he measured the tie around his neck for a Windsor knot, he remembered Timbo Matthews. Timbo had taught him how to tie it. Previous to that he had always used the sloppy overhand knot he had learned when he was a Boy Scout.

“You can’t use that knot!” Timbo critiqued, then showed Chandler the only knot permissible if you wanted to prove you had class. For the school prom, Timbo tried to show Chandler how to tie a bow tie, but Chandler opted for the clip-on instead. Less frustrating. At least he still used the Windsor after all these years. When his dad retired from the family corporation, he took to wearing bolo ties, much to Chandler’s disdain.

“I can wear whatever the hell I like!” his dad said.

Chandler registered with the school for the reunion at the first email alert he received from the Caulden School for Boys Director of Development. He signed up for all the events, and made sure his room was booked in the only hotel in nearby Statler. That was months ahead of time. He even promptly filled out a questionnaire about himself that was to be reproduced in a yearbook format –– only paperback because of the cost. It was the first time Chandler could remember being put on an honor list of any kind having to do with Caulden.

Still, as the weekend neared, he found himself weighing whether or not to go. The class of 100 graduates had been whittled down to eighty or so due to a variety of illnesses and tragedies . His roommate during his Fifth Form year had just died. He had to find out via the annual report. It hammered home how out-of-touch he really was. Which led to him thinking about his starter wife’s comment. Was he embarrassed? He thought at age sixty-eight of what could or should he be embarrassed? Perhaps the greatest thing any of his classmates could boast about was that they lived long enough to attend the fiftieth.

He knew that wasn’t true. But embarrassed of what? Mediocrity? He was surprised to see one of his classmates referred to as The Honorable Terrence DuPree. A judge, for chrissakes! One day Terry bounded into his room during his Fourth Form year and dived onto Chandler’s bed as if to make a watermelon splash. The only problem was Chandler’s classical guitar was on the bed at the time!

When he was a student, comparisons were of a lesser, albeit more evil sort. Things like intelligence, looks, physique, athletics. Chandler fell into the midrange of each. He was smart, but not brilliant; okay-looking, but a bit dorky; never six feet tall; and though he reached varsity levels in sports his Six Form year, he mostly rode the bench. In college his greatest success was Shot-A-Minute Champ at his fraternity, and driving around campus in the ‘63 Chevrolet Corvette his dad gave him. Nothing stellar. And the guy who sat on his guitar at Caulden became a friggin’ judge!

Those thoughts gave him reason to reconsider attending the reunion. His was a hand-me-down career. The right of primogeniture and nothing more. Even his derelict brother –– the one everybody knew would end up to no good –– had created a business from the ground up that was now listed on the DOW.

Chandler pulled on stylish socks, then his pants, and slipped into his shoes. One last glimpse into the mirror. Oh, and a splash of Bay Rum cologne.

His hotel room phone jingled.

“Hello?” he said.

“Bart! Where the hell are you? The van is here to take us to school, man! Get your butt down here!”

Chandler felt a twinge of nausea and thought quickly about saying he was coming down with something.

“Yeah. Thanks. I’ll be right down.”

The Gun Show

8 Nov

The Gun Show

By L. Stewart Marsden

Dealer: I need your ID.

Patron: They don’t need it when I vote … why the hell do you need it?

Dealer: It’s the law, Sir.

Patron: Effing law-makers! They need to put those leeches out to pasture.

Dealer: Yeah, the most of them are in it for the money.

Patron: MY money … and yours.

Patron hands the Dealer his driver’s license, who plugs the information into his computer.

Patron: Checking to see if I’m crazy?

Dealer: That, and if you have any felony arrests.

Patron: Ought to make running for office a felony.

Dealer: Get no argument here.

Dealer hands the license back to the Patron.

Patron: Clean?

Dealer: Have to wait ten days for the license to clear.

Patron: Uh. Ten days. Well, you got any of your private stock for sale?

Dealer: You in a hurry?

Patron: I want to get to a range and get used to my gun before the season begins.

Dealer: Well, since you asked – I got this sweet semi I can sell you.

Patron: And I can take it today, right? I mean I don’t have to have a license to buy it and take it home with me.

Dealer: Yep. Kind of like the way it used to be a long time ago. Only thing is if I suspect the buy is unhinged or something. You unhinged?

The Patron laughs in response, and the Dealer laughs.

Dealer: You a hunter?

Patron: Used to when I was a boy. Me and my dad. Squirrel. Rabbits, sometimes. Ever eat squirrel?

Dealer: Can’t say I have. What’s it taste like?

Patron: Chicken. Everything tastes like chicken, right? ‘Cept for chicken …

Dealer laughs …

Dealer: You gonna use this for hunting, then?

Patron: Yeah … hunting. And target shooting, you know.

Dealer: This baby’ll bring down a bull moose at 200 yards. It’s lightweight and won’t throw you to the ground with the recoil.

Patron picks up the gun, hefts it, and points it up, sighting down the barrel. He checks the action several times, then puts it back on the counter.

Patron: Nice! I’ll take it. You recommend a scope with that?

Dealer: I do if you want a clean kill. Otherwise you might miss, or worse – wound your target and have to go traipsing into the brush to finish the kill.

Patron: Well, better add a scope, then. I don’t do traipsing at my age.

Dealer: Okay … I recommend this scope. Assembles onto this model quick and locks in tight. Myself I never use a scope. Kind of takes the challenge out of it.

Patron: Quick and tight. Sounds good to me. Ammo?

Dealer: What do you want? Ain’t cheap.

Patron: What is these days? Any limit on how much I can buy?

Dealer: Only your wallet. Ammo for this gun come in boxes of fifty.

Patron: Ten should do for now.

Dealer: That won’t last very long. Especially on the range.

Patron: It’s 500 shells. It’s enough.

Dealer: How you want to pay?

Patron: Cash okay?

Dealer: Need you to sign for it.

Patron: No problem.

Dealer: Anything else today? Camouflage outfit? Ear protection?

Patron: Naw. I’m good. Wait … can you outfit this with a silencer? For the sound. My hearing is bad enough as it is.

Dealer: What about ear protectors? Cheaper.

Patron: I heard they amplify background noise – least that’s what a friend of mine told me.

Dealer: Yeah. You can actually go online and get instructions how to make one. I sell you one it gets reported to the ATF, and they may want to talk to you about why. Anyways, I don’t carry them.

Patron: I’m an engineer. Or was. I have a huge workshop full of every tool imaginable. Can’t imagine making one will be too difficult for me.

Dealer: Probably not. Anything else?

Patron: You got bump stocks?

Dealer: Nope. But there’s a booth close to the bathrooms that does. They have one that’ll fit what you bought. Not going to use that hunting, right?

Patron: Just curious. Grew up on James Cagney gangster films. Always wondered what rapid-fire would feel like.

Patron pulls out his wallet and counts out the cash, and hands it to the Dealer.

Dealer: Thank you! Now if you’ll sign right here, I’ll get your change.

Patron: Lot of folk pay in cash?

Dealer: Does a bear shit in the woods?

They laugh.

Dealer: Okay, partner … you’re all set. Unless there’s anything else?

Patron: No, no! I’m good. Between you and the guv’mint, I’ll be in the poor house!

They laugh again.

The Patron walks off and disappears into the mulling crowds of the gun show, as the Dealer turns to the next customer.

Dealer: Help you, Sir?

Gun control laws are riddled with loopholes, “protecting” an American citizen’s 2nd Amendment right to own a gun. This is one of them. It’s referred to as The Gun Show Loophole.