WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER NINE: PART TWENTY-FIVE: THE MAYOR OF HELL
“This is the way the Della the Fat Lady told it,” said Cool Slopp, when telling
Cadger Tandy the story of Smash Conklin and his antics at the Red &
“I could never see myself in a housewife’s get-up, scrubbing floors
and rearing a passel of roaring brats. That brand of hell wasn’t for
me. Give me Vanilla. So what if I die unsung. I’ll have made my
whoopie while I was here. There’s no fakery in the Carny when you’re
up on the platform–it’s show biz–you give it your all. When I’m up
there, I am harder on myself than anyone ever could be. I sometimes
get that lovely feeling–it doesn’t happen too often, but when it does
it’s all gravy–that when I’m up there, the audience is completely on
my side. The thrill is like nothing else when I sense that the
audience is mine, that somehow I have touched their hearts. And
I’d rather be on that platform than any other place. Except when it’s
hot. Then I sweat up a storm. Have to hire a pickaninny to fan me off. And my
speaking words are always carefully chosen. There’s no vulgarity in my
act–just good clean fun. It’s a Sunday School Show–strictly on the level.
I only let my hair down in the Entr’acte. If
I have one vice, it’s butter. I have to have it on anything. Doc
Ketman tells me to lay off, but that quack can go plumb straight to
hell. I remember one time, down on the farm, when i was a little girl,
I saw the face of the Virgin Mary on a piece of toasted bread. I
thought, Mother of God if that ain’t an omen, then I don’t know what.
So I run off to the big city, hoping to get a job with one of the big
shows. They took one look at me and snorted. They called me ‘Jumbo’,
not only behind my back, but right to my face, and other hurtful names
too. Rollo. Chubbins. Blobby. Don’t they know that a fat lady has got
feelings too? Well, the laugh was on them. Years later, I would see
some of them loochers begging for a nickel in the lobby of the John
Raines Hotel. You know what I done? I guv ’em the breeze. I ain’t got
no use for layabouts. If a lady like me can make a pile through hard
work and thrift and never taking more than a single apertif, then any
man jack of ’em can swing a pick and shovel, even if they are on their
uppers. You may think I’m a fat-girl laugh-getter, and nothing more,
but I spend all my spare time reading and thinking and not in playing cards and listening
to a bunch of mingy gossips tear each other down. I don’t have to
work–I’ve got more than enough money in my grouch bag to retire–but
as long as I still got my strength, I feel that I should put it to
use. I have a God-given gift and it would be a sin to waste it.”
What exactly this gift happened to be, said Cool Slopp, other than being
abnormally fat, she never said. But here’s her story about Smash Conklin:
The one thing you can always count on is the Kindness of a Dog. Like
the poodle who was the special pet of King Congo, the Undefeated
Champion Wrestling Chimp over to the Red and Black Carnival.
I suppose the snarling, snapping cur could in some respects be called
a Kind Dog. He was generous with his fleas, I’ll give him that much.
And his soft bite didn’t pierce my tender skin, most of the time.
And whenever he begged for treats, his big fat thing would hang out,
but in a dignified sort of way. But all the girls would titter.
Even the cooch dangers. He had a big ‘un. That’s
why we called him Circus Boy, when we felt benevolent and fine.
Otherwise, he was known as That Fucking Mutt. Pardon my French.
Anyway, that dog was a strange one. He would let King Congo groom him,
but no one else. Anyone else come near him, the poodle dog would emit
a low growl, like the guttural snore of a apoplectic dwarf. Even if
you came bearing the most extravagant treats, like a weenie in a bun,
the dog would look at you with a level eye and continue his muttering.
He’d bare his teeth and his coal black eyes would moisten and glister
in a very scary way. Then he’d let out a snarl and leap up like a
ballet dancer and snap the goodie out from between your fingers like
he was performing in Swan Lake, or maybe The Nutcracker.
Anyway, after Smash Conklin tried to pick up Colonel Germ and got his nose half
bitten off and was kicked by the Siamese Twins and Three-legged Man
and was sapped en masse by the Human Skeleton and the
Bearded Lady –that Hussy–he was in a sore temper..
“Get that miserable cur away from here,” Smash Coughlin bellowed,
after suffering a series of indignities at the hands of the Carny
freaks. He had been poked and prodded and had his pockets rifled–not
by me–I ain’t no gun-moll ner Adam Diver–it’s likely he was dipped
by the India Rubber Man or the Dog-Faced Boy, and anyway he was mighty
sore because he had been licked bad by the Chimp and had been bested
in arm wrestling three out of three by Colonel Germ, the derby-hatted
midget, and he was hellbound to take his anger out on some poor
critter, be he man ner beast. Wouldn’t you know it, he advances toward
the growling pooch, ready to do him an injury, and promptly slips in
dog shit and lands blooie on his keister.
Now, everybody knows that Smash Conklin considered himself a dapper
dude and was always playing the swell, asking at the taverns what the
boys in the back room will have and generally playing the grandee
because he was the head grifter for the pack of unmitigated
ward-heelers and other political hoodlums on the take who was
bleeding Noxtown dry. He was a real smart aleck. Always making with
the mash and the banjo eyes with all the soiled Doves. We didn’t like
the way he threw his weight around down at the Seven Stars Saloon,
always giving Tipsy Smith the business. We hoped that some big bruiser
would come around and give him the bum’s rush, but they never did.
Probably because old Uglyface Conklin had connections.
He was also in Dutch with all the freaks because of his foul
mouthed behavior around the ladies–we’re no Johnnie
Come Latelys, but we got our pride–and the way he
swaggered and roared when all the while we were cheating
him blind on all the gaffed games at the flat stores and the hanky panks.
Furthermore, he was known to be poison on tramps and bums.
Me, I was longing to see him taken down a peg.
All the freaks was giggling to see him dumped on his prat by the
chimp–and when he slipped in the mess left by Circus Boy we were
practically in hysterics. Me myself, I was laughing so hard I was fit
to choke, and choking so bad that the strong man and the sword swallower
was thumping me on the back like I’d just swallowed a whole smoked herring.
Imagine the spectacle of Smash Conklin, his clothes town to shreds by
the eager paws of the slap-happy chimp and then his pants covered with
a fine brown scrim of dog dirt. He was in a boiling rage, and his red
face looked almost black, like a long stretch of dark territory. It’s
enough to make me want to shout God Bless America, to see that mucker
finally get his come-uppance.
Imagine further the spectable of Smash, down on his hands and knees,
trying to pick up his watch and keys and other gew-gaws, and the
playful dog suddenly taking a shine to him and licking him all over
the face, even as Smash was growling that he was fixing to throttle
that mutt, and the midget Colonel germ was delivering a few well-aimed
kicks at his backside to hasten him on his way.
Needless to say, Smash was in an ill temper when he finally left that
Carny. I think the thing that irked him most of all was getting licked
all over his chops by the slobbering poodle.
“Anyway,” she concluded, “THAT’s what I mean by the Kindness of a Dog.”
PHILOSOPHY IN FIGURES
DISTURBING BOSTON CHARACTERS
FIVE REASONS GEEK CULTURE SHOULD GO AWAY
5*AVATAR OF THE ZEITGEIST
NO LOVE AT ALL
6* DAILY UTILITY
WHO RULES AMERICA?
MORK AND MINDY: A VIDEO NOVEL
AMERICAN ACCENT QUIZ
GOOGLE MAPS TRACKING YOUR EVERY MOVE
11* DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE: THE FALL OF NIXON AND THE RISE OF REAGAN. By
Gas lines, Congressional investigations, Bicentennial fever: In many
ways the period from 1973 to 1976 was a pivotal one in American
history. Perlstein, author of the earlier (and equally excellent
history NIXONLAND) is a dedicated researcher and a lively writer who
makes even the most dreary details shine with a clarity which has won
him a wide following. As in his previous books, including a fine
biography of Barry Goldwater, Perlstein is precise and meticulous in
recreating a neglected era in American social history. We learn that
the period was about more than just Watergate, the Magueyez incident,
and swine flu. The Ford years also set the stage for the rise of the
Republican right, and Perlstein’s biographical notes on Reagan are a
fascinating read in and of themselves.
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE.
757. I AM EASILY OFFENDED
While trolling the internet in my leisure hours, I usually quite
happily lap up any moronic atrocity I come across without so much as a
hiccough; however, whenever it suits my rhetorical purpose, from time
to time I feel impelled to mount my wooden rocking horsey and mewl and
bray that in some mysterious fashion I have been offended.