WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER NINE: PART THIRTY-NINE: THE MAYOR OF HELL
Round about the time you turn twelve or thirteen, Yob, is when you realize that things ain’t always as they seem. That, in fact, in what the mystical sorts call the luminal world, that things are seldom what you think they are
For instance: picture putrid old Coach Crump, the pallid slum landlord and real estate man with the pointy nose whose creaky face needs a going-over. Preferably with a steamroller, to smooth out all the crags. At the first of every month he goes from door to door collecting the rent money. Colored folk in Jivetown call him Mr. Rent Man. But he is far more. Namely, he is is a well-connected Jacketeer who owns property up and down Noxtown. He takes his cut all the way from the top–skyscrapers and ever’thing–right down to the bottom–from Blind Tom the news vendor (who’s not really blind, and not really a vet, either, even though he says he is) and Luigi the fruit vendor (who has a thick Italian accent when he’s on the street, to baffle his foes, but who, I’d be willing to bet, speaks The King’s English flawlessly when he’s in his own home, three crowded rooms over the Fruit Stand–oh Luigi, you are a Man of Mystery–who knows what other secrets you conceal?) and from a ramshackle shanty known as the Old Sailor’s Home (where a bunch of superannuated fishermen sit on the front porch taking whiffs from their smelly corncob pipes and bragging about the gold they found in Timbuctu and other such mealy tommyrot, even though a good many of the old salts had never drifted any further than sixty miles from the shore).
Old Coach Crump–nobody ever knew his real first name–it was probably something like Archibald or Percy or maybe Leslie–some girlish name–not fit for manly company–was a fraudster. He too pretended to be full of interesting facts, but he was a crashing bore. Allus telling you things you didn’t want to know–for instance, about the self-styled mountain man who lived at the top of Shanty Street on the grassless hillock in a tarpaper shack and brutalized his daughter–something’s got to be done, says he, pretending to care–but nothing ever was. I saw this girl he spoke of one time. She was wearing a torn flour sack for a dress and her hair was filthy and matted, like a wild animal. The Brute had her chained to a tree, like any beast. I brought her some water like anyone with a heart would do for so much as any panting dog and there was the sound of a rifle blast and some buckshot raised dust in the dirt beside me and I skedaddled, and right smart, too. I noticed while running to save my skin that the trees above the Brute’s shack were Catalpas, also called Indian Cigar Trees, with long slender tobys hanging from in between their heart-shaped leaves.
I eventually guessed the reason old Coach Crump never did nothing about the girl, even though he owned the shack and even managed to collect rent on it onct in a while, was that he himself was doing things to the girl; likely jazzing her, and perhaps also doing other things that my immature mind could not yet then wrap itself around. Crump was loony for Zooks, but any frail would do, when he got the fever.
I don’t know why he never hired no other man to collect his rents for him, although I guess it meant that he didn’t trust nobody nohow to look after his interests as well as him. Him, with his turkey neck. He was well-known to keep a lucky charm wrapped up in a twenty dollar bill–sometimes he even wore it out in the open and then you could see him as he strutted around with a bone from a raccoon penis hung around his neck–it looked like the curved stem of a pipe–he said it was his good luck charm–you’d hear him on the brag among the menfolk at Feist’s Cigar Store–he’d keep his mouth shut when any of the Big Boy’s men were there, but you’d hear him with his ferrety nattering voice a-puffing and blowing himself up big when it was just the fellow small timers who was present and accounted for. He fancied himself some kind of combination of poet and sport—and he would bore his listeners for nearly an hour with a labored description of his prowess at making a girl feel satisfied–though I lived in the whorehouse and knew that for all his bragging he was actually more of a Minute Man–a sixty-second kind of fellow–the whores and Zooks all called him “The Rabbit Man,” and was always glad to see him because he never took up too much of their time ner made too much of a mess, neither. They flattered him shamelessly too, because they knew he had big time connections. Anyway, he would brag about how he throwed the whores across his knees and fucked ’em. Old Judge Rance Sniffle was there one time; he was a regular over t’ Feist’s part of town; he was a laughing but pompous man with a big alderman for a belly and had a watch-fob with an elk’s tooth and all sorts of medallions on the breast of his old fashioned jacket. The Judge was also a petty thief who was the terror of Blind Tom the news vendor and Luigi the goofy Eye-Talian fruit-peddlar–he would filch from their stands, not from need, but out of sheer cussedness, and they could do nowt. Like I said, Old Judge Rance Sniffle was connected.
So Coach Crump starts into his bragging, saying, “And so I takes her behind the shed of the rail depot and I fucks her….”
“Hrmpf, my good man,” says the Judge. “Do endeavor, in the future, to nut use such vulgar terms.”
“How else kin I describe what happens, Judge?”
“Use the term ‘intercourse’.”
“‘Inntercourse’? What’s that?”
“That, my good man” says the Judge, “is a technicality of the language which you wouldn’t understand.”
Coach Crump obligingly resumed his story. “So there I was, intercoursin’ her back o’ th’ shed, and then I gave her a taste of the old Chicago Cross Jostle.”
Then Judge Rance Sniffle pipes up: “What’s that?”
Crump: “Why Judge, that’s a technicality of fucking that you wouldn’t know anything about.”
Big haw haw from the assembled loafers and loochers. “That Judge really is an ape-headed chump,” says one. The Judge wheels on him with all the dignity he can muster and pronounces the man a common vagrant who will fare poorly next time he is brought before his court, and the goof shuts up yammering trap right quick. But the damage was done. Wasn’t too long before the tale of how Coach Crump insulted the old Judge passed into local lore–and even legend.
5*AVATAR OF THE ZEITGEIST
6* DAILY UTILITY
11* DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
same coasting on a long reputation; same uncanny willingness to shill for
the highest bidder; same impulse to subject his audience to cranky,
retrograde, conservative rants. And those are his good qualities.
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE.
771. TWELVE SIGNS REPUBLICANS ARE MENTALLY ILL