MARCH 2015
Copyright 2015 Francis DiMenno


 ARMADILLO. A cross between a pig and a cockroach. My idea of good eatin’.

AUTOMATION. Faster, stupider.

AZERBAIJAN. A country only Iran could love.

BAAL. A pretty nice guy, when stacked up against Jehovah. 



 BACON. Fatback. The only meat that fights back.

 BAGPIPES. The sound of Cicadas emerging from their nests for the first time in seventeen years and raring to suck with their soft mouth parts the fluids from living deciduous trees are, by way of contrast, soothing.

 BATS. Their parents think they look so cute when they’re asleep.

 BEARS. If you, like most Americans, have a big brown bear chained to a stake in your back yard, you won’t want to be without plenty of Bruin Litter, in the 500 pound and the new two-ton carload size!

BEVERLY HILLS. Place from which the dolt Zeitgeist trickles down regrettably fast.


 1. I’m thinking that maybe if Jesus looked a little bit more like Groucho Marx, maybe Pilate would have gotten a laugh or two, and he wouldn’t have been so quick to crucify Him.

 2. You know that story about Greyfriers Bobby, the Skye Terrier who kept vigil at his master’s graveside for fourteen years? I’m thinking–couldn’t they have put him to work or something?

3. Sissyman Jones. Sissyman Jones. Why did I have to be born with a name like Sissyman Jones? I’d like to change it to something like “He-Man Brawn”. But I’m afraid.

4. For some reason my little boy was very diet-conscious, so instead of leaving a treat for Santa this year, he left a darling little note. This childish scrawl read as follows: “No cake for you, Fatty.” Only trouble is, he is 36 years old.

  1. God set me on his lap and told me it was about time for me to get ready to take that long dirt nap. I just closed my eyes and lulled Him into a sense of false complacency, then quick of a sudden I got up scratching and biting and ran down the long hall to the front door of the hospital. Not so fast, Lord!

 6. You call it a “power outage,” but, Gosh Darn it, I call it a power OUTRAGE! You ever try to dispose of sixteen garbage bags full of dead baby chicks because the Blankety-Blank electric company can’t seem to prevent big old trees from falling over in a storm and knocking down the Blim-Blamed power lines for seventy-two hours? I would sue them, sue them all–except I figure that if the manager of my apartment building ever got wind of my chicken mill, he’d probably terminate my lease. He’s already madder’nell about the “weirdo” who left sixteen bags of rotting baby chicks to make a lovely sizzling noise in his brand new incinerator!

 7. My Daddy isn’t perfect. For from it. A fact which nobody knows better than him and Jesus. Him, Jesus, and maybe also the District Attorney for Suffolk County, the Honorable Thomas J. Spota.

 8. “What a nuisance,” I thought, as once, every hour on the hour, I fed quarters into a meter to avoid a parking ticket. But then I thought of the quarters as Communion wafers that I was force-feeding to a metal heathen–and from then on I just couldn’t stop laughing!

 9. Whenever I go out walking, I always follow the example of blessed Saint Francis, and greet the denizens of the natural world by name. “Hello, Miss Chickadee,” I say one of my gaily fluttering friends. “Hello Mr. Sparrow,” I say to another. And finally I say, “Hello, Mr. Finch,” to the asylum attendant, as he leads me back to my cell.

  1. My mischievous four-year old granddaughter, Rhoda, is adorable. Just the other day, she lisped, “I no set fires, Dranma.” Yet the local police tell me an entirely different story. The little scamp!

 11. Just recently, totally on a whim, I decided to visit the local dog pound. Before I knew it, I had adopted an adorable Beagle pup. I decided to name him “Please God Grant Me My Heart’s Desire.” That way, every time I call him to me…I’m also calling Him…to me!!

 12. I explained to my inquisitive grandson that indoor plumbing is magic, kind of like God, as a matter of fact. The tank filled with water is our faith, the flush valve is old man Satan, and after the bowl is flushed, prayer sends the water of our faith in Jesus through the filler valve–and restores our serenity! He acted confused and told me he didn’t get it. I’m not sure I do, either. I guess I’ll figure it out by praying to God–or, as I like to call it, “jiggling the handle!”

 13. Every farmer knows that in order to harvest crops at exactly the right time, you need the right weather conditions and a lot of patience in case things don’t work out the way you want them to. Which is why I sell vacuum cleaners door to door. The rug can always do with a good sweeping! The way I see it, the dirt in the rug is our sin, and the electricity is God, and the vacuum cleaner is Jesus, and when He died on the cross, that vacuum bag was emptied–right onto Pontius Pilate’s head! Haw haw haw! You shoulda seen the look on his face!

 14. My youngest daughter has a talent for baking, though I wish she wouldn’t do it on a Sunday, because that’s the day when I hide my wine bottle in the oven.

 15. Grampa says that any boy can grow up to be President. But then again, Grampa also says that any Negro who eats peas with a fork ought to be horsewhipped in the town square.

 16. All a soldier really wants is for a civilian to walk up to him and say “Thank You”. And Mister, there better not be no smirk on your face when you do it, because those men are trained to kill. Sometimes I think that I would like to be a soldier too!

17. We are a praying family. My mother is a praying woman. My father is a praying man. And my new pet “Manty” is a praying mantis!

 18. What if, instead of fighting the fact that I am growing older and will someday reside, utterly forgotten, in some bone orchard, I were instead to simply resign myself to my inevitable demise and make peace with all the people to whom I once behaved so harshly to? On the other hand, as a wise police dog once told me in a dream, you can wish in one hand…and spit in the other!

 19. I categorically refuse to own a devilish MP3 player because I do not like in the least the idea that Nancy Sinatra and Nat King Cole would actually be allowed to share the same device. Say what you will, but many good Christians happen to agree with me on this.

 20. When I was very young, I had my very first sleepover at Bozo’s house. I was so excited that I ran over to him and said, “You know, Bozo, I really really love you!” He pushed me away and said, “That’s a Bozo no-no.” Just then, the police burst down the door. Poor Bozo!


Blaze Kozol spent close to half a year shaving the side of a wooden Indian Head.

 It was, and was not, Mr. Schwenke’s idea. He was the seventh grade shop teacher at General O’Connell Junior High. For some reason, they had an Indian head as their Mascot. The flat wooden Indian Head was the first project students were required to finish for Thursday morning wood shop. It was not intended to take five whole months to complete.

 But Blaze Kozol was seldom in attendance on Thursday mornings. One time a classmate offered him a bunch of old Readers’ Digests if he would but show up on the following Thursday. Blaise did so. He was a big fan of Reader’s Digest; particularly the older ones, from the 1930s and 1940s, which had plain covers and looked more like chapbooks than magazines. There were all sorts of fascinating articles on topics such as why it wasn’t a good idea to eat in certain restaurants, and updates on what was going on in India, Germany, and Virginia. Blaze liked the comforting tone of the articles. He somehow felt that the adults who were in charge knew what they were doing, in spite of anything the Hippies might say. The year was 1970. Older kids would pronounce the name of the year just past with a leer. The world “nineteen” would come out normal, but with a lubricious glissando in singing the world “six-tay NINE”.

 Blaze didn’t get it. But then again, he was naïve about a lot of things.  

 Blaze lived with his mother, who was divorced. They lived alone in a three room apartment in the Penfort Street Housing Projects. She would often tell him he was the man of the family, which made him uncomfortable, because he had just turned thirteen, and hadn’t even started shaving yet, and, anyway, he didn’t feel particularly manly.

 The reason Blaze was absent so often from school on Thursday mornings had a good deal to do with his dislike of the school in general. 

 General O’Connell School was in a neighborhood formerly dominated by Germans, Irish, Italians and Poles. Many of its teachers fell into one of these classifications. The school seemed, in its student body, to be dominated by bullies and snobs. The teachers didn’t seem to care very much. They were just hanging on until they could earn their pensions and retire. The school administrators tended to leave the children to resolve their own disputes, which was just fine with Blaze. The high school Principal was a woman named Mary Saint John, who tended to favor the snobbish kids, who were seldom punished for any infraction short of sheer vandalism. The working-class students, Blaze was interested to discover, bore the brunt of such punishments as she was willing to dole out. The school had no janitor, as far as Blaze could tell, and in the winter the rooms might be suffocating and hot, entailing the opening of snow-jammed windows, or freezing cold, entailing the closing of those same windows. The entire school–a medium-sized two-story dirty ivory-yellow classical brick edifice dating from the 1890s–had a defeated air, as if all the good times had passed it by a long time ago. The Inverted C-shaped portal was a maw into which students disappeared. So Blaze thought. What came out he didn’t care to think about. Either babies, or robots, or some combination of the two. He was a dreamy child, much given to fantastic thoughts such as this.

 Blaze frankly disliked the wood shop class. The very idea of it nauseated him. All those wood shavings reminded him of the cedar chip litter he put in the cage of his hamster. He bore no ill will toward Mr. Schwenke, who was hearty and wore the collar of his blue shirt open. Unlike the other teachers, he wore no tie–“It might get caught up in the machinery” and no rings–“They might get snagged on a saw and that’s a terrible way to lose a finger, I’ve seen it happen too many times.” He also had hairy red arms. You could tell, because he always kept his shirt sleeves rolled up, even in the winter.

 But the actual reason Blaze was always absent on Thursday mornings was that Wednesday night was Bingo Night at Saint Theresa’s, the local parish church.

 Other than her usual cigarettes and wine, Blaze’s mother permitted herself two luxuries. One was that she always ate steak on Sunday (in spite of the disapproving looks she got at the local market when she used her food stamps to pay for them) and the other was that she always went to the weekly Bingo game at Saint Theresa’s. (Her younger sister was just the same way, at least about the Bingo, only she was still married and lived on the South Side.)  

 Bingo night was popular with a great many of the older women in the neighborhood of Venango Street and the immediate vicinity. The Projects were about a two miles walk away from  the church, but that didn’t deter Blaze’s mother,  Florentyna, a woman in her early 30s.

 Before the beginning of Bingo night and the long trek there through the winter snow, Blaze would get to watch shows such as Nanny and the Professor. He was excited to observe that that night’s episode concerned an escaped hamster. Midway through the Courtship of Eddie’s Father, he and his mother left the house. She wanted to get to the Bingo Hall early to get a good table. The capacious basement room of the Church was usually packed full on Wednesdays nights. Endless rows of tables were spread out with young and old women and, here and there, a few old men.

 Play began. The announcer, who spoke from what seemed to be a far off place through a scratchy microphone, would intone the letters, followed by the numbers. Blaze noticed that one old woman, with a smoldering cigarette butt hanging from her toothless mouth, was keeping track of ten cards, and that she used a special marker which she dabbed at each square as its number was called. When, as often happened, an excited voice yelled “Bingo!” the announcer would respond, with a cadenced snatch of song that sounded almost like a lullaby, “Bingo! Bingo has been called! Hold your markers, please!” And then, in a sly undertone, he would say, “Someone might have made a mistake.”

 Blaze understood that this was his mother’s special night out, and that she would prefer it if he found something else to do. After twenty minutes, Blaze was glad enough to escape all the smoke and noise. Outside, in the cold winter air, thick shining opaque and heavy icicles hung down from the Gothic roof of the red brick cathedral. Blaze was surprised though hardly astonished to find two other children his own age loitering outside of the church. The boy was a dark-haired kid named Carmen whom he vaguely recognized from school; the girl, obviously his younger sister, was called Coco.

 “What are you doing out here?” said Carmen.

 “What do you think?” said Blaze. “I’m eavesdropping on you.”

 “What’s that supposed to mean?” said Coco, with a nasty sneer. Carmen was one of the bullies; it looked like Coco was choosing to go the snobbish route.

 “It means I’m listening in on your conversation,” said Blaze.

 Carmen said “You can’t talk to my sister like that,” and, before Blaze could say anything, Carmen pushed him into a snowbank. The brother and sister ran back into the Bingo hall, laughing.

 Blaze lay there in the snow and looked up at the stars. They seemed to be distant winking giants on a cold sky, but Carmen well knew that they were, as his seventh grade science textbook would put it, “flaming balls of incandescent gas.” He pondered this fact for a good while, as steaming breath escaped from his lips and nose. 

 It was then that he got to thinking about God. “What if,” he dared to think, for perhaps the first time ever, “what if there is no God? Then how will people be punished? Who will be held to account? For wars and stuff.  And for minor stuff that nobody notices, like twisting a dog’s ear, or setting a hamster loose from its cage to hide behind the stove and nibble on greasy cracklings?”

 Blaze was not a subtle thinker. He rapidly proceeded from What If There Is No God to There Must Be No God.

 This revelation horrified him. He liked to think there was someone in control, even if it was only a Divine form of Bingo Barker who randomly decided one’s fate by means of shouted letters and numbers. 

 He thought about the implications of a world without God until his ears grew cold. Then he went back to the church. He would have liked to have discussed this new revelation with his mother, but she was in the grip of an abject Bingo frenzy and he knew better to bother her. He looked around the hall to see if he could spot Carmen and Coco. He couldn’t; but he did see a woman who looked very much like Carmen’s mother. He wanted to go up to her and say that her son pushed him into a snow bank, but then she would say something like “Good. You probably deserved it.” Then at school, Blaze would tell Carmen that his mother was a rude woman, and they would have to fight. Maybe until one of them died. 

 Blaze went to the Boy’s bathroom and made water in the urinal. Then, thoughtfully, he clogged the sink with a bar of soap and let the water from both faucets fill it in a full furious blast. He watched with satisfaction as it slopped over.

 Twenty minutes later, an angry red-faced man accosted his mother. “Your boy here,” he said, “flooded the bathroom!” His mother looked up from her Bingo cards. “Did you?” Blaze said “No, I didn’t.” The man said, “I saw him go in there.” His mother looked at him and said, “You’re not lying, are you?” “No!” said Blaze, feigning deep indignation. His mother said, “Well, if my boy says he didn’t do it, then he didn’t.”

 The man went away, unsatisfied and unconvinced.  

 Blaze fingered a buffalo nickel in his pocket. He thought to himself, “Heads, there is a God. Tails, there’s not.”

 He flipped the coin.


 He stared for awhile at the Indian head, then put it back in his pocket.

 His mother hollered Bingo!

 She went home that night with 36 dollars in her purse. The rent on their three rooms was 40 dollars.

 As Blaze was lying in bed, he wondered why an all-powerful God would bother with the likes of him. He pushed this thought from his mind, and shivered under his blankets, waiting, in vain, to fall easily asleep. 


Pennsylvania should really be called Sportsylvania.  I never fit in too well there. The western part of the state was, and is, obsessed with sports. I am a sometime observer of basketball, and baseball, and (especially) boxing. I could tell you stories of my own athletic triumphs, or lack thereof. About the time I tried to carry the football down the field using the same play three times and got clobbered each time. About the time I stood frozen, holding a basketball for more than five seconds, and got called out. About the time I boxed a retarded kid and almost got completely thrashed. But then there was the time at the high school track meet that I came in third in the two mile event, putting our school ahead by a crucial point. We rallied, and we won! And it was all due to me!

 So, sure, I like sports and tales of manly accomplishment (Let’s be honest: nobody really cares about women in sports) as much as the next guy. But enough is enough. Some people love tales of military derring-do and their eyes tear up whenever they see a flag. Usually they are service veterans. The military gets you when you are at a young and impressionable age. In a way, it’s like college for drunks. Not that college students don’t drink. All the weak culls who are too spindly or despicably feeble for military service become obsessed with drugs. Or they become intellectuals, which is much the same thing, only more intelligent, I suppose. Or maybe they’re really into movies and movie stars. Or chess. Or poker. Or politics. Or they like to paint in oils. Or read a lot of trashy novels. Police procedurals seem very popular. Tales of oddball private eyes. Suspense thrillers in which the outcome is preordained, and the good guys win, though…at what a cost! I guess the point is that everyone has some sort of hobby, or interest, or avocation. So we needn’t be too snooty about what brings enjoyment to other people. But sometimes I think that this sports thing is getting out of hand.

 On the way over to work (the train was on time even though we had three inches of snow last night) I got to thinking (it might have been even earlier in the morning, as I slogged my way through my routine, which includes sleepily opening the refrigerator, closing the refrigerator, retrieving my cereal bowl from the sink, opening the refrigerator again, pouring the milk and going to my room and eating the cereal, and making sure the thermostat in my room has been turned down) that maybe sports partisanship is actually a form of mental illness.

 Sportsylphrenia, to coin a term.  

 (I then undress, and reluctantly take my shower, on those days when I feel as though I cannot get by without taking a shower; such days are generally Monday; Wednesday; Friday This may, in fact, have been a shower insight.You know how you step into the tub with the fizzing shower- head suddenly bucking on, and you let the water run for a minute until the water is streaming out at you steaming hot, and yet there is still cold water on the bottom of the tub, so that shocks you awake, and there is very hot water pounding you on the shoulder, and that also shocks you awake? I have always found the shower very conducive to thinking my odd thoughts.)

 Sportsylphrenia  An undue fascination with, and belief in, the magic of sports. You have noted, perhaps, how people rooting for their teams seem compelled to comment upon their comparative progress. How they seem to have a magical, and nearly psychotic belief, in their own far-off ability to affect the progress of the game? How their thoughts revolve around the doings of their far off Olympian heroes–namely, their favorite sports figures, or totems? When people are unusually devout about saints, and spend all their waking hours in observance of their faith, it is known as religious mania. It is expected of extremely old people that they be, or become, particularly devout. Sportsylphrenia, I reckon, is suffered by the very young and very old alike. In my younger days I, too, suffered from this malady. But now I line myself up with the despicable intellectuals. You ever notice how these weak sisters pretend to enjoy sports, perhaps in an ironic fashion? But you won’t see them laying their money down. No—that’s the mark of the true sports devotee. 

 (After I take the shower I dress and somehow manage to launch myself out the door, dressed, as is the fashion in this weather, in a stout puffy coat with an undercoat; a knit cloth hat, and gloves. After clearing the aforementioned three inches of snow off my car, I lurch and lumber slowly from out of the driveway, remembering, belatedly, to turn on my lights.) 

 I had barely enough time to catch the train. I arrived at the station not unusually late. Thirteen minutes early, as a matter of fact. But I spent a good ten minutes scraping the space in front of my car to find the number of the space. With a big plastic shovel which I keep in the front seat. I failed. (The thrill of victory—the agony of defeat.) But then, not wanting to get a ticket for the four dollars and having to “waste” a check in paying it, to say nothing of a postage stamp, I circled back to my car. A woman noticed me scraping with my shovel and said “Look at you”. Which is something, it seems, that women have taken lately to saying. She also informed me that if I couldn’t find the number of my space it was probably because I was parked too far back. She was right. Finally, I did find the number. 261. (If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. There is no substitute for victory. Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.) I looked at my phone. 6:38. So I hurriedly paid the parking fee. To pay it, my favored method is to take two dollar bills and fold them lengthwise in thirds, push them through the slot, and then repeat the process. It generally takes about a minute or two. I then run like an athlete, like the runner I once was, up the 33 rusty steps to the ramp which leads to the train platform. On the way up, a man stumbles. He is wearing a green coat, and his balding head was bare. Are you all right I said, and made to support him in case he fell backwards. “I’m fine,” said he, and I pressed onward. (Sportsmanship isn’t dead.  Teamwork counts. We are all in this together. I still have a mostly full head of hair.)

 Turns out I needn’t have run. I was there on the platform with a minute or two to spare. (I wonder whether when, in running to catch the train, young men and old men and middle aged men are given to thinking of their athletic days–nearly every healthy man has had them–when to run at a brisk pace was as nothing. Back before the accumulation of what one might, in a parodic mood, refer to as “wisdom fat”. Which puts me in mind of the fact that Sportsylphenia might not meet the criteria for major (or even minor) mental disorders in the DSM, possibly because it appears to be seasonal. But true sufferers from this affliction–which they defensively cherish and even treasure up–suffer from it year-round, since they go from ardently cheering on their grimly serious team when it is engaged in basketball or hockey or baseball or football. Some degenerates are even ardent devotees of—dare I say it?–golf.) 

 The train, when it does arrive, does not stop properly. The last car–the quiet car–is very nearly hanging off the platform. We aren’t permitted to enter via the back door. So we all have to walk down the ramp to the ground level to board there. At least, we were supposed to do so. I, and one other man, circumvent the process by using the drifted snow as a ladder from the platform to the ground, thus avoiding the ramp. Actually, I used the snow. He was younger; less cautious; more heedless; and he jumped.  I grabbed a three-seater on the train and waited. I hoped a woman would sit next to me. I recall thinking, with no small satisfaction, that I was still as limber as a monkey. But then I began thinking of the time when I failed to scale a climbing rock wall erected in the Parking Lot by the local National Guard as a recruiting tool. I was, at the time, only 47 years old. One year too old, as it turns out, to join the National Guard. By the way, war-madness is a big symptom of, or at the very least feeds into, the epidemic known as Sportsylphrenia, which, unlike many mental conditions, is also contagious.) A woman wishes to sit next to me and I gallantly get up and let her have the window seat. I felt glad. Protective. That I was able to give her a portion of my seat. My manly duty. (I think that Sportsylphenia–and, I hasten to add that I am not a medical professional–primarily afflicts males, although some females also acquire the affliction–perhaps, by proxy.) 

 A blind man got on the train. He looked retarded. His big fat lips stuck out and he had a prognathous jaw and looked faintly cretinous. (Sportsylphenia trains us to scorn the weak.) A woman gave up her seat for him. (That is just the sort of thing a woman would do.) The train was very crowded. An Oriental woman sat on the edge of our triple-seater. On the armrest. There was no room for her on the seat. (Sportsylphenia trains us to disregard the needs of women.) The lights went out and the heat failed about thirty minutes into our hour-long trip. (Sportsylphrenia gives us the stamina to stand for half an hour or more in trains, and to walk a mile without tiring, as I attempted to do when I arrived in the train station at 7:41–some 8 minutes late–and saw that there was nobody waiting for the bus. I succeeded. But it took me 24 minutes to walk 1.1 miles of the slippery walkways. Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in.) 

 Well, Doctor, I’m afraid I’m going to have to miss my next appointment. I am going to be out of town at a conference. You know how we all get together and talk shop at those things? I’m thinking maybe I’ll tell them about my theory of Sportsylphenia.

 Then again, maybe I won’t. There might be some people there from…Sportsylvania. 


 Love makes the world go round, though cynics may sneer, because that is their job.  I was thinking recently of the Honey Bunches of Oats cereal commercial in which the coffee shop slave-woman flawlessly recites off the stuffy businessman’s coffee order while the cartoon bee smugly remarks “That’s not just the coffee talkin’!” (I wish I had some more coffee right now. I only have half a cup, and yet, if I have any more I won’t be able to fall asleep.)

 This brutal Iron Law of Wages scenario would lead to the TV viewer’s fantasy (TV viewers must surely devise their own narratives) of the businessman being so impressed with her memory that he hires her for his firm and soon she’s pulling down big bucks and is wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice and eventually she marries the wealthy businessman and they have several bouncing baby boys but eventually the man feels trapped and says he should have known better to marry a mere coffee shop worker and she goes back to college to get her Master’s degree and divorces him and takes the kids and makes a rather nice living for herself running a chain of coffee shops where, on offer for all employees, along with all the coffee they can bear to drink, would be little bowls of Honey Bunches of Oats.

 That reminds me of a man who met his future wife when they were both working in a Dunkin Donuts. After many fertility treatments they had twin boys. One good, and one evil? Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, other than The Shadow, and I haven’t seen him for awhile, as Cher said of the man who planted a baby in her womb in her exciting narrative “Gypsies Tramps and Thieves.” Of the twin boys, one is a jock and one a musician. Both of whom, I believe, work in a liquor store.

 But here we are getting out of the realm of fiction and into the realm of biography. Damn that Emerson! (“There is properly no history, only biography.”)

 You learn a lot about drunks from working in a liquor store. (He said, in a world-weary voice.) Seems as though hardly a day passes by when you don’t have some sort of disgusting kind of old man make leering insinuations to the female clerks. They’re good on the cash register, because they tend to be more patient. (And not because they’re probably drunk.) The owner likes to keep an eye on things by looking at TV monitors in the back room. He keeps a baseball bat handy. Also a gun. Loaded. (Like his customers!) This reminds me, for some reason, of a song from long ago:

 Take me down to the liquor wagon Lord I need a drink    

Take me down to the liquor wagon I don’t want to think

About her….

 Uh-huh. Love truly does make the world go round.

 And that’s not just the coffee talkin’!



MARCH 6, 2015

Copyright 2015 FRANCIS DIMENNO

Man is the same today that he has always been. He is a rebel against God. He may, in some generations, hide his rebellion a little more carefully than at other times, but there is no change in his heart. The men who builded the city against God back in the days of Babylon had the same hatred as that which possessed the men who nailed the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross.— Donald Grey Barnhouse



Now, just before the New Year I decided in a rare fit of religiosity to go see the hateful Reverend John Cross, for he was slated to speak at the Church of Christ the Redeemer, and I had it on very good authority that none other than Richard B. Stolas his own self was going to be there to pass the basket. I had thought that Cross had long ago deserted Noxtown in search of greener pastures, especially after having been given a verbal drubbing by Jim Whitey, the notorious loocher and former circus clown. I figured that I might as well see what Cross could do when he was surrounded by respectable people, some of whom were his friends. There’s a big difference, after all, between giving a speech to an ignorant mob as has it in for you, and giving a speech before an assemblage of your adoring acolytes. 

“Virtue,” said he, as the time for the sermon came nigh, “is happiness. Vice is misery? Who will say me nay?” Not a soul stirred. The crowd was hushed, as though they were waiting for the second coming.

“‘If the Bible is right.’ How many times have you heard those words? IF the Bible is right. Such an imposture. Of COURSE the Bible is right. If Moses were alive today, what do you suppose he would do? To see our young people worshipping at the feet of ragtime and ballroom dancing? To see our adult citizens in thrall to rushing the growler and reading smutty newspapers by new-fangled electric light? To see our very babes in arms addicted to zwieback cookies and patent medicines? Do they not know that Jehovah is a jealous God, and that thou shalt have no other Gods before Him? 

“You may think it little more than a harmless indulgence to own poodle-dogs, or to parade around in fur coats, or to play a harmless game of cards. But I say unto you that such indulgences take away the Glory of God that is his, and must be stopped in their cradle! Such indulgences–for that is what they truly are–must be hunted down in their dens and scattered to the four winds! 

“I say unto you that God does not tolerate the foul-mouthed apostate nor the base hypocrite.

“He does not look kindly upon the craven and feeble-minded criminal nor the law’s vagabond.

“He hates the skulking denier of the faith and the timid fellow who follows the stars instead of residing his faith in one true God.

“He hath interdicted the necromancer, the fortune teller and the astrologer.

“He sneers at the cold-blooded scientist who does not believe in God.

“He gazes with stern visage at the yellow coward shivering in fear and the despicable murderer, his hands red with blood.

“He is scornful of the fearful man, afraid to give money to the Lord to fight the Devil as well as the cowering man, unrepentant in his sins.

 “He is deeply disturbed by the arrant rogue who saith in his heart There Is No God and the dastardly man who goes to church for appearance’s sake but never helps his neighbor when he gets into trouble.

“He has no sympathy for the defector–disloyal to his people, his tribe, and his country; the faithless man, to whom truth means nothing; the false man, who trades in lies; the false-hearted man, whose meanness is the undoing of works of faith; nor does He love the frightened man, who will not testify; nor the gutless man, who will not relinquish his bad habits; nor the perfidious man, who spreads the poison of the so-called Age of Reason. 

“His wrath shall fall with good reason both fitting and meet upon  the pigeon-hearted man, full of fuss and flapdoodle, who cannot or will not commit his life to God; the sneaking man, who pretends to believe; and the spiritless man, who has ceased to believe and doesn’t know it. 

“He is openly displeased by the timorous man, who will not defend his creed; the treacherous man, who will betray his creed whenever it should prove expedient; and most of all, the unmanly man, about whose loathsome deeds I need not expound upon further. 

“In fine, He will not tolerate the servile man–the man, if you may even call him such, who snivels before worldly authority and neglects his one True Lord. 

“Need I speak further?  I need not. 


 “For all of these, ALL– Jehovah abominates! 

“Friends, this is not to say that if you recognize yourself as a humble sinner in this catalog of notoriety, that all hope is lost. No! You have but to repent of your sins–and you will be bathed in the cool waters of Righteousness! And all of you will be destined to go straight to Heaven! 

“Heaven! That wonderful place! Imagine if you will, a cool garden. The sun is beating down, but there is a warm breeze, and all is well. Oh, I can assure you that there will be no poodle-dogs, or furs, or cigarette-smoking, or card-playing, or Socialism in heaven! 


“People will be too busy in worshiping THE LORD. If this sounds like a paradise to you, then you should do everything you can to get on board the Cannonball Express headed skyward and nonstop to those pearly gates. 

“Friends, I ask you–would you not gladly spend a dime to ride a trolley? 

“Then why not make a pledge of one dollar so you can go to heaven? AH-MEN!

“My good friend Mr. Stolas will pass among you now, and so I would urge you to be generous with your faith donations.”

I wasn’t expecting the people to respond with much enthusiasm to Cross’s message, but, to my vast surprise, I watched as the basket was filled not once, twice, or even three times, but a total of four times–in each case overbrimming with bills. Whether it was because the people were more afraid of offending The Big Man than they were of pleasing the preacher, I couldn’t say. 

In fact, I’d rather not say. 






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FEBRUARY 27, 2015

Copyright 2015 FRANCIS DIMENNO

Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face. –Victor Hugo



In the Seven Stars Saloon they all stood dumb—all the barflies and bottle suckers and loochers–after Jim Whitey finished telling his story.

Finally: “Laugh it up, Shitbird,” said Musky Dan.

And: “A clown’s no good unless he laughs,” chimed in Adam O’Day.

“Ack!” said Jim Whitey,”Nix, fellas, ixnay.  I’ve been thrown up on my beam ends many a time, but I’m through traveling with the circus, see, and bein’ a clown. You might as well be in the army. Traveling all the time, sleeping rough, having to live on greasy stew, following orders, having to groom hosses…at my age I deserve to take it easy. Then there’s the part they don’t tell you about. Ringmasters whipping lions ‘til they drop. Angry critters chained to stakes. Miserable chimps flingin’ their own shit. I’m a hard man, me; a man of iron. But I don’t like to see a critter treated mean for no good reason. Besides, half the people in any given town want to run us out because the acrobats don’t wear enough clothes or some damn fool nonsense like that. The other half have some beef about the cooch dancers on the midway. Seems as though it hardly pays anymore to have a traveling circus or a carnival. There’s always some Goo-Goo out there ready to make with the waterworks.

“Besides, making people laugh ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. In order to do it at all, you gotta make a dern fool of yourself. Nobody likes a philosophical clown. No, it’s always the clown as has got some kind of gimmick that wows the Reubens.  Besides, clowns is the most cynical bunch of wiseacres you’ll ever meet. They make your average newspaperman look like a babe in arms.  And mean? Hoo boy, you ain’t heard nothin’ until you been taken down by a clown with a grudge. The clowns, see, they always seem to know what’s happening on the lot with the other performers, and they’ll be the first to tell you that the Ringmaster has got the mash for one of his young Equestriennes, or whether the girl tight rope walker has been seen in the company of the strong man. Clowns themselves are a bit goofy and they can always tell when others are goofy as well.

“Let’s face it—it ain’t fun no more, to be a clown.  It ain’t fun no more. Nobody takes you serious. You can be the most accomplished Yellof as ever drew breath, but as long as you got that red rubber nose you ain’t got no more right to say something smart than if you was a dog.  Clowns get to speak the truth, they say. Not hardly! What use is it to know the score, and be with it and for it, when nobody pays you no never mind? The most fun I ever had was with my version of Hamlet, as performed by a chimpanzee:

To be or not to be/Or to swing from a tree?

“There’s more; a whole heap more, God help me; but I don’t reckon you’d even understand the half of it.  The crowd certainly didn’t. I had to go back to snorting ‘snow’ and making with the funny walks.

“I reckon all of ye ken why clowns don’t get treated ‘spectable—it’s because they’re crazy, or they’re Morphodites, or they’re on the lam from the law or at the very least is got something they’re running away from and they want to hide themselves under greasepaint–and they’re not in good standing with the Masons or any other fraternal organization. That’s what the clowns need, is a Union. First United Clowns, Conjurers, Entertainers, and Magicians. Next up, what they need is a Church. First Church of Christ, Whiteface. And finally, what they need is their own college degree—M.F., Master of Fun. Then maybe we’ll get the respect they deserve.

“Lots of clowns drink, you know. That’s why their heart is breaking for one reason or another. Beneath the big floppy bow tie is a man afraid. He’s a modern-day witch doctor, healing with his laughter—but though everyone’s willing to laugh at a clown, nobody’s willing to love him. Not the dames, and certainly not the rest of the general public. Slip some smut in your act and the Goo-Goos will holler destruction and red death, but if you fail to spice it up a peck the growed folks will yawn and wind their pocket-watches and talk through the act. Real life is calm but the circus is always moving. But there comes a time when a man deserves some peace and quiet. Circus life is no life for a man with any self-respect. Sure—you might say that it involves travel, and something new every day—but me, I’ll take dry feet and a warm beddo in my own home sweet home over circus life any day. The grass ain’t always greener. You don’t know how good you have it. Anyway, the Carny on Treasure Island ain’t so bad. Working the Mitt Camp from six to midnight ain’t exactly no ball and chain. As long as you get to bed before the sun comes up, it don’t matter if you’ve been drinking all night. I still got some do-re-me in my grouch bag, and I can afford to take a cut in pay. Besides, the Mitt Camp is pay as you go. The harder you work and the quicker you get ‘em out of there, the more you make.

He stopped to shudder. “Anything is better than having to visit them sick kiddies in the hospital.”  He took a long stiff drink. “Anything at all.”

“Matter of fact, I hated all them sick Kiddies. You were expected to do something, anything to make them laugh. Anything at all. And who says they needed to laugh? Haven’t they got enough troubles? You say laughter is a healing kind of thing, but nothing I know says it’s so. People bark out their laughter like they’re expelling a plague, ’tis true, but too much in that line can’t possibly be good for no one. You ever notice how clowns themselves hardly ever laugh? That’s because they’re like bartenders who know better than to hit the sauce. They’ve seen too much of what laughter does to people. You ever see a man who will laugh at anything? That, Sir, is one miserable man. And a fool besides. No, all this laughing is little more than a respectable racket. I’m done with trying to make people laugh. You know what laughter is? Laughter is selfish. Sure, you all break into a big hardy har har when you’re laughing along with all the others, but I say laughing is a lonely business all the same. You ever see an animal laugh? No, because they know better. Me, I can love any woman–except one who laughs. You ever see a Zook when she commences into a blithering guffaw? She looks like nothing but a braying ass. You ever see a fat man–a banker, perhaps, with his top hat and his watch fob and his side-whiskers and his big fat cigar? You ever hear him give forth with his complacent chortle? He sounds like he’s making nothing more or less than the satisfied grunts made by any well-contented pig. No, Yobs, I’m off the laughing sauce. If you want to see a clown, go to the circus. I’ve got something more serious in mind. Telling people’s fortunes; there’s the racket. Nothing could be easier. You spend a lifetime watching people laugh, which is when they’re at their most vulnerable, and you can consider them to be capable of anything. Anything-a-tall.”





















What are some things that cops know, but most people don’t? [Tim Dees, Retired cop and criminal justice professor, Reno Police Department, Reno Municipal Court, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Police Department]

Not all of these are strictly what the police know that private citizens don’t, but they’re close. Many are things I wish I could have said, but would have been in big trouble for doing so:

  1. Even though you say differently, you probably don’t know your rights.
  2. If you leave your teenager in charge of the house while you go away for the weekend, he or she will probably do something you forbade them to do. If they decide to host a beer party, your house will be wrecked.
  3. You can’t talk your way out of a ticket. Lots of people talk themselves into one.
  4. Of course it went off. What did you expect would happen when you pulled the trigger?
  5. The electronics in your radar or laser detector work no faster than those in my radar or LIDAR gun. By the time the little red light goes on, I already have your speed.
  6. We know you had more than two beers.
  7. If you grew up with guns in the house, you probably knew how to get to them, even though your parents thought they had them hidden or locked away. Don’t think your kids are any less ingenious.
  8. Arguing with me here will not go well for you. Arguments are for courtrooms, where you can make any statements and ask me any questions you want. Out here, I win all the arguments.
  9. We really don’t care how many FOP, State Sheriffs Association or 11-99 Foundation stickers you buy for your car. If you deserve the ticket, you’re getting it.
  10. Yes, you do pay my salary. Today’s obligation can be calculated by the following formula:((Amount you pay annually in state, county or city taxes/365) x (Fraction of budget allocated for law enforcement))/(Number of employees in my organization

    I’d be happy to give you a refund. Do you have change for a penny?

  11. Most able-bodied people really can do those tests while sober.
  12. You are not the first person to see a cop and say “Take him, he did it,”  “I didn’t do it,” or to tell your kid, “If you don’t behave, that cop will put you in jail.” You probably aren’t even the first one to say that today. You have, however, caused me to mentally label you as a moron.
  13. The gun isn’t to protect you. It is to protect me.
  14. Your substance abuse problem is your business until it spills over into someone else’s life. Now, you are the problem.
  15. I don’t especially care what your race, religion, sexual preference, ethnicity, political affiliation or economic status is. I do have a bias against assholes.
  16. Can anyone here point out this person’s parents? He just asked me if I knew who his father was, and I don’t.
  17. Believe it or not, you really don’t drive better with a few drinks in you.
  18. Do unto others, but do it first.
  19. We are not armed, uniformed scribes. If someone has threatened, insulted, or otherwise vexed you in some non-criminal way and you want it put on record, write it down, take it to a notary public, and sign it in their presence. Poof, you have a record.
  20. If we could make one change to improve society, better parenting would be toward the top of the list.
  21. There probably are teenagers who can handle alcohol responsibly outside the direct supervision of an adult. We never run into them, though.
  22. Please press firmly, you are making four copies.
  23. You are in ______________. We don’t care how they do it in ___________.
  24. Yes, you very well may see me in court. I get paid overtime to be there, win or lose.


Excerpt from Robert Christgau’s Memoir ‘Going Into the City’




FEBRUARY 20, 2015

Copyright 2015 FRANCIS DIMENNO



“That night,” said Jim Whitey, the confidence man and clown, “I managed to get the Sherf of Hickory Hollow good and liquored up and I offered to do a reading on him. “Thought you was a jack-leg preacher,” says he. “Since when does a preacher-man go in for fortune telling?” I told him it was one of the skills I had picked up along the way and it was all strictly for a gag.

“The Swami always told me to let the cards shape what I had to say, and that’s exactly what I done, and it worked out fine. Fine! I told him that the first card was the hanged man. That was easy enough to make out, I suppose; I told him that he would never admit it, maybe not even to himself, but that he regretted all the poor wretches he sent to trial, and thence to jail, and later to themselves be hanged. What made it all the worse was that he himself was blameless in his own personal affairs, and so he couldn’t imagine for the life of him why some people manage to get themselves in the kind of fixes that they do do.

“The next card I pulled for him was The Magician. I told him that this referred to all the dam fool quacks and other so-called doctors who dose their patients to poison, only you can’t do anything about them, see, because they’re docs, and even the very best doctor makes a mistake every now and then—not to cast aspersions on the sole practitioner doing his good works in Hickory Hollow—no, I was mostly referring to the Witchy Women and the herb Doctors so called and all the purveyors of snake oil and so called medicine—begging the pardon of Doctor Ketman (who, as though summoned, had just walked in). Most of those so-called medicines were just alcohol or laudanum, and would be more likely to make you keel plum over rather than cure you. Doctor Bed-Rest, said I, was the best doctor of all, and I told the Shurf that whenever he was feeling a mite puckish it means he shoulda stood in bed.

“For his next card, I pulled out Temperance. I said that this indicated that he had to use his judgment, and not feel guilty if he had a drink or two—which he was glad to hear—as it would help him to relax, which he badly needed (he agreed) and get a handle on his job and maybe not to judge too harshly the poor sinners and Rum-dums who get a snootful of tanglefoot and proceed to raise Holy Ned. I also told him that liquor drives men to be more than they could be, but it makes them lesser beings who are prone to all sorts of faults, such as sneaking off with prostitutes—‘Taint so, says he, none of that here, I druve ever’ damn pimp out of this town, he roared—and maybe sneaking off with thy neighbors’s wife, and I noticed that he didn’t have anything to say about that. Me, I can hold my applejack when I have a mind to, and I let Shurf Troop drink two for my every one. I said that the Temperance card shows the way for the gambler—the man who gambles with his life every day—and who maybe likes to relax with a friendly game of cards—not for big shekels, strictly penny ante—and he looks at me kind of funny and asks me how I knew he liked to play cards? Well, it wasn’t much of a stretch—the man had to have at least one vice—and he didn’t seem like the type who goes in for dancin’ and petunias and perfumey water—I said that the temperance card told him just how bad gambling could be, so he wouldn’t break up a friendly game but he was hell on riverboat gamblers and that ilk, and he says, damn straight—they’re just about as bad as pimps—and I told him that many a riverboat gambler has met a sorry end at the hands of dedicated law officers such as himself, and it’s a crying shame there weren’t more men of his caliber to drive these rats from their hidey-holes, and he beamed and stuck his thumbs under his galluses like he had just won the Irish Sweepstakes. I said that a man who would gamble for high stakes is a man who would lie, and that a liar is a thief and a thief is a murderer, and he grew quiet and muttered that this was what he always thought.

“Oh, I know I was playing with fire, cozying up to the Shurf like that—the cards could go terribly wrong at any moment or he could decide at any moment that I had some ulterior motive for jollying him along—and he could pistol whip me and send me to jail on trumped up charges just as easily as he could ding the cuspidor.

“I noticed that the Shurf was looking a bit trembly and white lipped and I asked him if anything was wrong and he wanted to know if there were any more cards and what they said and I told him there were two more, if he cared to know about his possible future, and he said he did, and he declined the bottle when I offered him more, which told me that he didn’t intend to be at the mercy of me or of no man, so I knew I had to watch my step.

“Luckily, the next card was in his favor. I drew the Ace of Pentacles, and even a blind man could tell you that this means good news–that money will be coming. It’s always from an unexpected source; never tell the sucker who benefactor is, lest you trip yourself up.  

“Finally, I held my breath and drew the final card. It was the Nine of Swords, and you don’t have to be a swami to know that this signified bad news. I put a sweetener on it to make the medicine go down. I told him the tale of a young man who leaves home, full of high hopes, and ready to tell the world where to get off, who comes home beaten and broken and ready to embrace his family once more. I was taking a real stab in the dark, but it just so happens that Shuft Troop had a scapegrace older brother who went off to the war and was livin’ high until he lost all his dough and had to return all browbeaten back to the embrace of his home folk. By that time you could of knocked the Shurf over with a willow switch. He was all googly eyed, and half-convinced that I was some kind of wizard. But I told him, I said to him that it wasn’t me, that I was just a vessel for the cards. I also told him that the swords was there for him to cut through all his difficulties, but by them he was completely white-faced and took his hat and made some excuse and fled out of there as though I were the Devil hisself.

“I didn’t have much trouble from him after that.

“Why’d I have to leave town? It warn’t the Sheriff who caught me out. No, it was the other two store clerks, Mr. Akia and Mr. Ayak, who started in to bad mouthin’ me. Said I tipped off the suckers about the sand in the sugar and the worms in the corn meal and the dust in the pepper. Said I sold them crabapples as the regular kind and pocketed the diff. Maybe a stray coin or two did find its way into my coin purse. So what? It’s not like Honest Joe Kludd was paying me a King’s Ransom. I was the main attraction of the store. Everyone wanted to see the City Slicker. Until one day, the novelty wore off.  All of a sudden, I was Peck’s Bad Boy. I blame them counter-jumpers, Akia and Ayak, for spreadin’ mean and false rumors about my deceivin’ ways with the womenfolk. Word also spread that I was a kind of pansy, or worse. If you can believe it. And that I wasn’t a God-fearin’ Christian, like the rest of them. The upshot of all this was that the Butchers just about cut me down. I got outta there about one step ahead of a necktie party, and no more. 

“Now, Yobs, if you happen to run across anyone from them parts, don’t tell ‘em you know me or where I’m roostin’.  It wouldn’t be too healthy for me or for them –or Johnny Darby of the C.T.A.–to know that. I’ll be at the Carny until the whole thing blows over. I’ll likely be working the Mitt Camp. If’n yuh need to look me up, look for the gent with the tall turban.”    
























783. Goldfinger by Peter Stampfel



FEBRUARY 13, 2015
Copyright 2015 FRANCIS DIMENNO

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald


Judge Sniffle breezes out through the door trailing broken hacks and coughsicles, and even as he does, in walks a not-so-familiar figure–a notorious Abbey Lubber previously known mostly to the ex-circus goons who made Smash Conklin their Aaron, but missing from Noxtown for over a year.

“Jim Whitey!” hollered old Musky Dan from his corner. “What in Hell are YOU doing here? We all thunk you done abscotchalated!”

 “I’se been laying low for awhile, yes. But I’m reformed, I am. I’m a new man.,”said Jim Whitey, standing at the bar at the Seven Stars, I noticed he seemed somewhat crestfallen; he didn’t have his big fierce dog with him; “Had to sell ‘im” was his terse explanation.  

I used to be scared of Jim Whitey, who was a Skillo talker with the Red and Black Carnival and, before that, a Whiteface Joey with the Circus; but recently he had fallen on hard times, and he revisited the Seven Stars looking for some companionship and maybe a bit of sympathy. He found neither.  You took one cold look at his scaly pink cheeks and his tufts of red hear and you were immediately reminded of the red-headed stepchild whose destiny was to be beaten. And who, in his own turn, took it all out on those weaklings who were unlucky enough to cross his path.

“How so? Ack! No, I don’t go to church, Yob. I only worship at The Tabernacle of the Swami, now.  Did I ever tell yuh? I first met the Swami in ‘03. He only appears about every 14 years or so. Says he needs to keep a low profile. Yah, lately though, f’r about the past year I been hanging my hat in Hickory Hollow. It’s a big step back in time there, Yob. Everybody knows everybody else. They keep the colored folk out. Big sign at the town limits. Says ‘Go Away’.  Says ‘Colored People Will Be Shot and then Shot Again.’ Only it doesn’t say colored people on the sign. I got no brief agin ’em. Most of them are all right. It’s only when they start talking loud and drawing attention to themselves that they get my goat. They hanged a few, back in the day. I’m suspecting they couldn’t read. Sign is pretty clear. All of ‘em down to the Hollow tote some pretty mean-looking rifles. Even the babes in arms pack pistols, or so I’se been given to understand. It’s a grand and a glorious place. They liked me there because I could sell iceboxes to Eskimoes. My Boss, Mr. Honest Joe Kludd, at the Kountry Store, he said I was the best he’s ever seen. Said I put his other two clerks in the shade.  ‘Won’t you take some of this corn flour, Madam?’ I says, and I tip my hat. ‘Would you like to try some of this scourin’ cleanser? Like a charm, it works.’ All you gotta do is talk ’em up faster than they can understand you, and you got it made. It’s as easy as cheating the suckers on the Skillo. Easier. They’re Hill Folk. You get ‘em so they’s got no choice but to buy; or else they feel guilty about wasting your time, and then they’re obliged to you. And that’s one thing they won’t stand–to be obliged to any man. Not like around here, where the wise Gees are allus on the earie for a glib talker. It was like shootin’ fish in a bar’l. Even the stingy old mountain men and their women-folk. If I couldn’t sell ‘em a full sack of flour, I’d sell ‘em the empty sack. Used to be we would give ‘em away. And them Mountain Gals are easy. Yahoo! Lover’s Lane, here I come. They’d pucker up for nearly any snazzy Joe with a line of snappy patter. You Yellofs may approach the gals holding your head cocked to one side like an inquisitive spaniel. My approach is more full-on. An invulnerable grin, saying ‘Mine for Me.’  Course, you needed to be ware of the long rifles their pappies like to tote around. Hell, some of them gals, if’n they ain’t married up by the time they’re seventeen, why, they was considered old maids. I was always very careful to get spoony only with the ones as knowed to keep their mouth shut. No, not the little girls. I don’t know who’s been spreadin’ those lies around, but they ain’t so. 

“I’ll tell you something—the land out there is wild, and rocky, and foreboding. You look out the windows of their tarpaper shacks, and all you see is the twisted branches of gnarly old trees that have been there since God Himself was a pup. It’s a wonder that I lasted there was long as I did.

“Why did I leave the Holler? I’m getting’ to that. I was mighty good at selling threads, and needles, and notions. I put in a hard ten hours a day standing on my feet caterin’ to the needs and whims of them dyed-in-the-wool Reubens. And I could tell you everything you ever need to know about the way them people do business. Their word is their bond, and all that. Makes them painfully easy to sell. Just give them some lousy gimcrack for free gratis and they’ll be duty bound to buy from you. Even if it’s some cheap peace of slum like a plastic comb. They’ll jump through hoops to pay you back. They ain’t fixin’ to be bound to no man for no favors or nuthin’. 

“Course, you had to watch your step in those parts. The Sheriff is a mean cuss. People tend to do what he tells ‘em. He won’t take no back talk. I steered clear of him. His name was Troop. Sheriff Troop—ain’t that a laugh. But he warn’t no Trouper. Real slackjawed moron, he was, or so he’d have you think, always workin’ on a chaw. Comes up to me one time. ‘Whut’s your bidness around here anyway, Boy?’ says he. What can you say to that? I misdirected him nicely, though. Said I was a Jack-leg preacher man looking for a new line of work because I was losin’ my faith in the goodness of man. Said I wanted to spend time away from the big city and live among the simple ordinary law-abidin’ folk like I used to know down south. He warn’t fooled though. “Watch your step,” says he. ‘I got my eye on you.’ Sure enough, his little black piggy eyes was glistering like a mud puddle on a rainy day. He had my number all-rightie, and that’s no Harvard lie. Why, if looks could kill I would have been six feet under before you could bury a dog. ‘We don’t like no troublemakers around here,’ said he. ‘If you don’t intend to abide by the law, you better quit and get on out. We’re a God-fearin’ bunch in this community, and we don’t cotton to no slick-talking flatlanders fixin’ to swindle honest folk. I told him it was the furthest thing from my mind. But it was no use. He could tell I was lying. He may have been a low-grade moron, but he was a mighty shrewd man. I figured I had picked the wrong place to hole up and that I had better pack up my bags.

 “But then, after he Sheriff left, I got in to thinking. I says to myself, I says, ‘God damn his God damned soul to hell, and God damn his kinfolk, and God damn his wife and kiddies, and good God damn, God damn HIM. I didn’t work the Skillo all them years to be druve away by some crossraods clown of a Shurf. So then I went in my suitcase and brought out a deck of cards and a bottle of rotgut, and I made my plans.”   

Jim Whitey continued the tale of his stay in Hickory Hollow. “The Sheriff was a mean man, all right, a Yellof as had seen too much and had nobody to tell it to. I could see that he would queer my pitch unless something was done, so one night, as I recall, I invited him up to my room over the store for a frank man to man chat. It was a Monday night, and he was nothing averse. I asked him straight out if he minded I had a drink and he said that it was a dry county but I could please myself. Said if he had to haul in every drinker in the county, wouldn’t any work get done. Said he hardly ever touched the stuff hisself, and that’s when I knew I had him. I made a big moan about how it ain’t right neighborly to let a man drink all by hisself but that I supposed that he was on duty and was afraid to have a wee dram. He roars back that he would be the judge of that, and he takes the bottle of redeye and pours himself a goodly snort. Ahh, he says, that burns. And then the creases in his face sort of rounded out and his eyes started to tear ever so slightly and I knowed my guess was right.



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