Saturday, July 31

Chapter 4:

"Doug's Tavern"

As a boy I never missed an opportunity to sneak into the bar with my father. He would be there behind the counter serving up hard liquor to the customers and I loved to watch him slide a beer to within an inch of his mark. There was nobody smoother than my pop. He’d let me in if he saw me standing at the door, and sometimes he’d let me come back and fill taps for some of the customers; if there was a light crowd, he would even let me try my hand at sliding -- I only broke two glasses, and those were the first two. After that, when I was about eleven, I began to go in to help, off and on in the afternoons -- always sneaking up to the door and stepping in just far enough for him to see me and nod before heading behind the bar with him. I got good at passing beer. I could slide a full glass all the way across the counter to stop within two inches of falling onto the floor or someone’s lap.

“Let’s put ‘im to the test!” One man shouted, and the bets were laid down on how close I could get a full tap to the end without falling off or spilling a drop, and another bet on my father beating me at it. Money flew. There wasn’t a man in the place who wouldn’t lay down on a sure thing -- my dad would win: everyone knew it, and everyone bet against me -- except one man. He had been sitting at the back playing a hand of five card stud and raking in enough to keep his boots shined until the end of next century.

“I’ll lay down fifty on the boy,” he said, and set down a large wad of money, “my money says he can get it to tip on the edge without falling.”

Laughter went up around the bar, but the stranger stood his ground. He was a betting man, sure enough. His silver studded buttons spoke not of opulence as much as good luck. He wasn’t from our town, but had shown up two weeks earlier and plunked himself down in my pop’s bar where he would spend his days in cards and money. We all knew him as the stranger, simply because we never asked his name -- didn’t have to; he always paid in cash. He stayed in the “Rusty Moses” across the street and was rarely seen anywhere except in the bar or in the hotel, but once he was seen in church, and once walking into the Sheriff’s office.

“I’ll see that bet,” my father said, “Fifty against.”
“You can’t bet against your son Doug,” a voice cried from the group.
“Well, you don’t have to drink my beer either, do you William?”
“Fine, keep the bet.”
“I will,” my father said and laid down two fives on the table. He leaned down and whispered in my ear, “aim low,” he said, “I’m fillin ‘em with whiskey.”

My father’s hands carefully poured the expensive whiskey to the brim of a large mug, then set it down in front of me on the counter. Someone in the back of the crowd put out the lamps everywhere but at the counter, and they all gathered closer.

“They each get three tries,” the stranger said, “the best one counts.”
“They only each get two,” another voice shouted, “three’s too many!”
“One,” I said. The truth was that I knew I would lose, and so as not to let the torture of my young mind last any longer than it had to, I’d rather lose on the first turn than have to fail at two. “One’s all we really need anyway, right?”

My father winked at me and the final bets were laid.
“Who goes first?”
“The kid.”
“Naw, let Doug go first.”
“At the same time.”
“Flip for it!”
My dad took a coin off the counter and held it up for inspection; “Roy,” he said, “this your coin?” It was made of gold and shined like the noonday sun in the lamp above us.

“Sure is,” Roy said spitting tobacco juice into the can with a satisfying ring.
“Take this back. You can’t afford it.” Dad tossed the coin back to its owner who frowned a bit, but knew that my dad spoke the truth.

“I’ll flip then.” Roy said, and tossed the coin in the air.

“Heads.” I called as it tumbled for what seemed an eternity before landing squarely in the old man’s hands.

“Tell you what,” the stranger said clasping his own hand over the coin so there was no way of seeing what side landed up, “let the man go first -- just to make it interesting.”

“Fine.” Dad said, and took up his normal stance behind the counter. He turned the mug in his hands, rolling it like the Indians do to a stick to light their fires -- slowly and steadily. Then, when he felt the time was right, he took the handle in his right hand, hauled back a bit, then launched. The glass slid for the length of the counter until it rested with one quarter inch hanging over the edge.

“Not a drop spilled!” Someone called, and the cheers arose.
“Now its the boy’s turn,” my dad called, taking the same mug back and placing it firmly in my hands, “just remember son,” he said, leaning over my shoulders and placing his two large hands over mine, “whatever you spill you have to clean up.”

Laughter came from all sides of the room as my dad let go and stood back to watch. He chuckled as well.

“I’ll show them all,” I muttered under my breath, “I can do it -- pop knows I can do it even though he bet against me! Now what did he tell me? ‘Aim low,’ right? Okay, here goes.”

I dispensed with the rolling of the cup and instead, kissed the handle which sent up another round of snickers from the audience. I hauled back, then noticed the slight condensation trail left by the mug on its last path. “Aim low.” I would. I hauled back again, then let it fly down the same path my father had made, aiming just below where I thought it should stop. The mug slid -- this time with a slight hissing noise as it retraced its trail. It came to the edge and peered over...

Reprint of a Creative Writing Assignment from July 2003

Chapter 3:

"Pipe Dreams"

I never liked cigarettes. The smoke makes me gag. I can’t breathe around the smell -- I think it’s more the idea of inhaling smoke through burning paper and a wad of foam supposedly filtering out the “bad stuff.” But wasn’t it all bad? Being raised in a religious home, I had grown up with the concept that our bodies are a temple, and that we shouldn’t dirty up the walls with smoke – “get your fire insurance now.” Seeing the smoke damage in my grandma’s house, and seeing what it did to the walls and ceiling also made me wary of smoking cigarettes: the idea that it would happen to your lungs as well.

I almost bought a pipe in London. We were in a gift shop on that Sunday afternoon. We were... far from where we wanted to go shopping, but we happened across a nice little store selling touristy stuff: it was only a block or so from the underground and the British museum. I noted the shop as we headed from the underground to the museum to see the Rosetta stone, and on the way back, we went in. There were souvenirs galore, and I bought my brother one of those “my brother went to London and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” shirts: he liked it. As I looked around, I saw the pipes sitting there behind the glass. There were plain pipes -- the English equivalent of the American “corn-cob” -- sitting next to one those was a pipe that, in American dollars, would have been about as expensive as a used Cadillac. I thought about buying it, and bringing it home to shock my parents -- “look ma, I took up the pipe!” -- but thought against it, and simply got the T-shirt and some nice post-cards.

I never liked cigars either -- the pungent aroma filling the air with its putrescent vapors, causing me to gag. I only really knew one person who smoked a cigar: that guy in Montana who told me his plan to take out all the dams and towns between where we were in Montana and the ocean. I wonder whatever happened to him? Maybe one of his conspiracy theories got him... or maybe the cigars. For some reason, I never connected cigars with lung cancer though... only cigarettes. I guess my logic was that not as many people smoked cigars, therefore it couldn’t be as bad for you, as if only that which is bad for us actually appeals to us.

To be honest, except for on TV, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone smoking a pipe in my entire life. I can picture it, and can imagine how to hold, fill and tamp it -- though the lighting part has always been a bit iffy to me. But I have never seen any of it actually done. It’s as if it doesn’t really exist -- pipe smoking -- and it is only done in films; sort of like aliens, dinosaurs and Michael Jackson. Maybe that’s the pull for me: doing something which can’t be done...

Maybe it was because I didn’t know anybody who smoked one; maybe it was because Sherlock Holmes did. However it got started, I just know that I have always wanted to have a pipe. I wouldn’t smoke it, I’d simply have it -- let’s face it, lung cancer is nothing to sneeze at -- I’d buy a smoking jacket and have my pipe ready to show people how intelligent and respectable I was: common people don’t smoke a pipe.

The closest I have ever come to seeing somebody using a pipe was in Ashland. We had gone up to see The Tempest at the Shakespeare festival, and were walking back to our hotel late into the evening after it was over.
“Hey, any of you guys got a light for my bong?” A man passing in the shadows asked, holding his pipe up for us to examine.
“No, sorry.” We said and kept walking.
I guess crack and meth would be the far opposite extreme to what I wanted to accomplish with a pipe, but even so... at least he had one.
Now the movie industry is trying to crack down on smoking in movies by making any story where smoking appears prevalently an "R" rated film... so "Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang," and many Disney classics would automatically change to "rated R" just because of people smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.

I may never actually get a pipe. The logistics of it and all: cost, time, matches, lung cancer... but still, there is a pull on me to take it up -- if only for the idea of it. That’s really all it is to me: an idea. That’s probably all it will ever be.
This is a re-print of this article from July 2003

Friday, July 30

Chapter 2:

In which Bertram finds that life is not all peaches and cream and begins to relate the story.

“I never much took to foreigners,” he began one afternoon as I sat with him on the back porch of his one-room cabin just off Hwy. 2 in Montana. He had started talking the moment he gave me a ride from the side of the high-way where my car had terminated with a series of rather loud, and very wrong noises from under the hood. “And if I had my druthers,” he continued, “they would do well to stay at home in California where they belong.” This comment had come about as part of a conversation he and I were having about the current state of affairs in the state legislature regarding property tax increases. I, though a native born Californian, took no offence at his red-neck ways, but merely nodded in agreement and hoped he didn’t ask where I was from, but merely accepted this man's generous hospitality and free dinner at his cabin.
“See a couple years back,” he began again, setting down the large chunk of wood which he had begun whittling into something else -- a smaller chunk of wood -- “one of them pesky movie-stars moved just outside of White-fish, and, since then, all them other high-falutin’ movie stars have been buying summer homes up here, and raisin’ up the property taxes for us what has the right to the land.” With this assertion, he spat onto the gravel drive which passed towards the road.
“There was this one feller, who thought he’d start a land grab scheme like this once in Wyoming.” The old man reminisced, and, since I wished not to disturb his fragile train of though, allowed him to regale me with his anecdote… that and the fact that my car was still in for repairs and wouldn't be finished until the next morning.

“Lyle Buckenham, I think they called him,” Began his tale, “Big feller, bout near big as that barn door. Well, he got it into his head that if’n he could buy a place cheap, then raise the prices through the roof for property, he could profit by it, so he bought him up near bout forty acres – took every red cent he had to do it too.
“Well, Lyle never were the brightest acorn, and he done bought himself this here piece of land in the middle of nowheres-ville with nothing but sage as far as you could see. The fella’ that done sold him the property said it were good grazing land, but any durn fool could see that was a lie. But it didn’t matter none to old Lyle. He bought it up without a second thought.
“Now Lyle had to find himself more money to get his scheme off the ground,” the old man said with a half-cocked smile, “so he calls up on an old friend of hisn named of Frank Tutor.
“Frank tweren’t one a them who liked the idea of folks getting’ rich all round him without getting his’self a piece of their pie, so when Lyle tells him bout his scheme, he’s a bit interested, and when Lyle tells him the rest of’n his plan, he sorta’ smiles like, and agrees to fork up the cash for the job, and they buy themselves an oil pump.
“So there they are with the oil pump startin’ to pump a whole lot of nothing right along the main highway, and them two just sitting there waiting for the property to increase around them, then sell out.”At this the narration stopped, and the old man started staring off down the gravel drive that led to his house with a puzzled look on his face. When I asked him what was up, he turned back to me with a smile, and said, “I was just thinking.” Then he sat back on his chair and began whittling on a chunk of wood.

Chapter One:

In which Elwood begins his discourses on life, the universe, and various things, and we listen attentively, because it may be on the test.

As many people know, graduating from college does not mean that you get a job. It's not like at McDonalds, where you order your meal, pay for it, then drive off with it in a nice little bio-degradable recycled plastic bag containing a recycled non-bio-degradable burger with "Special Sauce" (which, incidentally, is a mixture of mayo and ketsup).

No, when you graduate from college, you are merely handed a slip of paper which deems you unworthy of menial burger-flipping, and underqualified for the job you want to have (such as VP).

Instead, you must go out job hunting to find just the right job for you with your degree (i.e., any job that will hire you). However, on your way to this all important job, you have to apply at every conceivable position which is remotely associated with the desired job (for example: if you desire to be editor of a newspaper, you apply for sorter in the mail-room).

After having been rejected from these jobs numerous times, you re-apply at the more likely ones to hire you (like the underling of the mail-sorter). until you have completely exhausted those possibilities, and had "we've already filled the position" and "we'll keep you in mind" said to you too many times to count.

Your immediate next step is to wait and scan the classifieds for anything in your realm of expertise. For some majors, this is harder than others. If, for instance, you were an art major, you will be looking for jobs that require "a vast knowledge of how to use a glue-stick," if a psychology major, "psycho-analyze for fun and profit," or, if an English major, "can diagram sentences."

That is when you finally realize that majoring in French Bio-Chemestry of the middle ages may have been too narrow a field for your major, and so you expand your range of possible job options (i.e., anything including the words "no experience necessary").

But if you persevere, you will be able, finally, after dilligent effort, trial and error, to get that all elusive job you have been seeking for the last three month, and you can finally say with pride:
"Would you like fries with that?"