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Killer Karbo

The first house I lived in when I moved to Minneapolis in the mid-80s was a 1940s, 2 bedroom rental for $300., in “Nordeast” Minneapolis. The landlady, Anna Karbo, was from some old country where they wore dark clothes, and cooked and ate strange parts of animals, I never knew which old country, but her accent sounded like all of them put together and all of them talking at the same time. Her son was known in his youth as “Killer Karbo,” a local wrestler in the time when wrestlers wore baggy-kneed tights and loincloths with a strap over one shoulder. He was the retiring type, so I came to the conclusion that it was his mother, Anna, who was the real Killer Karbo. I do an impression of her that won’t quite come across in print, but trust me, it’s good. I’ll do it for you sometime as a special treat. In fact, everyone I know that knew Anna Karbo does an impression of her, she was that much of a phenomenon! She was like the complete opposite of Marilyn Monroe, but equally as magnetic in a macabre way – magical, really.

My brother and sister-in-law originally found this strange furnished rental house built behind another house, and they lived there for a couple of years. The house could barely be seen from the street at night unless a porch light was on. This was a surefire way to trick the Domino’s pizza delivery guy into a free pizza after it was undelivered in 30 minutes, an art my brother perfected until they figured out the secret location and passed the word to the pizza nazis.

In this corner, weighing in at less than 98 lbs., Anna “Killer” Karbo lived in the nicer house in front of the rental. The house smelled like moth balls and so did she. Perhaps that lingering scent was from the polyester wigs that she sported. She had three, and though she would wash them quarterly and hang them on the clothesline next to a giant threatening-looking hook to pull the clothes line down to her diminutive level, she was still a certifiable stink head. I have photos of those three wigs on the line and the evil looking hook because it tickled me so. I’ll show them to you sometime as a second special treat.

She was as close to a cartoon character as I’d ever met in human form. Part Boris Badenov, part Marvin the Martian. Her helmet-like wig covered the top half of her face and her thick black-framed safety goggle glasses took care of the rest. All that was visible from there down was an odd little slanted mouth that muttered odd little slanted words. She was a fashion maven for the stretch pant set, bright orange elephant pants, red and blue striped blouses, white acrylic oversized sweaters… she was a fantasy in man-made fibers. Add to all of this to her platform orthopedic shoes with nylon knee highs and you’ll start to see why she was synonymous with the word “Killer.”

Perhaps what endeared her to me was the way she always thought my name was Dutch not Dodge. I tried to explain this to her once, and only once. I clearly said, “Dodge, “ then she said, “Dutch,“ then I slowly said, “Dahhhhhd-ge” and she said, “Duuuuuutch.“  Well then, Dutch it is. Or maybe it was the way she’d come right up behind you and follow you into the rental house like a polyester clad poltergeist. She was frightening enough as it was, and surprise appearances only added to the guttural horror. It was something I never got used to, like a head wound.

I supremely enjoyed the way she used to pretend she was weeding outside our windows and would stand there looking in at us. She’d make a visor with her hand and peer in, her wig tipped back a bit from her scalp, hair-packed nostril prints unmistakably evident. I’d look back at her like a stunned monkey might, but was met with a wrinkled vacant stare, well, who could tell with those telescopic glasses?

I had a delicious fantasy that the nasty neighbor’s barking Dobermans who would sit on their doghouse roof and growl and bark at us in our own rental house, day and night, would break loose from their yard and tear her to tiny hyena bits. I’d imagine this fantastic rainbow of shredded polyester against the varicose vein blue sky, the tattered, dirt-streaked sweater the dogs would carry off to play tug of war with, big buttons catching on the weeds that were never pulled, the lone stray ortho platform thudding on the ground after it‘s final flight. It would be indubitably beautiful. But she was Killer Karbo, and nobody would mess with her, not even vicious dogs that were trained to go for the throat, she had no throat anyway, her head sat directly on her sternum, and the wrinkles were like an armor dog guard, those dogs were no match for her, no one was.

Obviously her husband had lost the match and died many years back. Now this fact may sound poignant and sad, but you didn’t know Killer Karbo, and if you did you might think, “What a lucky bastard to have gotten out of that one.” IF she hadn’t been the one to help him get out of it. One could be suffocated with a wig OR polyester – that stuff doesn’t breathe. There’s no telling the countless ways one could dispose of someone with a wig and a simple tool. If anyone could do it, Killer Karbo could.

I remember the day that roofers were working on the rental house, all the windows were open and Killer was doing her rounds and making sure she was being bothersome enough to speed them along. One of the roofers was trying to make polite conversation with her, and he asked her what her husband did for a living? To this she replied quite loudly, “He was sick! He was sick!” then walked away. This struck me funny, and still does.

Not long after this began what I like to call, “The Tampoon Diaries. “ The two houses shared the same sewer line, but when the sewer would back up it would always end up in our basement. One fine day Killer came careening like a roller derby queen over to the rental house after the sewer had spewed forth once again, and after we‘d called Rotorooter ourselves because she was off buying more moth balls and wig juice. It was the same old song she always sang, “YOU put the tamPOONS down the toilet, it‘s all YOUR fault! YOU make this happen with your tamPOONS!” Well, after a time or two, I got tired of hearing the old tampoon tune, and I’d never put one down the toilet to begin with, so I knew it wasn’t my fault. I knew damn well that it was the wads of polyester floss from her wig washing, but how could I prove it? The friendly Rotorooter man arrived to work his special magic, and Killer walked in right behind him – scared the nozzle off of him too – and she started in on the tampoon tune from the top. After a few more choruses of this, the Rotorooter man – my hero! – said, “They’re not called tamPOONS, they’re called tamPONS, and there aren’t any in the drain pipe. The only thing I found was a wad of what appears to be, fur. The reason the sewer backs up is because you need a new sewer line and each house should have its own sewer line to get up to code.” That should’ve ended it, but Killers never quit and quitters never kill, or however the hell that goes – and she just had to get one more tag in, “I don’t care, you don’t put the tamPOON in there anymore!” I thought I showed tremendous self control by not searching under the layers of polyester for her would-be throat and suffocating her with her own babushka, which she wore while her wigs were drying on the line. Get the hook! I should have hung tampons next to her wigs to send her over the edge. (For Steely Dan fans that would be called “Gas lighting Anna.”)

We were close to the perfect tenants, but like a bad horror flick, the relentless incidences of unfair accusations and ridiculous, yet comedic, scenes tallied up and cheap rent or no, I knew we would finally have our fill of antics at the Killer Compound. The Wigged out Queen of Nylon came barreling at us on full bore out of mid-air – almost like the Matrix guy, but with a cane and a bad, squalid wig – for the last time one day, and we had to “cut out the Karbos.” As we packed the last of our belongings and were pulling away, Killer, in a blaze of orange and red, came tottering after us asking the eternal question, “Why you don’t want to live in my little house no more?! “Why you don’t want to live in my little house no more?!“ What else could I say but, “He was sick! He was sick!”  As we turned the corner and I glanced in the rearview mirror one last time, I swear I saw Killer Karbo with her wrinkled fists clasped high above her head, in the universal sign for “winner.” I’ll show it to you sometime as a third special treat.

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As The Worm Turns

I once heard the loose theory – or in this case, loose stool theory – that if one would exhibit a pile of shit before the public, half of the people would say it was shit, and the other half would say it was art. I don’t repeat that theory here to agree, disagree, nor prove it either way, I opened with it merely to state that even shit isn’t simply shit. But I have found however, that a worm is simply a worm; it can never be mistaken for anything else, its always the same honest life form, it only does what it does, it undeniably fulfills its purpose, and isn’t judged or criticized for that purpose, and it remains a worm no matter what the world could possibly do to try and change it.

For all of my overwrought analyzing and unbridled thinking, this mayhem mind that I can hardly ever turn off long enough to sleep without hectic cinematic dreams, and for all of my theorizing and emotionalizing, questioning and contemplation of most everything known to human, I sometimes need to focus on something as watertight, as absolute, as a worm.

In my twenty five – no, thirty – years of writing music, lyrics, words, and poems, and presenting them to the outside world, I’ve grown achingly tired of the comments, criticism, constant misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and judgments that ensued. I’ve all but given up writing anything for the outside, because I’m weary, jaded, disgusted, and I linger near the underground. I still love to create and write most anything, but the futility often overwhelms me into a petrified wooden silence. It’s my own quiet protest. Sometimes it lasts for a while, but never long enough to make me forget that I have the heart of a writer.

Tonight at my usual prime writing time of 3:00 a.m., I sat in the sympathetic quiet and meditated on what I wanted to write about. I’ve often considered recording my odd experiences with worms and then I thought about worms – just worms, and how I’d like to be as immutable as they are, even if it was just for one night, one story.

As concise as I try to be when I write, as much care as I put into honing the words to their fullest meaning, tonight I don’t care if the reader gets it, in fact, I don’t give a fuck if anyone reads it. I’m going to write purely for the sake of writing, in homage to that spark that nothing can smother, the voice in my head that won’t be taciturn, the art of words. I’ll write whatever I think and feel, as descriptively as Poe, as internally as Virginia Woolf, as stream of consciousness as Gertrude Stein, and as far out as William S. Burroughs. No, not on their level of course, but I don’t care about that either. I’m fed up with measuring myself and being measured up to what already exists. Criticism is crippling and I want to break free of it. I’ll write as if it’s a hundred years from now and I don’t care what I’ve written and anyone who could’ve read it is long forgotten. I’m going to laugh and cry while I write and not edit any of it, just let it stand as indubitably and unchanged as a worm.

I’ll begin with the first worm story I ever heard, I’ll start out slow and get warmed up, then perhaps froth myself into a frenzy, or flat-line myself into a coma. By the time I’m done writing, I’ll have taken such a journey that I won’t know where I am when I come to and I might not recognize myself, at first. It can be my door prize for being able to create my own universe and escape from this one.

I had an elder relative who was raised during the depression era. When she was a little girl, she produced a fourteen inch worm, I don’t mean raised it for a 4H project or carried it out of a garden shed to shake it at her little brother. They weren’t sure how she contracted the worm, though she suspected from tainted fruit or vegetables. The doctor made a house call and pulled it out of her inch by inch in the bathroom, laid it in the bathtub to measure it; put it in a bucket her mother had at the ready, and took it away. Who knows where they took it and what they did with it. Did they chop it with a hoe, or drop it in a tin of turpentine? Did some happy bird think it was the mother lode? Did the doctor take the worm bucket home and put the specimen in a glass jar filled with formaldehyde? Did he send it to a lab to have it dissected or just toss it in an incinerator without ceremony? It‘s odd to think of where it came from and where it lived and died.

Though my relative didn’t seem scarred from the incident, she never forgot it. She was too young to remember many details, so she didn‘t know if it was a tape worm or a round worm. She mentioned that it resembled an earthworm as a roundworm does, and roundworms have been known to grow to 15 inches. You see I’ve looked up the details, even though I haven‘t had a worm of my own. I think that if I had a worm I’d want to know all the particulars. I’ve always thought that if you’re going to go through an unpleasant situation you might as well commit as much of it as you can to memory, it’s worth something much more then.

I think about the things that I’m afraid of as much as I can, as if my thinking of every aspect and possibility lessens the fear. It doesn’t, often it increases it, but I do it anyway. Thoughts never ending, they expand and begin to take form and surround you, and like goons and body guards they get too big for you. Then you can’t see other people, you can’t hear their conversations because your thoughts are too loud. You can’t stop it any more than you can blink away that annoying twitch in your eyelid; you want to control it, master your muscle, but it can’t be contained. The constant wind of curiosity is what keeps me up at all hours. My mind is a spooked horse that runs until it collapses, a boat thrown against cutthroat waves, it’s the bird that hits the window.

I’ll never come close to being the writer Poe was, but I imagine he did this too. Dark, pensive Poe, who thought too much, obsessed until he had to shut his brain down with drink or drug. I’m worse off than he was then aren’t I, with nothing to deaden my mind? I‘m fully cognizant, the patient on the surgical table with insufficient anesthesia – under but aware. Poe was no crazier than I or anyone else; he just had too many thoughts. Thoughts like an endless ice cracked surface of veins expanding in string theory fashion. Fissuring off of one another, feeding off of one another like snowbound cannibals. The natural disaster of thought can feel like a cerebral avalanche, tracks creasing the far side of the neuron mountain, a live burial, a hypothermic suffocation.

Each idea is another fiber in a rope and it’s as if you’re spelunking down into a cave and it appears that the thoughts are sustaining you because they’re linked and seemingly leading you somewhere, a place you think that you can backtrack from, shimmying up that same rope, to resurface and climb out of the cave. But eventually when you go into deeper caves your line of thoughts can’t hold, they stop connecting and then you fall into the wormhole earth, to a place where no one can reach you. That sounds like insanity, and doesn’t insanity provoke more fear than worms? A worm can come out, and it will be a worm and never anything else, it has a beginning and an end. Going crazy is just an end.

Now what if that relative with the 14 inch worm was my mother, then some twenty years later I was pulled out of her too. The worm from one hole, and me from the next, both of us slime covered and pink, fleshy and wrapped in a milky sac. My terrible twin, one cell to my thousands, but my sibling the worm came first, and s/he measured longer than me. I weighed more, but the worm was fully developed and all it could ever be. Would my mother be able to separate the two incidents far enough apart to never think of one with the other? Or would she somehow lump the two deliveries together and end up being a bit detached from me, after all, the worm could’ve killed her, why not me? Perhaps she felt that I was draining the life out of her, the comparisons are viable. On another planet I might’ve been the one they tossed into the incinerator. They’d take one look at me, shake their heads and see that I might have hidden potential, but the worm was already a worm and it could be trusted in a way that I couldn’t. Who knows which way I’d go, but the worm would always be a worm. “No surprises there” they’d say.

One night I was in a dark, downtown bar, waiting for a friend‘s band to play. One of the band member’s new girlfriends sat down next to me and introduced herself. Not more than ten minutes into our conversation she told me that she once had a tape worm, as nonchalantly as someone might mention that they had a dog or a goldfish. She ate and ate, she said, and still lost weight. She craved pumpkin soup and garlic, and when the doctor finally figured out that she had a tape worm, she was told that there were more people with internal parasites than one would think. Her cravings for pumpkin and garlic were almost instinctual, these two foods are natural worm-rid remedies and once the worm was out, she never had another one. I asked her if she ever saw the worm, she didn’t, so she had no idea know how long the worm could’ve been. I found her blasé detachment even more jarring than the worm itself.

I later read that tapeworms can grow up to 35 feet long, and can live in a person’s intestines for up to 25 years. That’s far longer than most marriages – the 25 years, not the 35 feet. There could be a peculiar and deep connection with the worm after that length of time – not the spouse, the worm. It’s the ultimate in co-dependency. It could be possible that the host might name the worm and even miss it when it was gone. Perhaps an overwhelming feeling of being alone would overcome the person after the worm was removed. There might be some guilt that the worm was put to death, and that there was no service for it, no ceremony, no burial, no ashes. If there was a service, a period of mourning and a grieving process would have to follow, then the “sadly missed, but never forgotten” ad in the local newspaper each year.

There have been people who kept their lover’s corpses, stuffed their dead dogs, and saved locks of lover’s hair, wooden legs, and glass eyes. The old stories that Napoleon’s penis was removed from his corpse and passed around for years could be true – the penis and the story. There are bones of saints in Catholic alters, and a book of tattooed skin from Holocaust victims. Humans are prone to bizarre and unshakable attachments of all kinds, unnatural to some, natural to others, supernatural to the rest.

I know of one young man who sent his girlfriend a small bottle of his sperm while he was away; she used some of it for her own sexual amusement then kept the rest of it in the freezer for a very long time. Finally she moved and threw it out with the stray fish stick and freezer-burnt peas. A few years later, the man died tragically, and I imagine she wished that she would’ve saved that last evidence of his existence even longer.

Maybe the worm’s host would want to keep the specimen merely for scientific purposes, or “believe it or not” evidence. There are human organs, two-headed babies, three-eyed cows, and double-tailed snakes preserved in jars. People save their kidney stones and pulled teeth for souvenirs. Baby’s belly buttons and baby teeth are stuck in scrapbooks in houses on every street. A worm floating in murky formaldehyde set on a mantel, lighted shelf, or coffee table would be a failsafe conversation piece. I’ve seen aquariums with table tops, why fish and briny water when a worm sealed in a timeless diorama, like in any natural history museum, would be more unique and personal? The worm would have to be propped up with thin wooden sticks, Salvador Dali-like, perhaps suspended in Lucite, surrounded by the muted red, painted props representing the host’s tender innards where the worm was sustained by its sponsor – “Now a worm from our sponsor.” I couldn’t resist, and no one else would be able to contain their chortles from the plethora of puns and quips that could be derived from the host – parasite relationship. There are only four possible plots; human against human, human against nature, human against machine, and the host parasite relationship. That is the truth, now, is this?

I was having dinner at a friend’s house, we were drinking wine and chopping vegetables and my tipsy friend cut her finger. The cut was so deep that it might’ve inspired Plath to write a poem, Pilgrim. Cold water and compression wouldn’t stop the flow, and after a glance in between blood spurts, I knew she needed stitches. With her wounded hand wrapped like a turban in a kitchen towel, we drove to the hospital. A half hour later after several shots and stitches, she was repaired and ready to go. As I passed by another puke green, curtained trauma room on my way to get the car, the curtain parted for a moment as a nurse passed through the opening. In that second I caught a glimpse of something that no special effects from any sci-fi movie ever made could equal.

A pale naked person was on a gurney in a prone position with legs spread akimbo in the air and knees folded. At first I thought it was a woman having a baby, but then I realized that it was a man with a strange cream-colored object protruding from between his legs, no, lower, his ass. The object contained therein had countless tentacles and was moving like Medusa‘s head. A doctor standing to the side was tugging at the trembling object with steel pinchers. The forceps turned, caught a glint of overhead light, and with that the curtain closed again. In that millisecond that startling scene was permanently carved in the cave of my brain and like an Egyptologist studying hieroglyphs, I would return to it again and again, to brush it off with a clump of camel hair, and scrutinize it against every known timeline and theory like a mystery of the ages.

For hours that night, and days beyond, I wondered what the object in that man’s hole was. I went over every odd possibility in my mind. I’d read about all of the emergency room stories from inserted mayonnaise jars to swallowed Barbie doll heads. I’d even heard one about a fish that slid in but, going against the scales, wouldn’t let it slide out. (Slide in, slide out, the Crappie!) The usual animal options made my list, a pet snake, a hamster, the ever famous gerbil. Maybe something more exotic like a sea urchin, a sea cucumber, or a poisonous puffer fish? I considered toys like a Skoosh ball, silly string, my pretty pony, streamers for bike handles, or a plastic pom pom – anything with strands or numerous projections. Was it a new kind of sex toy; the French tentacle tickler or the orgasmic octopus butt plug, perhaps a neoprene multi-headed dildo, or latex cat-o-nine-tails? It might’ve helped narrow it down a bit If only I’d known if the object was alive or if the patient’s squirming had set it into motion.  Its natural cream color kept coming back to me; smooth, skin-like, almost like an utter or a slick piglet.

The puzzle completely took over my mind and I’d become irritable and disconcerted at the thought of never finding out what it really was; stuck in a momentary panic that the whatdunit could never be thatdunit. Who could I ask? How could I trace it? There was no backtracking for clues, and no way to find the answer. After several days of tortured imaginings, it occurred to me to research diseases of the digestive tract. I found a section on parasites known to exist in humans, complete with medical photographs. As I watched each case study slowly unfold on the screen (Damned dial-up!), I’d feel a rush of rising hope, then the sinking ebb of disappointment. OK, scabies, lice, roundworm, I’d heard of all of them and nothing remotely came close to what I’d seen in that poor soul’s sphincter. Just as I was about to abandon my quest, I saw it! The patient was in the same prone position, and there was the same kind of multi-tentacled mass exploding from the anus, the prognosis was intestinal worms. If left untreated they can eventually kill their host, now that’s cutting off your host to spite your host, but that’s another can of…. At last I’d found the answer and I could put my mind to rest, or could I? Next, I “neuroticized” about all of the possibilities of being invaded by worms.

It would be summer and I’d mistakenly eat a split grape. The hidden larvae of the worm would be ingested and the saga would begin. A few days later there’d be a strange stirring in my gut, I’d consume mounds of food, I’d be eating for two, but I’d be hungry – hungrier than I’d ever been. I’d dream about spirals and thin headed babies and wake up thirsty and itching. My days would consist of searches for out of season pumpkins, and I’d settle for canned and a large wreath of garlic, as pertinent as it was to Vincent Price in ‘The Last Man On Earth.”

Or I’d be feeding freeze-dried blood worms to my Siamese fighting fish, and a sudden shot gun blast from neighbor Al would startle me enough to inhale and I’d ingest just enough of the blood worm larvae to settle in the warm soft tissues of my cilia and in a few days the pupae would hatch and my bronchial tubes would become a teeming freeway of waggling blood worms. A Mardi gras for fish, but the party would be over for me.

Perhaps I’d find a stray or injured dog, infected, covered with mange and fleas. On my way to the vet, a small fender bender would occur and the dog would be thrown against me, and while wiping the blood from my lip, the larvae would enter my body through my mouth. Slowly the worm would drain the nutrients from my stomach, and my strength would fade. It might take weeks before they diagnosed me, and by then I might be crazy.

If I had worm or more inside me I wouldn’t be able to sit still. I’d run through the streets and hills like a naked fiend on fire, and I’d never sleep. I know I’d feel the wriggling, the sporadic vibrations, the constant twisting, and the tiny mouth suckling on the lining of my stomach. I’d be able to hear it grow as I diminished and I’d think of nothing else but grabbing it and ripping it out before it laid more eggs in me.

I’d be its dream girl, the perfect host, its mother, its wife, the love of its life. That worm would need me more than anything – even more than a baby needs its mother. It would depend solely on me for its existence and even as it drained me of life, it would need me to last just a little longer. There’s something honest about that, almost touching. I don’t know many humans who are that focused, that clear on what they need. No pretense, just pure surrender. To paraphrase an old song, “A worm is just a worm, a host is just a host…the fundamental things apply as time goes by.“ And I don’t think it’s odd to take small comfort in that.

I’m not here to win any prizes; I’m just here to set the record straight. It was my first year of Jr. High., and Miss Honeycutt’s class sat before me. I held up a Ziploc bag containing a cat turd in one hand, and in the other hand I shook a black rubber snake. I heard a short gasp come from the first few rows before they realized it wasn’t a real snake, but that was the last sound anyone made until the end of my story. I began, “What I did on summer vacation, seven years ago.”

Now ol’ Uncle Jeb liked his Jackie D. and he liked to kiss all the girls in the family right on the mouth – long and wet. There were other things that took place, which I’d rather not say, but those things haven’t happened for a long time. Needless to say all of us kids didn’t much care for any of Uncle Jeb’s ungodly habits, and the consensus among us was that we wished Uncle Jeb would expire like a jug of Dollar Store milk. But the ones you wish would croak always seem to last the longest, so we second best decided to torture him with pranks as long as he stank up the earth, hence, the cat turd.

The said turd, much like this one, came from Skidmark, Uncle Jeb’s old barn cat. The cat’s real name was Shadrach, but Skidmark seemed to fit him better. Jeb’s favorite candy was Tootsie Rolls. Parts of the plan was to wrap up several of Skidmark’s offerings in some old Tootsie Roll wrappers that I’d picked out of the garbage pail, and wait until nightfall when we knew Uncle Jeb would be good and juiced. We were red-faced laughing about our dirty deed to be all day, and the anticipation nearly killed us. At last there he was on the porch swing, half conscious, drooling and muttering to himself just like he always did. “Uncle Jeb!” I yelled right next to his ear. A scratchy “HUMPH!” came from his grease trap mouth as he shook off the fog of his JD coma. “We brought you some Tootsie Rolls, Uncle Jeb.” His jowls vibrated as he spit slurred words out, “Mebbe you little squirrelly bastards ain’t as rotten as ya’ seem – but y’all watch yourselves, some folks just ain’t no good and need to be put down like chicken killin’ dogs.” He smiled that Jack-O-Lantern, rot-toothed smile of his, then unwrapped the first orange and brown roll. We stood in wonder as his lips smacked and he chewed it slow and thorough-like, we nearly peed our pants blue when he said, “These here are good ‘n fresh.” He ate the whole bag full, washed them down with the bottom swig of JD, and passed right out again. We got endless laughs out of this most supreme prank and found it hard to top. But one day it would be topped, and topped good. Hence the rubber snake.

It was a gritty Jue-ly day and Uncle Jeb’s much pitied, but virtuous wife, our dear Auntie Oral was hauling an armload of her prize-winning canned peaches down to the storm cellar. As she yanked open the door, a big black Cottonmouth fell like a limb at her feet. We heard the scream and the crash of the Mason jars in the house and we ran out to the yard to find a winded and panic-stricken Auntie Oral. Uncle Jeb had his rifle loaded before she even finished her story. I noticed that Uncle Jeb’s hands were shaking and I wasn’t sure if it was the D.T.’s or could be he had a fear of snakes? I gradually backed away from the comforting circle around Auntie Oral and followed Uncle Jeb back to the storm cellar unnoticed, to see what was going to be. That snake was long gone and had probably headed for the creek as soon as it hit the ground. Uncle Jeb looked in the direction of the creek, set the rifle down, ripped his flask from his overall’s pocket and took a long gulp. “Goddam’ snakes, Lord you know they goddam’ scare me to death,” he muttered to no one in particular. He shot a few rounds into the trees, stomped back to the house and yelled through the open kitchen window, “I got it good Oral, no need to fret none. That Moccasin won’t be botherin’ ya’ no more, yep I got it.” But I knew he got nothin’. The only thing that ol’ stink bait ever got was drunk.

A week or so later on a trip in to town I saw this black rubber snake with a cherry red mouth and tongue in Kmart. I snuck out ahead of the rest of the family, bought the snake, and hid it under the car seat. I didn’t say one word, and poker-faced it all the way home. The next day while Auntie Oral was at her church meeting, I tiptoed past a head-bobbing Uncle Jeb in the porch swing. I timed my footsteps with each exhaled snore, I knew the screen door squeaked like a vulture so I opened it in slow motion, then I padded up the stairs in stocking feet and skipped over the four stairs that I knew creaked. I got to the bathroom, opened the lid and coiled that black rubber snake in the bowl of the commode; I propped it up just right so the head and its thin red tongue would graze ass cheeks upon lowering. I knew Uncle Jeb would take his clockwork dump that always skanked up the whole house, as soon as he woke up, and for once I couldn’t wait.

Without a word, I gathered up all my cousins, brothers and sisters, and we hid in the bedroom down the hall from the bathroom. From there we had a bird’s eye view of the toilet and Uncle Jeb never closed the door. We huddled at the crack in the bedroom door and waited with hilarious anticipation until we heard Uncle Jeb stir. Listening as he dragged his feet across the front hall and up the steps made us tremble with choked-back laughter. We watched as he unbuckled his baggy, yellow-stitched Dickies before he reached the bathroom, and as his pee stained skivvies fell to his ankles, he pulled up the lid, and without looking, sat down so hard we could feel the vibrations in the floor all the way down the hall.

The next scene always plays like a stop time movie in my head, and I’ve seen it a thousand times by now; Uncle Jeb let out a thunderous explosion of gas and that fart must’ve had so much air behind it that it moved that rubber snakes head just enough to make Uncle Jeb notice. He jumped up off that seat faster than we thought he could ever move, and stumbled back with a half-turd dangling from his ass. It was both shocking and funny to see him stumbling around with his pants around his feet, and to see that turd hit the floor with a thud, but our laughter stopped when he let out a noise that I’d never heard the likes of before, and have never heard the likes of since. With an unearthly, demonic squeal he reeled back, spun around, and fell head first into the toilet bowl. We heard a loud crack and figured he broke the bowl with that hard ugly head of his, but that crack must’ve been Uncle Jeb’s skull, because as it turned out later the toilet bowl was unharmed. We all looked at each other with mouths hung wide and still couldn’t believe what we’d just seen. We slowly opened the door and baby-stepped down the hall in a clump, like cows in a windstorm, and the rest of the kids raced down the stairs and out the front door.
I stopped at the top of the stairs and slowly turned toward the bathroom. All I saw was a small puddle of glistening maroon blood and the blur of dark blue overalls as I reached sideways into the bowl to grab that black rubber snake and yank it out from under Uncle Jeb’s stubbly anvil of a head. I ran out to the woods and buried it, and to this day I remembered the spot. I dug it up just this morning so I could bring it to show and tell.

The coroner said that Uncle Jed died of a massive heart attack, which a lot of people do – like Elvis – when they’re taking a dukey. But I knew the truth and I felt pretty proud about it – like I’d slayed a big horrible, foul-smelling dragon. I never told any of the other kids, but they must’ve known somehow that we weren’t just hiding in Auntie Oral’s bedroom to watch Uncle Jeb’s daily ritual. I read up on the statute of limitations and all, and decided to wait seven years until I set things straight. They say the truth will set you free, but I was set free – along with the rest of us, on that day in Jue-ly when I killed my Uncle Jeb, not really on purpose, but even if it wasn’t that way, I’d do it all over again ‘cause well…some folks just ain’t no good.

I clearly remember me as a kid standing half naked on a cold metal chair, bent over the kitchen sink, washing my hair. The glass hourglass-shaped bottle of green Prell with the plastic pearl dropped in it – to prove how thick and luxurious it was – in my hand. A palm-full made good suds, and I worked up that lather until it was as lush as a cartoon cloud, all the while wiping around my eyes – you know how those suds sting – then I started my parade of hairdos.

First, the pylon point straight up in the air, I was the Bride of Frankenstein. Then I’d split it in half and guess who I am, ma?! I was Bozo the clown, of course. Then I’d pull the points down and make dog ears – that one was easy, and then Swedish buns on each side (this was long before Princess Laeh was around). For my grand finale I’d coil up my bodacious bouffant into an impressive Diary Queen swirl. My meringue beehive was the Everest of dos and I felt like a princess. I’d start all over again, mix them up for fun, and when my mom finally got tired of guessing who I was with my vague clues, I’d grab the sink hose with the black nozzle and transform myself into a little girl again.

My ma is gone now and I can’t ask her to guess who I am. I haven’t washed my hair in the sink for years, and Prell isn’t the same anymore either. I still have heaps of imagination, but often it makes me melancholy after I rinse my head of it. Sometimes I wonder where things have gone; the joy and anticipation of holidays, looking forward to events and outings, my enthusiasm, my fearlessness, my childlike hope, my endless string of dreams. I seemed more alive then, my mom and dad were alive – many of the things I’ve lost were still alive. Some say it’s not wise to live in the past, but I did live in the past. Others say it’s not wise to live in the future, but I’d like to live in the future. I remember times as a kid when I could barely get to sleep at night for all my excitement, now I can barely get out of bed some days for my lack of it. It’s impossible to pinpoint the time it all began to dissolve for me, but when it started, it was like sprinkling salt on suds – it vanished before I knew it and it’s impossible to redo it. Perhaps this will be one of the scenes that flashes before my eyes at the end; my hands in soft, warm suds, my hair piled up into billows before I hit the clouds, the white edge of the sink the brink of eternity, and my ma waiting for me in Heaven’s kitchen ready to guess who I am.

When I was a kid there was a Super Walmart type of store in my hometown called “Shopper’s City” (yeah I know, say it 10 times fast). They had a pet section in the back of the store and I was always overly excited to go there because they had a little monkey.

Anyone that knows me knows that I’ve always been fascinated by monkeys. I begged my parents for a pet monkey my entire childhood, but the stock reply was always the same, “They’re too wild, they’re not supposed to be pets, they stink, they throw shit, and they’ll scratch your face off!”

One Christmas my dad got me a very life-like stuffed monkey with real glass eyes that looked real. The best part was that his tail was attached to its head and you could ask it any yes or no question and get a head nod, and believe me, I asked everyone every yes or no question I could think of. I still have it and still ask it questions. It’s my furry magic eight ball.

Sad to say, nobody would buy the real live Shopper’s City monkey because he was too wild (my dad was right). The sign on his cage warned, “DO NOT PUT YOUR FINGERS IN THE CAGE. PLEASE DON’T TEASE THE MONKEY!”  I, for one, never hurled insults (or poo) at him, but I witnessed some that did tease him and I felt that sinking ache of pity for him as I put myself in his place, trapped and away from anything familiar being mocked by ugly, hairless creatures. I would’ve catapulted poo too if was him (or is it ‘if I were he? ‘). I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d instigated some kind of digital maiming either, but this was back before law suits were all the rage and somehow he hadn’t been convicted of whatever discrepancy that had taken place, even if he was on a kind of death row.

Whatever the case, it didn’t matter to me that this little monkey was branded a wild bastard, I liked him anyway. I’d sometimes stand there and watch him the whole time my mom shopped and I’d still protest when she’d come to get me to go home. The more time I spent observing that monkey the more fascinated I became, and in a way I think he kind of got used to me. He never threw anything at me, or screeched at me when I got too close to the cage. No, I didn’t put my fingers in the cage, but once his paw was grasping the bar and I gently touched it just for a second and he made eye contact with me just before he pulled his paw away and jumped back to his nervous perch. I often imagined that he knew and remembered me and was maybe even a little glad to see me. Yeah I know, “Is that a banana in your fur or are you just glad to see me…”

Speaking of phallus-shaped objects, this monkey had an odd habit – well, odd to me, I was just a kid remember – of grabbing his own personal pink banana and pulling it so violently that it appeared to me that he was trying to rip it right off of his body. Something like spit would dribble out of the end of the tiny pink limb and sometimes he’d take whatever that was and either eat it or whip it to the bottom of his cage. He repeated this procedure over and over again, and due to my naiveté I had no idea what he was doing and as ever, I was curious (not Curious George and the man and the yellow hat, though I’d read every one of those books and the third limb was never mentioned).

I decided to ask my mom about this strange behavior and finally talked her into watching the monkey (as long as she didn’t tease him). She did, and afterwards I asked her what he was doing and “what was that white stuff coming out of that little leg in the middle?” She calmly replied, “I think he has an infection. He’s sick.” She grabbed my hand and we walked toward the doors, all the while I was looking back longingly at my poor little sick monkey. If only I could’ve brought him home with me and nursed him back to life (I know, it sounds like the premise for some kind of bestiality-based porn movie, but I was just a kid!).

I continued to visit my sick monkey and he never got better. The last times I saw him there were a couple of kids that teased him just a little too much, he had a monkey fit, screeched, and whipped the white substance he had in his hand at one of his antagonists. Whenever I watch the scene from “Silence Of The Lambs” where Clarice is in the high security prison meeting Hannibal for the first time and the inmate throws his “monkey pus” at her I think of my little sick monkey. Had I known that the “pus hurling” incident was going to be the last time I’d see my monkey I would’ve said a teary goodbye. I probably would’ve whiningly begged my mom one more time if we could buy him.

I’ve thought about that monkey a lot over the years, it’s often not a pleasant thought. I imagine his sad life ended tragically, I know now that he should have never been caught, caged, or subjected to teasing in the first place. After all, he wasn’t a criminal,  he merely had an “infection”and was doing what monkeys do. However, I did learn a valuable lesson that I’ve referred to again and again throughout my life, whatever you do, don’t tease the monkey.

Living in the woods, you can’t help but notice everyone who comes and goes, mainly because hardly anyone comes and goes out here in the woods. I’ve gotten acquainted with Thea the post woman, Will the UPS man, and Ellery the meter man. Each one has a few interesting quirks I’ve noticed, Thea wears a mask to keep out the dust and fumes, and won‘t get out of her truck because of our dogs, friendly as they may be, she repeatedly honks the horn for me to come out and get the package from her, usually sometime around noon. Will plays guitar, loves cookies, writes a note on our packages when they’re small enough to leave in the mail box, and doesn’t like coyotes any more than I do because a pack of them attacked his dog.

Then there’s Ellery, he looks like Santa in farmer overalls, he has a white beard and usually wears red, though he doesn’t give the dogs treats like the old meter man did, and he was named after Ellery Queen the mystery writer, because I asked him once. The only thing that’s really mysterious about Ellery is that I can’t understand anything he says. He’s got most of his teeth, and isn’t a tippler, so it’s not a physical impairment or a speech impediment. I’m the one who feels impaired and impeded because I can’t comprehend him.

I’m fairly good at dialects and after living in the south for more than six years, I can almost get every word from every conversation, not so with Ellery, we’ve had more than a dozen ten minute conversations and I think I’ve understood about a dozen words from each. I get that one word out of many and I’ll latch onto it like leech on a catfish and try to use it as a key to unlock the rest of the conversation. This doesn’t work very well, but it’s really the best I can do without an interpreter.

This is what I know about Ellery thus far; he likes tulips, he has a son and a daughter and he taught them to read the stars so they’d never get lost, his son is a hunter and is good at tracking animals, and the daughter is small in stature. That’s all I’ve gleaned in all these months.

I have his cadence down but this doesn’t help me get any more out of our conversations. I nod and say, “Oh, I see.” a lot, even if I don’t know what it is that I’m seeing. It seems like he’s got such a strong drawn out drawl that it connects all the words together into one long roller coaster of indecipherable sound. If he was a Pentecostal I’d figure that he was speaking in tongues, but he doesn’t carry a snake and doesn’t seem like the overemotional type. Yet, I like Ellery, he seems like a nice guy. He usually laughs – that I can understand – and usually has a smile on his face. I guess that’s all that really counts, but still I wonder what wonderful tidbits of old country man knowledge that I’m missing along the way. One thing I do know, he certainly lives up to his mysterious namesake, only not so much a “Whodunnit,” more of a “Whatdidyousay.”