Saturday, March 25, 2017

Roach Under Toast

The Great Depression sparked an odd creativity in the American people. Necessity is the mother of invention, as Captain Cliche once said. Money was scarce. So peoople came up with a million clever ways to stretch that money, save that money, and make more money. 

And, of course, steal somebody else's money.

America's con-artists were particularly creative during this time. The Depression was their Renaissance. The height of their achievements. And the flourishing of their art.

We became acquainted of their artistry, thanks to the "Roach Under Toast" con. I saw it for myself, and will now describe it in detail. (This is not a second-hand account. I happened to be bussing dishes that day and saw the whole thing.)

As I'm sure I've told you, the Hotel Walton had a little restaurant until 1952 or so. Ma-Maw finally had to close it because the Baptist Church next door blocked her repeated attempts to obtain a liquor license and the profits were just too slim. She kept it open through The Great Depression. Profits were slim then, too. But she needed every dime she could get.

Just like the con-artists who invented the Roach Under Toast" con.

The first time in happened, a corpulent gentleman strolled in who looked like a cross between Oliver Hardy (from the Laurel and Hardy shorts) and the Walrus (from "The Walrus and the Carpenter.") I might also mention a resemblance to Thomas Nast's caricature of Boss Tweed. A balding man in his early 40s. He was wearing a well-cut, three-piece suit. The sartorial element was essential for the scheme, although atypical in the sauna that was an un-airconditioned restaurant in South Florida on an early Saturday morning in July of 1942. The ceiling fans were turning, but to little effect. 

He walked in a stately manner past our "The Customer Is King" sign with the cute little crown on top. Evidently, he took it literally.

Without waiting for the hostess, he plopped his massive bulk down at a table of his own choosing and snapped his fingers. As if to say "Your true King has finally arrived and must be served!" After summoning our solitary waitress, Jolene, he ordered every item on the menu. Scrambled eggs, eggs sunny side up, egg-over-easy as well as waffles, pancakes, hash browns, home fries, six strips of bacon, two plates of sausages, and another side order of grits. A slice of toast, too. I forgot to mention that.

Jolene delivered his steaming breakfast in a series of installments, although this did not delay his feeding frenzy. Upon the clink of the first plate, this gentleman began stuffing his gaping maw in great haste as if food itself were going out of style. He continued in this voracious fashion with the various breakfast items that subsequently arrived. 

From my concealed position by the coffee machine, I watched his whole feast in fascination. He reminded me of a hibernating bear who needed a thick coat of fat to get through a long winter. The spectacle was nearly identical to the image in my picture book.

The fat man dutifully cleaned every last plate. 

But he had saved the toast for last.

He lifted the corner of the toast. And leapt back in horror. The whole restaurant heard his chair scootch.

He stood up and pointed to his plate.

"This is an outrage! An outrage I say. Look!"

He wiggled his finger to make everybody look. Everyone did. The heads at various tables all turned. He had the restaurant's complete attention.

"What is this?"

The diners burned with curiosity.

"Can't you see?"

I think the answer was mostly "no." The object of his outrage was tiny. And most of the diners couldn't get a good look at it from where they were sitting. Unlike your dear old dad.

"I demand to know what this is!"

From my vantage point, I could see quite clearly what it was. 

It was a roach.

Evidently, a dead roach had been hiding under his toast.

In an astonishing improbability, it had been there -- under the last menu item that he touched. By the law of averages, it could just as easily have been concealed by the scrambled eggs, eggs sunny-side-up, egg over easy, as well as waffles, pancakes, hash browns, home fries, six strips of bacon, two plates of sausages and another side order of grits. Why, the poor fellow could've chomped that roach right down and never known it!

But Lady Luck had smiled upon the fat man.

By pure chance, the roach had been under the toast.

Now he waggled his finger at it and hollered.

But he had yet to receive an official answer.

Jolene, our overworked waitress, had been wisely hiding in the kitchen the whole time. The hostess (Ellie, a distant Kentucky cousin filling in for my somnambulant mother, still abed and floating in dreams of Early Times) had been talking to a couple at the front throughout the tirade. Put off by the unappetizing commotion, they decided to eat breakfast at another establishment. Ellie reluctantly turned to face the horror. Having nowhere to run, she finally skittered up to the fat man and inquired, "What seems to be the problem, sir?"

"This! This is the problem, young miss!"

The fat man pointed to his plate again. And proceed to relate the terrifying tale of the dead roach under the toast. It was a short but gripping story, like something you'd hear on the radio. You'd think you'd heard the absolute worst. But he'd holler "And THEN!" and relate some even greater horror. He did a fine job of dialing up the drama. A real pro.

Ellie just stood there shaking. Absolutely and utterly outclassed in every possible way. This may all seem very funny in retrospect. But what he put her through was cowardly, cruel and inexcusable.

"I sure am sorry, sir."

"Your sorrow has just begun! I refuse to pay! Moreover I shall take you to court and sue you for damages! This is gross negligence with malign intent, and most certainly a violation of health regulations."

"We sincerely regret that this has happened."

"You regret it? You regret it? How dare you! How do you think I feel. I nearly consumed that ... that THING!"

"I sure am sorry, sir."

"'Sorry' doesn't cut it, young miss. Now I demand to know what you intend to do about this outrage!"

"How 'bout we make this breakfast on the house? How 'bout that?"

"Oh that is your response? You serve a meal containing insect life —and think to comfort me by saying it is free? How dare you! I most certainly do not intend to pay, young miss. I most certainly also plan to obtain the requisition compensation which this so-called restaurant must surely owe for this outrage! 'The Customer is King' indeed. Well this is one king whose wrath you have incurred! My friends and colleagues shall hear of this, make no mistake. And the legal authorities as well! As for myself, I will never darken the door of this establishment again. You will neither see nor speak to me again. But do expect a call from my attorney. You shall hear from him shortly!"

With that, he turned and waddled on out.

Some jerk applauded. 

Despite his threats of legal retribution, we never heard from this unhappy customer again. Upon the next morning, our restaurant was an archipelago of empty tables, pristine tablecloths shining white. Ma-Maw, wide-awake this time, was terrified. The thing she had feared had come to pass. Well, one of them.

The restaurant door opened with a tingling bell. She perked up and smiled. "Welcome—" And smile turned to frown.

She beheld not a customer, but a cop.

A lanky man, in an armpit-stained, white shirt and scrawny tie. He presented a badge in a case of black leather for my mother's inspection. The sight had the effect of the offer of a dead rat. She pursed her lips and turned her head in evident disgust. I offered him a cup of coffee. Mother stabbed me with a dirty look. 

He politely declined my offer. Mother impolitely inquired as to the purpose of his visit.

He replied in a lengthy stammering fashion. She glared at him the whole time.

With expressions of sorrow, this upstanding officer of the law said he merely wanted to make a few inquiries. He was sorry that he hadn't called ahead and didn't want to put her out. But would she mind if we gathered all the witnesses together? Any witnesses currently on the hotel premises, of course. He hoped that wouldn't be too much of an imposition.

Mother replied, her voice ascending in pitch.

"Well, why on earth would a police interrogation the first thing in the morning be any sort of imposition whatsoever? I will do as you ask, officer."


The witnesses totaled up to three, and we were all in the restaurant. But Ma-Maw wanted Don to suffer too, and she sent me to fetch him from the front desk. I dragged him over, and we all sat down at a table.

We sat in a circle, like the Knights of the Round Table, at least geometrically. Our company comprised the detective, myself, mother, Papa Don, Jolene, and cousin Ellie, who had the (correct) impression that Ma-Maw thought that it had all been her fault. Your uncle Marion had been talking to a Naval Air Force recruiter at Homestead Beach on the day of the incident. He was someplace else on this day.

The detective cleared his throat. I thought he was going to lead us him prayer. (I think I even bowed my head for a second.) But it was yet another apology for his existence in our establishment.

But my mother remained unforgiving.

Ma-Maw had dearly hoped to bury this incident and made no call or official complaint. But it seemed that the Pompano Beach Police Department had somehow heard about yesterday's encounter. They had sent this rumpled detective over (another forgotten name). He wasn't like the detectives in the Warner Brothers crime movies. He tended to apologize about everything. Aside from the bags under his eyes, he had no resemblance to Humphrey Bogart whatsover. His very presence affected Ma-Maw like a fine dusting of itching powder.

The baggy-eyed, apologetic detective tried to get the ball rolling, but mother cut him off. She asked if she should send me to fetch a Gideon's Bible so we could all swear to tell the truth and so forth. 

The detective assured her that that this wouldn't be an official deposition, although he could arrange for that later if she so desired. For now, let's all just talk. What happened yesterday?

Cousin Ellie gave him the short version while Ma-Maw fluttered her hands and looked nervously at the empty tables, accusingly at Ellie, and angrily at the detective. Jolene's version was even shorter. Then, at last, I gave my version of the story. Mother reacted to my points of repetition like the rattling tea-kettle on the verge of its screaming whistle. She interrupted me as I detailed the fat man's final diatribe.

"How long is this going to take?"

"We're almost done, ma'am. Anything else, son?"

"No, sir. Nothing important."

Based on our accounts, the detective informed us that we'd been the victims of a fraud. Mother rolled her eyes. 

"Oh, what a horrifying surprise, detective!" 

The detective blushed and handed Papa Don a smeary-blue, mimeographed list of assorted con-games.

"I should've given this to you earlier, sir. You're a block from the railroad, so that makes you a prime target. I'm really sorry about that."

"Roach Under Toast" was one of the classic con games. Had we been in possession of that list, we would've known it. In this particular scheme, the perpetrator would get his hands on nice clothes to create a show of wealth. Thus attired, he would bring his trade to some unsuspecting restaurant, then order and devour a prodigious amount of food. Prior to his deception, the perpetrator would obtain a dead roach, and conceal the unfortunate insect in a baby food jar. He'd bring the jar with him, retrieve the dead insect, usually in a surreptitious trip to the bathroom, and then slip it into his meal. When nobody was looking, of course. Kind of like a magic trick, sleight of hand, I guess that's what they they call it. Evidently this scheme was popular with unemployed and barely paid actors. Vaudeville and burlesque types, mostly. They skipped around the country, had lots of different stage names, which made them harder to track down.

Mother's lower lip pulled up. She closely resembled an angry bulldog ready to bite.

"I fail to see the point of this sordid information, detective."

"I apologize, ma'am. I'll get straight to the point."

He then said the perpetrator would pretend to discover the roach at the last possible second. Then he'd pitch a fit. The nervous restaurant owner would just want to get 'em the heck out of there. The grifter would get a free meal. Sometimes, a little chunk of hush money.

Ma-Maw's eyes seemed to brighten with this information. 

The detective forged ahead.

"A crime has definitely been committed. You could swear out a complaint, but the perpetrator is almost certainly long gone. I'm sorry we didn't apprehend him."

Ma-Maw waved her hand, brushed the thought aside like a fly. "What's done is done. I suppose this concludes -- "

Papa Don unwisely cut her off.

"Well ... What should we do if this happens again?"

"Do your best to keep the bad guy here and call the Pompano Beach Police Department. We'll --"

Ma-Maw slapped the table with her palm. Ellie jumped like a nervous cat.

"You'll do no such thing, detective. What I most dearly wish you'd do now is conclude this hateful interrogation. Would you do that? Please? I have no desire to be rude but you can see I have a business to run."

The detective could see a restaurant full of empty tables, but he didn't point that out.

"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry for this intrusion on your time."

Don awkwardly shook the detective's hand. Ma-Maw turned her head and looked away. He saw himself out.

Ma-Maw then informed a teary-eyed Ellie that her services would no longer be required; she'd handle the hostess duties from then on. And indeed, she did. She dragged her hungover carcass out of bed from that day forward whenever our restaurant opened its doors.

A few weeks later, yet another outraged grifter found a dead roach beneath a slice of toast on an otherwise empty plate. Ma-Maw fluttered over, cooed and sweet-talked in whispered dulcet tones, and slipped the man a dollar. This had the effect of handing out chunks of steak to stray dogs. Four more grifters appeared in short succession. The penultimate con-artist informed her one measly dollar would cut it. She gave him two, but he was unmoved. She ultimately gave him three hard-earned Depression-era dollars. He smirked, and strutted away. Your uncle Marion saw red when he found out. She bit his head off when he complained to her.

One day, a skeletally thin individual in a nice suit strolled in and grabbed a table. He started talking big, as obvious as all get out. We could all see it coming. 

But your uncle Marion didn't let it happen. 

He always excelled at track and field events. Today, he drew upon those talents. He moved like a blur.

Then he was right by the thin man's side. 

Standing uncomfortably close to his  table, and in a position which afforded eye-contact. My brother was only 16-years-old, but physically imposing nonetheless.

I didn't miss the show, so I got as close as I could. Edged on over with little baby steps in what I thought was a subtle fashion.

The thin man's Adam's apple went up and down. My brother just stood there for a few seconds. Then he spoke.

"This is really an honor, sir. I truly admire your acting ability."

This caught the thin man utterly and completely by surprise.

He almost replied, "Thank you." Hand to God.

But he caught himself in time.

"I have no idea what you're talking about, young man."

Your uncle Marion didn't start whispering. But he lowered his voice just that least little bit.

"I'm talking about that jar in your back pocket." Charming smile. "The one with the dead roach in it?"

The thin man attempted no outraged denials. The jar in question stuck out like a tumor on his bony behind. And was as equally obvious. 

He blushed at his amateurish mistake. He was evidently new to the job of con-artistry. 

For one brief second, I actually felt sorry for this underfed individual. As I mentioned, the man was thin -- thin to the point of a horrifying resemblance to the just-released photos of displaced person in Life Magazine. I figured he might get a good meal, eventually, once he got a little better at his job.

"Young man ..."

Uncle Marion sat down. 

And lowered his voice just the least bit more.

"Here's how it goes. Right now, you're at a fork in the road."

"What on earth are you --"

"You've got two choices. One. Keep sitting in that chair, and I will personally remove that jar and shove the roach inside down your throat. You looking for a free meal? That's it. Two: Get the hell out of here, now."

The thin man got the hell out of there.

Ma-Maw got wind of this encounter. She was absolutely furious. You and your matters of principle! We do not want scandal! Uncle Marion just denied the whole thing. 

"Ma-Maw, I think you've got the wrong impression. The thin man came in asking for directions to Wewahitchka, is all. I said, 'Take State Road 710 up to Clewiston. There's a fork in the road. Turn left and you're right on your way.'"

And he gave her that big smile.

The Problem of Mr. Sanders

A package had arrived for Mr. Sanders. No return address. Just a cardboard box, sheathed in brown paper wrapping, tied with string, and sealed with a woman's lipstick kiss. (Her identity remains a mystery to this day. What might cause a member of the female species to have the slightest romantic inclinations for this soft-spoken milquetoast does as well.) This enigmatic box gathered dust at the front desk for three days. We persistently rang his room without response. My exasperated brother decided to bring it up in person. I followed him up the stairs. Had some important revelation I wish to tell him.

He walked on down to Room 217. End of the hall, to the right of the glowing red EXIT sign, and the door to the fire escape. 

He knocked on the door.

"My Sanders ...?

The door pushed in a little. Mr. Sanders hadn't locked it.

My brother shrugged and went inside. Then he promptly remerged and shut the door — and made sure he heard it click

Your uncle Marion's face was white. I kid you not. I'd always assumed that was a mere expression of speech but his face was literally white.


"Don't go in there."

I reached for the doorknob.

He shouted like a crazy man.

"I said don't go in there."

Yelling his head off in this impatient fashion unlike him. A portent of some unpleasant vision behind the door to Room 217. Bad enough to rattle him. And that was saying something.

"What's going on?"

My brother carefully considered his words.

"Well, bro. Mr. Sanders just equipped himself with a rope necktie, that's what the hell is going on."

"Huh? What in sam hill is a rope --"

"He hung himself. He's dangling from the ceiling as we speak."

"I want to see!"

"No you don't."

"Yes I do."

"His eyes are all bugged out. And his face looks like a damn red sugar beet."

"I want to see."

"Jesus Christ, bro, he shit his pants. And it looks like he's got a hardon too."

"A hardon?"

Uncle Marion nodded grimly.

At that precise moment, I lost all desire to see the unpleasant vision that lurked behind the door to Room 217. Even if I hadn't, gawking at corpses was an exceedingly low priority at this moment.

We now had a problem.

Once we informed Papa Don and Ma-Maw of Mr. Sander's' early checkout, the shrieks, moans and wailing would begin. These would emerge from the mouth of my sainted mother alone, but that mouth was capable of astonishing vocal power. Ma-Maw would cry out that we were ruined! No guest would stay in the hotel ever again from now until the end of time — unless we hush this thing up. But how can we? Oh God, we can't! No! Word will get out of Mr. Sanders dangling remains! People will know! Truth is, people probably wouldn't know, if she'd had sense enough to keep her mouth shut, but she didn't, and she'd broadcast the news like the town crier. And yes, thanks to Ma-Maw's mouth, word would indeed get out. For lovers on a tryst, the notion of a dangling corpse (in some room somewhere) is not an aphrodisiac. Traveling salesmen are superstitious about ghosts and all that crap. The truck farmers most surely wouldn't like it. Had to avoid germs, handling the quantities of fresh vegetables that they did.

This ineluctable chain of events would ensue once Ma-Maw got the news. Both of us knew it, and had no need to verbalize the falling dominoes. Or the only possible solution to our problem.

Withholding the news from Ma-Maw was our immediate task at hand. 

"What do we do?

We Get Don up here, to ma-maw

NI'l get ...

No you won't , Seh'll see right through you.

He stood there thinking, then jerked his head. Which indicating he was leaving and I should follow.

We walked back downstairs. I imagined Mr. Sanders, swinging like a pendulum on a grandfather clock. Your Uncle Marion went down to the front desk and called Papa Don on the house phone.

"We have a proble,, sir.

"Well, i really hate to say this. But i think Mr. Sanders skip out."

I snickered incept of myself.

I could hear Don carrying on. Mr Sanders had run up a significant tab.

"You know what's worse than that,?"

Don said mumbled something.

"Mr. Sanders -- I always thought he was a all right -- but left this big old stack ofpornography right by the door. No, sir/ I promise you I didn't look at it. But it loks like some ... oh just that one cover on top was purely horrible. This woman with a whip and ... I don't even want to describe it o you sir. I --"


"He's on his way up."

He moving in a hurry, like a fat kid going for a plate of cookie. We could hear him stomping up the stairs like a walrus with feet. 

Though he was only in his early 40s, Don ordinarily moved like an old man. But he could double-time it when he wanted to.

If you will pardon the interruption, I should take the opportunity to point out that Don was not without vigor. The Army gave him his honorable discharge in '35, for heaven's sake. He didn't go to hell in five years. This stepinfetchit shuffle was an act. Grandma Louise moved him around like a headless chicken--Do this! Do that! One pointless task after another, just to make his life miserable. If Don hustled through it, she'd just load him up with more ball-busting busywork. So he took his damn time. In the Army, this was known as passive aggression, though I believe the psychiatric community has appropriate the term.

Papa Don appeared at the end of the hall, then closed the distance in a shot. You'd think he was going out for the track team.

"I'd better handle this boys."

I noticed that he was gripping a black leather salesman-type sample case in his right hand. Doubtlessly intended to remove the stack of obscenity before it damaged ourtender eyes.

He breeze past us and went in.

Thought he door we hear --

"Dingdongdamnit horseshit bastard shit."

Papa Don had an peculiar way of cursing. Like a foreign language he'd learned but not that well.

He popped back out again, threw the sample case to the floor and kicked it against the wall.

"Why didn't you --"

"The truth would've upset you. Granmad would read it on your face And she'd drag herself up the stairs to see for herself."

I" gusesYeh. That's exactly what she'd do. And raise holy hell? That's what you're figuring?"

Unle Marion nodded.

"So what the hell do we do?"

Asking my brother for advice. Like he's the child and uncle marion's the adult.

"Well we've got to get her out of her e..."

"Son, you don't have to tell me that. How?"

"Well, she's won an award."

"She has, huh? For what."

"Hotel managmenet."

Horseshit! I manage the goddamn -- oh. Well, where's she gonna pick up the award?"

"At the convention sir.

"What convention?"

"The hotel and hospitality convention, sir.

"Oh, you don't say. Well ... Where' that located?"

"Miami beach. the Del Ray hotel. That's the place."

Oh. You mean that place where there is no convention? That's the place you mean?

"It's a terrible prank sir. Just terrible."

Something close to a smile befiefly crept up Papa Don's face.

The thing of it is ... Who's gonna drive her up? Oh. I guess I'll have to do it, huh? Well. How do we get the ...

"I'll call the coroner from the front desk and say I'm you."

"Well that's mighty nice of you, but your 15 years old and --"

"I don't sound like a kid.

"Guess not. You think of everything, huh, smartypants? Well, here's something you didn't think of. I'm making that call, not you, because that's what I want."

No , that's not what you want.

Why not?

If you call first, the coroner might arrive before you and Ma-Maw get out of here.

"Oh. I guess so. Well. I guess I better get moving..."

"Can you act?

"Act like what."

"Like on stage."

"No, I ain't he theater' type. Never was no pretty boy, never will be."


Your Uncle Marion stood there. Thinking.

"Go to her room. Just get on down there. Act all excited. You're so excited you can't speak. Stutter, you know? Can you do that?"

"I guess i can do that., sure."

Welkl pratice.

Practice what?

"OK, I'll tell you what to say."

"Go ahead, smartypants."

Oh my God I I -- can't believe it -- we won't the --- we won. Now say that.

"Say what?"

Oh my God I I -- can't believe it -- we won't the --- we won


Papa don repeated this riducluylous phrase, failing to recognize the implied caricature. For additional verisimilitude, Uncle Marion also advised him to wave his hands in an excited manner.

Papa Don complied. Your Uncle Marion applauded this minimal level of acting ability.

Don headed out down the hall. Moving in high gear, fluttering those hands.

"No, Don. Go slow. Take your time."

"You say so."

He downshifted to the old man shuffle. Uncle Marion and I left him behind. We ran own the stairs, and headed for the front desk. Your Uncle Marion proceeded to pick up the phone and called Ma-Maw before he got there.

Ma-Maw! Ma-Maw~! Oh my Lord, you won't believe it! The Hotel Convention just called, and they said you won an award!

Even over the phone, i could hear her shouting ":An award? For what."

"Hotel management. Don got the message ad he can barely talk he's so excited -- but you gotta get there by noon"

Noon! Noon today?

"Yes, ma'am. Convention starts today, and that's when they hand out the awards."

Flustery hen clucking sounds emergeb from the pick up, though i can't distinguish individual words.

"Yes, ma'am. He's on his way now. IHe passed us in the hall, right before I called.

Papa Don was still far behind us, truth be told.

More clucking emerged from the phone.

"Uh-huh. Best get a move on. I'm so proud of you ma0-maw. You really deserve this."

Then he hung up the phone, picked up the phone book and found he number of the county coroner. He called. 

And in the best Papa Don imitation I'd ever heard in his life, he said, 
"Sir, you'd best get down here. thE hotel Walton's what I mean, sir. The ting of it is ...My son just called, well, one of the guests just hung himself on the second floor. We're down in Miami, but I guess that's ... Well, we're checking out right now. We'll drive on up as fast as we can, but I tis' just so traumatizing for the boys. You think you could get him where he's supposed to go? I do appreciate it. Oh. That would be George Sanders S-A-N-D-E-R-S. Room 217. Than you so very much."

He hung up the phone.

Don finally appeared, waving his hands, repeating the phrase, walking as slow as ever. He shuffled his way to your Grandmother's private sanctum. Shortly thereafter, they drove off together.

About three hours later, they returned. Ma-Maw was mad as a wet hen and raising holy hell in the lobby. A bald headed guest regarded her with curiosity.

"A prank! I still can't believe it! I want to know who's responsible."

"Maybe some rival hotel?"

"Who, Don? Who?"

"Well, they didn't leave their name, did they."

"Is that your attempt at humor?"

"Just saying I don't know who, is all."

"I don't like your tone, Don."

"Can't cough up the real name, cause all I got was a fake name. That's all I'm saying."

"Are you mocking me?"

"No, Louise. Don't see why you'd think that. I'm no jolly joker, never was, never will be."

"Well ... I think you're up to something.! I'm going to get to the bottom of it, so help me, I will."

Her rant continued. A torrent of threats, suspicions and accusations  But we weren't worried.

Mr. Sanders was long gone. The perfect crime.

Then the baldheaded guest walked up and asked about the white vehicle that'd parked in the driveway.

Without hesitation, Uncle Marion informed him that an ice cream truck had broken down. Not just any ice cream truck. The good Humor limousine for rich folks in Boca.

The guest gave my brother a funny look and walked away.

Uncle Marion made that crazy in the head gesture.

Grandma turned away with a snort. She fingered through the guest registry and totally lost her train of thought. We heard her clap her hands and cry, "Ooh!" Then she turned around and smiled. She had some wonderful news to share. 

Just wonderful.

That odd Mr. Sanders finally checked out. He didn't pay his tab, but that's the hotel business, isn't it? Now here's the good news ...

Room 217 is unoccupied. Yes, it's true!

The room we love so much was ours again until next season.

Holy, holy

The Baptist Church was right next door. They sang loudly and out of tune accompanied by an organ that sounded like a train pulling into at the station.  Our restaurant was doing OK, but we never took off, because we have had a liquor license. The Baptists imagined legions of drunks would emerge, throw up on their lawn and and darken their door. According to your uncle marion, the Anabaptists also coveted our corner lot.
The Fugates were methodists. Uncle Marion explained we resembled Episcopalians with smaller bank accounts who worked for living. I asked about the distinction between Methodists and baptists. He explained the methodist were a inventional father, so infants got sprinkled;l baptists saw the sacrement as a free will choice, hence adults were dunked of if bt choice
how do you now all this stuff.
He shrugged.
Is Ma-Ma going to hell
it's not for me to say
You can say.
No IU can't. Judge not lest ye be judged. I'm not makgiint hat up. It's in the book.
If I say "You're going to hell.,"
 that's like a judge banging a gavel. I just judged know. But only God's allowed to do that. I can say this or that is a sin. Stop doing this or that or your headed for the lake of fire. But I can't say you're a sinner.

Friday, March 24, 2017


Dear Dummy --
You doubtlessly expect and have been expecting this letter and have a fair idea of what I'm preparing to say. I 'm sure you wish I'd kept my thoughts to myself and avoided scaring the crap out of you but tough crap. You're not getting out of it that easy.

No, no no!

Here it comes, bro! Yessir, and I know you know what's coming. but that's not going to get you out of it. I've got a speech with your name on it bro. Like the ending of every patriotic movie you ever saw. Get ready to get a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes. You ready? Outstanding. 

OK, that''s more or less the introduction. Now get ready for my my big speech. Imagine a flag's waving and somebody's playing stars and stripes for ever. Anyway, here' the speech.

Adolph Hitler is a goddamned monster, which isn't blasphemy, because that's exactly what he is. He will drag the world to a new dark ages with a mew kind of darkness that makes all the racks and guillotines look like sunshine and rainbows. The United States of America and her allies can't let that happen, as I'm sure even your minuscule brain comprehends. We're at war, in case you haven't noticed They started it, we're going to finish it. We're going into the ring no holds barred and all bets are off. (No referee, either.) As I know from persona experience, once you start a fight with a bully or he starts one with you, you can't call it quits until the fight is done ad his ass is throughly kicked. Marquis of Queensbury rules will not apply, little bro.  (The fanatics we're up against have no fear of dying and are all hopped up on amphetamine pills  to boot.) We'r in it for the long haual. We can't say "uncle" and tap out. It's root hog or die time. Axis oe allies. one of us will stand. One will hit the canvas, face down.

Ugly fight is what it's going to be. But America has a secret weapon. 


I say this not boastfully but in wawreness of my God given talents.

I have an natural born instinct for flight,s imply put. That's why Uncle Sam is training me to fly the greatest flying machine known to man and fill the graves of Nazi Germany with dead nazi. Or Japanese graves with dead japs. I'm not particular on the subject.

Please understand that I do not intend to make myself at home in an American grave i the immediate future. But you do realize, little brother, that it's a possibility? A remote one, I assure you. Based on my handful of training flights, i can tell you I'm not just a good pilot. I'm an outstanding pilot. But oustanding pilots get killed. I'm not trying to be morbid with this train of thought. Something tells me you'll take it poorly if I land my P-52 on the Big Aircraft Carrier in the Sky.  Don't take that as an insult, sheathed. But I jus t know your little brain would wants to shut that fact out and whistle in the dark. Please don't. I could die. That's what happens in war. It's a fact. Face it.

Now here's the final  point of my obnoxious sermon. Being momentarily alive, I don't need a seance or a ouija board to give you the message. I can write it out plain and send it in the U.S. mail! (As you surely know,s being as how you're reading my letter at this very moment.) OK. You ready? Outstanding. Here goes .... 

If I should wind up in line outside the pearly gates slightly earlier than I expected, don't go all to peiceslike a blubbery little girl. Be tough. Be an man. Grow a spine and an extra set of balls. 

Cause you'll need 'em bro.

Let's say some sheathed in a stupid Speedy Alka Seltzer hat arrives at the Hotel with a telegram trying to be all nice and polite about the fact that I'm as dead as a hog crossing Atlantic boulevard. Hold on a second ...

Getting all choked up, bro. The senseless loss of that fine young man who is me just gets me right here. Buy War Bonds!

Anyway, should this bad news arrive, I assure you that Ma-Maw will go Cbattoahootchie bughouse crazy and take out all her hurt crazy ugly angry feelings out on you. Don't be surprised should this occur. EXPECT it to occur. If I die, she will take it out on you. And you can take that to the bank, little bro. No, it's not fair. You might point that out while eh's ranting raving and throwing things at you and curing your guts and damning your immortal soul, but it will have little effect on hurricane Ma-Maw. Don't try to reason with a crazy woman. That's just plain crazy. The smart thing to do is find some place to hid and pray and let the storm pass. That's the best I can tell you.

She will probably send you to military school. Pretend it's your choice, not a damn prison sentence. Make the most of it. Aim your ass to college. Or else.

If you screw up and feel sorry for yourself, i sincerely promise you my ghost will haunt your ass. I'll look up Papa Fugate and bring him along too. We will ride your sorry behind like two ectoplasmic drill sergeants. It'll be from for your good, you little shitass, but from a ghosts's perspective that's mighty hard work. I don't imagine he'd feel too happy about the prospect.

Well, I hope this has encouraged your sorry ass. please pray for me. And pray we win this damn war.

-- Marion


Your Uncle Marion was a genius. This was not immediately apparent to a casual observer. Your dear old dad  ... well I was a runt in comparison. He stood at 5'9" at the age of 17, bony facial structure, wicked smile, he could've been a movie star. A macho individual, if you understand my meaning. Ladies would melt in his presence, indifferent to the illegality of a possible relationship. Not an intellectual by any stretch of the imagination. But a mind like a steel trap.

He didn't study. He'd pick up a book, flip through it, and know every damn work on every damn page. If something interested him, he'd devour that subject. He knew everything there was to know on the history of airplanes, the mechanics of flight.

This struck me as deeply and profoundly unfair. I had some form of learning disability, though that word didn't exist at the time. I was born left-handed -- the sinister hand, the devil's hand. The pig-ignorant idiotic teachers trained me to write with my right hand, and that completely and utterly scrambled the wiring between my ears. Mixed-cross dominance, I think that's what they call it. Back then, they just called me dummy.

I'd work and work, but I was always last. Lowest grade, worst score. Terry the dummy.

How could God do that to me?

I didn't dare say that out loud in my brother's presence. I merely voiced the question, "Why are you so smart."

Your Uncle Marion froze, like a sniper who'd heard a Nazi step on a twig. Smart sonofabitch that he was, he'd heard the question I hadn't said.

"Why am I so smart? As opposed to you ... right?"

"I didn't say that."

"Well that's what you're thinking. God's unfair, right? Gave me the brains and the good looks, gave you the short end of the stick. Here's a news flash, bro."

He flicked me on the forehead.

"Your brain's just as good as mine."


"No problem in the brain department."


"You're just lazy."


"You give up. You don't get the answer right away, you say to hell with it."

He flicked me on the forehead a final time, then walked to his desk. Drew something on a piece of paper. Walked back. Shoved the paper in my face.

Not a word. A solitary letter.


Scrawled from corner to corner on  the blue horse ruled paper he'd ripped out of his notebook.

"What's it say?"


"What's that stand for?"

"Buried treasure?"

"No dummy."

He rapped me on the forehead with his knuckles.

"In math, dummy. X. what's that stand for?"

"I don't ...I don't know."

"Yeah, exactly!" He laughed. "The unknown. X the unknown."

Then he gently put the paper on the floor. Before I could react, he grabbed me by the back to the neck, pushed me down, and shoved my eyeballs about an inch or so away from the paper.

"Look at it, dummy!"


"Look at it! Keep looking at it."

He locked me in place for about a minute. Bully. Kept shouting do you see it, do you see it. My private thoughts answered, yes. I see it. It's a goddamn X, so what. But I kept that opinion to myself. He quickly lost patience.

"Do you see it, dummy?"


"I don't believe you, dummy. Do you see it?"


"Do you know what it is?"

I didn't answer. Just doing my herculean best not to cry at this point. He repeated the question.

"Do you know what it is?"


"No, of course you don't."

The vice of his hand let me go."

"It's X!" Really tickled. "Nobody knows what X is!"

"Did that feel good?"


"Hell no. That's why you stop. Listen. You keep looking at X the unknown, it stops being unknown. It hurts to look at it. Keep it up, and the light goes off in your head."


"Of course really."

He feinted a punch. I flinched.

"You're a dummy because you want to be a dummy, dummy. X makes your brain hurt, so you flat give up. Stop giving up and you'll stop being stupid. You start whining about how God shortchanged you in the brain department at any time in the future, I promise to kick your ass from here to Christmas."

He went back to his homework.

I looked at the X. For a long time.

It just looked like an X to me.
Daisy told big brother that mother was making fun of his pecker probably not the size but

so he clocked her in the south you never close your fist on a woman you slap 'em around

which is frowned upon too

you've risen from shitheel to thug

don hit her in the eye mother brought out the worst in people

yours truly

from pain


blacked her eye

she went to miami to say with the rooming house

black eye went away

everybody had a value and the value was making her happy

know arg start try to steer away from arg no hot buttons always one guard fixing cleaning
usijngually failing pre inez blowup feeling it's their fault

if we build somehow or other make m preprpeutally happy we'd have inivana we'd died and gone to heaven own beach
when don is drafted we hauled ass summer of 41 to KY


we'd run across the street to Hirschmans to buy comic books

charlie wilsona nd grandmother everything went south they broke up the partnership she went to miami rooming house
and mother browbeat your uncle marion into giving up jr year to go down there i was left there and everything keep going down down down when charlie took off and we

Without warning or explanation, your uncle marion climbed up the eastern side of the Hotel Walton. The side to the west faced the street and Walgreens drug store and the Florist's shop, and would have attracted more attention,

He accomplished this feat by stepping on a window sill, grabbing the top of the window, then standing on the sash divined the glass, , whereupon he grabbed the oh what the hell do you call it -- window legend immediately above, thereby pulling himself upon again, thereby repeating the process until he had finally reached the roof.

I saw him begin the process through the window by the ice machine and ran out to witness him complete his exertions. I avoided shouting, on the remote chance I might have broken his concentration and caused him to lose his grip. Superman was several decades in the future. from a contemporary perspective, that's the closest comparison.

Hi act remained bun wittessed by your Grandmother (thoroughly antesthizied by a night of heavy drinking) and Papa Don (Catching up on his sleep in the precious interlude of peace and quiet.)

Watching him haul his skin behind over the roof scared the living bejesus out of me, but he was successful. I thereupon ran back inside th hotel and proceeded up the stairs, though I had no immediate means of reaching the roof from inside the hotel, as the door was locked and the key hidden from childish fingers.

But uncle marion had either found it or picked the lock.

The sun made me squint as I ran out. He was smiling though not overly prideful or triumphant. Yep, I climbed the hotel. what's for supper.

Why in cotton picking hell did you do that.

He thought a second.

What if the hotel was a cliff. What if a german officer showed up with a luger and started searching sdformmme. I got st49 seconds to scale the top of the cliff before he sees me. Could i do it.

The windows are easy. Next time

Next time??

I'm going straight up the wall.

He pointed out that the hotel's wall wasn't sheer. There were stubby protrousions for some aesthetic motive i the architect's mind. Seemed more quant, or what have you.

I still don't understand how he avoided kicking through the glass when he stood on the sash. Or how that sorry ass strip wood held his weight. Or why in the hell he assumed it would.

He did, a short time later, scale a windowless portion of the wall. Your Grandmother was drunk on that day as well. I met him on the roof again.

You rally shouldn't do that.

Do hat.

climb the hotel, that's like a human fly,that's what.

Why not?

You could fall

I'm not going to fall.

Well ... Ma-Maw ould see you ! You 'd scare the living today lights out other.

He smiled.

I sear at that precise moment I saw invisible horns growing out of his forehead.

The moviegoer

I knew Mrs. Cargyle was up to something. The look on her face informed me of this fact. She reminded me of a gray fox that I'd spotted, purely by accident, one night, revealed in the illumination of big full moon in the cloudless, star-dusted black of a Florida night sky. Said animal was crouching behind all that scrub in back of the cocoanut palms sprouting skyward in the neglected courtyard behind our L-shaped hotel. I'd walked over from the shuffleboard courts, then bent down for some childish purpose adult memory does not reveal. On standing up, I saw the panting animal. Revealed, like an escaping prisoner in the moon's relentless spotlight. And he, of course, saw me. Big black eyes, black nose, and an infinity of tiny hairs. (More red than grey, though grey is what they're called.) I disbelieved my eye's intelligence, then reluctantly accepted the vision after a second's thought. Yes. A fox. There he in fact was.

Frozen, but looking, thinking. Eye to eye. I won the staring contest. He ran in a skittering rush. I walked bravely away, then noticed my hand was shaking. More scared of you than you were of him, brother Marion said later. From that observation, do not infer it's a good idea to stick your face up close to the face of a wild animal if you desire to keep your eyes, nose, lips and so forth in their current configuration. To say nothing of rabies, dummy. No arguing with that, so I didn't.

A point lurks within this vivid snapshot of memory, however digressive it may seen. My point here being the vulpine nature of Mrs. Cargyle's expression. The triangularity of her facial physiognomy had reminded me of a fox from my first encounter. But this was not the point of resemblance that struck me on that day.

The fox was cogitating. His foxy brain was occupied with a plan of escape. The brain behind Mrs. Cargyle's face was similarly occupied, although with a plan of attack. The wheels were turning in her pinched little mind. She was biting her lower lip. Her eyes were darting. This put me in mind of a crazed individual throwing darts. Said mental darts were aimed at myself, Susan Underhill, and Billy Bob Beautree. Cunning Mrs. Cargile did her level best not to appear to gaze in our directions. Which made her malign intent all the more obvious.

What in the name of all that was holy was she up to?

Well. I would soon find out.

My anticipation was no longer solitary. The class now awaited with collectively held breath. We had stood to recite the pledge of allegiance and then resumed our seats. At this portion of the hour, interrogations concerning last night's homework assignment would typically begin. But Mrs. Cargile had broken her routine, a rare occurrence, invariably unpleasant. Even those of lesser wits had divined she had a surprise to spring, and would do so, once an interminable and unpredictable interlude had passed to establish sufficient tension. Sounds like Gestapo tactics to me, the way you tell it. What's her name again? Mrs. Carlyle. Pffft! "Mrs. Cargyle" like hell. More like "Frau Carlicht" or some such. A Nazi spy has infiltrated your classroom. 

Wise beyond his years, my brother.

Carlyle or Carlicht, whatever her name was, she sat in silence behind the rectangular solid of her impossibly neat oak desk, stacked forms in ranks and files like a tiny city of paper on top, a pencil sharpener clamped to the side. Those eyes of hers narrowed. She grabbed one stack of forms, tapped it twice to establish perfect Cartesian order, set it down, glanced down at the page on top, read whatever it divulged. Her mouth then spoke.

"I have a survey from the State of Florida. I need all the children of divorced parents to please stand up."

I stood up. Susan and Billy Bob stood up. And she just let us stand there. All the other students sat there looking at us like we'd escaped from the freak show. It was total and utter humiliation, the 20th century equivalent of the stocks of the scarlet letter. Just barbaric. I teacher who pulled that stunt today would be crucified. They'd skin you alive. The three of us just stood there. Mrs. Cargyle let this go on for maybe five or ten minutes, but it felt like eternity. She pretended to fill in the form, which was all horseshit. There was no damn survey! She just wanted to rub our faces in merde. In my childish innocence or ignorance I didn't know it at the time. But I told your Uncle Marion what had happened and he informed me of that fact. And then he went ballistic. He punched a hole in our bedroom wall, not the flimsy drywall of today but concrete. His hand was bleeding, I think he broke two knuckles, but he managed to conceal it from Grandmother and Don, then made up a story about a sports injury the next day, I forget the precise details.  Aside from the time he threatened to blow a hole in Charlie Wilson, it's the angriest I've ever seen him.

Survey my ass. You see what she's doing little brother?
Well, she had this form ...
You actually see the form?
She said it's from the State of Florida ...
That's bullcrap. No. It's a lie.
She said it's a list of her students. She was checking off names ...
... of the divorced kids. You told me. Why in holy hell would she do that? What possible point would there be?
Because ...
She already knew who you three were! She didn't need a damn survey to inform the State of Florida of this information. The State of Florida sure as hell doesn't need it.
Then ... Well, why'd she do it?
Goddamn it! Lord forgive me. Ow.
You OK?
I'm OK.
You punched a hole in the wall. 
Well put a calendar over it, dummy. Hurry ... dammit, I'll do it. 
Why ...
She wanted to make an example out of you, dummy.
You and the two other kids of divorced parents.
Why would she do that?
So all your snotnosed classmates would stick with their rotten husbands and wives when they grow up in the distant future. So they'd be afraid some teacher would humiliate their little offspring if they ever ... 
You boys OK?

While revenge is considered unChristian or at least unsporting, your Uncle Marion made an exception in her case. He ... I really shouldn't laugh. I ... I really shouldn't, oh lord. He ... I don't know how in the hell he did it, but by fair means or foul he somehow got his hands on the Broward County teacher's directory, got Mrs. Cargyle's first name, got her phone number,  and he called her house. He'd waited until Don and Grandmother were downstairs arguing with the fire marshal over some damn thing or another. by the fire escape. It only now occurs to me he may have arranged that to get them out of the way. For good measure, he put a jazz record on your grandmother's scratchy little record player and turned it up as loud as humanly possible. Out of sheer dumb luck or divine providence, he got her husband on the phone, and pretended to be some horndog flyboy. I heard him talking. Is Maggie home? Yeah, we're all down at the Horseshoe Inn -- which was just this utterly depraved dive outside the airbase in Ft. Lauderdale. Be a pal and tell her to get her ass on over here. We can't start the party without Maggie. Mrs. Cargyle ... she ... Lord knows I shouldn't laugh.

She came in the next day with the most beautiful black eye I'd ever seen in my young life.

I'll bet dollars to dog crap it's a list of her students. 

You think n_are like gorillas. 
Some of 'em. some white people are too.

If they'd invented the steam engine in Africa, we'd be picking cotton in Nairobi.

Why are you so smart. 

Her approach to child rearing was to send the children away.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In the beginning there was fire

In the beginning, there was fire.
At least in my family. Or my memory of my family.
There was an oilfield in Minnesota. It was Fugate family's property in the early 1930s. It may be a depression for everybody else, but not for the Fugates, nope, because the Fugates had property and the Fugates have talent and brains and the Fugates have oil.
In my mind's eye, I see all All the bigass, moneyed, priveleged, Godblessed Fugates are strutting around on that moneygiving oil-spurting property. My Grandfather. His brother. Their wives. They're having a family picnic and celebrating all that privelege. Someone may even have wanted to take a photograph. Had them all cluster in together...

And some idiotasshole lights a cigarette.

The fire roars out like some bluewhite living thing, a hellspawn caricature of the Holy Ghost, and in microseconds the Fugates standing around are transfigured into writhing, screaming things on the ground like redmeat screaming illustrations from Grey's Anatomy.

My Grandfather is a tough Scots-Irish sonofabitch and it takes him a day and a half to die. He could've escaped unharmed. But he ran back into the fire to pull his sister out. And had third degree burns over 90% of his body.

My Great Aunt (Marion McLanahan) sees her Father, Mother, Uncle and various other relatives killed before her eyes. She is only 7 years old. Something about the horror of that sight fixes her at the age of 7 for the rest of her life. No matter how old she gets, she will always be 7 years old.
I know all this from my father's stories, the ones he told me when I was a little kid. Somewhere along the line, he stopped telling me stories and started telling me lectures His stories were fascinating. His lectures were boring as hell.
In my second year of college, I realized I had the great American novel on my hands. If I could just get those stories down on paper. But he wouldn't tell them anymore. I'd ask about grandmother louise's pony. He'd tell me that women were nest builders, I had to start thinking about my career, the world didn't give a shit about my goddamn creative talents, it's root hog or die, baby, root hog or die. How do you like them apples?
I'd get the lecture of the day. A massive assault on the sorry ass false onsxiousness he'd spotted in my skull. An exhortation that people were rotten and materialistic and the world would bust my balls and kill my pride if I didn't have money, property and a career--sound ground to stand on that'd allow me to tell the bastards "Kiss my ass."
But I'd persist and try to trick him into telling me fragments. I hit on the clever strategy of stuffing a tape recorder down the front of my jeans. Not the leak modern numbers. The bell and howell cassette recorder they'd bought me in 1968. Huge mother fucker. Half the time he'd notice it. "You sorry little shit. Did you stuff a goddamn taper corer down your pants. But I'd keep at it.
Tell me about the time Uncle Marion beat up the bully picking on Aunt Jo.
How you wanted to rig a pulley in the church, swoop down with robes and fake wings like you were angels, and steal the election plate.
The contrasts in the depression who'd come in the Hotel restaurant with a dead roach in a baby food jar-- and hide it under the food so they would have to pay.
Tell me Dad. Tell me.
90% of the time, he'd zero in like a secret missile on the theme of a root hog or die attitude in a psoriasis world.
Like Tristam Shandy. He never told the cock and bull story. He'd always veer off. A digression. A point he wanted to make.
But I kept trying.

July 19, 1930


Victims in Michigan Disaster Sprayed With Flames.

MT. PLEASANT, Mich., July 19. - (United News) - The first major disaster of the newly-developed Michigan oil fields had taken a toll of seven lives today after a wild gusher exploded and scattered blazing oil over a crowd of 2,000 persons.

Men, women and children, who had flocked to see the state's biggest oil "strike" were caught in the fiery blast shortly after nightfall last night. The well was a column of flames today while hundreds of men fought to bring it under control.

The known dead were:

Mrs. Walter L. McClanahan, 35, wife of the well owner.

Mrs. E. J. Guy, 45, wife of the general superintendent of the Roosevelt Refinery.

Ruby Melvin, 13, Mount Pleasant.

Mrs. Robert C. Guy, 18, Mt. Pleasant.

Arwin E. Gorham, wealthy Mt. Pleasant manufacturer.

Marion Fugate, 28, Mt. Pleasant.

Mrs. Thomas Lamb, 25, Mt. Pleasant.

Two others were so seriously burned that they are not expected to live.

A cigaret carelessly dropped by a member of the crowd was blamed for the tragedy.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA 20 Jul 1931


OK, man. If he won't tell the story, we will.
You don't know the damn story.

Then tell me. Start at the beginning.
I'm fuzzy about the beginning. I can say stuff, but it's all mangled and wrong.

Do your best man. Make shit up.
Names. Dates,.
I don't even remember my Grandfather's name. My Grandmother is named Louise.
Before marriage, she was Louise Something (McCuddy?) Lindsey, after marriage,
Louise Lindsey Fugate.

What was she like?
Fucking nightmare. We used to call her Grandmonster.
When she was a kid.
Oh, right. Well ...

Once upon a time I taped her recollections but she was old and drugged and drunk. 
She went on and on about her pony. She loved her pony.
What's the pony's name?
No fucking clue.
Well. You got it on the tape, right? 
Yeh did. But the tape was destroyed

No man. You destroyed it.
Fuck you, oK? Yeah I did and I don't want to talk
about it. 

Fine be me.

She was born in Franklin, Kentucky. Her Father was a schoolteacher, one of
those one-room schoolhouse deals. She was privileged, or at least honored. She
had her own pony and rode back and forth to school on her pony. The other kids
were in awe.

She was good-looking -- and also had a wild side. Time rolled into the 20s and
she became something of a party girl -- veneered over with Southern belle
charm and double entendre. The dances she went to were catered affairs,
cotillions, Southern society crap -- as opposed to the roadhouse variety. But
she made the rounds. I see her as something out of F. Scott Fitzgerald. A
Daisy figure. A Zelda figure...

And, somewhere along the line, she landed my Grandfather (whose name I don't
even remember) the son of "Papa" Fugate, the banker dude who owned everything
in Franklin county -- a Gentleman's C UVA graduate with a six foot shelf of
the Harvard classic that he probably never read...

No, man. You read shit all the time. He probably did too. Don't piss off his fucking ghost.
OK. Sorry sir.
I'm just fuckin with you, man. So, she landed him. You mean she married him.
Yeah. She married the rich guy. This is what all the calculated prettiness, mannerisms and flirtations was for, of course -- and it worked. She married him. She was set for life. 

Sometime I think around 1927 my Uncle Marion Lindsey Fugate was born, followed
by my father, Terence McCuddy (sp?) Fugate in 1930 and Estelle Something
Fugate a year or so later. I know it wasn't that long because my Father was
only a year or a year and a half old when his Father was killed, which is why,
as he told me ten thousand times, he never had a Father.

Fucking sad man. So, she married the rich guy. She had it made in the shade but life didn't go according to plan. All the pretty dreams an shit. That fired burned it all up.

Yeah. Down in flames. 

How she take it?
What do you think?
It fucked her up, 

All of this shattered Louise because it meant all her calculations had been for nothing. This wasn't supposed to happen. This was not her wonderful life.but ... Like what did your dad say

And so my Grandmother screamed and went mad with grief -- for the right
reasons and for the wrong reasons -- and then, since this was the Great
Depression by now, she pulled herself together and, with the money from the
will, bought a hotel in Franklin Kentucky.

Instead of being landed gentry she scraped and humped and washed dishes and
cooked meals and did the laundry and learned accounting (she'd always been
good at math anyway) and, being one of those clever, controlling people with
the kind of brain that can attend to ten thousand things at once down to the
last nitpicky detail, she made a go of it.

But this was not her dream. 
Not it was not. She wanted to be Zelda fitzgerald Southern Belle with blalhahbah.

So what happened next?

I'm sketchy on what happened next and the sequence may be screwed up here.
But, as far as I know, she made a clever leap of brain to figure Florida was
the place she oughta be and so sold the hotel and family property in Franklin
and moved down to Pompano Beach Florida -- somehow, either in advance or once
she landed, obtaining the Walton Hotel. For all I know she screwed the Waltons
and sent 'em packing to Walton's Mountain. History is silent on this point...

So there she was with three clever, bratty kids and nothing but hard work --
all work and no play. Better off than most, maybe -- but in their heart of
hearts, the abstract notion that there are more miserable people out there
somewhere never helped any human being deal better with their misery the least
goddamn bit, now does it?

Girls just want to have fun, including her. She wanted to get down. She wanted
to party. She started slipping out, going to dances and honky tonks and bad
places where she shouldn't've oughta gone. Also working her ass off, of
course. And scheming all the time. Drinking too, naturally -- perhaps a way of
holding all the contradictions together and going on from day to day. Her
glorious dreams on the one hand, her shitty life on the other....

Her drink of choice: Early Times.

Grandmother dealt with work and play by sending her kids to the movies almost
all the time. On weekends and the dead hours of the afternoon, she'd have
Daisy (the "colored" maid) drive 'em down to the local movie palace, the kids
all stuffed with enough money to stay the whole day.

In this way my Father -- like Walker Percy's Moviegoer -- grew up with his
eyes stuffed with visions and came away with a head full of other people's

While my Grandmother's schemes continued -- namely centering on Finding a Man,
her expectations having lowered considerably (as her hands had roughened) from
her original Southern Gentleman.

At one point, if I'm not screwing the sequence up, Louise brought home some
"white trash" to the Hotel and shacked up with him. The man thought he was
instantly king of the roost and slapped one of the little kids. Uncle Marion
punched him in the balls. The man fled and that was that.

She finally settled on a coarse, no-doubt sexually deprived serviceman of
German extraction named Donald Aurand who, for some reason, was there in
Florida during the WWII years. (Vacationing on leave? Stationed at a base
nearby?) They married. He went off for the year or so left of his tour of
duty. Came back.

And instantly became her henpecked, pussywhipped slave.

That's hash, man.

It's true. I witnessed it personally ... as a kid. I thought it was funny. Haha, she's making the German guy with big ears suffer! Now I look back ... and I think God, the poor bastard. Jesus, she made him crawl.

Why'd she do it or why'd he put up with it?
The second one.

Because it was her house, her hotel, her land, her money, her kids, her her everything.

So, how did this slave thing work in practice?

She had a cowbell that she'd ring CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! that you could
hear for a 40-mile radius. "Don!" she'd scream with a voice like a cackling
hen, "Don -- do this! Don do that!" Don would grumble, shuffling along, "I'm
coming, I'm coming. Don't have to pitch a goldurn fit..." That was not her sole means of communication. She also had a bell system.

A bell system.

Like a school bell, when the classes change. There's one at the front desk at the hotel, in the back room, in his area, any place he might be. She wanted something, she'd push a button by her bed and they'd ring, they're were fucking loud. Sometimes we'd be there. He'd roll his eyes, Oh God, what' the old bat want now. He'd say all this shit like we weren't even. He'd start shugglingf along RIINGNNNGGGG. I'm going. RINGGGGGG. Keep your panties on, damn it.

Man thjat's hellish.
Yeah. Like no exit with a fucking bell.
No, man. It's a two bell system. In terms of scale, you know?  Little bell, big bells. Cowbell by the bed. And those big bells in the hotel.
That never occurred to me. 
Hre to help man.
So how long he put up with that shit.
Until she died.
Jesus. So the man just took her shit.
He took her shit ...
And he dipped in the till, right?

They got older; Don
got deafer; Louise got louder. He got slower. Other than that, the pattern stayed the same
for decades.

The kids picked up on the contempt and Don's servile status, of course --
especially my Father. Don was not their real dad. Fuck Don.

Don, realizing he was without power and totally screwed, started salting money
away in secret and continued to do this for years. Bad, bad Don.

The kids, meanwhile, grew up and, occasionally, raised a little hell.

My Father -- when he used to tell stories instead of boring lectures -- told
some good ones. One story about how Uncle Marion saw a bully beating up on
Aunt Jo and how Uncle Marion tore off across a field like a shot and kicked
the bully's ass. How Aunt Jo thought she saw God and fainted in Church once.
How Dad and Uncle Marion wanted to dress Dad up in an angel costume, suspend
him from a rope, and have him come swooping down in church to steal the
offering plate. How some kid named Pee Wee painted a picture of Hitler's open,
screaming mouth at the bottom of his toilet. How the cheerleaders at the white
schools hooted and hollered like goofs -- while the black cheer leaders
snapped their fingers, cool, styling, chanting "satisfied...satisfied." How
Dad and Uncle Marion almost gave Louise a heart attack by dropping a dummy off
the Hotel fire escape in Dad's clothes that she thought was Dad. How Dad could
argue or talk his way out of anything -- except his Brother. How Uncle Marion
wrapped Dad around his little finger -- had him running around, doing chores,
doing his work -- for a quarter, a favor, whatever that, somehow, Uncle Marion
always got out of. How a good kid got knifed and died at the hands of some
white trash. How Dad listened in on a phone conversation once and realized
that Uncle Marion was having an affair with a married woman. How Dad fucked up
constantly and was always in trouble and got sent to military school. How
Uncle Marion enrolled in the Army at age 17 and became the youngest pilot in
the Army Air Corps.

Fire again.

They used him as an example in the lectures at the training academy. How if
you didn't do this or did do that -- or whatever they made out it was he did
that was wrong -- you'd burn to death and die in agony. Dad likes to think
that's a load of crap and they were just using him as an example and had no
right to do that.

And so George Bush became the youngest fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps.

And Grandmother Louise went screaming around the Hotel -- screaming like a
wild animal, screaming like something out of Shakespeare, something out of


Before he left for the train station they all went and saw a movie. The movie
had a cartoon short -- something by Disney about Captain Billy Mitchell's plan
to have a fully functioning air force. The film ended with an endless flying
wedge of planes filling up the sky in the victorious fight against fascism.
Uncle Marion went away. Dad and everybody waved goodbye.

ix months later they got the telegram that Uncle Marion died in a training
accident. Two planes ran into each other over a lake -- one pilot, obviously,
not where he was supposed to be. One pilot parachuted to safety. Uncle Marion
went down in flames into the lake and died. 

In the end theere was fire.
Yeah. That's how I'm going to end the story.
Man, that's too damn depressing.