Friday, June 19, 2009

Pa's Adventure, Part 2

"You want some coffee?" Dale asked me.

"Sure," I said, "I'm feelin mighty parched from tellin this here story. You know, coffee's good for story tellers and listeners."

"That's true," he concurred, "I, as a listener of this story, feel that coffee is improving my enjoyment of this yarn tenfold."

"Most true, most true. I would suggest that anyone listening, or possibly reading, a story of this nature would want to go get themselves a cup of coffee now. I'd even sit here and wait a tick while they did."

With that, Dale got up from the modified stool he'd been sittin on and went into the kitchen. While he was there, I took the opportunity to look around some more. I was seated on a floral patterned couch that had been covered in plastic. Next to me, on a small oak table, was an old fashioned oil lamp that had been converted to electric. All along the aged wooden walls were pictures from Dale's time in the circus; fliers for his act, adverts for places far flung, exotic places such as Altus, Oklahoma and Shreveport, Louisiana, and, on the mantle a portrait of young Dale with his parents standing in front of an aquarium, stuffed full of hope like a shark full of cocaine. The whole place was covered with a thin layer of dust and smelled like a library that had coffee brewing.

"Here's the coffee," Dale announced. He was carrying two thin china cups painted with roses on a silver tray with an angel motif inlaid.

"Thank ya kindly," I told him. Even when you're having coffee with a half man/half lobster that's sold meth to kids and killed people with his pernicious poots, it's important to remember your manners. "So, where was I?"

"Your dad had just fallen into a lake of stew in the middle of the earth," he told me.

"Right," I launched into the story again. "So there was pa, floating in a great lake of beef stew. He couldn't see no shore line or nothin out there, and he was so tired out from his fall and voiding himself of all that sand (if you know what I mean), that he just wanted to lay there and maybe eat a bit. Luckily for him, stew is dense and it takes no effort to float on top of it.

"There was pa, laying in the stew, lookin around him. He was in some sort of giant cave that was lit up, from where, he couldn't tell. The ceiling of the cave was so far above him he couldn't see it. He only knew it was there because he had recently passed through it. The light in the cave would wax and wane with what he thought was a copying of night and day, but without his watch, he couldn't tell how regular it was.

"He'd been layin there, occasionally rolling over to eat some stew, for three of those cycles when he spotted something on the horizon. At first, it looked like just another pea floating at the edge of his vision, but it became steadily larger as he watched it. It grew from a pea to a carrot, then to a potato, then to the size of a chunk of beef. Soon, it was larger than any of the food chunks floating around him and it began to resemble a small sailboat.

"When it got within hailing distance, pa yelled out, 'Hey! Over here!'. He waved his arms a bit until he saw the ship turn towards him. As it got closer, he saw that, instead of being a sail boat, it was a bathtub that had been rigged with a flag pole in the drain hole and a bed sheet tied to the pole acting as a sail. Steering this vessel was a small, black haired man wearing a black, three piece suit, the vest of which was white with red diamonds on it, and a black bowler hat.

"The man pulled the boat up alongside pa, dropped the sail, leaned over and shouted, 'What in tarnation are you doin in ma stew lake? You're befoulin it! Befoulin, I say!'

"Pa stayed calm, 'Well sir, if I'd had my choice, I'd not have fallen in your stew lake and befouled it, but, if you was to pull me into your fine vessel there, I'd be happy to stop befoulin it.'

"'Not before you tell me how you got here,' the man shouted.

"So that's just what pa did. He filled the small gentleman in on the whole story. When he finished, the man told pa, 'That's quite a story. I'd say that story alone is worthy of a trip into town, climb aboard. What's your name, stranger?'

"Pa told him, 'Evan, Evan O'Neil.'

"In turn, the small man introduced himself. 'Charles Noe,' he shook pa's hand. 'And I'm king of this here land.'

"Pa was duly impressed, especially seein as how it was only the third king of an underground land that pa had ever met, and he was pretty sure one of those had been lyin to him. He bowed, as he thought he out to, but Charles Noe was havin none of it. He told pa that he was king of the land by default, seein as how there was no one else there to share in the bounty. He was a king without people. That bein the case, he wouldn't have no one bowin or scrapin or callin him 'Sir'. Just plain ol' Charles. Or, if one was feelin fancy, Mr. Noe would do.

"As they sailed, pa asked all about the land, the cave, and especially about Charles Noe. The cave itself was beyond any measurement system Charles could devise, but, by his own admission, he wasn't much of a deviser. If it couldn't be measured with a length of string or less than twenty paces, it was unmeasurable to Charles Noe. The light, he told pa, ran on regular 12 hour cycles, though he, too, could never figure out where it came from. His theory was that the mountain in the center of the cave, clear as it was, went all the way to the surface of the earth and acted as a sort of skylight, but that was never confirmed. Whatever it was, it kept the land clear and bright.

"After sailing for two more days, they reached the shore of the stew lake. Charles Noe escorted my father to a camp site, explainin to him that the whether was so fine, he never felt he needed to build a house. In fact, since he'd been there, he'd slept out every night. Not to say there were no buildings. There was barns around, all of 'em full of hay which never rotted and never caused hay fever. There was also a coupla jails around. 'Don't worry about those, though,' Charles told my dad, 'they're made out of tin. You can walk right out again as soon as you are in.'

"That got them talkin about how long Charles HAD been there. He said he couldn't rightly say. He'd tried keepin track once, but gave up around the 3,000,000 day mark. There'd been some days before that, and a whole lot of days after that. He spent it mostly explorin, whittlin and playin the harmonica. It was a pleasant existence, he told pa, just a little lonely sometimes. He'd had a coupla visitors in his time. The first one was the man who invented work.

"Charles told pa, 'We didn't get on too well. He was a bit of a jerk. I ended up havin to hang him.'

"The second was this fancy pants science fiction writer names Verne who came down there. He'd been a bit too uppity for Charles' taste; actin like he was too good for the land. Charles asked Verne if he'd write about this land when he got back home, and the guy said he would, but when he got back, he ended up writin a bunch of drivel about dinosaurs and whatnot, not exactly the tourist lure Charles was hopin for.

"'But you don't need to worry,' Charles told pa, 'there ain't really dinosaurs down here.'

"Well, pa and Charles Noe ended up becomin good friends. Charles showed him all around that underground land. To the north was the stew lake, which dad was already familiar with. On the southern end of the cave was a second lake, filled with whiskey. On the shores of this lake lived packs of feral bulldogs. Charles walked right up to those bulldogs and wiggled his bottom at em, yellin, 'You want some of Charles Noe, you come get some of Charles Noe!'

"Them bulldogs took off at him like a barrel full of puppies shot from a cannon, growlin and barkin, but he didn't move an inch. They pounced on him at full speed, openin their maws wide to take the largest bite they could. Pa was convinced Mr. Noe was crazy and suicidal then, but he walked away unscathed.

"Dad stood there astonished and asked Charles, 'What kind of magic is that?'

"Noe just laughed, slapped my pa on the back and told him, 'It ain't no magic, Evan. Them bulldogs all have rubber teeth. They can't do no one no harm. You hungry?'

"They spent ten years wanderin that land, eatin handout grown on bushes, fruit straight from the farmers' trees and soft boiled eggs laid by the hens. When they got thirsty, they drank from the little streams of alcohol tricklin down the rocks and when they wanted to relax, they sat beneath the cigarette trees and smoked.

"One day, as they was sittin in their latest campsite, havin a drink and a smoke, talkin about how to populate this land of plenty, pa turned to Charles and said, 'I think I got it! You know who would love this place? Hobos.'

"'Hobos, huh?' confirmed Charles. 'I never thought of that. But how do we get them here?'

"They thought for a bit about that, the alcohol makin it tough. They had to think about things that hobos liked. Finally, they had it, trains! Hobos like trains.

"They was excited about that until Charles said, 'No, no, that ain't gonna work. There ain't no trains that come here.'

"Despondent, pa said, 'Yeah, you're right.' Then he fell asleep for a bit.

"Round about midnight, he woke up, 'We could build tracks!' he yelled to Charles in the night.

"'Ain't gonna work,' Mr. Noe told pa. 'There ain't no axes, saws or picks round here. But I still think it's a good idea. Let's sleep on it.'"

"You need a refill on that coffee?" Dale cut in.

I looked down to find that I did. "That'd be mighty kind of ya," I told him. "And when you get back, I'll tell ya all about the train to the center of the earth."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pa's Adventure Part 1

"So, wait," began Dale McClawenstein. "You were raised by harbor seals?"

"Thass right," I told him.

He looked skeptical. "But I've met your parents. You've had me over for dinner with them and everything. How could they be around if they fell through the dock like you said?"

"Well, first of all," I corrected, "that woman you've had dinner with ain't my biological mom. My dad got hisself remarried a ways back. That's why I just called her Darlene at dinner."

He shrugged. "Huh, I thought you were calling her darling. Frankly, I thought it was a bit weird that you would call your mom darling, but I figured it wasn't any of my business. But what about your dad? Is he your biological father?"

I had to give him the sad truth. "Yeah, he's my real father, as much as it pains me to say it."

"How can that be? This story isn't making any sense. Are you making this up?" He sounded a bit more accusatory than I woulda liked, so I told him so.

"You sound a bit more accusatory than I would like," I told him. "I know I been know to make up a thing or two now and then, but this is all completely true. And it'd make a lot more sense if you'd just listen instead of tryin to jump the gun on everythin here."

Now that he was properly chastised, I could go on with my story. "You see, what I didn't mention is that my pa is one competitive son of a didgeridoo. He and my ma had been walkin along the boardwalk, as I said, and they happened by a side show. Now, this bein the off season, the sideshow was havin a hard time gettin themselves good talent. They couldn't find them no bearded lady, so they had to go with a mustacioed child. If you ask my dad, he'll swear up and down that it was just a midget and then he'll start screamin 'bout how he got ripped off and then his face will turn all red and that vein in his forhead, you know the one, will start pulsing with a cha-cha beat and he'll look like his face is about to explode. I 'spose I wouldn't ask him."

"Nah, I suppose not," Dale concurred.

"Now, after seein that mustacioed child, my dad was in the mood for seein somethin really amazin. It turn out that the sideshow owner had some talent of his own. He held the world's record for eating the most sand in one sittin. Well, my pa, never bein one to shy away from attemptin to break a world's record, challenged that man to a sand eating contest.

"An hour later, my pa walked out of that tent with a belly full of sand and a heart full of defeat. That man had beaten my old man by a full bag and a half of sand. When my dad gave in, that man just sat in his chair lookin like a beached whale and laughed and hooted and hollered until he was shootin a steady stream of grit out his mouth and ears. There was nothin pa could do but just fold over like a burlap sack and slink away.

"So then came the accident. The pier gave out and my parents went tumblin into the drink. Ma wasn't no strong swimmer, but she managed on her own, though that's a different story for a different time. Pa, on the other hand, had been a swimmin champ in college. All that sand was makin for some tough doggy paddlin, though and he was sinkin like a cargo ship full of blasphemy and hubris.

"I don't know what came over him in that deep, dark ocean, but he stopped fightin and started swimmin down. He never said what he was tryin to accomplish; whether it was a stroke of genius or madness, or whether he was just tryin to hurry the inevitable. Whatever it was, he swam straight down faster than he'd ever managed to swim sideways. Between his breast stroke, ll the sand he ate, and sheer, dumb O'Neil luck, he built up so much speed that when he reached the sea bed, he kept right on goin.

"When he realized what he'd done, he tried to arrest his movement by doin the backstroke, but he was already travellin to fast to stop right away. His main concern at this time was hittin the ball of magma at the earth's core. Either that or tunnelin straight through the Earth to China. Sure, he'd picked up some Chinese during his merchant marine days, and he felt confident that he could get home, but China is just so muggy in the summer, and he was too darn full to put up with too much humidity.

"Grabbin backwards with both hands, pa managed to slow himself to somewhat reasonable speeds just before he dropped into the cave. He fell and fell. He says he didn't know how long he was fallin, coulda been weeks or months. I told him he stole that from Alice in Wonderland and he told me if I wasn't careful, he'd show me Alice on the Back of His Hand. I didn't think it was too witty, but I got the point enough to be quiet and hear out the story.

"My pa tumbled ass over elbows through the cold night under the earth, sleepin occasionally, voiding hisself of sand when he could. After some time, his eyes adjusted to the gloom and he could see land somewhere below him. A lot of people would spend time frettin about what was gonna happen when the land got closer, but not my pa. He just kicked his feet up, relaxed and decided to let come whatever would.

"That was prolly a good decision because, as the land resolved itself, he saw he was over a lake he estimates to be as big as New York. My pa ain't never bee to New York, so I don't know how he would know, but that's what he says. Though I never been able to pin him down on whether he means New York city or state. Well, when he saw he was gonna land in that lake and prolly be all right, my pa stared the greatest high dive known to history. I don't remember the whole thing, but it involved over a hundred flips, just as many twists, a coupla gainers, a nice superman in the middle, the Alamaba loop-de-loop (which can only be accomplished if your dive last more that 15 minues) and a Jim Crackin Alligator (which has only ever been done by two people; Jim Crackin and my dad, and requires three full shaving kits, a bowl of prepared mustard and a live weasel).

"When he come to the bottom of his dive, pa entered that water perfectly straight up and down. He spread his arms and legs out like a fan unfolding, turned towards the surface and broke through with enough momentum to complete a second Jim Crackin Alligator, which wore the weasel right out, I tell ya.

"Finally done with all his fancy acrobatic stuff, pa just leaned back on the surface of the lake and rubbed the viscous liquid outta his eyes."

Dale cut in, "Viscous? Did he fall in oil or something?"

"Nah," I responded, "my dad found himself floating on the surface of a lake of stew."

"You're kidding!"

"Wish I were," I drawled, "wish I were."