Sunday, July 5, 2009


Hey all, sorry about the recent stops and starts in posting. As I said earlier, I quit my job. I finally settled on something else for the year, but it involves me moving out of the country. For the last month or so, my wife and I have been selling most of our stuff and packing up. Right now, we're hanging out with my folks for a month and then we'll be out of the country. I think that I should be able to get back to regular, multi-times-a-week posting about September. Thank you all for hanging in there with me. I promise I've got some good stuff up on deck and I'll get it to you as soon and as well as I can.

Pa's Adventure Part 3

By the time Dale returned with the coffee, I'd started to think about other things. Why was I sitting here, in what looked like my grandma's living room, having coffee with Dale McClawenstein, when I was supposed to be defeating him and his nefarious, meth dealing schemes? Also, why did it seem like this afternoon was stretching on for weeks? And finally, what kind of coffee was this? I was durned good coffee, I tell ya, and I had some mean cups of coffee in my day. In fact, when I was in my early 20s, I set off in search of the perfect cup of coffee. I travelled around the world, often stowing away on boats bound for South America, the Pacific and beyond. I went hither and yon, eating nothing but donuts and toast for 5 long years. I rarely showered and I never shaved, which was the first time I grew a beard, until, at last, my quest was complete. I found the perfect cup of coffee on a small chain of islands where giant hair is the norm and everyone shouted "Bula!" as a greeting; where the sand is white, the ocean is blue, and the coffee is black as John Hodgman's heart. I spent a fortnight in the country of Fiji, travelling to its many islands, sampling the local brew and paying for my hotel stays in stories and beard hair, which, until 2004, was the official currency of Fiji. Soon, out of stories to tell and bald-chinned once again, I wandered back home to Iowa to settle down and dream of island life and Fijian coffee. This coffee that Dale had was in the top 20, 25% of all the coffee I'd ever drunk, if I were forced to place it. Sure, it was no Fijian coffee, but little is.

Just as I was gettin ready to hitch a ship back to my island paradise, Dale came back to the living room with two more cups on his tray.

"Sorry about the wait," he told me. "I had some problems with the coffee maker. I thought I'd turned it on brew, but I really just had the timer turned on. I kept waiting for it to start brewing, but it never did. I got it in the end, though. I hope the wait wasn't too long."

"Nah," I replied, "not too long at all. Maybe for someone else, it woulda been a long time, but I'm patient."

He set the cups down on the coffee table. "Now, where were we? Right, you were just about to tell me about the building of the train to the center of the earth."

"That's right," I nodded, sipping my coffee, "Pa and Mr. Charles Noe were tormented by their plan for two straight weeks. They knew the land would be perfect for hobos and that hobos loved trains, but how would they get a train to the land of the big rock candy mountain. But the problem was that the land had no way to perform any work.

"Then, it struck Noe like lightning out of the clear blue sky, or cave roof, or whatever lightning comes out of when you're in the middle of the earth. 'Hey,' he told pa.

"'Hey is for horses,' pa shot back. He'd invented that saying just a week before, and he was getting as much mileage out of it as he could.

"'And correction is for grammar teachers,' responded Noe, who was sick of hearin that line every time he tried to get pa's attention. 'Anyway, I was just thinkin. WE may not be able to build us a railroad, but there's no reason it can't be built for us.'"

"'Whaddya mean?' asked pa.

"Well, Charles explained to pa that his land weren't the only land in the center of the earth. Apparently, according to him, there was all sortsa underground empires keepin things quiet down there. They was surrounded by dinosaur valleys, elf fortresses, troll caves and, most importantly to him, right to the south was a whole gnome village. Maybe they could just mosey on over there and ask the gnomes, who are known worldwide for their industriousness, to build them a railroad. And that's exactly what they did, well the moseyin anyway. When they got to the gnome village, it was a different story altogether.

"That gnome king, called Ulthibalthazar, was facing a revolution not seen since he lead the revolution against the previous gnome king Frankulikik, who lead the revolution against the previous king, Doug. Pa and Charles Noe came upon the king pacin around his chamber yellin, 'What am I going to do? What am I going to do?'

"When Charles asked him what was the matter, Ulthibalthazar told him that, despite their reputation as hard workers and clever machinists, gnomes, as a society, were incorrigible drunks. This was typically sated by the liquor geysers that dotted the gnome landscape. Those geysers would shoot liquor out every fifteen minutes and said liquor would be collected in wooden barrels by a special squadron of gnomes, the Tap Brigade. Every time a barrel was filled, the brigantine carrying it would ring a bell to summon a donkey. When the donkey arrived, they would strap the barrel to the donkey, tap it and the let the donkey roam freely through the village. Any gnome that wanted a drink, and it was likely to be every gnome, would fill his glass from the donkey's back, swill his liquor, and then return to work, or maybe he would take a nap, it was about fifty fifty. This was such a vital part of gnomish life that they chose the biggest drinker from among them to be king. Once king, Ulthibalthazar didn't have to make anything any more, he just had to use his mystic, big drinkin power to keep the geysers runnin. Of course, there weren't no instructions on how to do this, because kings usually left office quite suddenly and unexpectedly, not to mention that they were usually dead at the time.

"Well, this particular gnome king had just kept drinkin and assumed that, as long as the geysers were goin, he was doin everything right. But, the week before pa arrived, the geysers just stopped workin. Now, he was facin a horde of hungover, grumpy, shaky gnomes with the DTs who wanted his head on a pike, or a drink, either one would satisfy them.

"That gnome king was sure in some desperate straits. He was offerin pa and Noe anything they wanted if only they could get the geysers turned back on. Now pa, he was wily. He told that Ulthibalthazar, 'Now, sir, I ain't sure I could get them geysers back on for ya, but I may have a way that you don't need them anymore.'

"But that king shouted out, 'I'm not goin to any more of those meetings. 12 steps my eye! If I wanted to quit drinkin, I wouldn't have become a gnome king, I would have been a priest or a teacher or something like my mom wanted me to be.

"'I ain't gonna convince you to quit drinkin,' pa told Ulthibalthazar, 'I got a way to get you a supply of fresh, sweet booze that you can keep for emergency purposes.'

"That made the king interested, but still wary, 'And what do you want in return?'

"'We just want a railroad!' cut in Mr. Noe. 'And we want you to build it for us!'

"But the king explained to them that gnomes didn't build railroads. There wasn't no challenge in building a thing unless it had at least a thousand moving parts and, as was the custom of the current king, had death rays mounted on it. To give them an example, Ulthibalthazar showed them a brass bird he made, no bigger than a swallow. He opened up the back and showed them how it was run by clockwork gears, some only as big as the head of a pin, others, or so he says, were invisible to the naked eye and had been carved out of dust motes. 'There,' he explained proudly, 'that's a challenge! Now you're askin me to waste all this gnomish talent layin down some bars on some sticks? Not gonna happen. But I tell you what, if you can get me the liquor you say you can, I'll get my boys to build you a whole slew of railroad buildin robots.'

"Right there, the deal was struck. Pa and Charles Noe led the host of hungover, angry gnomes to the land of the big rock candy mountain and let them dig a ditch, rerouting one of the alcohol streams through a series of tunnels and finally into a reservoir they could use for boating and, in times of emergency, drinking. When they'd finished their work and spent a week blacked out from the new source of alcohol they set to work designing and building a thousand railroad laying robots."

"And that's how pa got home," I closed, "he camped out underground while the robots were building and emerged just as the screaming started."

"Wait," said Dale, his coffee poised an inch from his mouth, "the screaming?"

I was surprised at his ignorance, but I didn't want to be rude. "Well, yeah, it was the great robot war of '39. Don't you remember the newsreels?"

"I can't say I do," he admitted. "What are you talking about."

So then, I had to explain to him all about the great robot war, which is gonna have to wait until next time.