By Dennis J. Cummins III
Thar’s something strange ‘bout that fella
Do you mean strange as in weird, or strange as in queer?
Queer? Whatcha mean ‘queer’??
Well, as in strange… hmm, or weird…
Na, humph (spits) like I said, there’s something… (trails off)
The long dirt road into the city, proper, was outlined with cozy little meadows, with colorful, probably once exotic, now mundane ‘wildflowers’ brought from some far off exotic Arabian Night’s Entertainment lonely desert island in the middle of nowhere by some or other famous explorer, or, as ships and explorers are like flowers, what is by singularity exotic and by abundance mundane, just another ship’s captain in a later era, in seeds stowed away, hidden perhaps in a woman’s whale bone corset lining, stuck into some hemp rope or perhaps even strewn across a cabin’s baseboards after threshing some other plant for its seeds. The hills rolled, the road curved, this way and that, meandering its lonesome way towards the heart, but like the true arrow, like a bolt, it centered ever towards its destination, try as those winsome roadside flowers might to allure it off its intended course with their wiles. It ran passed the abandoned railroad water tank, rusted. Continued on passed the two grumbling old fools, who, perambulate as they might, were as steadfast as the water tank, anchored as it were, or perhaps more like the buoy that will float with the tide but remain in the same general location.
The grumpy old man, and his sidekick, the man about town.
But the car, a revved up 1962 modded Cadillac Shark, purple and red, blazed passed them like they were standing still. Which, for the most part, they were.
Which fella, exactly?
One driving that there… queer automobile (pronounced ow-toe MOOOOEEE beeeeel)
Queer? Excuse me?
Queer (Kweee — EAR) Excuse me!
The grumpy old man took offense. He stood back a pace or two, spit into the dirt, then kicked it over with his well worn boot, before pausing, deciding whether or not to spit again, deciding in the affirmative, spitting, with a big wind-up motion, which involved not only his head, but like the baseball pitcher who has to convince everyone in the stadium, including but obviously not limited to himself, that he really, really, is trying quite hard, perhaps as best he can, to put his utmost into the ball, like an animated cannon which bends backwards its unyielding wrought iron frame before exploding sending its projectile hurling forwards, with his mouth, and an audible sound that sounding like nothing so much as the sound or word one might appropriate to represent the act of spitting, was an odd accompaniment, that which is and that which points to it, like billboards for a used car dealership with the requisite pimped out dealer himself, all surrounding and pointing towards (within 10 feet of) the dealership and said dealer, itself and himself respectively. Putt-ewie is how it is usually represented.
Queer! they both agreed at once, the same time, as the car, rocketship like, careened by, rocketing, rollicking, rambling even too, at times, in contrast, right on into town.
Inside, the pompadoured scientist, his bride to be, and two smallish tweens, a boy and a girl, with a large dalmatian between them in the back of the purple leather bucket interior, sat, contemplating existence, the buxom blonde in front, fidgeting with her shiny new orange manicure, her bright green beehive set off by her bright purple eyes, which matched the interior, while he drove with one hand, fixing the rearview to keep an eye on the kids, or look at is hair, or perhaps keep tabs on any police. It was certainly unclear whether or not they were running from anything, or in a rush instead to get somewhere, it was also unclear if the center of town was, like the road they were travelling beneath them, merely a pit stop or their raison d’ etre, their final destination. One might indeed say, yes indeed that there might in fact be something, well, queer, about them, for lack of a better word.
The hazy lazy afternoon in the full mid-day sun took on the same inveterate, unhurried appearance which it quickly shod at the appearance of the strange strangers, only to slip right back into, like the kept housewife into her best silk teddy hearing what she thinks is the door-to-door salesman only to find it is merely her cheating husband home for lunch, putting right back on her worn, full length, shoddy terry cloth robe, returning to her prior unkempt state. The two stood, as if fishing, waiting, talking, passing the hours.
The city proper was framed by forests. Due to the expansion of the city proper, the forest was in a two front war. One with the encroachment of developers, always looking for newer, cheaper property. And like fighting a Machiavellian opponent, the very detritus of that war, the trees which made up the forest, the very same forest-for-the-trees trees which some claimed, with Zen-koan-like mysticism, or perhaps the pseudo-variety of it, if there is a difference between the two, which some claimed obscured the very view of that self-same forest, by their lack of ‘vision’ vision, an inability to see the ‘grand scheme’ ‘big picture’ of things, by getting caught up in ‘the weeds’ as it were. Where those ‘weeds’ refer to customers at a diner, or the unmowed, ‘rough’ portion of golf courses, to mix metaphors.
The forest didn’t stand a chance. It did however, fight the noble fight, and like any native inhabitant misplaced, was eventually accorded some degree of protection, a status accorded it by a sort of stalemate, the new inhabitants wanting desperately to retain a degree of the old, to remind them that while they had brought ‘that’ to ‘here’ or with themselves into this new land, their old luggage, baggage and all the customs associated therein, that ‘this’ ‘now’ while it was no longer ‘that place’ but rather now ‘our place’ must still retain a portion of its former self to remind them indeed that they were no longer ‘over there’ or wherever it was they came from. So year after year the forest shrank, without fresh recruits, new seedlings or saplings, the old growth, generals now forced to the front lines by force of natural attrition due to the front lines now being the old ‘back lines’ where they sat like so many Napoleons to survey the field, and the city proper spread out, a folding chair for the beach, meant to unfold for one in repose, it was only doing what it was made for. The old front lines now being subprime zero-down interest only back-ended ballooning jumbo mortgaged T.A.R.P. H.A.R.P. refineyed quasi-rustic rebranded French Colonial split-level (not much more than) log cabin mcmansions with in some cases pink vinyl or aluminum siding.
The road out of town did indeed mark the tiny spot, zooming up and out on the map, as just a pit stop. But in truth, the road out of town was not the continuation of the ‘road into town’ any more than cousins raised apart are brothers, for all their similarity. And in fact, the ‘road into town’ so much as it thought of itself, if it could indeed think, or as the two local flavor characters thought of it as, was no more singular, could just as easily have been the road out of town for that matter, than one of those ‘exotic’ lily-of-the-field wildflowers, but rather one amongst many, a plurality of multitudinous multitudes when multiplied tenfold, or fifty-fold for that matter, when considering how many of these ‘citypropers’ dotted the landscape fully zoomed out.
But the queer strange strangers were in fact stopping for more than just a pit stop.
This town looked like many others. It radiated out from a central spoke, with a mainline with churches, general stores and supermarkets which marked its passage through time as evolving along with the rest of the country. If it was unique, it was perhaps in the fact that it deviated so little from a norm, the sort of quasi-everytown median, where others might have veered off, to add on say a crack shooting gallery ghetto, the city proper had kept to a proper diet, not wanting to join on to every fad, simply looking to accentuate with a touch of flair. Oh sure, the post office had seen some near postal postal workers nearly go postal, crack swept in for a time, as did gangs, but they swept out again too, like leaves every year, no white after labor day, white picket fences painted with lime. Though in truth, the quarry was shut down, and most of the picket fences were plastic.
The town itself was a township, it had been incorporated in a bygone era, and was now in default on some bonds, because they ran into debt when the state bonds, which had been rated AA, defaulted, causing the council to make some rash, unthoughtout desperate decisions thinking the hour was later than it appeared, and looking for a return on investment that looked too good to be true, sold their own bonds at too high a rate to finance a new video TV studio for the local high school, which, as they were sold on it by the fancy shiny brochures that went along with the professional PR style ad campaign but were in fact just some cheaply photoshopped made-up jobbies printed at a local well known national chain print shop, was supposed to treble their ‘investment’ but was really just a gamble. Right when VHS went out of style. Right when the cost to produce professional video ‘in the cloud’ as they used to say, with such assurance it was the most current hip thing one could say and would never make oneself appear dated or old fashioned, like Russian futurists painting streaking trains and marveling at the wonder of horseless lightening-fast travel at 25 mph, plummeted to earth like Icarus fallen. When every kid with a phone became an auteur, so many Godards running through the streets of Paris, screaming and scribbling furiously, a sight to those around them.
Now in default on its own bonds, it first went into a kind of bankruptcy. Then it was partly sold off. Finally it re-emerged, well, it really didn’t go anywhere, being run by some shady, for-profit, subprime realtor, ponzi scheme, outsourced, money market manager cokeheads who knew less than anything about anything, including or perhaps especially finance. Things looked the same, mostly, but weren’t quite the same, like a favorite recipe where one of the ingredients has been skimped on or substituted which ruins the whole thing but comes close enough in quality, appearance, taste, to what you know so as to be indistinguishable from it to the point where one can neither guess at, nor realize what it is that is different, lacking, added, substituted, except for the fact that one is most assuredly aware merely that something has been changed, it is not at all the same, is in fact ruined. You know, off a bit, not quite right. You might say, well, queer, for lack of a better word.
Green hair was in that year, like red hair was the year prior to it. So that wasn’t what was ‘odd’ about the family, if there was indeed anything ‘odd’ about them, if they were indeed a family. No, even dressed as she was, the scientist’s wife, buxom big titty green (as they became known, as opposed to blondes) with patchwork blue Gilligan’s Island ‘Maryann’ picnic table cut off white & blue flannel shirt, tied up like a 70’s playmate, daisy duke or the fat Simpson chick who played her in the movie version, fake doc martins and satin ‘booty’ shorts looking hot as fuck and sex-on-wheels, vamped up ghetto trash, pornstar marilyn-monroe-on-acid (with requisite diamond stud marilyn facial piercing) who rather stood out, made an appearance, drew stares, elicited comments, was fairly ‘with it’ in terms of the then current fashion. No, the modded jacked up car on steroids, a velvet crush pimp mobile, the dogs pseudo faux cubic zerc dog collar, while it all screamed crystal meth palace, white trash, shiny and new, it was neither odd in the sense of being rare or ‘out of place’ in that the now down-on-its-luck median everytown had its share of actual crystal meth palaces, along with cozy tree lined X-urbs, city trucker diners, dead end alleyways, both literal and metaphorical, nor ‘odd’ in the sense of being alarming, eliciting an extreme response, perhaps an outgrowth of the former sense of ‘oddness’ because of it being not ordinary. Where not everything ‘not ordinary’ is cause for alarm, most things which are causes for alarm are in some way, perhaps not, out of the ordinary, to whatever degree, not always however in accordance with either the due they are owed or the responses they receive. House fires might be fairly common occurrences, but for most people aside from firefighters themselves they are still out of the ordinary. Though not ‘odd’ in the sense of off-putting. Though the ‘odd’ can often be off-putting, shocking even, downright alarming, to some, perhaps with more delicate, perhaps simply however more ‘in-tune’ then again perhaps not, personalities. In-tune with what, however, the stars, some inner mystic ability or balance, some as yet unnamed, perhaps unnameable, mythical, seraphic song of the universe or rather a cheap, common, current, popular ditty, tinny and hollow as the instrument through which it is played, who, after all, really is to say?
The scientist and his bride-to-be were moving into the great white Victorian Gothic, run down, decrepit, still somewhat stately mansion on the edge of both the cityproper and the forest, not far, in fact from both the road into, with its rolling hills and meadows, as well as that sort of continuation of it, or not, out of the cityproper part of the once former township. They’d picked up the kids on the way into town, originally stopping to ask them directions, agreeing to take them as far as the city. They were in fact, lost. This much might have been obvious to those strangers, from their perspective, stopping to momentarily stare at them as went about their lives, shopping, sidewalk shopping, or on their way to or coming from shopping or sidewalk shopping, or perhaps merely out for a walk. The dog was the ‘property’ of the kids, but the necklace was Scrimpy’s, the scientist’s bride-to-be’s nickname, who, seeing the dog looking hot and forlorn and feeling empathy for him, a great mastiff of a dane of a dalmatian with the most human likeness eyes which conveyed his expressive imagined thoughts better than any spoken language could, couldn’t help but, feeling such empathy, share something with him, and the necklace was her first thought and she being of the act-first-think-later variety immediately took it off and placed it on him, he being actually, considering the situation, very accommodating, perhaps due to his friendly nature, or perhaps due to her affinity to animals, or perhaps a combination of the two.
They were not, however, lost, as the people supposed, while seeing them inside their vehicle, consulting each other as to their current whereabouts in relation to their destination, in the sense of being in the middle of travelling someplace far off, and in the idle excursion of the moment, carefree in taking in new sights or unplanned activities or making time for here-to-now unforeseen itineraries, but were rather, like brave Odysseus returning to Penelope and Telemachus, at the end of their journey, nearing home and like any traveller returning hence merely wishing to lie down in a comfortable bed, with dogs or nay.
The town, as it would have it, like a Castilian dancer squeezing into a long frilly dress, pushing her tits up, examining herself in the mirror, seeing the image of her former self from what seems like a bygone life, then later thrust into the spotlight, singing with rolling ‘rrrr’s’ kicking up her heals, becomes that and more, was having its yearly fall bonfire, homecoming parade, and high school beauty pageant, forestalled for any number of years, temporarily, due to bankruptcy, now even more cherished for its hominess. As such preparations were being made. There was an excitement in the air. The queer odd strangeness of the strangers only added to it.
Weeks passed. Halloween and the festivities approached. Every day, at precisely four o’clock, the scientist drove, really shot, with clouds of dust passed the two characters standing on the side of the road in to town. Which, as he took it so often out of town, the scientist, who was actually also a doctor, and thus a doctor scientist, now thought of it as in fact the road out of town, except when he had to use the other road, the extension of this one in the other direction, to go out of town, but in the opposite direction, or in fact, when he was returning every day at exactly five PM on his way back into town. Which, for a single solitary moment each time, which he would just as quickly forget, would remind him of the day he first used it and thus make him again think of it as the road in to town.
The wedding had not taken place, as planned, but was put off yet again. There was busy work to be done fixing up the house, to say nothing of for Halloween. The kids were not yet in school or registered and were in fact still with them. As was their dog. Scrimpy moped. The doctor scientist kept himself very busy, the kids tried to stay out of the way and seemed to always be up to something or other but one could never quite tell just what. The dog seemed to take it all in, the comings and goings, with an almost regal lack of caring, a certain distance between himself and the affairs of the world, but just as much to say, people come and people go, but some things remain the same, or perhaps not. Scrimpy spent more time looking after him, the dalmatian, which in fact as it turns out in an odd twist, did not in fact belong to the kids, but which was in fact left at the very spot, or near it, by another family, who were indeed just passing through, and only stopped to ‘water the field’ as it were and stretch their legs, he being a casualty left behind by mistake, and being picked up equally by mistake, the kids afraid to contradict their elders. He himself, the dalmatian, an unspaded healthy male, with a very passive attitude, taking things as they came along, c’est la vie.
The house was coming together, from a distance, one could hear the sound of hammers, of saws, nails being pounded, boards being cut. It would appear unclear whether it was still a working farm community with horse farms, horse country with riding stables or some kind of Amish or Mennonite backwards commune, but it was not uncommon to see women in plain dress in the streets, or horses doing work in the ‘country’ outside of the cityproper. Then too, with the fall fair, a certain devious spirit took hold, part Wiccan, part bored housewife, part schoolgirl on drugs, where both antique, secondhand and vintage shoppes were raided, then the plunder worn about town, in what became, approaching Halloween, something of a nuclear arm’s race, to the infinite limit approaching a certain Victorian dress code, starting with corsets and bustiers and ending with full length knee high laced boots. But they hadn’t quite approached, nor were ready for, the headiness of the steep heights attempted by Scrimpy, who not being familiar with the local customs and trying desperately to fit in, took it too far over the limit thereby firmly establishing the exact opposite of her intent, with full on parasol, tiny hat and hoop dress. Of course, the fact that she retained her green coif beehive, took back her faux diamond choker from Dal (as his name, he not having one, it actually being ‘Burt’ according to his former owners of which no one knew the current whereabouts or that the kids were not in fact the dogs former owners, or in fact that the kids, from the townspeople’s perspective were not, at least as it would appear, the children of the couple, of whom it was assumed they were married, was shortened to from dalmatian, a fitting appellation which very shortly replaced ‘hey you’ when it was discerned there was no other proper way of getting his attention other than rattling a metal bowl with food, which couldn’t quite be translated, try as the doctor, also a scientist, might) and had the tits to pull off the bustier corset combo aplenty, popping out with a French woman’s delight which would have given even Ben Franklin a woody, was still, in short, hot as fuck in whatever get up, which soon being apparent, thus yet did not negate her standing. But while it did not ‘up the ante’ as it were, taking it to another level for the womenfolk of the town, it engendered a certain polite discourse, between her and the men folk, which impressed upon her, along with her penchant for spur-of-the-moment decisions, to not retreat, in fact not retreat or repent an iota, but in fact to carry her head high with a certain dignity, perhaps regal, perhaps not, perhaps ironically borrowed from the dog, who could have been named Rex, Latin of course for king. From the root for right, as opposed to left and sinister, having to do with ancient birdsign, the direction a flock of birds flying across the sky had on the augury or interpretation, magical or otherwise, of foreseeing the future and the decisions which kings (reges) made by their sages.
The boy only had one outfit and a rather smart one at that. A British school boy’s uniform, complete with cap, shorts, knee high socks. He had an affection for confections, favoring country ‘crack’ sugar rock candy (made at over 500 degrees, making ‘popping’ and ‘cracking’ noises as it cooks, the air bubbling out) purple and red, but rather preferred plum purple to grape, which was far more rare, though in point of fact, plum is neither ‘exotic’ or rare as a fruit, not much more so than grape the most common and widespread horticulture product on the planet next to wheat. The girl washed it every day. While they were not in fact the scientist and his bride-to-be’s children, for all it would appear, they were in fact, it would appear, parentless orphans and brother and sister. It was unclear, and they having been apparently separated for many years, not knowing their exact birthdays or ages, whether or not they were fraternal twins, and though she was slightly taller and more physically mature, it would appear it was at least possible.
He was the more nebbish, bookish, quiet of the two, highly intelligent, also an unrestricted, very imaginative, inveterate unabashed liar. She at first blush appeared not only loquacious but forthcoming and friendly. He classic introvert, she classic extrovert. It was in fact not the case. She was mad. Mad with a creative free-flowing uninhibited creativity which had not yet been stifled with adult restrictions and prohibitions, often talking to herself as freely as with strangers, often having tea parties in the woods or the meadows approaching the woods which would curiously cease when an observer drew near, first quieted in hushed tones, with complimentary observed listenings, the observer observed, the object becomes the subject. And thus directly questioned, she would as often as not turn taciturn and silent, while he given a moment would proffer up the most extreme excuses, and not able to stop himself twist and turn them torturously into convoluted arguments which like many-headed dragons each lie, struck down, nullified, verbally, with parental, authoritarian disapproval, or, sliced off with a blade of a reproachful finger, begetting more they taking on lives of their own more great as a whole, eventually turned around and ate themselves leaving nothing, a storm turned out, in its wake. But confused silence, which, in contrast to her studied perhaps malevolent silence, compared favorably, to give him, along with his innocent, affected demeanor, a rather beguiling winning aura, shining with wholesome goodness, or something akin to it, perhaps very different.
Licking his rock candy, staring up the very picture of beatific childhood. And she, with wizened eyes looking askance at the scene, might offer merely a laugh, which often burst upon the scene as shrill, not quite a shriek, to which a fitting reprimand and due comparison might then relinquish him from former duties and require of her a thorough washing and change of clothes. In skirt and clean shirt with shiny shoes, socks to match Scrimpy’s eyes or her hair (in addition to the house coming together from the outside, as little as people saw of the inside, it was, if perhaps due to or perhaps in spite of Scrimpy’s festering moods, excess of time, need of hobbies or friends, becoming matching and color coordinated, along with zebra and cow print motif’s to match, or nearly so Dal, as well as argyle sweaters for Dal to match her, or the car, or the kids’s candy, also, slowly, coming together from the inside) Candy, as Scrimpy decided to call her one day (her own awkward nickname applied to her one day when her groom-to-be could not seem to recall her name, and was trying to think of a word for cheap, being ‘scrimp’ as in to ‘scrimp’ and save, which he felt she did far too much of, and, applying it, it sticking, decided to leave it so) was a bit of a ‘tween sexpot herself. But a mad, crazy one. It was she in fact, whom was the introvert, although a sort of crazy extroverted introvert, letting all of her otherwise internal introverted qualities out for display, like a mad catlady bagwoman selling her assorted books, rags and keepsakes on the street, laid out with care, but amongst which might be a diamond broach pin, and he whom in fact was the extrovert, though a lying, cheating, ingeniously obfuscating one at that, where every attempt to ascertain the truth lead to ten more questions such that one was always carefully, manageably, tactfully lead astray, with kid gloves as it were, only later realizing or remembering what one’s original goal or intent had been in the first place.
But they were always off together, always up to no good, except when they were not together, in which case it was doubtless they were up to far worse.
As the nuclear arms race could not be taken to the next level, with the ‘townies’ as Scrimpy started to think of them, with a certain degree of malice, and soon thereafter started to refer to them as well, Scrimpy took her revenge on the house, suddenly demanding a split level fin-de-siecle glass garden in the back of the house, approaching the magnificence of the 19th century British ‘Crystal Palace’ in its ornate extravagant splendor, and updated scientific technical brilliance- gas lit illumination controlled by smarthome electronic wizardry itself powered by the former.
The week of Halloween approaching, the final coats of paint being applied (white with a touch of green which gave the appearance of ‘glowing’ in full moon lunar splendor Dianic glory, isolated and singular standing out against the black of the dark forest and the night sky) the workmen returning to their ordinary intermittent itineraries, the days getting shorter and colder, the townspeople busier, Scrimpy and the kids less so, a quiet calm set in. Scrimpy was waiting, assuming a surprise announcement at almost any moment. The kids, always on edge, were waiting for the taxman or the school superintendant or secretary to show up, perhaps an officer of truant and delinquent youth, and thus, under any and all circumstances played it fast and loose and always and forever cool, cards to the vest as they say, at all times and most especially with Scrimpy on edge.
In her former life Scrimpy had indeed been a pornstar. Before that a prostitute. Before that a stripper. One miserable, failed job after another, but always one which left a window of opportunity for a better life at the other end. Indeed she’d started as a showgirl, before that a dancer, before that a cheerleader. Before that a straight-A nerd. But an unpopular one. With acne, bad breath, braces, glasses, a high IQ, and a penchant for computering hacking and bank fraud. Well, becoming a cheerleader solved many problems, but after sucking off one too many of her teammates boyfriends, she found herself on the outside looking in. But just like that she heard about a dance troupe with similar moves with a very friendly director.
But out in back, the sound of pounding hammers and the buzz of electric saws continued. Both day and night. On sleepless, moonlit nights, a pale-faced Jack, for that was the boy’s name, his sister’s in fact being Diana, might wander downstairs, from the spherical astronomy observatory in the spire, which he’d turned into his study, or upstairs, from the basement, where he slept during the day with his sister, for more coffee, or a hit on the family bong (a relic from a bygone age, fully solid state and pneumatic, electric waterbong, an inheritance from the scientist’s great-great uncle) only to find a once crying, sad, depleted Scrimpy (nee Volly Voluptuous) at once composing herself, waiting, just waiting. For a certain proposal. And still, banging and hammering out back.
And every day, at 4PM, rain or shine, weekday or weekend, he’d pass his appointed rounds. And every day, or well, most, because in truth, even the grumpy old man and his sidekick the man about town, took off for weekends and bank holidays, stood by the side of the road, uttering their complaint, or observation, whichever the case may be, from whomever’s particular perspective one might approach it.
Queer ain’t the word, brother
Boy you said it, sister
Queer is right.
No, I meant, queer, that you should call me sister.
Well, ya know, you ain’t my brah as the kids say, shit son let’s just be real.
Hmm, keeping it real.
And the doctor scientist would go flying by.
Only they didn’t really know just how queer. The scientist, rather, doctor scientist, well, a rocket scientist neurosurgeon, was. Or rather the situation that he was- or rather the situation that they themselves were, as well- or one should say the situation that the town itself was in. It was all becoming a bit rather complex, or was about to, or already was but was going to get much much more so, really fucked to a degree which, well. Yes, so, things were, unbeknownst to many, becoming or about to be, fucked, but were already so to begin with and were about to get really, well really fucking fucked.