Bugged

Our poor, bugged linden tree — and it had been doing so wonderfully well this year… until last week, that is.

Just over a week ago, home in the evening from a dayʼs work, I looked out our north window in the dining room and noticed that our linden tree looked peculiar in the topmost area. Later, I think that same day, I went around the house watering plants (a mandatory daily activity during our three-week drought, now strangely distant in the past even as rain falls while Iʼm dictating — northern Jackson and Dubuque, not to mention Galena, enduring a horrible thunderstorm-cum-tornado last night) and noticed the peculiarity was a laciness to the leaves, meaning some bug was eating them. The next night the damage had spread, and some gleaming green, chunky bugs flew in my face as I examined the tree — Japanese beetles.

I told Janet about my discovery when she got home from her workout, and she/we decided we had better do something immediately. So she trooped right down to Gasser True Value (yes, although we may hate their excessive accumulation of creosote-soaked, and creosote-fume-emitting, piles of logs, we do appreciate having a hardware store in town, although The Lovely One could just as easily have driven a little further to Theisenʼs), where she grabbed the last remaining Japanese beetle trap. Not calling on my USDA experience whatsoever, I assembled the trap following the directions on the outside of the plastic bag, hanging the bag from one of our tiki torch poles, and let the pheromone do its work.

The pheromone trap, currently about a third full on its third time around.

The trap was to be placed at least thirty feet from foliage (impossible in our yard) and it summoned by scent hordes of horny male beetles seeking sex from further away than just our yard (thus the need to keep the trap in isolation, away from plants, to prevent those erratic bugs from accidentally happening upon other juicy leaves to devour near the trap). We put it at the end of our driveway, since our neighbors had pulled down their one tree several years ago. Boy, shoving the tiki post into the iron ground was a chore and a half (not so much now, when all the dirtʼs turned from skillet hardness to mud).

And the pheromone did work. By the next evening the bag was already almost half-full. And I had to dump the still half-alive mass of churning black insects a day later — an unpleasant chore that I think was made somewhat easier by my experiences searching purple traps for emerald ash borers. Iʼm just not as squeamish about buggy life as I once was.

With the rain beginning last weekend and continuing just about daily this whole week, the beetles have diminished in quantity, and we have only had to empty the trap one more time. So far.

Of course, we are also worried about what those fiendish bugs may have accomplished in their life cycles before we started alluring all the concupiscent males to the pheromone trap. Our concern means weʼre also going to try to spray the tree with insecticide and soapy water and try to treat the ground as well — to eliminate (as many as possible) eggs that have been buried.

This was one time accessing the Internet was a genuine benefit. Neither one of us really knew anything about what to do about Japanese beetles, but a quick search googled out what we needed to know.

If only this were the end of our petty woes…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Snake Hollow

Hot off the fingertips (I just wrote this, one-drafting, yesterday afternoon), hereʼs the next installment for Mantorville. Enjoy?

— So what happened there in Snake Hollow?

He looked at me, solemn. But then he was always solemn, serious as a judge. A party. Kegger. Celebrating the victory. Frank had made that much clear already. Drinking. Lots of drinking in Quetzal County. As the kids liked to say, “What else is there to do?” But there was still too much, too often. And all the adults turned a blind eye. Like Frank said, theyʼd all done it when they were young. Tradition.

But these football bashes were worse. Frank had already let me know the thing that disturbed me: the adults were there, permitting, participating, guzzling it down with the kids.

Reliving their youth, I wondered.

Gotta love the source for this… (just click the pic)

Hell. No one ever seemed to move out of the county. This is the way it had always been. For the adults, grabbing onto their youth again. I guess. Or never letting go… I donʼt know. He grinned, sheepish, looking oddly youthful, like a boy himself. I never drank as a kid, not until it was legal. College. Not sure why not. Kids drank in my day, my schools, too, just not me. Not my group of friends. And everybody knew the athletes — football team, in particular — had big thirsts. I donʼt know why the Mantorville stuff bothered me so much. But it did. Even then, in the fall. Before I learned about… — other things…

He was doing it again. Drifting off. What did he learn later? Was he ever going to get to the point with me?

But what bothered Frank —me, too; me, too — was the other side of the party. Beyond the boozing. He told me that there were girls there, cheerleaders, predictably, and other girls. Even some eighth graders. Disadvantage of having the whole district in a single stinking building. All those middle school girls who blossomed early, you know, who, uh, got breasts, drew the attentions of the older guys every day. Anyway, the vasity cheerleaders, with Rogʼs help, and the Home Ec teacher, uh, heck, itʼs been so long… He was trying to remember her name. Itʼs in the journal. I listed everybody. Itʼs weird…

I donʼt need her name, Arkham. You could just tell the story, I thought, mentally ordering him back on track. But he needed it. To him it was important. At least for now.

Semanksi! Thatʼs it. Petal Semanski. I knew her first name was odd, but all I could think of was Flower, Blossom, Lily… anyway, Petal was young, fresh out of college the year before. Maybe two. Her folks were farmers in the northern part of the county and raised horses. Did pretty well for themselves, from what I understood. Petal had gone to St. Werburgaʼs, the Catholic school in Machen — only Catholic high school I ever heard of named for a female saint! Where all the girls were supposed to be the prissiest little Miss Perfects around, and the boys all got recruited to play sports (theyʼd pulled one of Collinsʼs best JV running backs over the summer, full-ride tuition). But our guys seemed to like dating their girls and vice versa (of course, rumor had it Mantorville girls were easy, too). Anyway. Petal had been head cheerleader at St. Werbaʼs, gone to college in Dubuque — real stay-close-to-home girl — and not gotten hired for a job at the old high schol when she graduated. Or else there wasnʼt one. Or something.

So now I knew all there was to know about Petal Semanski, Mantorville home economics teacher. Did any of this stuff matter?

Anyway. After living at home with moms and daddy for a year, she took the job at Mantorville, even though she seemed daily to make it known that this was a huge step down for someone like her. And she was cheerleader sponsor, too. But not for football, just the winter sports. School librarian, a fussy old fuddyduddy, was the football sponsor, even though she never went along to away games, just left the girls unchaperoned on the bus with the team.

And Mantorville girls were easy. Got it, Arkham.

Miss Tottenliebe. Whacked old coot. — So Petal was at the party in Snake Hollow, not really supervising her girls, the cheerleaders. Since they werenʼt, I guess, actually her girls anyway. But taking charge of the other stuff. The initiation.

— Initiation? I couldnʼt help it. It just burst out of me.

Yeah, off to one side, back in some woods. They were… uh…

How long was it going to take him to say it? Having sex, deflowering the young ones.

They were branding them.

— Branding? Not what I had expected, and I couldnʼt stop myself again.

Yeah. Frank said there was a bonfire by the water — a stream flows through the bottom there, sometimes called Snake Creek — and they had branding irons heating on one side. Nearest the stand of trees. And they were using them on the girls. The young ones… they were getting branded. On their buttocks.

Petal was running back and forth getting a hot iron for a cold one and carting the new one into the trees. The older girls and the players, and Roger Dodger, had a drinking game going, Frank told me. Pound a pint whenever one of them screamed. And they were putting plenty of cold ones down.

— Initiation ritual? Rite of passage?

Exactly. Once a girl had it done to her, uh, once she “got her snake,” she was a big girl, a real Serpent. …One of the things the guys would say to come onto a girl was to ask to “see her snake.”

— And heʼd show her his, huh?

And there was plenty of that going on down in Snake Hollow, too. Frank had seen his share of beach parties in California. But nothing, he said, like this orgy. The guys on the team had gotten their brands earlier, the new ones at a party late in the summer, before school started, to kick off practice. Smaller little snake symbols. On the base of their thumbs…

Funny. I had noticed some kids with what I thought were bruises or burns on their hands, and later, I realized that most of the kids, particularly athletes, had squiggly scars. I just never put it all together. Too weird. Too sick.

And of course, being a newbie, that night was Frankʼs night.

Mistakes? Problems? Criticisms? Let me know. As I said, this one is totally fresh and unrevised.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Developments in Quetzal County

For those who were expecting more from Stars in Heaven, we will have to see (I am nearing the end of what I have written in that sci fi tale). ButI have been actually writing again (believe it or not). And, as it has been far too long since I last added anything to fan Daveʼs favorite story, I have a small, entirely new piece of “Mantorville” for today…

Glorious! I do enjoy religious value judgments. So useful.

I told him he had better explain such a bold remark. And he did. His story took my loathing of high school sports several notches into the revolted realm. You see, I have never been a sportsy kind of guy…

He trailed off. I sat there, looking at him, thinking to myself, “You didnʼt have to tell me that, Arkham. Just looking at you tells it all.” Slender but soft. You havenʼt joined any games or activities in all your years at Oakdale. To the best of our recordsʼ knowledge, you have no hobbies, no crafts, no contacts with the outside world — except that Christmas card. You qualify as the loserest loserly character with whom I have dealt. Ever. And your dragging this all out isnʼt helping my attitude any.

But I didnʼt say any of that. Sometimes an analyst hits a stage when the patient seems overwhelmingly annoying. Freud and Jung didnʼt touch on that, just transference. But itʼs a phase a psychiatrist has to watch out for. No matter what happened in sessions, they were going to try your patience well before you got a chance to be helpful. I simply said:

What did he tell you, Mr. Arkham?

He shook his head at me. I told you before, no more “Mr. Arkham.” That was teacher-me, and I am not that teacher any more. Maybe I already wasnʼt when I came to Quetzal County.

Dodging again, I thought. Always ducking and dodging. I needed to hammer him open. If I could without giving into my own frustration with him. But he was bottling everything, always had. Possibly he always would if our sessions didnʼt get him to crack. So hammer I did, trying the direct approach, for once.

Tell me, uh, James. I have noticed something. You are telling things from — what? — a decade ago … in remarkable detail.

I am? All innocence and unaware. Yeah, sure.

Yes, James, you are. Even quoting conversations ten years old in exact detail. …Too much detail, it almost seems.

Too much detail… So? What? Do you think Iʼm making all this up?

Very simply: Yes.

When my secretary types up the transcriptions of our sessions, she will have to use quotation marks. Thatʼs how excessively detailed you are being.

You record these sessions?

Of course. Itʼs a normal tool. I thought you realized that. Every interaction here at the facility is on record in some way or another. Do you object?

Why should I object to anything at all? These are your sessions. No, I thought, theyʼre for you. It just seems funny…

Another drifting away. Another pause. Did these give him time to think? What?

He stirred back into focus almost immediately. You want to know why I remember so clearly?

I wouldnʼt have brought it up otherwise. Possibly too direct with that, Doctor.

Itʼs because I practiced.

Practiced?

Yeah, I practiced remembering. Back then. ʼ93. I decided that summer, once I had moved to Bear River Falls, to start keeping a journal. Things had changed, so maybe it would be interesting. Worthwhile. And I wrote everything down, all about the first days of school and Roger Dodgerʼs antics at the assembly. Frankʼs football injury. And meeting with those two kids after school. I recorded it all. Especially through that winter and into the spring. When everything got strange.

I hadnʼt read anything about a journal in the trial information. Or anywhere else. I told him so.

It never came out, doctor. The day before I was arrested I mailed it off to my sister. To keep it safe. But I had written in it nearly every day until then.

But why get rid of it? Your defense was that you werenʼt the murderer. Wouldnʼt the diary have helped your case?

Maybe. Maybe not. I realized fast that I had been trapped and was caught as neatly and completely as… — My attorney got me to tell him my version. He decided on the defense. I figured, in Quetzal County, knowing what I knew… I was cooked. I felt that even before they actually arrested me. And I feared they were going to get the journals. I didnʼt want that… I didnʼt want it lost.

Does this diary still exist?

I donʼt know. I thought I was saving it by getting it out of my hands. And I was right about that. Even before the cops, someone went through my stuff. At home. At school. They didnʼt even try to be subtle. It happened over that weekend.

What weekend, James?

The big one. After — … after Howie was killed. Before they arrested me. Somebody, maybe several people, tore through my house when I was out on Saturday morning, and I found the same thing on Monday in my classroom. Like they were looking for something. I thought maybe it was my journal because of everything I had written in it. Though I didnʼt know how anyone would know about that. Anyway, it kind of warned me, you know? That maybe I had better protect the notebook. So I mailed it to my sister on Monday after school. Wrapped it in brown aper in the teacher workroom and sent it from the Bear River post office when I got back into town.

So your sister has it? This diary?

I donʼt know. She never responded, never attended the trial. Not that I wanted her to.

And sheʼs never written to you, has she? No matter how many letters youʼve sent to her. It seemed cruel even as I thought it.

Besides, you probably know… sheʼs never written to me… I donʼt even know if my letters get through. If they moved or something. Well, I guess theyʼve never come back, either…

I didnʼt really know anything about the sister. She had seemed unnecessary, outside of the whole thing. But if she had this diary…

Do you think it would help to have the diary, James?

Itʼd be better than me having to tell you everything, I guess. Itʼs hard, and I seem to keep getting distracted down blind alleys, onto things that donʼt matter. Probably.

So even he recognized what was going on.

I had wondered about some of the things you were telling me.

Me, too, doctor. Later, back in my room. But when we were talking, it all seemed… I donʼt know, just what needed to be said.

Yeah. If you were going to avoid getting to the real subject.

So is anything weʼve been talking about today actually important, then?

Today? Yes. Youʼd better believe it. The whole thing turns on Frank in the end. And what happened in Snake Hollow got me concerned.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

The Ugly Toe

I am not sure if I should post a picture to accompany this post (or even write the post at all, but then, we all are getting familiar with how desperate I may be getting for ideas). On the other hand, having written it, what the heck…

I have gotten considerably better about running lately, churning out about thirty miles a week (donʼt sneer or condescend, actual athletes — thatʼs pretty good mileage for me). I have even gotten back into the long loop, six miles around town, some days. Once again, I should acknowledge that the word “run” is at best a fantasy-approximation of the actual sluggish trudge/jog that my aging body incapably almost doesnʼt accomplish. A considerable number of svelte, healthy, trim young women in lithe track suits speed past me regularly (one or two even twice a morning), pony tails bouncing insouciantly with contemptuous disdain. I saw one gangly guy, visibly running like a girl (no offense to women, but it is the best possible description of his wayward arms flapping unsynchronously to his wide-spaced legs), turn onto the sidewalk about a block ahead of me one day last week, and although I had figured there would be one individual not merely crawling along on all fours that I would end up passing, he easily galloped away, ever increasing the gap of distance between us until I gratefully turned the corner toward home. Equally or more aged folks feebly strolling in the morning breeze are about the only ones I ever pass nowadays, and even they cannot avoid hearing my hoglike approach.

But I am back at it, instead of loafing for an extra hour or two in bed before arising to help Janet with breakfast and lunch and getting her away to work (which had become the alternate-week pattern usually in the earlier summer — one week on, one week off with huge, poorly selected lunches every week to boot). And furthermore, the running so far hasnʼt injured me again — yet. This spring I got off track after pulling a muscle in my left leg, and then as I got myself back at it, my right knee acted up. (I really, really enjoy getting old.) Pain made it particularly easy to decide on getting nearly seven hours of sleep instead of not-quite-five.

With pain in mind, we are back on track. Sometime late last week (I think it was Thursday), I noticed that my right big toe hurt, noticeably so on Friday, and by Saturday morning I knew I had somehow let myself suffer an ingrown toenail. At least that is what I think these little situations are — a situation I never faced at all until I was about forty, and which I have only suffered about a half dozen times altogether. The redness, swelling (and pus eventually) I attribute to my near blind personal toenail clipping: difficult for the aged fatty to bend himself sufficiently to bring his face near enough his toes to see what heʼs doing when he tries eventually to trim the knifelike nails. And Mr. MultifocalLenses canʼt twist his head awry enough to find a viewing angle that puts the toes in focus with his glasses on. So I am generally cutting somewhat blindly. And periodically pay the price, like this past weekend.

I ran with the possibly infected toe on both Thursday and Friday (six then five miles). I mentioned the problem to The Lovely One on Saturday morning (she had noticed me wincing with every step and shunning shoes for my sandals). My normal regimen is to suffer a day or two and then with some rigid tool — fingernail or plastic knife — press back the enflamed flesh along the side of the toe to reveal the bit of nail that has been buried. It is exquisitely painful and usually produces the oozing liquid behind the inflammation. She offered to soak my foot in lukewarm water enriched with epsom salts that evening (although her definition of “lukewarm” apparently matched my footʼs definition of “scaldingly hot”) as we watched a rental movie, Date Night (not bad, amusing often, but not life-changing or -enhancing whatsoever) while eating grilled scallops for dinner.

Sunday the toe was better but not by much. Janet thought it looked even more gross, red and enlarged. I opted for flipflops and sandals again. And again, as we did episode ten of I, Claudius, I put the foot in the plastic tub of (considerably cooler) salted water. I even sat an extra hour, watching a big part of Inglourious Basterds on one of the movie channels (not bad, like all Tarantino films featuring great dialogue — even in French and German with subtitles — and without much letʼs-just-turn-this-off-now gruesome violence of the sort that made Janet never get further than just past the opening conversation between the Mr. Colors in Reservoir Dogs).

Monday morning, I awoke before the alarms (a side effect of plenty of sleep on Friday and Saturday nights) and got out to do my miserable excuse for a run (unfortunately without my iPod, which somehow had lost all charge between mowing the lawn Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, but I found the six miles of semisilence — my hearing leaves nothing completely silent these days, what with the insubstantial celestial choir of cicadas I tintinitically pseudo-hear — interesting and not boring). And my toe never complained. Until later, as I was watching another movie, The Last Station (which Janet had selected but not really wanted to watch, and as it had to be returned by Monday evening, I decided to go ahead — liked it a lot, especially Plummer and Mirren, both juicily enjoyable doing Tolstoy and his wife, but likewise with the ever-excellent Paul Giamatti, and the young folks and the doctor were all good, too). The toe is still visibly red and somewhat swollen. I did take the picture. Weʼll see if my nerve permits me to include it.

It should be better by the end of this week.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Weekend at Snake Hollow

It has been quite a while, not since April 13, that I have updated anything on the horrific adventures in Mantorville, Quetzal County, Iowa. (Do you think that getting my job with the Census has stifled my creative energies? I do.) The whole story thus far is here. I may not have much to add today, but when Janet and I got back from Davenport, shopping, yesterday, I decided that I would put up a bit of actual fiction for today. And it was to the set of pages for “Mantorville” that I turned my attention.

If you recall, former high school teacher James Arkham, a longtime inmate at the Institute for the Criminally Insane, having been convicted for killing his superintendent and friend Howie Phillips, has for a few days finally been opening up about his crime to psychologist Joshua Symonds. Although unrelated to anything in his criminal record, Arkham has been hinting/indicating that two students, Edie Allan and Frank Long, both new to the Mantorville School District, were important to him in causing what eventually occurred. One important event was Frank Long being maimed (apparently with deliberation) by his own team during an early October football game.

We begin, for review, with a few paragraphs already presented…

from the STILL-Untitled Iowa Horror Story

Anyway, Frank. I haven’t explained, but he and I shared a bond — probably because we were both new in the area and definitely because we both felt like outsiders. Edie was part of all of that, too, but I don’t want to talk about her now. Both of them were in my Advanced Placement English class last period, and so it became somewhat natural for them to linger after school for at least a few minutes to talk about things. Of course, Frank had football practice once he joined the team, and Edie, as I told you, was managing for volleyball. So none of these little chat sessions lasted very long. Not then.

It was talking after school, for instance, when Edie told me about counting the memorials in the Roll of Honor, and it was after school about two weeks before the “accident,” when Edie wasn’t there, that Frank first revealed what he thought was going on.

Okay, so weʼre retreating in time. Again.

He asked me if I had ever driven around the county. I had gone to Arnhem on 54 and on through Mantorville to Bailey and Cross Corners out of 61. And I had driven the river road from Arnhem to Machen and then on up to Dubuque. And I had taken Q11 across from Mantorville to 61, too, by then, my only actual county road. But I donʼt think I remembered to tell Frank about that one then. In fact, Iʼm pretty sure I didnʼt.

Anyway, none of that impressed him very much.

“Nah,” he said, “I mean getting back in the country hereabouts.”

I admitted that I hadnʼt, and he laughed. “Me neither…” His words hung in the air of my room, pretty close and humid for what must have been the end of September, like I said about two weeks before his incident on the playing field.

“Me neither…” he repeated. “Not until last weekend. Saturday night.” And again nothing more.

You must have felt like I usually do talking with you, huh?

Finally, I asked him, “Did something happen last Saturday?”

He nodded, then looked down at me, sharply. (I told you he was pretty tall, didnʼt I? And I was sitting at my desk, him standing across from me. I remember that.) “Uh, Mr. Arkham, this is just between us, you and me, right? Because it, uh, it has to be. I mean, nothing goes any further, you know…”

“Well, Frank,” I said, trying to be the full professional, “there are things I have to report, you know. I canʼt keep certain things secret.”

He grinned. “Yeah, like abuse and that. Teachers and doctors, you have to report it. — Nothing like that. Donʼt worry.”

“…And there are… other things, too.”

“Yeah, well, I got this far, Mr. Arkham, letʼs go for it.” But he stopped and paced away from the desk. Finally, from thee other side of the classroom, he said, “I donʼt think anyone much cares around here anyway. They all did it when they were young, you know. And some of the dads buy stuff for the team…”

“What are you talking about, Frank?”

“Drinking.” He turned around to face me again. “The whole, team, Mr. Arkham. They go out drinking after the games. And on Saturday nights, too. All of them — us. Pretty much.”

“Ah, yes,” I hesitated. “That would, you know fall under the heading of things I should report…”

Now my pause hung in the air.

Frank grinned at me again. “But…?”

Grinned. Just like you are doing at me right now, Arkham.

“But I kind of figured that, Frank. I figured that was going on. Things people say.”

“So you are not going to report me telling you this?”

“I should, Frank. But considering some of those things people say are jokes Iʼve heard Mr. Davis making to the players…”

“Yeah, Rog is right in there with those other adults. Helping out…”

“Buying beer? Is that what you mean?” I caught him calling the principal by his first name, but that wasnʼt the important element. “Mr. Davis is buying booze for his playersʼ parties?”

Roger Dodger, such a good ole boy. Somehow I knew it. It just had to be true.

Frank looked at his shoes, a long way down from his head, for a while. “Hell, Mr. Arkham, heʼs right there at the parties. At least he was last Saturday night.”

“So you went to a team party, Frank? Where was this?”

“Snake Hollow. Itʼs way back in the boonies. Serpentine Creek runs through there. After a little waterfall down the cliffs on the east side, it meanders out through the valley and under the county road bridge, an old sucker.”

I knew the creek flowed past the town to the east and eventually joined Bear River somewhere east of Bear River Falls.

“They had a big bonfire in the hollow, not far from the falls and about five kegs for everybody. After the game I had Friday night, everybodyʼd been at me to go celebrate. And, well, I didnʼt want to be the odd guy, left out… you know how it is… Yeah. I was there. Sure. How else would I know, huh?”

“So you are telling me… why, Frank? Is this a confession? Are you reporting to me under the Good Conduct Rule? — If Mr. Davis was there, a part of it all, it wonʼt do much good for me to report you to him.”

“No. Nobodyʼd listen to anyone trying to nark on the team, Mr. Arkham. No. What I wanted to talk about is… —is what happened at that party…”

“What? Did something happen? Something bad?”

“Not just bad, Mr. Arkham. It was downright evil.”

Okay. So now that Iʼve written about a thousand words, I guess I should have called this post “Teaser leading up to A Weekend at Snake Hollow.” Oh, well. Perhaps posting this will get me to write some more.

(If only I could decide just what it is that happened at Snake Hollow that Saturday night…)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Homework without pay

I spent Tuesday working harder than  really wanted to (and yet not so hard as I let Janet believe I had). And I didnʼt get paid a cent for it. Again. Worse, soon I will be spending a solid day really making an effort, as I (uh, “we,” but thatʼll be the day, Buddy Holly) repaint our kitchen. Again.

Yes, Janetʼs in the revamping-the-home mode, not a feeling I often get. I figure we make our house the way we want it, once, and then live in it. Not so my lovely wife, nor her sister, nor her mother. I guess weʼre not really fulfilling our personal/social obligations if we arenʼt always on some binge of home renovation or another. My family tends another way. We would each be happy just to dwell in our abodes and read. A lot. All the time, as a matter of fact. Even cleaning up is an apparently unnecessary chore among the Burrows.

Donʼt believe me? Just ask Janet. She has a very clear point of view on all of this. (And sheʼs right. Cleaning up is a necessary evil. I once wrote a poem on the subject, a lovelorn poem if you can believe it. Maybe one of these days… Cleaning up is even worth paying for; we do, twice a month, which is why I was in Dedalan/Bloomian exile yesterday — and available to have lunch with my taskmistress beloved. Itʼs embarrassing to be so upper-class about oneʼs homeʼs cleanliness, yet making that choice may have saved our marriage at one point.)

On Tuesday I did do a little preliminary cleaning to be ready for the bimonthly visit, scouring the soapscum, grit and brown from our shower in the basement bathroom, a job I do better than anyone else, having been well trained and experienced for our whole lives in this house. And I believe that I do significantly better than our hired helper, so I was hoping if I did most of the job, sheʼd see what was left as a very do-able chore…

WRONG color

But the shower was only about an hour out of the day. What kept me busy was more dramatic (and the theme on which we started) — home renovation. Janet wants to redo our kitchen. Not the cupboards and all that: we had that done at great expense and no little disruption to our lives about a decade ago (although the way it turned out, itʼs not impossible that she wouldnʼt mind doing it over; at least we didnʼt go for some of the now-dated then-fashionable stupid ideas we/she saw on television).

She really just wants to repaint, having already selected and purchased a creamy shade of paint just darker than the white thatʼs already on the walls. Itʼs the painting that I know will absorb a day very soon. That day, unbeknownst to me, was supposed to be this week, in anticipation of a visit from her sister this weekend. But Diane will have to accept disappointment and a partial disaster in our kitchen because a preliminary job (the one that filled Tuesday for me) wasnʼt nearly as straightforward or simple as Janet had planned.

You see, several years ago, while I was still teaching and before I had resigned the extracurricular speech part of the job (some of which I added back my last year, last year), Janet had decided to renovate the kitchenʼs by then (for her) stale appearance with some tiny little tiles, which after months of searching and debate she purchased in copy-paper-sized sheets (roughly, maybe eight inches by eight inches) on plastic webbing — presumably to be actually used as they were bought and grouted between. But she removed the little inch-square tiles and glued them in a line along the top of our countertop backsplash. She did it all in one day, while I was away at speech contest (thus the detail in the recollection of the time above).

And it looked very nice (I thought; I donʼt think she was ever quite pleased with the effect, but then decorating is kind of like eating food you prepared yourself — someone elseʼs cooking always seems to taste better, at least to me). However, as the years went by (not all that many years, either — probably just five), too many programs on HGTV (known to us, thanks to Dianeʼs husband, Steve, as “How Gay TV”) and the DIY channel convinced and inspired her to make a change. Now the little tiles had to go.

But they didnʼt really want to go (to personify small ceramic squares). That was the unstraightforward fly in the ointment of Janetʼs plans for this week. While I sat on my wellpadded behind in my Captain Kirk recliner (more on that subject another day) in the basement living room watching television one evening, she was upstairs attempting (more or less unsuccessfully) to remove those tiles. It went very badly, although she did shatteringly (descriptive of the tiles) get about five off the wall. Thatʼs when she called me upstairs and told me that over last weekend my computer job (she really does not like me being on the computer ordinarily, so it gets shut down the moment she arrives home in the evening) was to investigate how to remove glued-on (caulked-on?) tiles from painted drywall.

I did my investigation, and the best we could learn was that heat helped. On Sunday we tried using her blow dryer to warm the glue and attempted together to remove more tiles. She avoucehd that it did indeed seem easier when the tiles/wall/backsplash had been heated. It didnʼt seem easy at all to my inexperienced self. However, I volunteered to give it a shot on Monday or Tuesday and get the little tiles removed, if she so desired. (With five — now nine — of them gone already, it was a done decision that the rest must also leave the walls.)

So thatʼs how I spent my Tuesday morning, removing tiles.

However, since we approach almost exactly to a thousand words, more on that subject will have to wait until, perhaps, tomorrow…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Quetzal County Capers continue

Here is a little more of the Mantorville/Quetzal County story. I havenʼt really been working on it lately (Sepharad instead), just letting ideas bake in the subconscious (which has genuinely been happening; I do have some new thoughts for this story). Regardless, Frank Long got injured (deliberately) in a football game (a scene I am afraid I need to revise/edit extensively now that I have been thinking more). Hereʼs the next few paragraphs as they stand right now.

Frank knew it. He told me.

And this is all important somehow?

Directly important, Dr. Symonds.

It had better be, I thought. We seem to be taking routes more roundabout than I could have ever imagined to get to the crime and finally from there to some kind of treatment.

So shall I tell you about it?

Go on. Go on. The whole purpose of these sessions is to get you talking, mister, no matter how distantly tangential to the topics we really need to explore. Or am I missing something, not understanding the connection, the importance of what you’re telling me so far?

To begin with, I need to explain a little psychological insight I achieved myself that long-ago fall.

Excellent, I thought. Psychological insights from patients are always so profoundly valuable.

As teachers, he continued, we think we know so much about our students. In reality, we know almost nothing at all. I had realized something of this in Jackson, but the lesson got even more startling in Quetzal County. Kids are full of surprises, secrets, angles and perspectives you would not have guessed until they choose to make it visible to you. Frank showed me vistas of humanity I would not have suspected at first. And Edie, too, in her own way…

He was drifting. That empty look hazed his eyes as he paused, noticeably, clearly thinking, remembering something. Then he smiled, not for me, to himself, shook his head slightly, and refocused, his thoughts and attention settling again on me.

click for source — great definitions

I used to be a pretty friendly person, and kids liked me as a teacher. I had more issues with that here in Iowa, but I don’t think that was me so much as those Quetzal County kids. They all looked alike, you know. Have I told you that already?

No, you haven’t.

Well, they did look alike. Long heads, narrow faces, lank dark hair. Broad foreheads, narrow and receding chins, loose-lipped mouths, big teeth. Generally long noses with wide nostrils. The girls mostly looked pretty as a rule, but the boys often reminded me of rural-baiting humor, likes the once-infamous Jukes family, and their class performance frequently matched. People in the area used to make jokes about the riverfolk down in Pelham and that area being inbred, but everyone in the county seemed to both resemble and be related to pretty much everyone else. Those families were just more definitely the same.

The look I’m trying to describe seemed like something out of a Tennessee feud movie.

Everyone was related to everyone else, too. I learned fast that you have to be careful what you say in Quetzal County because if you say something negative about someone, chances are that whoever you say it to is that person’s third cousin once removed or something. It was kind of scary, in a way.

And they’re all very conscious of just who’s related to whom and exactly how. For instance, I had never quite figured out all that once- or twice-removed stuff, even though I taught The Great Gatsby my whole career (you know, the narrator Nick is Daisy’s second cousin once removed — I didn’t know but I believed him: he had been the English teacher). But any kid I wanted to ask could have explained it to me…

Creepy kids. That’s all. Looking like yahoos with doltish attitudes. And they didn’t much like me even early on…

Anyway, Frank. I haven’t explained, but he and I shared a bond — probably because we were both new in the area and definitely because we both felt like outsiders. Edie was part of all of that, too, but I don’t want to talk about her now. Both of them were in my Advanced Placement English class last period, and so it became somewhat natural for them to linger after school for at least a few minutes to talk about things. Of course, Frank had football practice once he joined the team, and Edie, as I told you, was managing for volleyball. So none of these little chat sessions lasted very long. Not then.

It was talking after school, for instance, when Edie told me about counting the memorials in the Roll of Honor, and it was after school about two weeks before the “accident,” when Edie wasn’t there, that Frank first revealed what he thought was going on.

Not much develops so far, but I wanted to get in the description of the Quetzal County rubes (I can pick on them: theyrʼre my creation, and I know more about them than you do—nyah!). I intend for it to become not important exactly but significant maybe. Letʼs see if posting this gives me the oomph to do better on writing more of this story. —On the other hand, tomorrowʼs post lets you in on some issues about forwarding my writing career currently.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Mantorville, part ten

I have made you wait, but here’s the rest of Arkham’s recollection of the first day of school (and the remainder of the May 8 session between Arkham and psychiatrist Joshua Symonds). Stuff actually happens!

(I should confess that I changed the spelling of Edie Allan’s name since part nine. Just so no one is confused.)

If you need to review or even get started, click these links to parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. I have also added, as of today, a page on the blog that contains the entire story altogether so far (I hope edited correctly and fully up to date).


Opening Day Assembly, part 2

Rog the Dodge waved Edie Allan to the gym floor, out in front of the entire cackling crowd.

Where Frank Long and was tall and fair, Edie was abbreviated darkly. She wore her hair short in some kind of bob, and it lay close and flat to her pretty, small-chinned face. Her large brown eyes gazed at the world with childlike wonder and apprehension. Sometimes, like now, moving skittishly beside Davis at that assembly, she looked scared. Rightly so.

Davis announced her name, adding that he figured she’d be managing the Lady Serpents as no one her size was going to shoot many baskets — pretty rude since she’d already tried out for volleyball and had been made manager there. Edie, looking very small, just kept her eyes on the gym floor and stood very still.

“So what do you say we check out these two on their knowledge of good old MHS,” Rog asked his crowd of stooges. Big roar. So he started in: “What’s the Mantorville mascot?” He was looking at Edie. Too scared to think (he’d just said it insulting her height), she stuttered, “Snakes?” And the mockery from her peers was rude. Frank called out the right answer — Serpents. Stupidest athletic mascot I had ever heard, although some art student about a decade earlier had whipped up a dangerous-looking cobra emblem that was plastered on the walls around the gym. That kid had been killed in a car crash his senior year.

“And when did we become the Serpents?” Neither kid knew, of course, but we all learned, after the now customary catcalls, that up until 1975, they’d been the Meteors. “Why’d we change?” got identical ignorance from both to ignite more raucous preening from the students. Even elementary kids were joining the attacks.

Rog took the road of immense-but-tried patience as he explained: they had changed mascots when a teacher had promoted a different creature — pointing out that meteors flamed out fast. That teacher had died in a terrible accident and the change had been made in his honor. Rog snootily pointed out that these new newbies could have learned about that if they had looked at the Roll of Honor display case in the hallway outside the gym.

Yeah, in addition to the usual display cases for athletic trophies — and their football boys had done well for about ten years in the Seventies and Eighties (evidently not so well in my day) — the school had a special display for some of those who had passed on, not all during their time at MHS. Examining that case later, I felt a little freaked at how many were memorialized within.

Most schools have memorials to students who have died during the course of their education. It’s always sad when a young person is taken before even having a chance to fulfill his or her real potential. Some schools memorialize favorite teachers when they pass on it (interestingly, administrators don’t usually rate that kind of posthumous recognition). I know in Jackson there was a water fountain dedicated to a freshman who’d been killed in a car accident. Just a little plaque over the water fountain, but a daily reminder of someone none of these kids knew a thing about — or me for that matter; he had died in 1963.

But Mantorville’s so-called Roll of Honor stretched at least thirty feet all along the western wall of the hall outside the gymnasium. I couldn’t bring myself to count but Edie told me sometime later there were 97 memorials, mostly students, about a dozen faculty. Apparently all sudden deaths — accidents, car crashes, a few suicides — stretching back about fifty years.

Of course there were more to come.

Quetzal County seemed an unhealthy place to reside.

But our esteemed principal wasn’t done yet. Not by a long shot. Humiliation was his specialty, and he loved performing for a crowd. Question four: “Who is the all-time passing leader for the Serpents?” He let the crowd chant the answer, “Kevin Wilson, class of 1976,” when neither victim could respond. And he went on.

Next he turned on little Edie alone again, saying, “Now let’s lob a softball to the lady here.” I could see that Edie seemed ready to cry. “What’s the motto of Mantorville High School?” She just looked blank, greeting quick and shallow through her little open mouth, moist eyes darting all around, finding no reassurance, no help, anywhere.

Rog was merciless: “Come on, little lady, it’s right in your student handbook.”

The crowd chanted venomously, “Student handbook! Student handbook!”

Roger added pointlessly, “First page. First thing on the first page.”

The chant shifted to, “She don’t know! She don’t know the motto!”

Edie began to cry, her head dropping, shoulders shaking, whole body lurching to her sobs. The jeering from her fellow students increased.

And Roger sneered, “I know you have your student handbook, little lady. I gave it to you myself when you came to registration. Didn’t you look at it? Didn’t you study your student handbook? Little lady.”

Edie turned those huge, tear-filled eyes to her principal, mascara etched wetly on her cheeks, seeking some kind of solace, but he just took a step away and made a gesture identifying her as something like dirt. And Edie ran out of the gym into the hall, earning derisive hoots from the students and a mocking headshake from Davis.

I should have done something. It was hideous, cruel, abusive — the worst form of bullying by an adult. But I was frozen, stunned, unable to believe, I guess, that this was really happening. I was hopelessly ineffectual.

Unlike Frank. The also embarrassed boy stared for a few moments at the door through which Edie had vanished, then turned with an unbelieving expression on his face at the crowd before turning on Mr. Davis. He took two steps, grabbed Davis by the shoulder, shouting, “What the hell are you doing? What the hell are you doing?”

Everyone could hear him, even over the shouting, which instantly silenced except for a few overly enthusiastic little kids whose elementary teachers shushed them.

Davis, a bull-terrier of a man, former football player and currently the assistant coach, shook himself free and took one step back from the furious boy.

“Frankie boy, that’s not how you address your principal. You’ve just earned yourself a visit to my office. Now. Go.”

Frank Long seemed to hang for a moment like a tall human missile, about to close the gap between them. Roger Dodger sublimely pointed at the door and glared. Frank turned and as the crowd exhaled finally walked out of the gym.

That’s when I finally got my nerve back. I started after them both.

Rog’s voice beckoned me back, ”Mr. Arkham. The assembly is not finished yet.”

I kept moving but said, “I’ll just make sure he gets to your office, Mr. Davis.”

Both kids were in the hall, Edie collapsed against the memorial display with Frank crouched over her trying vainly to comfort her. I went over to them, starting to say something — I don’t know what — consoling. But right away out marched the longtime PE teacher, Collins, a bulletskulled pinhead and the head football coach, Rog’s closest companion. He grabbed me by the shoulder, pulling me back. “That’s enough, Arkham. I’ll see them to the office: you might get lost, being just as wet behind the ears as they are.” Then he pushed Frank aside to actually grab Edie by the shoulders, dragging her to her feet, still crying.

“Pussies. New kids. Just a pair of pussies,” he said, not even under his breath, pushing them off ahead of him, officewards. Like a coward, I just trailed behind. I—

He broke off, dazed himself, having gotten completely caught up in that memory.

Can we quit for today? I don’t want to talk any more.

Our hour was up a while since. I let him go.

We will shoot for some more soon. Any reactions? It’s being put out to see what you think…

In case you’re interested in the process at all, I just added the PE teacher yesterday late afternoon, having substituted at Andrew again all day. The original version cut off just as Arkham hit the hall and saw the two kids. (No, I did not get the idea for the character—or any of these situations—from my activities or experiences, then or now, at Andrew. However, I did churn out about 1500 words furthering the story, and that was one idea I had in addition. You can see where it takes us soon.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Mantorville, part 9

New stuff from  the story (and I’m working on more).

The earlier parts are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Having accepted his new job in dinky, rural Mantorville, Iowa, and endured his first inservice days, James Arkham now explains the ugly opening day assembly that began to turn him sour on this new experience…

Opening Day Assembly (1)

They opened the year with an all-school assembly. If there was a point to that assembly, I donʼt remember it. The only purpose it served, as far as I could see, was to introduce those of us who were new. And that wasn’t very impressive to the kids sitting on the bleachers. First they introduced the new faculty, me and the math guy. No one — not even my fellow faculty — especially not the kids, seemed very impressed to meet me. However, a couple of kids I could hear comment about being related, however distantly, to “that-air math guy,” as they put it. Then it was time to introduce the new students. This was when it got really strange. This is when I first felt really sorry for these new kids and got over feeling sorry for myself — which is where the assembly had led me until then.

There were two new students in the upper grades, a girl and a boy: Edy Allan and Frank Long. Both came from families brand-new to the area. Neither was related to each other nor to any other families in the area, so of course that made them, like me, Outsiders.

Here’s what happened at the assembly. Howie had taken charge of introducing the new teachers, but once that part was over (thankfully from my perspective), he turned the meeting over to his secondary principal. As I guess in many small communities, Howie as superintendent served as elementary principal. Our principal was a good old boy from Quetzal County, of course — Roger Davis, who appeared not only to know every detail about every kid in the school but also about everyone in the county. Pretty much everyone.

Davis had been snickering as loudly as any kid during introduction of us new teachers—especially, you probably guessed it, at me. I hadn’t liked him from the in-service days. When Howie ran the meetings, things got done. Our meetings with Davis were pretty worthless, and me starting a new job and buried under the paperwork and preparations for classes that meant, I didn’t feel I had time to waste. I’m pretty sure he sensed my antagonism. Being a real good old boy, he didn’t hide his feelings much, although he never hesitated to slap me on the back and laugh in my face. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like him. And probably I was too citified for him. Our Mr. Davis prided himself on being just about as rural as you can get — big hunter, had his own farm, worked for the seed company in the summer even. Just a good old country boy.

It didn’t help that he talked like a yutz.

He was okay about Chuck, just smiled and nodded with the things that Howie and Chuck himself had to say. And Chuck played to the crowd, emphasizing his local relatives and the supposedly fun times he’d had when he’d visit during the summers here in good old Quetzal County. Howie teased Chuck about his youth — being fresh out of college, the guy was just twenty-two, and he suggested that the kids needed to take it easy on this “kid.” I don’t know if Chuck liked being a kid or not, but he smiled and when handed the mike, talked about his youthful enthusiasm and how he hoped to get close his students but also to keep them on track to really learn some higher mathematics. Then it was my turn. Howie joked about me correcting his grammar (the oldest, tiredest joke English teachers always have to hear) before letting me say a few words about myself. I talked about how I hoped to get the best from every student in each of my classes and how much fun we could have in English (that got a vast laugh — especially from Roger Davis). Then Howie wrapped it up, suggesting the students make the most of all their opportunities ahead this school year, and let Roger take over.

Even though we were a pre-K through twelfth grade district all in one building, meaning that we had kids as young as four years old at that assembly, Roger Dodger thought it was appropriate to cackle about the kinds of opportunities the football team would find on Saturday nights if they did good (that was his exact phrase, by the way, “did good”) on the gridiron Friday nights. And he whooped it up as loudly as the big guys I assumed were the football team, sitting right down front on the outside edge of the bleachers.

He gave a nod at us two newbies on the faculty (his words again: “newbies on the fackle-tee”) and then launched into about three minutes on the kinds of nonsense that uptight prigs often thought was best for their little minions in some of the less “valluhbuhl ree-quired courses. Guess we’ll jus’ hafta show our newbies what’s what, what?” And the crowd went wild on that one too; even Chuck looked a little green having his expectations cut out from under him like that.

Then Davis moved on to new kids. There were several in the elementary — one younger brother of the new girl upstairs and a kid from a third new family entirely, a couple of transfers — open enrollments from other schools in the area. For the youngsters, he just made them stand up as he said their name and something about where they’d come from and what grade they were in. Motherly and grandmotherly elementary teachers kept close watch on their kids through these introductions, usually holding a hand on the little ones as they stood.

The high-schoolers got handled differently. Very differently.

First up was Frank Long, who owned his name. First, he was the most open, honest and sincere kid I ever taught — completely frank in every situation (which was going to count against him at that assembly and every single day at school). Second, he stood about a head over six feet, tall, lean and topped with a mop of sunbleached auburn blond hair, worn casual and long. He liked large T-shirts and baggy shorts — unfashionable in contrast to the sports gear, jeans or camouflage looks favored around Quetzal County. (A good portion of our girls dressed as if they hadn’t heard the Eighties ended a long time back: big curly hair and lots of wedges boxing out their dresses.) And even more unfashionably — flip flops. He looked like a very cool surfer and would have fit in perfectly where he came from — southern California. Here, somewhat appropriately, he was a fish out of water. They knew it and they glared. He knew it, too, and did not care.

Evidently Roger D was going to rectify that situation.

Our esteemed principal called Frank out on the gym floor to stand beside him. Old Rog took wicked delight in pointing out that “Frankie boy” — as he insisted on calling the kid — didn’t look like “good material for our football team.” Really funny observation,right? He also spent a long time exploring the fact that Frank had moved in from Southern California, “and he looks it, don’t he?” That remark got the kids started, pointing out the ways poor Frank looked effete and wondering what kind of stupid ideas a kid from those parts must have. The football guys seemed to lead the heckling; Rog just smiled at them with every wicked comment. Frank, standing embarrassed in front of the entire student body, writhed, turning deep red, even his knees, visible in his surfer shorts — increasing the crowd’s vocal amusement.

About this point, Howie looked troubled and headed out of the gym. I guess he knew it was only going to get worse.

Frank turned to his principal, who should at least in my opinion have been his support and not the leader of the attack, and asked if he could sit down now. Davis smirked, “What? Gonna leave the little missy — that cute, little new girl — all alone?” So Frank grimaced and stayed in place uncomfortably.

And it does get worse. I just have to make up what happens. There will be more to come, eventually.

For tomorrow we’re back in the “comfort zone.”

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Mantorville, part 8

And for a hopefully sunny Saturday, we are back to Quetzal County again. Previous sections can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

School has started in Mantorville for instructor James Arkham. Although he started out excited about this new job, things haven’t remained his blissful once he began teacher workshops and the first day of school. Arkham continues his narration to psychologist Joshua Symonds.

the no one-is-ever-going-to-help-me-entitle-this horror story

The next two days werenʼt much better, except people knew my name. I didnʼt remember most of theirs; Iʼve always been bad with names (not a good trait each fall in a teacher). Chuck had chosen to rent a cottage in Machen (river towns love to feature waterside tourist stuff, and he, raised in Nebraska, I think, went for it hook, line and sinker), so he and I went our separate ways when each day ended.

I tried to focus on being prepared for that first day of school and my new classes and meeting the kids. I worked in my room, getting a bulletin board all set up, arranging chairs into work areas, getting myself organized on the computer and with textbooks (the school used some really small-time publishers I was unfamiliar with, so I had a lot of reading to do to be ready for classes, too). Periodically a fellow teacher or someone—custodian, secretary—would stop by or ask me to their office for some piece of business, but overall I was just left on my own.

On my own. No other phrase could describe my position at Mantorville High better. They left me out of… everything. Almost from the first, I felt like there was some strange current moving behind the scenes, underneath the conversations—a flow of power I was unable to comprehend. The other teachers were attuned; even Chuck came to seem like the rest as the fall dragged along…

I was the outsider. I was the one who was different, strange. Only Howie seemed possibly as outside as me. Howie. He was also the only one who really tried to talk to me, who got to know me. Was that because he felt as alienated as I did? Or did he just feel sorry for me?

Anyway, I tried to focus on the imminence of school.

But those kids in the classes, they gave me the same feeling. “Outsider.” No one said anything, no one did anything definite, but there was a sensation somehow. Something emanating from them, like determined mistrust. I felt it directed much more strongly at me than Chuck: he gained their acceptance much more easily, perhaps due to his familyʼs local connection. The only ones as ostracized as I felt myself to be were the couple of new kids in the school—six elementary ones I never did know and two high school kids.

Those new kids had my sympathy from the start because just standing in the halls I could see how their peers immediately reacted to them. I had been sensitized by my own experiences with the faculty, but those teenagers kept the new duo at bay with clear and antagonistic behavior. When I pointed that out to Chuck on that first day of school, he just muttered something about in small schools it was difficult to fit in quickly.

They opened the year with an all-school assembly. If there was a point to that assembly, I donʼt remember it.

Now we have almost reached the point where something happens.  Thanks for the responses I’ve received lately. I’ve almost run out of text that I’ve written for the story, however. We’ll have to see how soon I can get stuff going. Tomorrow’s Sunday. Let’s see what you get then…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.