Monday, August 20, 2007

Leave My False Idols Alone!

This may not be news to all of you, but I just found out that Iron Eyes Cody was NOT an Indigenous American. Apparently he was a second-generation Italian! Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Italians - some of my favorite people have last names that end in "o." It's just that for the past 36 years, since Iron Eyes shed that tear, I've believed him to be, well, an honest Injun'!

What's next? Flip Wilson turns out to be Haitian? Don Ho an Inuit? Mr. Green Jeans a Communist Sympathizer?!? What other beloved icons are going to be torn from the pages of my childhood and carelessly tossed to the side of the road? I've got news for sites like - leave my false idols alone! My memories of childhood, those kind faces staring back at me in black and white, they are my friends, my companions, my link to the past and my portals to the future.

They say you can never go home again. Maybe they're right, but at least afford me the kindness to let me live in ignorance, because so help me, if I have to read online somewhere that Fred Rogers was gay, there's going to be blood in the streets tonight!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Swindle

This story was originally published on

I was certain my eyes were deceiving me. Before me, nestled in the hand of this girl, was the one small item that could literally save my life. It was a pocket watch, but no ordinary pocket watch. I rested my elbows on the glass case and leaned over the far edge, marveling in the way the watch caught the light from my shop window; gazing in astonishment at how its 40 years had been so kind. As a collector of fine antiquities, I knew every detail about this watch. It was an 1890’s Waltham model 92; 21 jewel, Railroad Grade pocket watch with 14K solid gold hunting case, and a double sunk porcelain dial. I’d followed the value of this watch through the years as well, forever cursing myself for not taking the same model when I had my chance ten years previous.

There was no way I was prepared to let this gem slip through my hands a second time. I stood up straight and cleared my throat. “Well, what do you have here, a toy watch?” I said, nonchalantly. “No sir, it’s a real antique watch, an heirloom. It belonged to my grandfather.” I smiled and rubbed my chin. “Heirloom? That’s a pretty big word for a little girl.” “I’m twelve!” She blurted. “I stand corrected Miss, I mean young lady.” Her short stature and round face made her look much younger. I folded my left arm around my waste and gently bowed in her direction while at the same time glancing out the window. “And you’re here all by yourself are you?” “Yes.” She said. I lifted both hands off the display case and brought them together as to wring them, but caught myself and rested them once again on the glass. Experience and a keen sense of observation led me to surmise she was looking for, at most, thirteen dollars – a full week’s wages for most men. I was prepared to offer her sixteen, knowing full well that it was worth one hundred times that amount.

You see it is in my nature to make the most out of every situation. I’m an opportunist, an entrepreneur, and have risen from a life centered on nefarious concerns to that of a well-respected proprietor of an upscale resale establishment. My customers rely on me to stock the finest previously appreciated items and present them at a fair, pertinent price. The manner in which I acquire these items varies, but I have, until just recently, upheld scrupulous standards on both the buying and selling end of all my transactions. Only occasionally have I succumbed to the temptation of purchasing items of questionable origins. It was one of these questionable purchases of late which had gone awry and left me owing a sum of money to Carlo Rufrano, a very large fellow with very little patience.

I had dealt with men similar to Rufrano before. In my formative years, I was struck with a powerful desire to acquire wealth. During my first summer out of college I endeavored to find my fortune regardless of sacrifices of personal integrity or ethical precepts. Danger, I had found, made my heart beat furiously and fueled me with delightfully frightening sensations. And so, as I freely invited trouble into my word, so it came. Chicago during prohibition was as exhilarating as it was treacherous. Headlines of gang violence were commonplace, and the Chicago underground crime scene, with the likes of Hymie Weiss and Al Capone, was the most infamous hot bed of villainy in the nation. I retained a position working in a nightclub downtown, and hung out with members of the North Side Gang, headed up by Deanie O’Banion. It wasn’t long before the North Siders took me in, ostensibly due to my Irish heritage, but mostly, I suspect, because I was willing to do anything they asked. It was that brash attitude and appetite for danger that found me standing outside Schofield’s flower shop with a gun in my pocket one late evening in November of 1924. Schofield’s partner, Clarence McConnel fashioned a speakeasy within the renovated stock room of the flower shop and had stolen several items from O’Banion’s nightclub to furnish it. I was told to take out McConnel with a single shot to the forehead, lock the dead man in the stock room for someone to dispose of later, and clean out the register. I did as I was told, but as I was cleaning out the register I noticed a gold pocket watch behind the cash caddy. I fished it out and turned it in my hand. It was exquisite, undoubtedly the finest object I had ever held. A clatter from the street startled me, and so I slipped the watch back into the drawer, and left the shop.

The next day I felt a crushing guilt for my actions. My craving for danger had been replaced by an even stronger craving for self-preservation; so I packed and headed for Boston. Deanie had friends in Boston who could find me if they wanted, but I figured I owed them nothing. It was a clean hit and I left no unfinished business with the North Siders. I took a job in a mercantile shop and got a fresh start. I suppose you could say that the McConnel experience cured me of my reckless pursuits. There was still a strong desire to make money, but I decided to fly straight and make my fortune as honestly as I could. Within three years I had saved enough to purchase my own store.

So there I was, after ten years of leading a virtuous, law-abiding lifestyle, standing over this girl and entertaining the notion of swindling her out of a sum of money that could feed her family for two years. “May I see the watch?” I asked, smiling down at her. She said nothing, just stretched her arm in my direction, presenting me the watch. I immediately flipped it over to check my presumption of brand and quality. It was indeed a Waltham of the vintage I had predicted. I turned it face up and flipped it open. The jeweled dial shone with magnificent clarity. I knew I could easily sell this treasure with enough money to pay off my debt with Rufrano and eat six months of fine meals on the balance. I was smiling, practically laughing to myself when my eye caught something etched in script on the underside of the cover. I snatched my magnifying lens from the drawer and held it over the inscription. It was only one word, a person’s name – O’Banion. I snapped the lid closed and set the watch on the counter in such a manner as to nearly fracture the glass. “Child, er, young lady, where did you say you acquired this watch?” She gazed up at me with a different expression than she held moments ago. Suddenly she looked older, wiser. Her thin lips curled upwards at the corners forming an unsettling grin. “I told you. It belonged to my grandfather.” She said, stepping back sufficiently beyond my grasp. “I have no need for this item young Miss, so you will take it and be gone with you and your games. Good night.”

“It’s not that easy.” She said, plucking the watch from the counter and placing it into her satchel. “I’m sure you read it in the papers, but my grandfather, Deanie O’Banion was killed in that same flower shop only hours after you had presumably left. He went there to recover his favorite pocket watch, the most valuable and personal item that McConnel had stolen from the nightclub. Before he could find the watch, my grandfather and two of his men were gunned down. No rival gangs claimed the hit, and they started a city-wide manhunt for you.” I stood there quite stunned. I remember reading about O’Banion being shot, but I had expected that to happen eventually, so I didn’t study the details of the incident. I looked back outside and saw a black Pontiac idling at the curb. As I watched it for a moment it flashed its headlights twice. “So what is to happen now?” I said, looking back at the girl. “Now you wait.” She said. “We have paid off your debt to Rufrano, and we have some unfinished business we need taken care of in Pittsburg. That’s where you come in.” She started for the door. “We’ll be in touch.” And with that she opened the door and stepped through. I watched as the car pulled away, then walked to the window and drew the blinds.

I sat on a stool next to a clothing rack and took several deep breaths. Slits of light from the setting sun painted yellow stripes across the wall above the front counter. The corner of a silver frame glared back at me. Mounted in the frame was the first honest dollar I had made as a proprietor of my own shop. I looked around at the rest of the goods which ten years of honest living had provided. There were racks of faded clothing, shelves covered with dusty figurines and assorted worthless baubles. I thought about the business in Pittsburg, about repaying whatever debt might be owed to this new generation of O’Banions, and as I did, quite unexpectedly, my heart began to race.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Killing Jar

This story was originally published on

There was the red shack – exactly as he described it in his letters. He warned me that time had not been kind to him. “The sea can be brutal.” He wrote. “You’re not going to recognize me as kin, I’m afraid. Maybe, if I shave by the time you see me, I might be mistaken as human.” There was the self-deprecating wit that my father spoke of. “But I doubt if I’ll be alive by the time you come. The hornets are after me.” And that was the end of his last letter.

From the gangway I could see a light from inside the hut, but no shadows or movement. The boats creaked and moaned as their shore lines worried the cleats anchored to the weathered planks. I walked toward the shack, slowly, deliberately, and for some reason quietly. I wasn’t trying to sneak up on him, but I also didn’t think that bounding up the dock at full speed was the right way to greet my uncle after thirty years. Especially if his paranoia was as bad as I expected. I knocked on the door. No answer or sound. I was startled by the rusty squeals of seagulls and looked up the dock, catching a flash of black fur darting behind a dock box. A dozen gulls dove toward the cat, reeled back into formation, cursed some more, then dove again. I looked back at the door and examined the two by four bracing it closed. It was new, unpainted and not yet warped by the damp air. I thought it odd to have such a crude and formidable barricade on the outside of the only door. It made me consider just how demented my poor uncle had become – maybe to the point of having to be locked in his own dwelling for fear of hurting himself. I lifted the board off its brackets and leaned it against the frame then turned the handle and stepped onto the threshold. I was consumed by an acrid emulsion of insecticide, rotten meat, and bodily fluids. I backed up a couple of steps and took a deep breath to clear my lungs. The odor shot me right back to my childhood, the summers spent on my uncle’s farm. There was a butterfly collection that hung in the farmhouse parlor which I contributed to. I used a pickle jar filled with my own recipe of random agents which I refined over the course of a couple of summers to be extremely toxic. In the beginning, a butterfly could live several hours in the jar, but once the formula was perfected, a few drops on a tissue placed in the bottom of the jar and death followed very swiftly. The butterfly would flutter frantically, bouncing off the inside walls of the jar, then almost immediately fall to the bottom, its wings quivering for only a moment. I was compelled to watch its final moments of life, contemplate the exact instant of death. After waiting a couple of minutes for the jar to air out, I would gently remove the butterfly with tweezers, and carefully pin it to the Styrofoam inside the display case. I suppose it’s no wonder that I chose insect abatement as a career.

Another clamor from up the dock as a tug boat pulled along side the far finger and two men dressed in foul weather gear jumped off. The gulls reeled away from the cat and followed the tug as it headed back out into the harbor. The two men stood and talked for several seconds. I couldn’t hear them over the roar of the tug’s diesels, but I saw one of them point at me and the other one nod. Even though they were clad head to toe in black and yellow latex, I could tell that neither of them could be my uncle. They both had the sturdy musculature of youth, and when they started walking toward me they took long, confident strides. “Hornets.” I said to myself, watching these hulking, black and yellow shapes come toward me. “Jesus, maybe the old fool wasn’t crazy.” I looked back inside the shack and caught a glimpse of what looked like a bare forearm under the cot. I could hear footsteps drumming on the planks to my left, but I fixed my eyes on that arm, held my breath and stepped inside. I closed the door behind. As it creaked closed, the footsteps shuffled to a stop. I knelt and looked under the bed. There, half covered by a blanket, was an old man. I stared at his face. He was right, I didn’t recognize him, but his description of himself was spot on, save for the grey-blue pallor and the half-inch hole in his forehead.

I could hear rustling and murmurs from outside. I stood and looked around the tiny room for something to defend myself. There was a small writing desk covered with a newspaper dated two days previous, some pens, a photo of a woman I didn’t recognize. A small pot-bellied stove sat in the corner. Along the opposite wall was a peg board lined with tools, and under that, a bait sink flanked by two wooden cutting boards clamped onto a rusty metal counter. I knelt down, looked under the counter, and found dozens of smoked glass bottles. I read one of the labels - Soda Lye. There was more, Chlorine, ammonium bicarbonate, hydrochloric acid, Malathion, methanol, ether. I didn’t know what my uncle had been up to, but couldn’t imagine an appropriate hobby for a 77-year-old that required ether.

A loud rapping on the door caused me to spin around and lose my balance. I steadied myself, jumped to my feet, and pushed the desk in front of the door, jamming it under the knob. More rustling from outside then a crash as one of the men slammed into the door. I grabbed a hammer from the peg board with one hand and threw open the window over the bunk with the other. Another crash as the legs of the desk buckled and the door opened. I leaned over and swung the hammer hard, smashing as many of the bottles as I could. I threw the hammer down then crawled out of the window, shutting it behind me. I glanced back through the glass and saw the vapors rise from the floor as the two men stumbled over the desk. I ran around to the front of the shack, pulled the door shut, and secured it with the two-by-four. I stepped backward to the far side of the dock, and through the window saw both men clawing at their throats, wrenching. The larger of the two started convulsing and throwing himself against the wall between the windows. As the fumes thickened, my view became obscured until the smaller man slammed against the glass and looked out at me through bulging crimson eyes. Bloody foam ran from his nostrils and mouth and he seemed to be trying to speak. I took one step closer and watched his purple tongue dance pathetically against the roof of his mouth. I stood there until his eyes rolled white and he fell to the floor. There was a part of me that wanted to walk closer to the window to see him take his final breath. But this time I denied myself that pleasure. My work was done.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Buy My Boombox!

This has been sitting in my closet for a year. It's a $5 thrift store purchase that's apparently worth close to a grand. Put it on Ebay yesterday and got an offer from a guy to buy it immediately for $750!! Who would of thunk that junk could bring so much funk?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Accident Under the Big Top

The confusion was clearing up as Tom's body processed the alcohol. He looked around. Something was wrong. Very wrong. His head throbbed and he recalled the blackout. A heavy weight in his right hand drew his attention and he looked down at a gun. That's when he noticed the blood on his sleeve. From behind him, a feminine voice called his name and he remembered the wind machine, the dwarf, the chunks of shredded clown, and the palpable breeze as the entire audience gasped in unison. Tom blinked hard then squinted toward the tent. Six feet away, a tattered red and white hat lay crumpled in the dirt. Closer to the main entrance, a bloody size 19 shoe was rung around one of the stakes like a hellish horseshoe. "Jesus!" Tom said while trying to sit upright. His ears were still ringing but he could make out sirens, cries, and disturbed murmurs from a large group of people somewhere behind him.

"Take is slow Tom." The female voice said. "You're going to want to let go of the gun. The police are on their way, and they won't know it's a prop." Tom glanced down at the Colt 45 replica in his hand then released it into the dirt. "What the hell happened?" He said. "It's Eddie Tom, he, he's dead." Tom pivoted to his left and was eye to eye with Brenda, one of the little people clowns. Her painted on frown and tears exaggerated her despair, and were particularly disturbing to the half-drunk Tom who fixated on the still wet droplets of arterial spray covering the left side of her face.

"You were working on the wind machine, remember Tom? Do you remember that?" Tom rubbed his eyes and shook his head then paused. "Yeah, Eddie and I took it apart to clean it right before the show." Tom looked blankly into the distance. He could see the reflection of the emergency vehicles' strobes on the side of the tent. "Then we, we took a break, broke out a bottle of scotch from Eddie's locker." Tom stood up and looked down at Brenda. "The Superman stunt! Christ Brenda! Eddie and I never put the grill back on the fan!" Tom shuddered, his eyes widened as he searched for some sign of understanding from this nightmarish, blood-splattered harlequin looking up at him. He could hear the sound of tires skidding on dirt as the vehicles sped around the back side of the tent and headed his way. "It happens." Brenda said, taking Tom by his hand and leading him into the crowd. "And we look out for our own."