The Santa Claus Poems

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

A man goes far to find out what he is. Sometimes, at the end of his rainbow (or the end of his rope), he sees only a friendly stranger shrouded in multiple layers of yellow cellophane, someone who wants to groom wire-haired schnauzers for free, someone who calls late at night asking for Gary or Bernard. I’m referring, of course, to the life of Arnold Benjamin, poet and hemophiliac. Born in the furrow of a cornfield, he had a simple, grief-stricken childhood. Even so, he grew like a weed until by the age of 12 he was 27-years-old. He sprang upon the unsuspecting literary world in 1949 with his searing expose of the new counterculture festering in the subterranean gin mills of Wall Street. It was appropriately titled The Confessions of Little Boy Blue, a controversial goose egg, to say the least.

For his carnal frankness, his flaming genius, he was blacklisted by the N.A.A.C.P. and subjected to a barrage of little white lies by the K.K.K. Finally, the Pulitzer Prize Committee managed to have his poetic license revoked. It was a crushing blow. But he’d had worse.

Seeking a total separation from all of mankind, Arnie set out on an Arctic expedition, a journey from which there was no coming back. Equipped only with a satin jogging suit and two quarts of olive oil, he trudged on and on, until at last a cab stopped and took him to the airport. Somewhere above the Arctic Circle, he lost his way. The story of what happened then will never be fully understood. Somehow Santa Claus found him, nursed him back to health, and then just as mysteriously disposed of him. But betwixt rescue and oblivion, Arnold Benjamin wrote his masterpiece.

Of the 2,000 or so poems which comprise the original Santa Claus song cycle, only a few remain. Some scholars speculate that the explicitly erotic nature of Benjamin’s work was an embarrassment that Santa could not allow to see the light of day. It’s possible, however, that the complete cycle still exists, furtively cherished in Santa’s bizarre collection of amorous mementoes. But the more practical theorists take it for granted that the elves found pages of the manuscript to be an ideal stuffing substitute for dolls and pincushions when supplies of horsehair had been exhausted. We should be thankful for the few poems we do have, for they give us a titillating glimpse into the private life of the world’s best-loved fat man. We see his handicaps, his vices, his most complex psychosexual aberrations. Our lives are immeasurably enriched by this unflinching documentation of Santa’s moral and mental frailties.

Also, as we read Benjamin’s work, we are indirectly shown the portrait of a sensitive young poet, a man who never stopped waxing his mustache, a man who, though burdened with more than his fair share of tuberculosis, was still able to joke about. Brave, goofy, inarticulate: he was all of these and little more. But come, let us look at the poems.

The first, entitled “You,” was written during his now-famous Convalescent Period, the first week at Santa’s gingerbread house (mainly spent thawing out near the fireplace). In a morphine stupor that caused him to idealize his immediate reality, transforming red-hot fire tongs into ticklish ostrich feathers and savage vampire dwarves into mere anemic mosquitoes, he wrote these immortal lines:

You

The sea is a mistress cruel

But worse by twice

Is the northern ice

Where man is a cuckold fool.

No tales do dead men tell

Unless I dare be the first.

‘Twas you disguised as a nurse

Delivered me from Hell.

God works in ways mysterious.

You in red suit

Shiny of boot

I saw while still delirious.

Your armpits smelled like a zoo

But tamed was I by your touch

Ere I reached out to clutch

A beard as soft as the dew.

*****

There is some doubt as to whether “I Dig You” is a genuine Arnold Benjamin poem or not, it being a daring departure from his usual Victorian broom-closet fantasies. The strong Beatnik influence is undeniable, and the bondage and discipline undertones lend irresistible flavor to an otherwise wretched manifesto.

I Dig You

love me daddy

beat me daddy

nothing is too good or too naughty for your baby

kiss me daddy

shoot me daddy

make me feel at home beneath your boot heels daddy

give me candy take my money

throw anything that’s handy at me

but when I send an SOS

send a rescue PDQ

and seal the canteen with a kiss

take careful aim so you don’t miss

you dirty devil

you

*****

Skeptics also wonder if the following is a bona fide Benjamin. Who can say? Personally, I find it delightful no matter who the author is.

Chocolate Mousse

You said it was all muscle, not fat,

But I did not believe you at first.

You ate ice cream like a child

But you ate mousse like a man.

*****

The remaining poems show us a wide range of stylistic approaches. We are given a dash of Shakespeare, a drop of Edgar Allan Poe, and a generous portion of the lesser-known hacks hiding out in the tidal marshes of New Jersey. They chronicle the birth, homogenization and eventual disintegration of a very special relationship. We find ourselves elevated onto an illusory plateau where angels and demons walk arm-in-arm, hoof-in-mouth in a world of unlimited possibilities. Finally we reach the edge of the plateau only to peer downward as though through a beard, darkly. Ultimately, we fall. Reality, we find, is no velvet cushion. And the free lunch we get…is naked.

Beautiful Loser With A Monkey On His Back

When I found the syringes inside your hollow Bible

I realized that the plate of cold turkey in the fridge

Was no joke.

Is addiction the price you paid to be the Christmas angel,

Angel of bliss, angel — of dust?

Santa, how long can you smile with a monkey on your back?

Listen, you old beautiful fool,

Drop it like the bad habit that it is.

Cool it with that monkey business

Before you slip on a banana peel

And break — your soul.

*****

A Word Of Warning

You said all the world’s a stage and now you’ve

Fallen off of it (right into the orchestra pit).

You said it didn’t hurt but I know that on the inside there is pain.

Your heart has been twisted and pinched like a mangled marshmallow.

All it needs now if or someone to put it on a sharpened stick

And roast it over a slow fire. Santa, don’t go on that hayride tonight.

You’ll be sorry.

*****

A Dream, An Ultimatum

Postcards, poetry, bits of yarn with butterflies attached:

Is this the way you woo me? And how so with the others?

Sweet chocolates and lingerie, the best soft-sell forget-me-nots

That silver can afford?

I dreamt of a raven whose beak was wet but whose kiss was dry.

I dreamt of a carnival clown older than the oldest hand-me-down cliché.

“Even I have kissed the Blarney Stone,” he said.

Yes, I dreamt those things and others such

But sended not a ring of rarest jade.

Only withered flowers bent into a question mark.

Canceled checks, unpaid bets, fictitious IOUs,

Bits of barbed wire with skeletons entwined: Is this the way you shoo me?

And how so with the others? Pray tell, my bearded wonder.

If you deny me this concession I’ll hate you to the end of time,

Or until such time as I master Transcendental Meditation.

*****

As hinted here below, some of Santa’s helpers, the gnomes in particular, took young Arnold’s presence as an encroachment on their territory. There were many grim reprisals, but Santa never knew of the bitter conflicts within his tribe. The lonely tears, the savage threats, the sinister studies of chains and fire were all kept secret from the jolly old bugger.

A Melancholy Meditation

Which was does your beard swing tonight?

When last we met beyond the fringe of light

Your lips parted like two slices of unleavened bread

And I became your butter.

Yea, if I’ve turned rancid in your bed

Will you go and seek another?

Is it the toll of time’s fierce tread

That silences the laughter of the dwarves

Or merely the contempt familiarity has bred

(Small wonder with those sawed-off whores)?

Was it the growth of fungus in one’s head?

Pray tell the gist before I die.

The horse become an ass instead,

The beauty mark, a wart in Cupid’s eye?

*****

Premonition

You went down the chimney of my life

And you went back up the chimney of my life.

You wore but one costume and very little leather

Yet you were many things to me.

When my spirit was broken you were my crutch.

When I lobbied for legalization of a controlled substance

You volunteered as attorney.

When I was hitchhiking across the fourth quadrant on the face of the moon

You picked me up like a heaven-sent cabdriver.

But when I needed help with my arithmetic

You laughed in my face

And called me the square root of zero.

I always knew it would end this way.

*****

Thirteen Ways Of Looking At You-Know-Who (Abridged)

after Wallace Stevens

I

Dinosaurs ruled the earth

When Santa Claus was but a twinkle

In his father’s glass eye.

III

As Santa Claus flew out of sight

The alarms finally went off.

The police would find only deer tracks on the roof

And no sign of a struggle.

IV

I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections,

Or the beauty of innuendoes,

The crack of Santa’s whip

Or just after.

IX

In the House of Usher

Seven green applies lie cool and straight

On the windowsill.

Before Santa arrived all was chaos.

XIII

I was seeing things all afternoon.

I was drinking and I’m going to drink.

If Santa comes down that chimney one more time

I’ll blow his brains out.

*****

I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus

Of course the title is a lie.

You were always so faithful, so perfect, so unreal,

Such a prissy prude.

When I made a pass your way you played possum

So you wouldn’t have to catch it.

Some joke. I could have loved you.

I would have cleaned your spittoon

Or combed the bugs out of your wind-blown beard.

Anything to be near the maker of toys,

The famous lover of girls and boys.

Some joke. I write these words of bitterness

On every bathroom wall, in every language

That I learned when you threw the book at me.

You didn’t have the decency to say good-bye.

Don’t you know the word?

In Japanese, it’s “sayonara.”

In German, it’s “auf wiedersehen.”

In Pig Latin, it’s “ood-bye gay.”

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The Wretched Soul

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

(The following is a selection from the logbook of the Wretched Soul, an accursed ship driven to its doom by the likes of Captain Jack, a mad Cornish sailor and adventurer extraordinaire, quite possibly the greatest unsung hero of the high seas.)

Liverpoole, Saturday 7 Aprill 1693 — The sun arose at six o’clock. A good sign. The ship be loaded and the sea is calm. Ah, my nostrils heave to the scent of the spray. I sent out the quartermaster early this morn to drum up some “fresh meat.” By Jove! He comes back within the hour rolling a barrelful of bold Irish apes suitable for framing. Hear me now, good strong lads! Climb aboard and leave your hags on shore. God help your heathen souls, boys, we’re a-blowin’ to the edge of the deep blue brine. We cast off. Methinks to consult the ship’s astrologer as to where the dangers lie on this voyage. In a low voice he says only this: “Beware the wrath of Neptune.” Well boo to the Fates says I! Let’s be underway.

Sunday 8 Aprill 1693 — Only eight miles out to sea yestermorn our ship’s carpenter, D’Amico, lost an eye to a mad seagull. The bird responsible was placed in hot irons amidships, subjected to the jabs and jeers of my ill-tempered crew. He should be thankful to have been spared a grim communion with tonight’s hamster stew.

Thursday 12 Aprill 1693 — I caught the cabin boy pinching my tobacco. This so distressed me that I retreated to my quarters for several hours. After a great deal of deliberation I reluctantly had his nose cut off. There were some of the crew who found this amusing. They too paid through the nose.

Sunday 15 Aprill 1693 — Horrors! This afternoon we quite accidentally tangled a huge serpent in our anchor chain. Fearful were its eyes. The quartermaster tried to flog it to death but presently the monster tired of that irritation and snapped at the man, impaling him clean through on one of its perilous fangs. The poor bloke beseeched us with piteous cries for several minutes before succumbing to the slavering maw of that treacherous beast. We watched helplessly all the while and saw the man’s head broken off, whereupon it flew up and landed in the crow’s nest. The young tar on watch up there cried out like a banshee and jumped straight down to the water. May God have mercy on his soul.

Monday 16 Aprill 1693 — We awoke this morning to find the deck swamped with a multitude of jellyfish. Swarming over the jellyfish were millions upon millions of tiny green flies. The cabin boy was first up and he might have smelled the trouble if his nose had not been missing. As it was he received stings on both heels. Severe was his discomfort and he let out a sound you cannot imagine. This alarmed the flies, which straight away attacked the boy and covered his entire body a foot thick. We did not suffer so greatly as he, but even so none of us escaped without being bitten several thousand times.

Tuesday 71 Aprill 1693 — I write these lines with a hand now swollen to the size of a cabbage. The cabin boy’s single cry continues with an intensity equal to yesterday’s. We’ve tied him face-down onto a bale of cotton. All of are now stricken with the laughing/crying disease (Jester’s Death), surely visited upon us by the fiendish green flies and their devil’s spawn, the jellyfish. Spineless scum! As if this plague were not enough to break the mortal spirit, another tropical storm comes presently upon us full force. Many men are delirious and have taken to swallowing frightfully long lengths of rope (“fishing for fool’s gold,” says one). It is still morning, aye, but dark as night on deck. I keep forgetting where my feet are.

Tuesday 18 Aprill 1963 — A large flock of East Indian palm trees flew over us this afternoon. We managed to snag one with a gaff and land it after a fierce struggle. But alas, its flesh was poisonous and our mulatto cook, Nubi, lies near death, trembling so and coughing up small yellow lumps of bile. The foul acid burns his skin and chafes his lips. Thank the Lord it will all end soon.

Tuesday 9 Aprill no make that Monday 163 — Sky still dark as a coalminer’s lung. Opium running low. Threw the cabin boy overboard in search of China or Marco Polo or something or other. But if I know a devilish boy with six guineas in his pocket I’d say that’s the last we’ll see of him.

Apilr today, many moons — No more fresh water I’m afraid. I had medicinal doses of brandy doled out to ward off the cold. What a storm! Double the brandy ration I say! That’s right. Regale and be merry.

221 B Baker Street, 8 paces, 7 bells — More brandy! More! More! Drink yer fill lads. There’s half a barrel left in the hold. Bones, tattoos for everyone. Be quick about it, you old leech juggler! Ah, what a jolly storm!

May? — Lo! What fierce fever has laid me out? The tropical sun bears down on the brow. Yea, to my astonishment and complete demoralization I find the entire larder ransacked, every brandy barrel drained, my crew gorged like pigs, many of them stark naked, all unconscious or dead, with the telltale stench of liquor lingering over their skins. So help me, as God is my witness those responsible shall pay dearly for this outrage.

May or Aprill, 1693 (?) — Several of the surly foreigners were put to death to atone for those mutinous crimes committed during my absence. We are all anxious to forget the whole dreadful incident.

2 May 1693 — Land ho! We were greeted on the beach by a crowd of noble savages who offered us doormats and slippers made from shark’s teeth. One of my crew, eager I suppose for some fresh beef, blew the chieftain’s head askew with a blunderbuss. The rest of the savages turned tail and took refuge down the beach, hiding under bits of seaweed and dead fish. We routed them out, secured them in chains and dragged them out to sea. Anyway, we are fully provisioned once again. The weather has taken a nasty turn, but fog or no fog we sail tomorrow.

4 May 1693 — Hell’s bells, disaster has struck! The fog blinded us like the Devil’s cloak and we drifted into a school of whales. One couple in the heat of nuptial foreplay rammed the ship to bits and swallowed half the cargo and crew. A few of us made it to the shore of this barren, godforsaken island. Only giant reptiles live here. They must have subsisted on volcanic ash until we came along to whet their appetites. They are surprisingly fast.

5 May 1693 — The lizards keep coming back for more. The scent of their stools is everywhere. We tried to make a signal fire but it only attracted more lizards from the neighboring islands. The new lizards are bigger, hungrier, and noticeably faster. I pray we were judicious in sacrificing those two cowardly Frenchmen this morning. They disappeared like hors d’oeuvres. Surely it won’t be long before the heathen lizards break bread with my carcass.

Mayday! Mayday! — This is it. No one left but me. They’ve been dancing all around me in a terrible frenzy, lashing wickedly with their long purple tongues. They have a healthy fear of my campfire. But by now all the fuel is spent, and as the last glowing embers fade the lizards grow calmer and exchange knowing smiles with each other. I see an occasional wink. Yes, the jig is up, lads. I have a lovely bunch of coconuts with which I intend to bash in a few heads before I’m finished. I will now place this journal inside one of the nuts, hoping that he who finds it will be forever dissuaded from joining the Navy. Ah, God must have loved giant lizards. He made so many of them. Their eyes — (end of manuscript)

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Christmas Will Just Fade Away

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

Santa got out of his sleigh, every joint aching with arthritis. In his hoarse, wispy voice he told the deer to stay until he came back as he had done for 500 years. Surely the deer would have stayed there anyway, for they were nearly too tired to go on. Santa slipped on a snow-covered shingle a few feet from the chimney, almost falling. Gaining balance, he got in and started inching downward. Halfway down — five minutes later — the passage seemed to become horribly narrow. But it really wasn’t. Santa had just put on weight through the years. He hung there, twisting and turning, wondering why he hadn’t listened to his wife, who had told him not to eat so much. Suddenly, he gave way like a cork, shooting down rapidly. The impact left him out of what little breath he was still able to hold, and whimpering with pain. This woke up the father of the house, but thinking it was only the dog begging for a few scraps, he went back to sleep. After rising and dragging his bag across the room, Santa took out various presents for every member of the family, including the snotty twins. So senile was he, that he never remembered to give lumps of coal to those who had been bad during the year. Besides, the coal was too heavy for him to carry any more.

The presents he passed out were badly wrapped, with the paper wrinkled. Some even lacked wrapping entirely, for the elves drank heavily as their palsy years wore on. Santa proceeded through the night, everything going the same as before (slower and slower). One woman screamed when she heard him try to laugh with his old jolliness, thinking he was a burglar. Totally exhausted, he stumbled into his sleigh. After many futile and heartbreaking attempts the reindeer took off on their journey back to the North Pole.

Poor Santa had completely forgotten about the children in South America. No presents would be in their houses the next morning. Many hours passed before Santa realized the sleigh was off course. Yelling at the deer to turn 35 degrees to the right, he thought how Rudolph could have guided them had he not died of cirrhosis.

Suddenly, the head reindeer fell from exhaustion. The rest plunged afterward. With the skill of an old and feeble jet pilot Santa crash-landed into a hill of snow. Two of the reindeer died in the explosion. Santa rounded up the others. He made a fire out of the boards from the sleigh and they all huddled up against it. A while later, a tear trickled down the face of one of the remaining reindeer. The Spirit of Christmas had just died.

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Forbidden Fruit

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

A frigid, frustrated wind blew with bitter petulance against every orifice of the unbreachable stone tower. The tower was but the uppermost appendage of architecture spread out over many acres and over many unmarked graves, where restless bones quivered in the worm-riddled clay. Behind a small stained-glass window on the third floor flickered the light of a single candle, a candle lit by the delicate hands of a maiden yet unknown to the world, yet unchosen, yet unplucked in the perfumed gardens of desire. She sat near her canopied bed crocheting a new bodice to fit her young, vibrant body. Her name was Beaujolais, which was but a synonym for desire itself.

Perhaps one day, someday soon, a man (or woman, anyone!) would come to unravel her silken cocoon of isolation. Then she could turn from being a fuzzy caterpillar with too many legs into a beautiful, mature butterfly that eats everything through a long, tube-like mouth and has only a week to live. Yes, someone would come to pry open the bars of her gilded cage and then clean the cage out afterwards. The cleaning-out part would probably take several weeks but it was long overdue. She wiled away her days seeming never to notice that she had an admirer close by.

Heime was tall and beefy. His big, brown eyes were big and brown. He could always be found in the stable, shoveling, or in the smokehouse, staring at the hams with pained earnestness. As he struggled through the years to master his shoveling, Heime had watched Beaujolais from afar. She had grown out of her simple childhood clothes into the fetching fashions of young womanhood in full bloom. His codpiece grew unruly in her presence and he found that he could no longer contain himself.

She herself was not completely blind. She knew in her heart, in her bones, that Heime was the finest, purest, grandest specimen of the male animal that she’d ever seen. There was also a musky odor in the barn that thrilled her beyond belief. When at last they came face to face along a garden path one dusky twilight, they beheld in each other’s eyes the savage longing that had led them both there to that exact spot. Each felt the hold, the pull of that strange, subatomic force that had surely drawn them together.

He touched her pale neck with his hand and a shudder of delight vibrated and ricocheted through her entire body. She was like a rare, wild swan to him, from the soft, delicate down at the nape of her neck to the webbing between her toes. How she loved to nibble grain out of his cupped hands!

He was like a panda to her: soft, furry, round, with a remarkably human grip and a warm, moist muzzle that sent ripples of passion through every fiber of her being. Burning with desire, he swept her up in his arms and held her with the tenacity of a cephalopod.

“Do you love me?” he asked with the innocence of a child.

Her eyes welled up with tears and her fulsome lips swelled with passionate abandon as she gazed up at his finely chiseled, grizzled, fizzled, swizzled face.

“If love is the pain in my aching bosom, beneath my brooch, beneath my sternum, to the left of my aorta, if love is the silence I hear whenever you stop chewing whatever it is you’re chewing on, if love is the rabbit-fur mitten you use to stroke me with so softly, then yes, yes, yes I love you, Heime. Here on the 39th parallel of eternity I love you!”

“It’s peanut brittle,” said Heime. “That’s what I’ve been chewing on.”

“Oh, so that’s what’s stuck between your teeth. I thought it might be gristle from yesterday’s pork roast.”

“These peanut skins stick like glue to my gums. You know. It’s like popcorn kernels. Only I don’t like popcorn.”

“I don’t know what to say when you shower me with so much attention,” she said, wiping off a handful of peanut-brittle goo.

“Just say thank you,” he suggested. “But don’t say it in English. Say it in French. It drives me wild.”

“Bon jour,” she whispered in his ear as he swooned.

Sometime later — who knows when? — he awoke, electrified by her unearthly beauty. He could feel his jugular vein throbbing against the inside of his collar, and wished briefly he had bought the shirt a half-size larger. He could feel her wild, young, ample, generous bosom heaving under him, straining against her tightened bodice. Her breasts jostled, plunged and cavorted like two baby seals eager to test the open sea.

He and she were bound by the primal laws of physics to collide, to come together as one, not only on the astral plane but on every plane you can think of, intermingling, entwining and emulsifying each other’s molecules. He took her whole face in his mouth and graced her with the biggest, wettest kiss the world had ever known. She surrendered utterly to the sweet confusion of his raging fury. They locked tongues for an hour, breathing only through their noses.

She hadn’t known until their lips and their hearts had entwined (to awaken a memory buried deep within her psyche) that she had been an alien seed fallen from the heavens, which had lain dormant in the peat bogs for eons, finally to germinate and grow into a sinuous, seductive lie, a remarkably camouflaged beast of prey.

He didn’t know the jig was up until he felt his life’s blood being sucked out through his now-paralyzed tongue. He felt the rest of his manly physique going numb, immobile. His body gurgled the way a straw gurgles. Slowly his lungs, his entire body collapsed and was reduced to a gray, wizened parchment, which could be rolled up like a scroll, and was.

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The Legend Of Billy Smith

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

“It’s your hangin’ day, Billy Smith,” said the sheriff through the bars. “Since you’ve been here, Billy, I’ve learned you ain’t such a bad boy. I was wrong before. We was all wrong, and I think we owe you an apology. I don’t want to see you beg and squeal and scream. I don’t want to see you kickin’ and dancin’ on air. I reckon I’ll just have to close my eyes when the time comes.”

Billy didn’t seem to notice the sheriff. He was standing on his bed, his face level with the window of his cell. The early morning rays of the sun shone in on him, bathing his face with a holy light. He stuck an arm through the bars and held his hand up toward the sky. A beautiful bird landed in the palm of his hand, singing a melody ever so sweet, a song so pure it was like the voice of God in falsetto.

“Them birds love ya’, don’t they, Billy?” said the sheriff with reverence in his voice.

“Yes,” answered Billy, “I should have been an ornithologist. I never dreamed that one day I would be just like a bird in a cage, singing for my supper, wishing I was free.”

“Well, Billy, you won’t have to do no singin’ today. This here bag of sunflower seeds is on the house. I throwed in some bread crumbs, too, and some gravel for your gizzard.”

The sheriff walked over to his cluttered desk and picked something off the top.

“I drawed up this here certificate to present you on the scaffold. It testifies that you, Billy Smith, are the cleanest, most well-behaved prisoner that we’ve ever had the pleasure to hang. In plain words, a model condemned man. And looky here,” said the sheriff, beaming as he held the document up to the bars, “it’s been signed by the governor. He says he’ll personally attend your funeral and see to it that your widow don’t go without, like so many widows do.”

“Let me see that,” said Billy. As the sheriff handed it through the bars, Billy grabbed his arm and yanked him close. Then he grabbed the sheriff by his hair and jerked him around so that his back was against the bars. Using the edge of the certificate like a knife, Billy drew it across the sheriff’s neck, cutting his throat from ear to ear.

“Ow! That smarts. Leggo!” demanded the sheriff.

“You better open this door, sheriff, or I’ll open it with your head.”

“No! No!” cried the sheriff. “You’re gonna hang. You’re gonna hang.” Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang went his head against the bars, and pop went the lock as the door swung free. Billy grabbed a gun first, then he rummaged through the desk, looking for beer nuts and traveler’s checks. As he went along he kept popping little odds and ends into his mouth, until he looked like a chipmunk with overstuffed pouches. In the back of his mind somewhere, Billy asked himself, “Why am I doing this? Pa will kill me this time for sure.” But his introspection lasted only a second. He found a tube of bright red lipstick, tasted it, tried some on, pursed his lips in front of a mirror, and then wiped it off. He tried to stuff a harmonica into his mouth but failed. He broke into a medicine cabinet and rubbed himself down with ammoniated spirits. “Now I truly feel like a polar bear,” he confided to himself as he tried mugging in the mirror again. Then he burst out with a laugh — the kind of raw, husky, liquor-laden laugh that a cowboy makes when he’s just heard an outrageous lie. But it was just one lonely laugh, the sort that keeps to itself, that runs away from home and wanders the streets at night, never to return.

Billy went over to the open cell where the sheriff lay. Using two six-shooters, he blasted holes into the floor around the body. The noise was deafening. “Dance, damn you, dance!” shouted Billy through the smoke. The body was motionless. A little songbird flitted in through the window. It landed on the sheriff’s head and went hungrily for the eyes.

Billy reloaded and ran out into the street, brandishing his weapons. “Look at that big chipmunk!” exclaimed an elderly woman. Billy shot at her. He started to fire wildly in all directions. The town got angry. Blam. Blam. Blam. Kapow. Kapow. Kapow. Bullets flew every which way like a storm raging in Hell. The blazing sun bore down, relentless, seeming to curse the name Billy Smith.

“We hate you, Billy Smith,” yelled everyone at once. Click, click, click was his reply. Out of bullets. He stood up from his crouching position and turned to run. Blam. Blam. Blam. Kapow. Kapow. Ack ack ack ack ack. They shot him in the back with everything they had. He turned to face them once more, caught a bullet in his teeth and collapsed to the ground where the dust ran red. His riddled body quivered like jelly as they continued to fire – muskets, Gatling guns and cannons spewing flames, echoing like thunder in a mad symphony of death.

“Give up, Billy Smith,” blared a loudspeaker. A German biplane strafed him mercilessly for several hours and then dropped a bomb. The carnage went on for three days and three nights with searchlights swiveling, hand grenades exploding and red-hot barrels bending like licorice. Finally, they stopped. “Come out with your hands up,” warned the loudspeaker.

When the smoke cleared nine days later, nothing was left but a radioactive crater filled with molten lead.

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One Spring Day

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

I was floundering in the wake of an apocalyptic bender last Tuesday morning when the intolerable mewlings of my dog, King Midas, awakened me. Due to an oversight on my part, he’d been locked out of the house for several weeks and was desperate to get back in. I touched a match to the pilot light in my head and groped my way to the front door, pausing only once for an unpleasant but very necessary side trip to the washroom.

I was going to throw a paperweight at the dog, but when I opened the door my senses left me. Midas held in his mouth the limp body of a tiny old man. He was bluish white, with a hopelessly bald head and a long, jaggedly trimmed white beard. His eyes were a bottomless black with undulating swirls of iridescent color floating across their surface. They were the eyes of a gnome — that rare breed of diminutive hobos who sleep in abandoned cars and subsist entirely on peyote buttons. He was dressed in a snappy purple suit with silver trim. He wore a wide, diamond-encrusted belt from which hung a beautifully wrought silver dagger of Sumerian or possibly Bolivian design.

The little guy was still alive but obviously the worse for wear. Innumerable tooth marks discolored his neck where the dog had grabbed and shaken him like a rag toy. His neck was probably broken. He rolled his eyes downward and flailed his arms in a silent attempt to retrieve the conical hat that lay crumpled on the doorstep. I kicked the hat away from the porch, thinking it might be a bomb. I told Midas to drop the little man, but like most dogs, he had a mind of his own. A nasty tug-of-war ensued, in which I became the victor and Midas a very sore loser.

The gnome could hardly find the words to thank me. Instead, he begged me not to touch him or take him inside. His accent was strange and very hard to understand. He blubbered something either about burning alive or being turned inside out. I knew he was delirious and unable to comprehend the extent of his injuries. Ignoring his pleas to be left alone, I carried him inside. I laid him on the sofa and took his boots off. His feet were ice-cold.

“So this is the way you would have it,” he said bitterly. “To diminish like a candle, such a long and lingering death. Just as my uncle said it would be.”

“Shut up,” I said, slapping him a few times to sober him up. “You need rest, pal. Don’t worry. You’ll be all right. Now go to sleep.”

“Not sleep, but death,” he moaned. “My feet are growing numb.”

I looked at his feet. They were gone, melted, nothing but a damp spot on the cushion. I shrieked like a little girl in spite of myself, and ran to the washroom where I became violently ill. When I was able to return a few minutes later, half of him had melted away. I bit my lip and tried to pretend everything was okay. “Nice weather we’re having,” I said in the most vacuously cheerful voice I could muster.

“Yes, I’m dying,” croaked the old man. “I don’t care what happens to the dagger. I got it at a dollar store in Philadelphia. But will you see that my wife gets the watch?”

“What watch?”

With his one remaining arm he tugged at a chain in his breast pocket. Out fell a watch that no doubt had once been a priceless heirloom. It now looked like a refugee from a surrealist landscape. As I took it in my hands, the numerals slithered out from beneath the watch crystal and vaporized in midair, hissing. The misshapen timepiece slipped from my grasp, sputtered on the carpet like dry ice and then vanished.

“Please see that she gets the watch. I stole it from her a few years ago and she’d be glad to get it back.”

“But who –”

“Frost. Jack Frost’s the name. But that probably wouldn’t mean anything to a numskull like you.”

He clenched a fist. His thumb snapped off and slid across the floor like an ice cube. “Would you do me one last favor?” he whispered almost inaudibly.

“Yes, of course. Anything.”

“Kill the dog.” With that he closed his watery eyes and rapidly sank into a slushy mess. Soon, nothing was left but a large, gooey stain with steam rising from it. Of course, the cheap little dagger was still there, but I threw it in the garbage. Suddenly I remembered the hat. I ran to the front door. The hat was still lying in the grass and was only slightly mushy. I wrapped it in aluminum foil and stashed it in the basement freezer.

I had every intention of selling my story to the highest bidder and furnishing the hat as irrefutable evidence. But such was not to be. Our city had a power failure on Thursday when, as luck would have it, I was away on a business trip. Needless to say, the freezer defrosted. Inside, all I found was 20 pounds of rancid calves’ brains and a nauseating chocolate-colored swill that knocked me out cold when I got my first whiff of it. Now that the freezer’s been drained there’s really nothing left but a thin red line around the inside, sort of like a bathtub ring, and it seems no amount of cleanser will take it off.

You probably think I’m a fool for not taking some pictures when I had the chance. Or maybe you think I’m a damned liar and that none of what I’ve said is true. Yeah, that’s probably what you think. Well, I’m not going to try to change your mind. Now that King Midas sleeps with the fishes, only a tiny widow woman with icicles hanging from her eyes would believe me.

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Welcome To Mosesville

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

The rough-hewn sign read, “Welcome To Mosesville, Home Of The Twelve Tribes, State Football Champs 1989.” On either side of the sign stood a totem pole which featured twelve crazy-looking faces. A grey-haired man stopped his car, took a picture of the totem poles, lit a cigarette and then drove on towards town. He pulled into the first gas station he came to and inquired, “I was told I might be able to find here a Miss Helen Slenderhoof, daughter of Felix Von Peckerpuss, alias Doctor Helmut Fink.”

“She no come here no more,” said the swarthy hunchback from behind his black veil. “She kaput. Vamooshka. Fräulein a-go-go.”

A sneer of impatience came to the vistor’s face. “Look, my name is Karl Trouzerpantz. I’m a hunter of Nazis. But you are in no danger. I hunt only the Nazis and their spiritual counterparts, the Saudis.”

The gas-station attendant’s eyes widened in amazement. “You don’t believe me?” asked Karl. “I will show you.”

He opened the trunk of his car. It contained a small arsenal: rifles, handguns, boxes of ammunition, a couple of peashooters, and also a burlap sack labeled BAIT. “Ten thousand dollars in gold Krugerrands,” explained Mr. Trouzerpantz with a smile. “All Nazis are driven mad by gold. If you had been one I would already have caught you scratching at my trunk lid, howling like a hungry jackal. Now if you’ll tell me where the townspeople are hidden, I’ll give you a baby dinosaur.”

The attendant suddenly ran back inside the station and jumped, screaming, through a trapdoor behind the cigarette machine. His echoing cries faded into the darkness below. “Suicide,” thought Karl. “How refreshing.” He flicked his cigarette into the hole that might as well have been a bottomless ashtray. He had heard of such things.

Karl got back into his car and drove into the seemingly deserted town. On the outskirts was a barbershop. A faded sign posted outside read, “Haircut: $87. Shoeshine While You Wait Forever: $27.50.”

Beyond that place, the street widened until it reached the town square. It was laid out like a genuine Bavarian beer garden, complete with lush, ivied trellises and repugnant statues of Cupid. The fountains were, in fact, flowing with beer. That, along with the scattered piles of discarded lederhosen and black lingerie, was a telltale sign of a recent drunken orgy. Karl shuddered in disgust. He couldn’t bring himself to step out of the car for a more thorough inspection. No doubt Helen Slenderhoof was gone from here and well on her way to some other playground for the rich and filthy rich. No doubt her stereo was playing John Philip Sousa marches at full blast. No doubt she was making love at that very moment, giggling in the arms of some fascist gigolo while the world went to hell.

Karl took a stick of gum from his pocket and chewed it fiercely. Tears came to his eyes and he drove away.

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The Hotel

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

I checked in just after sunset. I wasn’t feeling well but that was normal. An old man behind the desk handed me the keys to room 314 and went into a coughing fit as I headed for the stairs. They creaked all the way up to the third floor and stopped. I passed a fat bimbo in the hallway. She wore a baby blue circus tent and fuzzy golden slippers. She had a bewildered look on her face, as if she couldn’t find her way back to the room filled with straw. Under one arm she carried a funny-looking dog. Who knows, maybe it was a goat. It kept licking at her arm as if the arm was a large stick of butter. I could tell they were made for each other.

The room was about what I expected. Just a room. Not immaculate but not filthy. Cheap but not disgraceful. The sort of room where newlyweds have to stay when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Or the room where a failed man goes to blow his brains out when he wants to be discrete about it. I had a gun but I wasn’t about to use it on myself.

I loosened my tie, lay down on the bed and listened. I could hear the stairs creaking again as Bimbo went down to the lobby. She was probably married to the scarecrow behind the desk. The goat was probably their child. Listening, I thought I could even hear the old man coughing again three stories below.

The curtains in my room were open so that the lights of the town shown in across the walls and ceiling. The various configurations of neon sent streaks of color into the room, flashing, flashing, on and off. Gleaming cars turned corners onto the well-lit boulevard only to turn again and disappear behind other corners. The whole scene was like a living jungle of light shifting around my room. I lit up a cigarette, smoked it slowly, finished it.

Sometime later I woke up, realizing that I’d drifted off to sleep still fully dressed. My watch said 10:30. I called room service for food and then went to splash some water on my face. I stared at myself in the mirror above the sink. A cockroach skittered out from beneath the mirror and looked at me, twitching its antennae. Before I could smash it the thing ran down to the floor and disappeared.

“Room service,” said the voice through the door. It was a girl about 21-years-old. Behind those pouted red lips she was pale, pale with stringy yellow hair. I paid her. “Thanks,” she said with a stringy yellow voice. I took a few sips of the stringy yellow soup and then shoved it aside in disgust.

Outside, the neon lights were still going strong. Cars continued to appear around corners, glide down the boulevard, turn out of sight. Like clockwork, no surprises, no intermissions, just the same show over and over. The only human sound was the guy coughing downstairs. By now he’d probably locked his wife in the basement or given her some knockout drops. She wasn’t the sort of thing to be trusted roaming loose at night.

I started to sweat. I lit another cigarette but that was no good. The smoke tasted lousy. When I ground the cigarette out on the floor I saw another cockroach, or maybe the same one. I trapped the little bastard under a drinking glass and watched him try to get out. There, I thought, you can stay there till you starve.

I stayed awake the whole night staring at the wallpaper. I stayed awake till my watch said six o’clock. It was still dark outside. I went to splash water on my face for the hundredth time but by then it wasn’t doing much good.

At nine o’clock in the morning it was still dark. I felt for the gun tucked in my belt. What it could do for me now, I didn’t know. After a while I stopped looking out the window to see what was going on. I just lay there on the bed, sweating. Finally, I went to sleep.

When I woke up nothing had changed. I looked at the cockroach under the glass. It was alive. I ordered up some food and tried not to look at the blond who brought it in. I tried to appear impatient. Actually, I was scared. I was already too afraid to leave the hotel, even to go across the street to see a movie. I was afraid that the girl in the ticket booth might be the same one who handled the room service here, afraid that everyone in the theater would look like the old man, or his wife.

It stayed dark outside. I stayed inside. Several days went by. All I did was eat or take showers and wait for the cockroach to die. Several times I thought of killing it myself.

Later, I awoke from a violent dream to find myself on a sofa in the lobby of the hotel. How I got there I could not remember and will probably never know. I asked the man at the desk if there’d been any messages for me. He started coughing uncontrollably but managed to shake his head no, no messages. I started up the creaking stairs again. I could feel myself slowing down, each step getting harder to take. By the time I was halfway up I had decided to order up a case of scotch and try to drink myself to death. It wasn’t until I reached the third floor that the creaking stopped and I started to laugh, laughing all the way to my room, laughing even after I’d shut the door and looked at the cockroach again.

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I, Darius, Dropped A Nut Here

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

Much has been made of Columbus’ first voyage across the Atlantic. Yet Christopher Columbus was not the first greaseball from the Old World to drop socks in the New. Also, there’s the little known matter of cannibalism aboard his ships, which has never been adequately addressed. The code of silence was breached only once by Vasco de Sectomy, ship’s cook, nicknamed the Crisco Kid, who wrote that the several crewmen he prepared were beyond help and tasted like old laying hens. His request for a junior officer was rebuked. However, his recipe for “long pig” remains closely guarded under lock and key in the Library of Seville. No one except Pope Kasmir the Omnivorous has seen it, though a very determined Betty Crocker was turned away in tears several years ago.

But truly, at this point I’d rather cut my own heart out with a broken bottle than breathe one more word about Columbus.

Long before the so-called Age of Discovery, before the Inquisitors racked up their first heretic, before that German cockroach Gutenberg cradled his first umlaut, before Joan of Arc’s heavenly body went up in a blaze of glory, before Henry VIII beheaded his way into our hearts, all manner of pimple-faced poets and star-crossed golliwogs were prancing in the foam on our shores, naked and alone, glistening in the moonlight like great silver carp. Some came in peace. Others came in pieces. Many came to either eat or be eaten. They all had one thing in common. They died. Who were these people? What did they smell like? Was flatulence a problem for them? Did they drink beer?

Going back at least as far as 800 or 1,000 B.C., men with swords of bronze and balls of iron have been drawn inexplicably, oft times inexcusably, to drop their shorts here.

Along the Northeast coast can be found a number of huge magnificent and beguiling stone phalluses (called phalli) left behind by a sexy breed of swingers who flowered but for a season in this rugged land: The Jasonites. To know them is to love them is to know them. Surely the long ocean voyage at close quarters was the inspiration for their refreshingly frank sculptural monuments. Ancient mariners often manned their vessels in the nude for practical as well as aesthetic reasons. As such, strict discipline aboard ship was of paramount importance. Every man from First Mate down to the Fudge Packer’s Apprentice knew the sting of the Captain’s paddle.

No sooner had the Jasonites invented chaps than they discarded them as a landlubber’s luxury. Filled with resolve and assorted nutmeats they sailed their delicate boats of balsa wood in search of the Golden Fleece. Abalone inlay graced the handrails. Erotic subjects done in filigree played tag around the ship’s compass. Sails of crushed velvet whispered aloft, secured with silken cords. The Jasonites thrived on a diet of Rocky Mountain oysters and honey until, at last, naked and alone, they took their first feeble steps in the New World. Shyly they shivered in the frosty silence of the dawn, like fawns awakened in the Garden of Eden. Then, with growing eagerness, they reached out to gather the flowers of Spring.

But, alas, naked and alone, they perished in a senseless bloodbath as hordes of brutish savages slaughtered them and ate their livers (which tasted like the finest venison).

Certain sites in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, after years of strenuous excavation, have grudgingly yielded several ancient samples of caramelized stool, carbon dated to 90 B.C. (plus or minus 2,000 years). These curious remains are the last will and testament of the Yodelians, a large, asymmetrical Aryan race who fled hygienic persecution in their native Switzerland. Distantly related to Sasquatch, they were also ancient cousins of the Samuelites, forefathers of our very own Uncle Sam. All relations aside, they were otherwise notable for the pleated bony plates, fringed with undulating frills of cartilage, that bisected their brain cavities. It was not uncommon for the backs of their abbreviated skulls to contain a handy storage compartment where a fragrant sachet or amber trinket could be kept and treasured in privacy.

Somehow these yodeling yahoos found their way to the New World, where they eventually yodeled their way right into the stew pot, summarily butchered and simmered by a band of Algonquins after a bitterly contested Ping-Pong match during which numerous spouses and children had been wagered. The Yodelian chowder went over very well after the game. Weep not for them. Before the invention of toilet paper any colonization attempt was doomed to failure anyway. Truly sore and sorry was any bottom that learned this lesson the hard way.

The Celts were a swarthy, hotheaded, hopped-up rabble of midgets with such prominent brow ridges that their eyes could not be seen without a flashlight. Many appeared quite effeminate and were only two or three feet high in their spikes. But they were utterly fearless mariners who could travel 3,000 miles in an open boat with nothing more to sustain them than a barrel full of sweet baby gherkins. They steered by the stars. They were fond of saying that Ursula Major will get you 10 and Ursula Minor will get you 20 (a fact which, ironically, modern astronomers corroborate).

Staggering heaps of pottery shards at Celtic settlement sites attest to the sorry state of marital affairs in everyday life. Obviously Mr. and Mrs. Celt spent all their spare time throwing things at each other.

If we were to judge solely by the portraits of their women found on pottery fragments we might incorrectly deduce that the modern horse had already been introduced to the Americas by this time.

Skeptics maintain that the Celts lacked the means to construct the massive stone temples found scattered along the last remaining segments of Route 66. How could such ugly, tiny people move rocks that weighed countless tons? The fact is that once the honeymoon was over the Celts settled down to a lifetime consumed by endless drudgery, every waking moment (aside from spousal target practice) totally devoted to the moving of huge stones to sacred sites. What determined the sacredness of a particular site was the number of Celts killed in the process of moving the stones there.

If we eavesdrop with our imaginations we can hear the beating of pagan drums, the creaking of rotten vines and crude hemp ropes stretched beyond all reasonable safety parameters, and lo! the sudden snap of breaking bones, punctuated by screams and heartfelt bickering.

There was no such thing as old age in this culture. By the age of 20 a man was so bent out of shape that he looked like a human swastika. When he fell downhill he’d cartwheel all the way. By the end of his truncated life the average Celt was a toothless patchwork of multiple ruptures and festering fractures swathed in bloody homespun bandages, his brave frame marginally supported by a tattered tangle of leather harness straps and trusses cinched so tight that body parts withered and fell off in coarse blackened chunks. Often these piecemeal wayward body parts were all that nourished them as they crawled their way the last few miles to their own graves. This practice of self-consumption is a unique anomaly in the wide world of cannibalism. Why they left is certainly no mystery. That they held out so long is what astounds us. Theirs is a lasting legacy of unspeakable pain and suffering.

The Peckerwood Filter Kings were an irascible, irreverent, irritable, totally irrelevant, slightly iridescent race of aristocrats descended from glowworms. It is believed they were first disseminated here in migratory bird droppings. Mercifully they all died. That they were inedible should come as no surprise.

Lastly we highlight a culture known only as the Bong People. The words despicable and malodorous come to mind, but they really weren’t people so much as zombie-like drones, clad only in chain mail loincloths, who had a talent for showing up unannounced and uninvited. They subsisted on a diet of leprechauns and peyote buttons. Their ocean-going rafts were made of old rolled up Persian rugs stuffed with dried camel dung and deviled eggs. Nevertheless they managed to reach these shores with an immense cargo of a highly concentrated form of Turkish taffy known as Snag, which was distributed freely to all native peoples. By this insidious means, in just a few years entire tribes had perished, decimated by the ravages of rampant tooth decay. A few tribal remnants rallied their forces and in an epic battle on what is present-day Coney Island the Bong People were slowly gummed to death and sent to hookah heaven.

Everyone was delighted to find that when properly dressed and seasoned, the Bong People had the appearance of richly marbled beef. But the smoke produced by the fires that cooked them was very black and greasy, and their roasted flesh was a gamy disappointment reminiscent of rancid salt pork (scholars believe it could possibly have been improved slightly by marinade). The Native Americans who ate them had dysentery for weeks afterward.

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Country Doctor

By:
ernstluchs@gmail.com

I’ve been retired for a number of years. Lean a little closer. I say I’ve been retired for a number of years. Did you hear that? Good. Yes, I was a doctor. “Doc” they used to call me. I’d be sitting near the fireplace with my head in brandy snifter when someone would sound the alarm: “Doc, come quick. Luke, he bahn hurt bedt.”

“Get outta here,” I’d say. “Go on, get outta here!”

Then I’d try to throw the brandy snifter at ‘em but my head would stuck fast inside of it. If there was time I’d drink a little Irish coffee to sober up. Then I’d wash my feet and embark on the next train for New York so I could pick up my doctor’s bag at the pawn shop. But if it was a real emergency, like when Luke got lost in Gecko Cavern, I’d grab whatever I could find in the kitchen and go.

It was generally a good thing when I didn’t find my doctor’s bag. I never could figure out what most of that stuff was inside there. A lot of those little glass vials with powder in them were labeled with a skull and crossbones and that always made me feel superstitious.

Anyway, by the time I got to that cave most of the town folk were there singing church hymns. They all looked pretty scared. Spotted corn fever had taken its toll the previous winter, so the fear was still hanging in their watery gray eyes. We all knew that come Spring (God willing that Spring did come), the Dry Burlap Rash would be the weight of worry on our minds.

By and by a black preacher man by the name of Nubi Nixon leads me to the mouth of the cave. “Have a care, Doc,” he says. “That place is chock full of geckos!”

He puts boney hand alongside his face and rolls his eyes around. I take a big look into the dark of that cave. Then I rear myself up like a jungle beast till my rib cage just about busts and I yell, “Sa-tan, begone! Sa-tan, begone!”

We hear an echo and a couple of geckos come skittering from the cave. The crowd murmurs. It starts to drizzle. Women folk are holding paper fans and bits of rhubarb over their heads. Lightning skitters in the far distance. I take another strong look into the cave. “Luke,” I yell, “get outta there! Go on, get outta there!”

Now I’m still wearing that brandy snifter, you see, but no one says a word. Not a thing. It starts pouring rain. The crowd goes deathly still. A couple more geckos scurry out and a dog gets one. I turn toward the crowd and shake my head slowly, “No.” I wipe my brow. But then, out of the dark comes this shape, slowly comes this shape, pale like Luke and slow, an awful lot like Luke. And here he comes blinking and crying but he’s all right and only missing one pants leg. Everybody’s cheering. They rename the town after me and all that. I don’t mind much.

Sometimes I’d be staying for as long as a week when somebody’s down with fever. Folks really can’t afford that kind of living. So they’d pay me whatever they had: sometimes a barrel of salt pork or a sack of dried grasshoppers, or one time even a gourd shaped like a lady’s behind. A freak of nature it was; worth a lot to the right buyer.

“Alas, we have nothing,” they’d say sometimes.

“No matter,” says I, “the kindness and generosity of your lovely daughters has more than recompensed me.”

Then the folks would yell, “Get outta here! Go on! Whoever heard of a doctor with a brandy snifter on his head? Charlatan! Pedophile!”

All I know is my daddy wore a snifter on his head and his daddy before him. Can’t all of us be wrong.

Way back then, the main medical problem was keeping people from using that good old folk medicine on themselves. I’d come to treat a man for gout and he’d be lying on his stomach with a pumpkin tied to his back and inside the pumpkin was a big snake. It got so that when a fellow had gout folks would say, “He’s got a pumpkin on his back.”

“Basil,” I’d say, “that snake’s no good for you.”

The fellow would look kinda hurt and say, “That snake was meant for you, Doc. I know it isn’t much to go on, money-wise, but it’s a lot more snake than you’ll find anywhere else.”

“Well, Basil, thanks, but I don’t like to see you with a pumpkin on your back.”

“Doc, I chewed a possum tail nine times and it just won’t do.”

“Did you spit on the grave of a Chinaman?”

“Of course.”

“Did you whistle up the leg of a pregnant mule?”

“I sure did.”

“Basil, better call a preacher. You’re not long for this earth, so I fear.”

Just then the snake rises up, looks right at me and s-s-s-says-z-z-z, “Go on, get outta here-s-s-s!”

I didn’t argue.

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