Archive for the ‘Satires’ Category
© 1968, 2016 By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READERS: Almost in self-defense, I feel I must provide the exculpatory background for the poem published here today. In 1968, when I composed the first version, I was a fairly young man and still wrestling with some anger toward my parents for not providing me with a “happy home” like some of my friends seemed blessed with. The poem (as I deem it) was a seepage of that anger.
As I grew older, however, much of that anger dissipated and I began to view my parents in a more charitable light; I began to recall their difficulties and benefices as often as their faults. A growing awareness of my own weaknesses certainly contributed to the forgiveness.
I showed the poem to my professor in Old English, hoping for at least a bland approval. Then he surprised me by asking me to read it to our Anglo-Saxon seminar class. That was undoubtedly a mistake, since I was the only male in a class of ten students. I don’t think any of the ladies appreciated it; at any rate, none of them applauded after I had finished reading.
∗ Although the “models” for the two characters in this cameo production were my parents, the full scene is not meant to be complete portraits of them: The production is intended to be a broader satire, as is hinted in the title. The widow here is viewed as typical of some women, but not all women. The same is true of the “first man”.
∗ I kept the poem in my files for decades, not sure what to do with it. On the one hand, even I grew to find its “cynicism” a bit overdone and its tone too critical of my parents (for I continued to view them primarily as models here). On the other hand, I retained some feeling of pride in the imagery and rhetorical value of several of the lines and, as always, relished my talent for irony. Oh, how I love irony!
∗ Anyway, I took it out of the files today and worked it over some, particularly in an effort to improve some of the rhythmical parts. I doubt that I was very successful, but I do think it is at least slightly better than the original version. Scansion was never a strength in me.
So, please, dear readers, try to concentrate on the rhetoric and the irony and don’t become deflected by the cynicism.
∗The red asterisks above indicate paragraph indentions. For some reason I have not been able to fathom, the editing page will accept some of my indentions but not others. And I have given up trying to correct the malfunctions.
Framed where the stair turns, her first man smiles —
sketched in the flesh, painted in absentia,
sepia-and-umber-toned like a Dürer print.
Gray tendrils from ledges of brow
curl down coppery loam toward gold-flecked iris.
Filled with actions and fortunes outside
this mundane scene, one more rainbow’s pot
grandly refracts in his Balboan eyes.
His pollen-drugged thoughts disperse,
cast adrift upon disclaimed, illicit streams.
“Don’t we come out of the soil to leave it —
to seek the sun, bowing upward through
its radiance, hungry for heaven’s nutrient,
disdaining the toilsome tunneling of a root?
The meshes of a root! Entangling itself
confusedly in the dankness of the earth,
while beyond a shuttered window the sun…laughs…”
But since the window opened to night, not day,
he paused fatally the lunar interim,
an orchid wilting on the widow’s bosom.
Now she, broad-faced lily plucked from the pond —
nourished with cold cream here — eyes him warily
as she descends the clef-curve of the stair.
Fearful of the sun’s leer — with its jaundice
that burns into amber — glistening, yes,
like a fly’s neck — she shuts the shutters. Clack!
Woman’s woes concretized streak her hair,
counted each day with petulant lips
redundantly before a two-faced mirror:
“I must rinse it tomorrow,” she sighs.
On the couch…just so…composed with a pill,
she still rummages for the witch’s brew
or whatever the ad of the living:
auguries, faith-healers, folk medicine ─
anything but gamble and scramble for fool’s gold,
as he did! Motion is always a circle, it seems.
And this now man who lumps in his bed and wheezes!
Why didn’t someone warn her? Foolish girl,
to marry again in the giddiness of death’s divorce.
She knows at last: This one, too, won’t blot the sun.
At the edge of lamplight she pinches from her lips
an idea, “After he’s dead, I’ll get a dog.”
© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.
NOTE TO READERS: The gun-pushers in my town are preparing for their annual “Gun and Knife Show” this weekend. The event is similar to a flea market affair where attendees can haggle, swap and sell guns from pistols to rifles and shotguns, as well as various styles of hunting knives and daggers with artistically modelled handles.
This, after all, is “the last frontier” where most of the coffee shop conversations are about cattle, horses, boots, thousand-dollar hats, and guns. This morning, in the coffee shop I most often frequent, the fellows at one table were so excited about the upcoming show that I expected one of them to start handing out cigars, such as new fathers do when their wives deliver.
To help them celebrate, I thought I would write a short-story, which you can read below:
ʘ ʘ ʘ ʘ ʘ ʘ
Mrs. Fopwrangler waited in the foyer of her ranch house for her son to enter from the kitchen, where he was just finishing his cereal.
“Come on now, Jimmy,” she called. “It’s almost time for the school bus, and I want to check out your new school clothes, and I have a surprise for you.”
Jimmy ran to his mother, whom he saw holding a new western belt with a holster latched onto it, and in the holster was a small caliber pistol. It was the gun his father had been teaching him to quick-draw and shoot. He had shot his little sister Elsie in the hand with it a couple of months ago; he hadn’t expected to miss the apple she was holding as his real target. But his parents were more than understanding.
“Don’t give it a second thought, Jimmy,” his father had said. “Doc Leech can fix her up as good as new in no time. Of course, if and when she gets married, she might have to wear her wedding ring on another finger, depending on how effectively Doc Leech reattached the one you hit.”
Today was Jimmy’s first day at school. All the kids were going to be toting their new pistols to school, which the Supreme Court had ruled they have a constitutional right to do. God help the rascal that tries to disarm them.
“But, now, don’t shoot any teachers or the principal, Jimmy,” Mrs. Fopwrangler admonished. “We’ll have to start paying them hazardous duty pay if you kids do that. And they’re already complaining they are underpaid.
“Only shoot armed intruders into the school…or bullies, Jimmy…after you’ve dared them to draw, of course. Gotta be fair, you know. Honestly, not many people are even aware what fair play is anymore! Now here’s your lunch. Get along, cowboy!”
Jimmy stood at the corner for about fifteen minutes. He started to get antsy. Why did he have to go to school, anyway? He figured that everything he needed to know, his pop and mom could teach him…in fact, already had taught him: how to shoot
Finally the bus arrived. The bus driver was some black guy whom Jimmy had never seen before. He was black and he had kept Jimmy waiting fifteen minutes. Jimmy was getting even more irritated; he pressed the palm of his right hand upon the butt of his pistol and gave the driver as steely a blue-eyed glare as any of his cowboy movie heroes had ever mustered.
But the bus driver only smiled and said, “Good morning, Jimmy. Hop in.”
That poured cold water on Jimmy’s heated temper. How did the fellow know Jimmy’s name? What else did he know about him?
After the kids were unloaded at the school, they were arranged in two columns, and little colored ribbons—half of them blue and half red—were pinned to their shirts and blouses. Jimmy got a red ribbon, which pleased him, since in all his six long years he had never liked the color blue. But then the teachers told them that the kids with blue ribbons would be in the “blue bird class” and be called “blue birds”, while those with red ribbons would be called “red birds”. This was to section them off into continuing groups during their first year, one teacher explained, until the teachers could learn their names, and the kids could learn each other’s names.
Jimmy was pleased to see that all the other kids—even the girls—were wearing their holsters, stuffed with pistols; and he was fascinated by the variety of holster designs and presumably calibers of pistols. This looks like it’s going to be a fun day here at school, Jimmy mused. Maybe we’ll have quick-draw competitions. Maybe even some target-shooting.
Well, it did not turn out that way at all. The kids had to sit in stiff-backed chairs with small desks in front of them. They had to memorize numbers and the alphabet. They had to sing songs about America the beautiful and some crazy girl named Clementine who led a bunch of ducks down to a river, tripped on a splinter, fell into the river and drowned. And her boyfriend couldn’t swim, so he didn’t try to save her. This place is loony! thought Jimmy, and he began to get hot under the collar again.
But there was this pretty little red-haired girl sitting across from Jimmy in the next row. He had never seen anything so pretty. Not even his horse. The sight of her sort of made the scene a little less nutsy.
When the bell rang for lunch period, a “blue bird” boy grabbed Jimmy’s lunch sack out of his hand, saying, “I’m bigger than you are, little red bird, and I’m hungrier, too, so I need this lunch more than you do. My dad’s a CEO and we’re one-percenters, so everything we want belongs to us. Got that?”
Jimmy’s eyebrows lowered. His jaw tightened. He was really, really angry. He backed up five paces and held out his right arm.
“Draw!” Jimmy demanded.
The blue bird backed up, too. Even his pistol was bigger. And it had a pearl-inlaid grip.
Both boys fired at the same time. And both missed their intended targets.
The blue bird’s bullet zipped past Jimmy’s ear and hit the vice-principal—who was on his way to prevent the duel—between the eyes.
Jimmy’s bullet also went past his adversary’s ear, ricocheted off a steel fire extinguisher, and hit the red-haired girl in the left side of her chest.
Both boys were taken to the principal’s office, written up with ten detentions each, lectured to about gun-fight protocol, and sent back to their classes.
Meanwhile, all the other students spent the day marveling at what great trick shots those two boys had performed: one right between the vice-principal’s eyes and the other straight into the little red-haired girl’s heart.
Jimmy pondered the situation all day and into the evening. I never got my lunch sack back, he moaned. And I sure am gonna miss that pretty little red-haired girl.
In the darkness of his bedroom, Jimmy quietly sang to himself:
“O my darling, O my darling, O my darling, Clementine!
You are lost and gone forever!
Dreadful sorry, Clementine!”
©2011 By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READERS: The following column was originally published in 1982 in The Monahans News, during my term as editor there. In 2011, I included it among the 200 articles and columns published in my CD book collectively titled A West Texas Journalist.
Since it was written more than three decades ago and is solely concerned with Texas political figures, it is obviously very localized and dated now — actually, it is more of an historical document. However, it yet bears some timeliness, as the electorate is still vulnerable to confusion when looking at politicians’ names. (I was very frustrated during this current primary campaign because I could find so little information on some of the statewide candidates.) Also, I believe it retains some interest through its humor: hardly any Texas election campaign ever goes by that was not funny in various ways. We’ve got more political clowns than any other state in the Union…although South Carolina and Arizona are hot on our heels.
Anyway, sit back, relax, and try to enjoy it.
We received a political news release from State Comptroller Bob Bullock this week in which he thanks the press for their coverage of both primaries, Democrat as well as Republican.
“I feel I can appreciate it more than most,” said Bullock, noting that he had had as his opponent in the Democratic primary a man named Robert C. Calvert. “The name ‘Robert Calvert’ is an honored and respected name among the people of Texas and has been for more than 40 years.
“Mr. Robert S. Calvert, now deceased, was state comptroller for some 26 years.
“The Honorable Robert W. Calvert is a former member of the Texas Legislature, former speaker of the House, former member of the Constitutional Revision Commission, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, and now a practicing attorney in Austin.
“Mr. Robert C. Calvert was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for state comptroller, as I was.”
The daily papers in Texas did, in fact, explain the differences in persons in an attempt to eliminate as much confusion as possible. That particular situation in itself did not strike me as so remarkable as the number of similar instances in Texas’ recent past.
You perhaps remember the case back in 1976 when Don Yarbrough of Houston was elected to the Texas Supreme Court. That happened because many voters mistook him—or rather his name—for either Ralph Yarborough, former U.S. senator from Texas, or for Don Yarborough, an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.
The state legislature held a rare hearing in early 1977 to consider Yarbrough’s removal because of charges of forgery and perjury against him. In the midst of the hearing, Yarbrough suddenly resigned, and Gov. Dolph Briscoe appointed Charles W. Barrow to replace him.
During this latest Democratic primary, Barrow himself was considered by some observers a sort of name-magnet for John M. Baron, who nevertheless failed in his attempt for a seat on the State Supreme Court.
Then we have the politicians with names nobody would wish off on even a politician—especially a politician. But we shouldn’t hold them to account for what their parents do to them.
Take for instance Warren G. Harding, present state treasurer, who is bowing out of the runoff against Ann Richards, for Travis County commissioner. Apparently, Harding was named after the 29th president of the United States, during whose term in office the Teapot Dome scandal occurred. This latter day Harding, however, at age 61, was obviously born before the Teapot Dome affair (which began in 1922) and therefore was named after a man who was still considered ethical and moral in the minds of most Americans. Ironically, the state treasurer is letting the runoff pass him by because he is under the cloud of two indictments handed down April 23rd accusing him of having two state employees work on his campaign.
Another judge, Woodrow Wilson Bean, had two names he could play with—Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the U.S.; and Judge Roy Bean, the so-called “Law West of the Pecos”. He chose to play with the latter. The modern day Bean, as a matter of fact, was the judge who unsuccessfully tried to defeat Texas Supreme Court Justice Charles Barrow in the Democratic primary.
Now, I can understand why Bean wouldn’t want to play up the Woodrow Wilson part of his name, because, rather than crooked, President Wilson has gone down in the history books as rather too virtuous and idealistic and uncompromising. So much so that he eviscerated the Versailles Treaty.
But the present day judge’s use of Judge Roy Bean was getting a little too folksy, if you ask me. (Which I realize you didn’t.)
All of these instances make me wonder if some parents don’t purposely name their children after historical personages with the idea in mind that such names will be of some assistance in the glorious political campaigns of the future. As I’ve tried to illustrate above, however, that design can backfire.
I think it would be wiser — if one insists on endowing babies with historical names — to choose those of daring desperadoes. That’s what the sage parents of former State Treasurer Jesse James did. With a name like that, you can’t go anywhere but up in the world.
— The Monahans News, May 9, 1982
©1995 By Bob Litton; ©2012 By Bob Litton
Sympathy is a heavy, heavy mask to wear. This weighty metaphor was the burden of Archie Deveraux’s silent musing the first time he walked Kathy Boorstin home from a movie twenty-one years ago. Yes, he thought, sympathy is a heavy mask, especially when the one you’re supposed to be sympathizing with is also the one you want to seduce.
It was a midsummer’s night in Tyler, and the hum of the cicadas in the towering pecan trees provided a chorus for Kathy’s plaint. “What am I gonna do, Archie? Daddy can’t work anymore since he got that bad heart, and they just don’t pay Mom and me enough at the library to take care of the whole family.” (She had two younger sisters, both still in public school.)
Archie, a Chicago plumber’s only son, had a difficult time of it trying to be patient with Kathy’s way of using her East Texas drawl to accent her family’s problems. Ever since he moved to Tyler two months earlier, in May, he had been attracted to Kathy’s short but well-proportioned body; he deemed it one of the best in town and figured he had seen them all in two months. But her tendency to prolong vowel sounds, especially on certain ominous words, exasperated him. He wanted sometimes to grab a pair of pliars and twist her jaw in such a way that it couldn’t stay open more than a fraction of a second without hurting, as anyone’s jaw hurts when he laughs too long and hard. That solution being at present but a fantasy, however, his only options were to drop her or to sublimate the irritation, just as he and Kathy were now tuning out the cicadas’ monotonous dronings.
As Kathy continued her own droning, Archie’s comments were simple variations on a theme of “huh-uh”, “hmmm”, and “uh-huh”. His mind was more consciously occupied with the logistics of his right hand as it inched up Kathy’s waist in search of her breast’s undercurve. The sidewalk they were traversing was cracked and uneven, occasionally disappearing altogether and becoming a path; so it took some concentration, indeed, on Archie’s part to work his hand slowly up Kathy’s rib cage. Suddenly Kathy realized what he was doing and interjected an elbow between his wrist and her bosom. Then Archie’s hand darted around her arm and attacked from above.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that!” Kathy whispered irritatedly. She had heard a porch swing creak and glanced through a rose-covered trellis to see a fat man in his undershirt sitting alone on a veranda, waiting for a breeze. “I was trying to talk to you about something serious, and all you can do…can do…” (It was difficult to complain without being too graphic.) “…is…is…paw my mammary glands!”
She gasped. Was that vulgar? she wondered, peering under her false eyelashes at Archie’s pimpled face. She didn’t want him to think her bad.
“Aw right. Go ’head,” said Archie, retreating back to her rib cage. A satisfied smile rippled along his thin lips. He wanted Kathy to believe she had won the skirmish; he felt certain he had taken his first step toward conquest. He had caused her to recognize his goal, his initial goal anyway, having forced “mammary glands” upon her consciousness.
Kathy sensed his retreat and accepted it as a signal to continue her own campaign. “What do you want to do, Archie? I mean do eventually…? You don’t expect to service juke boxes the rest of your life, do you?”
“What’s wrong with it?” Archie muttered. She had caught him off guard. Only twenty-five years of age, he had not given much consideration to “eventually”—it being so far away—and now he almost panicked at the thought that perhaps he should have higher expectations.
Kathy folded her freckled arms under her bosom, allowing the street lamp’s light to reflect becomingly over her curves, and gave Archie a motherly look. “Oh, but Archie, you need some direction in life. Isn’t there something you’d rather do than anything else, something nobody else but you could do…to fulfill your being?”
“Yeah!” piped Archie, suddenly inspired. “Own the juke boxes!”
Kathy chose to ignore his answer. “Daddy was chief dispatcher of buses…for the whole city…before he got sick. Poor Daddy! He was so good to my mom, a real man. You know what? They got married when they were only seventeen! They had been in love since childhood, and Mom was his guide and stay while he struggled to make something of himself…for her. That’s true love! But now he’s sick, and Mom and I have to type catalog cards at the library to supplement his pension. I just wish there was someone to help.”
Archie’s jaw dropped; the boldness of Kathy’s hint had dumbfounded him. By this time they were at Kathy’s front door. The amber light above the screen was on, and scores of junebugs were dashing into the screen in mad, suicidal swoops. It obviously wouldn’t do to stand there long, but again Kathy was quicker than Archie.
“Oh Archie, I had such a grand time. Call me again soon. Good night.” She kissed him on the lips briefly.
“Can’t I come in?” Archie asked, his voice pitch rising to almost a whine.
“Oh no, not tonight!” She puckered and kissed him again, a consolation.
“Well, the light’s on in the living room. Mom’s bound to be awake…she always is…and, well, she’d better not see you just yet.”
Again Archie was dumbfounded. “What does that mean?”
“Don’t get upset, Archie. Mom hardly ever likes any of the boys I date. She thinks they’re all common. Her standards are awfully high, I fear, but I’ll tell her only the good things about you. Don’t worry. Good Night.”
Her face was now framed by the oaken door and its jamb. Another peck and she shut the door quickly, before the big tan-and-black Siamese cat could slip out or Archie slip in.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” said Archie under his breath as he stomped away weavingly, his fists clenched deep in his pants pockets. “I’ll show’em! I’m gonna screw her but good!”
Kathy did succeed a month later in persuading her mother to allow Archie to enter the house. The tall, thin, haughty lady made a condition, though: he should come to dinner on Sunday. She wanted to see “how he runs in proper traces”, that is, at a formal table with four females, and a frail man, prematurely aged due to a faulty heart.
A couple of weeks later, Kathy wondered why she continued trying to convince her mother that Archie was a “nice boy”, since she no longer thought so herself. It also began to appear peculiar to her that her mother should believe her virtue safer outside the house than within it; maybe she had some weird idea that, since all beds are inside houses, no hankypanky could occur elsewhere. There just was no accounting for what her mother might imagine. At any rate, for various reasons—not all of them clear even to Kathy herself—she continued to date Archie. He had been increasingly persistent in his advances; and Kathy had surrendered some privileges she never had imagined she would. He now freely fondled the soft globes inside her blouse and was on the march toward the hemline of her skirt. But she excused his aggressive intimacies as being “the way all men are”. He rather fascinated her, too, in much the same way a cobra might hypnotize a small rodent just before gobbling it up. She could not entirely deny, either, that petting was some times pleasant to her, so pleasant that it was becoming more and more an urgent matter for her to get him to the altar so that she might “save” him…and herself.
Sunday dinner was a very important event in the Boorstin home. A family long accustomed to the easy life-style of the Southern middle-class, the Boorstins had suffered a sudden drop in income with the onset of Mr. Boorstin’s heart attack two years earlier. They had had to adapt to an existence without luxuries and with only the cheaper sorts of entertainment, such as badminton games in the backyard and dollar matinees at a nearby movie house. When the car’s brakes started slipping, Kathy and her mother took to riding the bus rather than paying for auto repairs. For the first time in his marriage, Mr. Boorstin felt something of an ironical relief that he had engendered only daughters, since the custom was that boys spend all the money on dates. Although there was still sufficient to provide the necessities—particularly a healthful diet—since Mrs. Boorstin and Kathy had started working, the portions now had to be measured, while before, something had always remained in the serving dishes after everyone had reached satiety. Mrs. Boorstin, in a kind of bitter rebellion against Fate, had refused to allow the newly enforced frugality to dictate her Sunday dinner. The fare might be simple, but she generally prepared more than enough of it; what must be called “plenty” on Sunday could be called “leftovers” come Monday, but not until then. Therefore, when Archie arrived at the Boorstin home dressed in the best—the only—suit he had, he found the mahogany table covered with a crocheted white table cloth (a family heirloom) and laden with a typical Southern dinner: roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, fried okra, and blueberry pie.
Archie, for the moment disoriented by the blur of his unfamiliar environment, docilely let Kathy’s chubby 15-year-old sister, Amanda, pull him by the sleeve to a high-backed colonial chair at one end of the table. Mrs. Boorstin, seated opposite him at the other end, tried to appear dignified and gracious, but to Archie she looked merely menacing. Kathy sat to her mother’s right; and Mr. Boorstin, looking ghostly and worried, accepted his place at the old lady’s left, seating himself slowly as though he were used to encountering tacks on the chair. Winging Archie in the two remaining chairs were the younger Boorstin daughters—Amanda and the petite, darkly shy Rosalind, age twelve.
“Your silverware is inside the napkin, Mr. Devereaux,” said Amanda, shaking out her own napkin over her lap and smiling reassuringly at Archie, who she decided had lingered long enough in his state of wondering stupefaction.
“Is there any gravy?” Mr. Boorstin asked his wife in a hushed voice, bending slightly toward her.
“Oh, I forgot!” yelped Rosalind, placing her palms to her ears as though trying to knock out the noise of a pneumatic drill hammer. Hopping up and running into the kitchen, she hurriedly stirred flour into the grease before it cooled down into a gel, then relit the fire and kept on stirring.
Mrs. Boorstin suffered a brief moment of embarrassment for her household, but quickly regained her composure and gazed challengingly at Archie. “Kathy tells me that you manufacture juke boxes, Mr. Devereaux,” she said, an eerie, doubtful calm in her voice.
“That’s not exactly it,” said Archie. “I service juke boxes.”
“Oh, I see!” Mrs. Boorstin said in a rising tone which seemed to indicate she expected more comment, more complication. Archie wondered what she could “see” in his reply.
“Well, please tell me…uh, tell us…how one services a juke box. It must be extraordinarily complicated. Do they break down frequently?”
“Not very often, no. But what I do mostly is replace old records with new ones and collect the take. It’s very simple, really. Just like stuffing envelopes with letters.”
“Ohhh? I had thought it must require a great deal of technical proficiency. I’m so pleased to hear…for your sake…that it is not overly demanding. Do you like music yourself, Mr. Deveraux?”
“Oh, then you must listen to Kathy play the piano after dinner. She plays ‘Clair de Lune’ so well. Don’t you, darling?”
Kathy looked up worriedly at her mother, her mouth full of okra. “DeBussy isn’t country-and-western, Momma!” she finally managed to garble out.
Mrs. Boorstin smiled. “I know, dear, but I’m sure that with a little exposure Mr. Devereaux can’t help but like good music.”
Rosalind returned carrying the gravy dish. After setting it down near her father’s left hand, she bent over quickly and kissed him on the ear. A pleased, almost embarrassed smile broke out on Mr. Boorstin’s face. One reason Rosalind was his favorite daughter was that she was still young enough to make him believe he wasn’t as old as he felt.
The table talk, meanwhile, drifted away from the adversarial dialogue between Archie and Mrs. Boorstin to discussion of the piano recently bought by Mrs. Tanqueray, the Boorstin’s widowed neighbor next door. What could it mean, since she had no musical talent at all that any of the Boorstins were aware of? And had anyone heard anything of the status of Jimmy Porterfield, one of Amanda’s classmates, who had disappeared after one of the sheriff’s deputies came looking for him at his folks’ house one night last week? The rumor was he had been involved in drugs some way, Amanda reported. “Probably selling them,” Mrs. Boorstin said with a “humph” in her voice.
After the meal, Archie had to listen to Kathy play “Clair de Lune”, but he did not mind the music as much as he had anticipated disliking it. He thought he remembered hearing the piece some time back on one of the juke boxes, either at the country club or at the Foxglove Tavern. It was truly “music to soothe the savage breast”, he adjudged, and not too extended. Moreover, the recital gave him an opportunity to observe Kathy from the rear, to watch her back and shoulders working together in a coordinated, rhythmical way, and the doe-like graceful curve of her neck.
Perhaps Archie’s positive response to her daughter’s playing was what motivated Mrs. Boorstin to invite him to call again; that invitation, of course, amounted to a tacit approval of his courting Kathy. Later, over dishes in the sink, Mrs. Boorstin gazed musingly out the kitchen window at two squirrels scampering over a tree limb and then told Kathy her opinion there was a good chance of improving Archie’s social graces through his association with the family.
Seven weeks later Kathy discovered she was pregnant. Over and over again she had struggled with the insistent Archie and, as far as being a technical virgin is being successful, she had succeeded; but after each struggle Archie had been irritable. She had tried to convince him that sex was more enjoyable after marriage than before. “How would you know?” he had huffily replied. Frequently, when Archie would bring her home from a date she wasn’t sure whether she would ever hear from him again, and she was losing weight from the emotional strain of having to combat him and her own growing passion. He played upon her so, as though she were some intractable violin.
But then, she had done her share of insisting, too, never failing to slow him down in front of a jewelry store to examine the ring sets in the window. Finally, he had surprised her one evening—as they sat on the bank of a local creek feeding the ducks—by conjuring a ring out of his pocket. It was on that night, on that very creek bank, that Archie had attained his ultimate goal—the first time. Kathy couldn’t help it, she decided afterwards: She was engaged, and it had been such a beautiful evening—so Clair de Lunish—and she hadn’t wanted to spoil it all with another of those horrid quarrels. After that, there was no reason to stop…until she was pregnant. And really, he was the one who wanted to stop then. It’s an old story. Archie’s ardor had gradually dwindled over the weeks since his triumph, and when Kathy informed him of her pregnancy, he lost interest entirely.
“Archie, it’s getting late,” she said one day as they were sitting on a park bench eating hamburgers.
Archie glanced toward the noonday sun.
“No, no! I mean my tummy’s going to start showing the baby soon. For heaven sakes, let’s get married now!”
“Now just hold your horses!” said Archie. “I’m not so sure you are pregnant. And, even if you are, how do I know it ain’t some other guy’s kid?” He had practiced this line for a week to drum up enough callousness to deliver it.
Kathy’s heart beat heavily with anxiety and pain. How could he say such a thing? He, he to whom she had given her very heart and soul, to whom she had sacrificed her faith, her honor…her, her everything? “Archie, you can’t mean it! You know you’re the only one I’ve ever gone to bed with! You know it just couldn’t be!” she cried.
“No I don’t. In fact I know five other guys who’ll swear just the opposite.”
And that was a fact. He did know “five other guys” who would swear they had screwed Kathy Boorstin; in fact, there were others he could have counted on, only he hadn’t considered it necessary to recruit more than five false witnesses, real buddies, guys who’d do anything for a pal in a jam.
At home in bed that night Kathy sobbed. Now, having seen the real Archie Devereaux—the snake in the tree, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the cad—Kathy writhed in an agony of guilt, an ecstasy of self-pity. Turning her head sleeplessly on the pillow, she pondered what to do: slay herself like Lucrece? no, that would harm the baby; run away, become a vagabond like Hagar? no, she must stay and help support dear Daddy; confess all to Momma amid tears of repentance? yes, that was it, the only course!
The next day she was still crying, and her tears helped her enlist her mother’s sympathy; but her tears, though true tears they were, were ambiguous as to cause. Had she been seduced or raped? Any disinterested, objective, yet sympathetic listener would certainly have inquired. Mrs. Boorstin, however, was neither disinterested nor objective, and the foundation upon which her sympathy was based was too deep for even Freud to plumb. Of course she chose, initially at least, to perceive it as a clear case of rape.
“Why that vile bastard!” ranted Mrs. Boorstin upon hearing her daughter’s incomplete, incoherent version of the affair.
“Momma! Your language!” cried Kathy, now very sensitive to the word “bastard”.
“I don’t care! That’s what he is! I’ll get him …we’ll get him, my dear. I just wish he had a hundred million balls so I could castrate him forever.”
“Mom-ma!” Kathy had not suspected her mother was capable of such street language; the woman standing before her, pressing white knuckles against the top of the dining room table, was a stranger, someone who possessed only the form of her mother, but actually a Fury erupting full-length out of a page of Aeschylus. Already aghast at her mother’s behavior and exhausted from her sleepless night, Kathy swooned and collapsed on the floor, when her father and sisters appeared in the doorway that connected dining room to hall to see what Mrs. Boorstin was screaming about.
In a calmer mood next day, Mrs. Boorstin came to accept the probability that Archie Devereaux did not have a hundred million testicles to relinquish to her scizzors. Only one proper mode of obtaining redress in a civilized society was open to Mrs. Boorstin; and, since she still, after all, believed in a civilized society, she decided to go to court, as expensive and scandalous as a trial might be. No expense was too great, she felt, to bring this Lothario to his just punishment. And as for scandal, good Lord, would not the whole sorry episode soon be broadcast by Kathy’s waistline anyway? So, the breach of promise suit was filed in Judge Alvin Putnam’s court.
Judge Putnam was built like the trunk of a pecan tree—a hundred-year-old pecan tree—tall, and thick in the torso. His ruddy, multi-chinned face seemed to sprout rather than hold the bulbous cigar that habitually traveled from one end of his mouth to the other. Local attorneys, discussing him in the hallways of the courthouse, had noted long ago that his early morning routine was to read the daily paper at his regular table in the cafe and then to spend the rest of the day, except when in the courtroom, pontificating to anyone who would listen—in the cafe, the barber shop, the five-and-dime, wherever—about how “creeping socialism with its insidious welfare system is bound to be the ruination of this country”. It little mattered that he wasn’t convincing anybody of the legitimacy of his views; everybody he talked to already harbored the same attitudes. Indeed, he was indirectly only talking to himself; he couldn’t bear conversation with anyone who disagreed with him. He was not noted for his patience; rather, he was noted for his impatience. And one afternoon his cigar flounced rapidly back and forth across his mouth as he read the hand-written petition filed by Mrs. Boorstin. Not only did the situation related therein arouse his basic prejudices, but he was again annoyed by a layperson trying the do-it-yourself approach to law.
Mrs. Boorstin had been advised by a neighbor that retaining a lawyer was not essential, that she herself could adequately represent Kathy because the case was so “open-and-shut”. The anxious grand-mother-to-be glanced at her checkbook balance and stifled a sigh of relief. During the three weeks prior to trial, she took up the habit of gargling with mouthwash twice a day, scanned a couple of books on legal procedure, and, whenever she could find time, watched Perry Mason on television. On the day of the trial, she appeared in court in an uncustomary plain, flower-print dress, square-toed shoes, and granny glasses—all intended to make her look prim and scholarly. The show wasn’t entirely show; after reading two law books, she felt something like a legal expert. Judge Putnam, however, was at once amused and irritated by what he perceived to be an imitation of Eleanor Roosevelt. He didn’t like Eleanor Roosevelt.
Judge Putnam read the breach of promise suit aloud in a deep, sonorous voice he himself enjoyed hearing. Then he took off his glasses and asked what response the opposing side would like to make.
Archie’s attorney, Harvey Block, a sometime drinking buddy with beer belly and saucercup ears, replied, “We deny the allegations as set forth in the petition, your honor, and state as grounds for our denial that the plaintiff, unbeknownst to the defendant at the time of their betrothal, was at that time of a previously unchaste character.”
Mrs. Boorstin wrinkled her nose and looked quizzically at Judge Putnam. “What does he mean?”
The judge coughed. “He’s implying that your daughter had carnal knowledge of other men before she became engaged to Mr. Devereaux.”
Mrs. Boorstin’s skin began to tingle unbearably and became striated in red and white rage. “Why you lying seducer!” she screamed at Archie across the room. “You scandal-mongering whore’s son!”
“Silence in the court!” commanded Judge Putnam in his strongest bass. “Mrs. Boorstin, you do not seem to realize you could be sued for defamation of character for saying such things and, at the very least, fined for contempt of court for your unbridled behavior. I shall not warn you again. You must maintain self-control if you will insist on representing your daughter yourself.”
Kathy, seated beside her mother at the plaintiff’s table, fainted and slipped out of her chair to the floor. She had neglected to tell her mother she knew what Archie’s defense would be. Indeed, she had forgotten about it, it being too unthinkable to remember.
The judge directed the bailiff to carry Kathy to an adjoining room. “I can’t see how it’s necessary for her to be here,” he said, smiling commiseratingly at Mrs. Boorstin. Then he looked toward lawyer Block, his eyes narrowing. “Have you any witness…or witnesses…to what you charge, Mr. Block?”
“Yes, your honor, we have. I would like to introduce to the court Messers Outley, Runk, Everts, Marshall and Edwards.” At a signal from Block, the rear door to the courtroom was opened and in marched the five worthies, smiling like athletic champions at an awards banquet.
“Humph!” grunted the judge, pushing his heavy black spectacles back on his sizeable nose. “One would have been sufficient, Mr. Block.” Then, seeing the bailiff re-enter the courtroom, he said to him, “Guess you better bring her back in here. Bring some smelling salts, too, if you can find any. Women!
“Mr. Block, can you summarize what these, uh, gentlemen have to say? Do you have their affidavits? Or is it necessary that they all testify individually?” He made it obvious by his intonation and demeanor that he already suspected a conspiracy in the works, but for some indeterminate reason both parties to this litigation seemed immune to the obvious.
“I can summarize, your honor,” said Harvey. “These gentlemen have sworn to affidavits…here, your honor, let me present them to you…affidavits that they each and severally had sexual relations with Kathy Boorst…”
“Raaa..pe!” cried out Mrs. Boorstin, unable to control herself any longer. Really, she was unable to do anything any longer; a sudden fever arose within her, her eyeballs rolled upward like lemons in a slot machine, and her hands felt clammy and heavy as whole hams. The judge ordered that she be carried out of the courtroom by a clerk just as Kathy was re-entering, supported by the bailiff. Archie Devereaux and his friends all looked pleased, assuming that, since the plaintiffs were down for the count, Judge Putnam would dismiss the case.
“Keep your seat, Mr. Block,” said the judge. “I suspect I know what your motion will be, but I have other plans. This court has obligations to the state which override the deserts of individuals. Miss Boorstin, we have to assume, will bear a child within the next few months, a child which, unless a father can be found to provide for it, will be another charge of the state—another mouth to be fed by the taxpayers of this state, most of whom had not the pleasure of generating it.
“It is for the state’s benefit, therefore, as much as out of a sense of equity, that this court chooses to interpret the petition by its substance rather than by its form—that is, as a paternity suit instead of a breach of promise suit. Since you all have signed and sworn to these affidavits and since it is impossible at this point to discover the real father, I will hold all of you responsible for child support, the sum of five hundred dollars a month to be provided by the six of you on a pro rata basis retroactive to the month of conception as determinable by a physician. Each payment will be due on the first of each month, with the first month’s payment due next Tuesday, which is November 1, according to my calendar.”
The six young men and their attorney were silent and gloomy for several long seconds. Finally, Harvey remembered the job he was supposed to be performing. “Your honor, if it please the court, my clients and I would like until tomorrow morning to respond to this unlooked-for development….You must admit, Judge Putnam, that this is an extraordinary decision.”
“Until tomorrow then. Nine o’clock. Court adjourned.”
The six buddies gathered early that evening around the small table in Archie’s two-room apartment. Harvey showed up thirty minutes later; he had had to cancel or rearrange some appointments made when he was confident of victory in Archie’s legal contest. Archie had two cases of the best imported beer, which he had bought that morning before going to the courthouse. Initially intended to celebrate with, the beer was now used to mollify his friends. They gulped it down, swigging on the bottles held like clarion trumpets in the air, without taking grateful note of the expense. And they remained angry.
“How could you do this to us?” whined the short, gap-toothed mechanic, Dexter Runk, his palm against his forehead. “I got fired the other day, and it’ll be four weeks before my unemployment checks start coming in. I can’t afford to play daddy.”
Archie bit his tongue. He didn’t like Dexter. Dexter was such a wimp! A hanger-on, he had been easiest to recruit—in fact, he had volunteered. He just wanted to be one of the guys. Now Archie had to repress the urge to jump down Dexter’s throat; anything he might say against Dexter, at this point, could just as aptly be said of the other fellows. Dexter wasn’t the only one whining.
“Yeah, and my girlfriend’s already heard about the case,” moaned Jeffrey Outley. “Some court clerk babbled it all over town. We’re laughingstocks, and she won’t answer my phone calls.”
Archie gripped his hair in his fingers and stared down at the golden liquid in his bottle. “Listen, fellas, listen, will ya! I’m gonna get ya outta this. Just gimme a chance. Everything will be copacetic tomorrow morning. Just wait and see.”
Next morning in court, Harvey stood up shaking his hands as though he were trying to air-dry them or to disgorge his words through them instead of through his mouth. “Your honor, my principal client, Mr. Devereaux, has something he would like to say.”
Archie stood up slowly and looked toward Judge Putnam with contrite eyes, truly contrite eyes. “Your honor, I accept full and sole responsibility for Kathy’s pregnancy. I am the father of her child. I will pay the child support…all of it. Please release my friends from their obligation under your ruling of yesterday.”
Judge Putnam leaned forward over his bench and pushed his spectacles against his forehead as though he were pointing an imaginary pistol between his eyes. “Let me make certain I understand clearly what you are saying,” he said. “Are you acceding to all the points made in the petition, which are that you courted Kathy Boorstin over a period of approximately half a year, that you gave her an engagement ring as a token of betrothal, that you fathered the child she is now carrying, and then reneged on your promise to marry her only after and because she became pregnant?”
“Yes, your honor.”
Now it was Harvey Block’s turn to feel faint and slide forward in his chair. He was beginning to foresee where Judge Putnam was heading. He also foresaw his law practice going to hell.
“Humph!” said the judge. Pausing, he leaned back in his chair, took off his spectacles, and wiped them with a white handkerchief as he gazed thoughtfully at one corner of the ceiling. Finally, he returned the spectacles to the bridge of his nose and leaned forward, supporting his chin with his right hand as though bemused. “Well, Mr. Devereaux, I guess I was wrong. It really was a breach of promise suit. I suggest that you marry the young lady and try to make a good husband and father of yourself or face a very onerous settlement and maybe even some jail time.
“As far as releasing your friends from their responsibilities in this…this affair…I’m afraid I can’t do that just yet. In order for my original decision to be changed, they will have to admit to committing perjury, the penalty for which in this state is a minimum two thousand dollar fine and one year in jail. If they wish to do that, then such will be their sentence. Otherwise, they can go ahead and pay their shares of the child support until the babe is born—some six to seven months hence if all goes according to Nature’s timetable—and a doctor can determine the actual paternity through blood tests.”
Archie sat down and cried quietly. Harvey Block, sitting next to him, put his left arm over Archie’s shoulder and patted him gently. Archie, without raising his head, pushed Harvey’s hand away.
Miracles still happen. After a night’s sleep—the first really restful one he had had in months, Archie suddenly realized—he awoke to a world not as calamitous as the one he had gone to bed viewing. His buddies were shunning him; that was still a rough spot. But they’d get over their anger and disgust once he paid them back the money they would have to remit to the court registry until paternity could be proved. He would repay every cent, he resolved, even if he had to take on a second job to do it.
And then there was Kathy. Given the villainy of his previous conduct and the enmity fostered by the legal mess they had just passed through, how could he get her to marry him, even if he wanted to marry her? He called Judge Putnam that morning to ask him: How…how?
“You’re still the father of the child, you say?” the judge asked him.
“Well, it seems to me only a matter of common sense that Miss Boorstin needs a husband pretty damn quick. Do you know anybody else that wants the part?”
“Well, there you are. I tell you what, though. I understand the problem, the real problem, you have in renewing your contact with her. Maybe I can help. I have a woman friend who’s a therapist…a counselor…whatever they call themselves…here in town. What say I call her and see if she can meet with you and Kathy and me in my chambers sometime during the next day or two?”
“Okay.” Archie’s blood rushed with a new feeling of hope.
“And I’ll try to talk Mrs. Boorstin into staying home during this round,” the judge added. “I think she probably feels her cause vindicated by what’s happened thus far and I can probably persuade her not to push the matter. You two need a chance to talk things over without other interested parties interfering.”
The rest of the story is too tedious to relate, not very exciting either. Happy events are usually tedious in the making and seldom exciting in the culmination. Archie and Kathy did get married and are still married. Their daughter, Cassandra, is now twenty years old, works as a typesetter at a country weekly not far from Tyler, and is taking night courses at a community college. She says she wants to be a nurse. She has a couple of boyfriends but isn’t very serious about either one. Let’s hope any man she does get really fond of turns out to be no worse than her father.
©1995 By Bob Litton
THE PROFESSIONAL STUDENT’S FAREWELL TO SCHOOL
Let go my scruff! I’ll leave now!
Since you insist
With burly fist
That I’ve grown ivy on my brow.
But what school rule requires I forgo
Time granted me
Of teaching your classes from the back row?
And where’ll the co-eds find delight
When I leav’em?
Sure, it’ll griev’em
To shiver between their sheets all night.
There’s little tolerance anymore
For older students
Whose sole imprudence
Is eating the apple — pulp and core!
The trees unnerved him first — fat, obtrusive trunks
With all true value submerged.
He was quick to appraise the fruit pulpy and bitter,
And unleashed one eye to wander of its own accord
In search of a plant not seemingly made of wax.
Futile! Dribblings of sap unimaginable!
He thought of requesting seedlings from home,
Of ramming them deep into this unwelcoming soil.
Such was the measure of his roots.
Then the populace — the bar-bar speakers!
Like people everywhere, harder to dodge than bullets.
His hungry memory superimposed faces,
Fitting passersby with smuggled visages.
Profferings of camaraderie were flippant
And wholesale: “Six thousand friends await you!”
But he knew the requisite time — counted in moons;
And the risk — the costly welcome
No more retrievable than a hymen. It’s not home.
Such was the measure of his sentence.
LIKE A CHICKEN WITH ITS…
Vision gone cockeyed
Before the cry can sound;
Sensationless wingbone pounding the block
Like a Determinist’s thudding argument;
Then slowly, fitfully, the gaspless, heaving body
Jerking toward its stillness;
And, separate, the eyes staring,
The beak opening,
From severed esophagus
One last red
The Eumenides’ Revolt
© 2011 by Bob Litton
After being pursued for years by the Erinyes
and suffering pangs of guilt for having killed
his mother, Clytemnestra, Orestes sought
forgiveness from Athena. The goddess
forgave him and persuaded the Erinyes
to do the same. Their act of mercy changed
the frightful aspect of the haunters so that
they became the Eumenides, protectors of
— adapted from Edith Hamilton’s
Mythology: Timeless Tales of
Gods and Heroes
We, the Eumenides, have grown weary
of coddling this massy slew of men —
and women, too — who blame Heaven
and Earth for follies they should own.
Now help change us back, wise Athena,
to the Erinyes we used to be,
all snaky hair and bloody eyes,
with a stinging shrill in our voices.
There, there, O Poseidon, keep still in your deep!
You have wreaked well with hurricanes.
Let the people now feel the pain of their lack*;
let your seas stink with islands of human offal;
let the fishes disappear and boats dry rot;
let sailor girls gurgle beneath their yachts.
You also, Demeter and Bacchus, forget
your healthy scales; just lure blind fools
to your cornucopia of sweets and booze.
Let their bellies bulge over their belts,
and then their brains will shrink to microns.
Perhaps they’ll adapt and learn to roll
to shady spots under leaves left brown,
which the seasons have forgot.
O Plutus! How could we neglect you?
Dress the naked bankers anew in pinstripes;
reshoe their feet in tasseled innocence
(or what seems it). Let the minor clerks
thirty floors below recharge their bosses’ wealth
with bundlings of mortgages, thinly writ
by lawyers bandying lies well-told.
Ah! Dear Aphrodite! Welcome to the caucus!
You’ve proven, in troth, how untrue
is the politician’s troth in zippable pants.
You’ve covered the comic books with porn
and sent little boys as presents to priests.
The magazines are filled with your recipes
for delight and lessons easy to learn…
and easy to forget. Keep the good work up!
Alas, Athena! Where is your polar today?
She whose services we wish to applaud,
for the Spirit of Stupidity is rolling
like a tsunami across the land.
Ah, such a lovely sight! If only the surge
can last till every citizen avoids his vote;
and long division overwhelms
each child enduring the umpteenth test;
and shoppers are hooked by nineteen ninety-nine.
Thank you all, you gods and goddesses,
for now we’re back on track to see
with what dismal days and sleepless nights
we can burden those who run away
from the sense and courage to do what’s right.
*While tropical storms and hurricanes can cause horrific damage to coastal communities, they also bring much needed rain to inland areas.
OF POEMS ABOUT DEATH
© 1995 By Bob Litton
We’ve written enough of dying and grief,
Of what’s in store the other side of pain;
Once our teary dirges had dried, we were bound
To find compiled redundancy setting in.
A kind of shame,—we feel this blush at words
As when we heard our maiden aunts retell
Their easy, prideful spurns of lovesick men.
Yet, every generation demands its lines
Inimitable, its fresher look at Life,
In terms of its own device and rhythms of the day.
So much do old words die as the views they paint,
And a new mystique of Death will cling like Hope,
Essential, to the umbilicus of Birth.