It was just another week in Muskrat Flats. It was a little busier than usual for early fall, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. Is there anything about Muskrat Flats that is ordinary?
The basement of the Odd Fellows Hall was once again warm with the smell of freshly brewed coffee and blueberry muffins. The rustic paneled walls were adorned with various pictures of long deceased members next to an enumerated Honor Roll of other previous members as the morning regulars went about their business.
Two of the older regulars were agreeing that Sarah Palin is pretty hot, although they were not going to vote for McCain. They were situated under an oil painted portrait of Coleman Hawthorne the III, the granddaddy of all of the Odd Fellows in Muskrat Flats. As we recently found out he is also the great grand daddy to the Flats most recent celebrity, who’s lineage was finally made public, the seemingly homeless hermit, Coley Blackstone.
Although Coley’s odd demeanor and newly revealed financial status had been the topic of conversation in the Flats, most folks just shrugged it off as him truly being a chip off of his Great Grandfather’s block. After all, Coleman Hawthorne was not only the sheriff and founder of Muskrat Flats. He was a notorious prankster, as we have already found out, and guess what, more will be revealed.
Near the portrait hung a sepia toned picture of Coleman Hawthorne’s most elaborate and well publicized pranks. The picture hung in a place of honor, above the mantel of the large fireplace.
The aroma of the coffee and muffins was accented by the smoky perfume of the season’s first fire which rolled along in the carbon blackened stone and brick grotto. The fur of the stuffed muskrat on the mantle piece as well as the fur of a jack-a-lope which was frozen as if it were poised to attack, was rippling from the radiating warmth of the rustic fireplace.
Jerry and Jenny Smith leaned in close to each other as they huddled with Gomer Eckstein. Jeff watched his lovely bride, still and always worthy of his pet name for her, Sveltlana, as she held Gomer’s hand, offering comfort and kind words as he told them of his feelings about his dying father.
Gomer had just come back from a wedding he had played in Eden Prairie. He was feeling a little overwhelmed. He had a string of gigs which would take him out of town the next four weekends. He felt like he should cancel them so he could be with his father, who insisted that he fulfill his obligations.
“He told me, "Sonny, life is life, it will go on whether or not you or I are here, live it, Man. I am. I am enjoying every day, especially when I see you, but you can’t live your live in fear that you will not be here when I die.” He choked back a tear and looked at Jerry and Sveltie. She squeezed his hand.
“He is right, It is just so hard to accept. I have been praying. And I am definitely going to smoke that joint tomorrow.”
“When you do, you better call us, Gomer.” Jerry smiled broadly and clapped his buddy on the shoulder. “Just remember that he loves YOU more than anything. How lucky are you that you have such a good relationship with him? Besides something tells me he is not going anywhere until the memoir is completed.” Sveltie smiled, Gomer laughed.
“What about you guys? How’s everything at the farm museum? I’m still headlining the Fall Festival right?” Jerry said,
“Of course you are, you didn’t get the contract?” Gomer started fishing through a stack of unopened envelopes in his coat pocket and found the one addressed to him in Sveltie’s handwriting. Jerry continued,
"Well everything is in place for the fall festival at the museum. The corn maze has been manicured. Everyone is getting their workshops spiffy. All of the tobacco has been harvested and is drying in the barns. The livestock is looking healthy. This festival is going to be all about demonstrations.”
“Really?!” Gomer queried.
“Absolutely, my friend, we are going to have milking demos, and butter making. Draft horse plowing demos. We are going to have cigar rolling demos, Sid Bartleby’s kid, Kurt had been apprenticing with Benwah in the Blacksmith shop. He is going to be doing horse shoeing demos.” Gomer thought to himself, "had been?"
And what about the vineyards, Sveltie?” Her husband prompted.
“Oh Yeah, most of the grapes have been harvested. And pressed. We had a good harvest. The wine production should be good despite the storm a couple of weeks ago. We are going to have some wine making workshops and demonstrations and tastings.”
“Aww, Gomer I’m sorry, I forget sometimes.”
Jeff Nelson of Wake of the Flood plumbing actually had time for coffee that morning after three weeks worth of non-stop work following the microburst. He overheard what Sveltie had said and interjected,
“As long as HE doesn’t forget!” Jeff plopped himself down at the table with his coffee and muffins.
“Who asked you, motherfucker?”
“Well, as your sponsor, it is suggested that you not forget how much you liked to drink wine before you would bang a speedball and drive down the interstate in the wrong direction.”
Gomer started laughing. Jerry and Sveltie just looked at each other with dubious expressions on their faces and shaking their heads.
“Oh, yeah, those were pretty rough times weren’t they?”
“I heard you mention, Benwah.” Jeff Said in a low voice. “He came around last Saturday to the beginners meeting in Enfield and the next night for the step meeting in Prescott.”
Gomer was awed.
“No shit? Really!? That is very interesting.”
“Yeah I guess the Silver Days debacle was the icing on the cake for him. After his dance with the train and breaking his nose and wrist falling on the pipes, he got drunk for a week straight. One morning he woke up naked in his back yard. That morning he had a liter of vodka for breakfast and went to a detox, then a 30 day program." He looked around and continued,
"I know I'm breaking anonymity, but he needs all the help he can get right now.” Jeff continued in a low voice. He looked over to Jerry, essentially Benwah's boss who then offered,
"Benwah has our support at the Museum, he is on temporary leave and is welcome back when he is ready. We love him over there. We're glad he is getting help, we were worried."
“Good for him, I’ll call him. What’s up with you my brother?” Gomer asked Jeff.
“I was checking out the meter on my blog this morning. I got a hit from a guy in Philadelphia. The words he typed into his search engine were “How do you inject dilaudid into your vein?”
“Oh, my God, dude!” Gomer retorted Jeff and Sveltie both gasped.
“I know … whoever it was ... it directed him to my blog “What not to do with your oral medication". I hope it helped save his life …” Jeff trailed off. They all got silent for a few moments.
Jerry cleared his throat and spoke.
“Sooo, back to the Harvest Festival … How are your neck and back these days, Gomer?”
Gomer had a dazed expression for a moment. He kind of looked at Jeff who was smiling and animatedly gestured with his eyes to the picture of Coleman Hawthorne which hung above the fireplace. What Jerry was really asking of him finally bubbled to the surface in his brain.
“Oh, no … common, Jerry, not this year. No, NO WAY!” There was laughter from the peanut gallery as the morning regulars figured out that Jeff had finally asked Gomer ...THE question.
Sid Bartelby shouted,
“Comon Gomer, do it, I’m getting too old for this shit.” Someone else piped up,
“Yeah, it’s your turn this year, Gomer!”
There was spontaneous clapping which eased into applause. Gomer looked at the picture of Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne in his best Mark Twain suit, hanging on the mantelpiece. The sheriff was surrounded by a very sizable crowd who looked like they were dressed in their Sunday best. The women were holding fringed umbrellas to protect themselves from the afternoon sun and a few men were passing a bottle with with one hand and pumping their fists in the air with the other. There he was, Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne, the mastermind behind incorporation of the Town of Muskrat Flats, with a noose around his neck, hanging from a tree.
Gomer just shook his head and reminded himself, that the never ending stream of situations like these, are why he lives in Muskrat Flats.
He smiled a wide devious grin, all of his worries and fears about his father were temporarily abated. He looked around the room. It seemed like he was standing in a bubble of absolute love and joy as he was surrounded by his most loved friends and colleagues and every one of them had a wickedly warped sense of humor ...just like him.
It was very typical of of Flatlanders to co opt the old Prankster credo, "Let's let our Freak Flags fly and scare the straights." He thought for another second,
"What would his father do?"
That settled it. The crowd erupted in laughter and cheers as he said with a beaming smile,
“OK, I’ll do it!”
Coffees were refilled, Iva Bartelby's blueberry muffins were wrapped in paper napkins destined for the eager mouths of various co-workers, spouses and friends as the regulars busied themselves and made their way out of the Odd Fellows basement into the bright and sunny September morning. They were ready to attend to their business as they diverged onto Petersen St. Some walked hand in hand, others shuffled, some even chose a brisk clip. But we can guarantee that one person, perhaps it wasn't even Gomer chose a different pace as they were ...
Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.