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              It was a blustery weekend in Muskrat Flats. The wind was conducting a symphony as the poplars bordering the vineyard...

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Ooooh, That Smell , Can't you smell that smell?"

A warm front swept through Muskrat Flats over the weekend. This was preceded by some heavy periods of rain. The sewer culvert on the corner of Petersen and McKernan Streets was clogged with the earliest of the fallen leaves among other debris. The leaves probably were more swept away from their branches rather than falling to the ground as nature had intended. Sometimes nature decides it needs to speed things up a bit. But things, such as speeding up of the process, should not happen in such a glorious season as Fall, not in Muskrat Flats. Not when preparations need to be completed before the start of the Fall Festival.

The result of the culvert clogging was a 12 inch deep puddle which flooded the parking lot of the Odd Fellows Hall and Petersen St. The edge of the puddle ended up lapping against the doorway to the basement every time a vehicle would cautiously traverse the flooded street sending waves which rippled in either direction.

The members were outside enthusiastically clearing the culvert of the of the leaves, sticks and debris. This was nothing compared to the cleanup they endured at the beginning of the month. Two of the younger members worked on the storm drain with shovels and rakes while a crowd of members stood around and watched them work. The water was not going anywhere.

To the outside observer this scene would have looked like any other roadside construction detail you would see anywhere. This was accentuated by the dress of the bunch. The Odd Fellows were a prepared bunch of gentlemen, who always seemed to have a set of knee high rubber galoshes and yellow or day-glow orange foul weather gear handy.

Sid Bartleby stood by a welcome face in the bunch with his elbow locked together with that of his dear friend, Moe Eckstein.

Moe had been feeling better and healthier these days and ventured out of his assisted living facility to once again partake of the morning ritual involving Iva Bartleby's award winning blueberry Muffins, a recipe handed down by her husband's great Grandmother Edna, the woman who opened Bartleby's Mercantile, the General Store currently run by her and her husband Sid, and their daughter.

The last time Moe ventured out, all he could do was inhale the aroma of the coffee and muffins. He had no appetite and was nauseated. He had the antidote to this situation in his pocket. Even though he was wracked with the pain and suffering associated with chemotherapy, Moe was not about to put his "Sonny boy" Gomer in harm's way by lighting a joint in his presence. He admired what his son was doing with his new lifestyle, he wasn't about to tempt fate. They even had a lighthearted discussion about it recently.

"How are you feeling, Dad?"

"Ahhh," He grunted. "I'm nauseated and I can't eat."

"Well, there's an easy solution to that problem." Gomer motioned to the joint in his ashtray.

"What about you, Sonny?"

"You can have it, it won't bother me, I'll smoke the rest of it tomorrow." Moe laughed a cautious snicker as to not rattle his insides too much.

"Sure, you will, Sonny, sure you will. Thank you but, I'll pass." He hesitated ...

"You know that is not what I meant, right? That you don't NEED that or anything else?"

Gomer nodded and smiled.

"I love you, Sonny, I'm so proud of the man you have become."

Gomer stood across from the culvert. Among the crowd was Coley Blackstone, holding his dog Chubby. Coley, who had just been released from the psych ward, was on some meds, and was actually taking them. He felt better and it was an amazing feat that he was as involved socially as he was at the present moment. It helped him that the townspeople were so curious about his situation and welcomed him so warmly. Even when he was "homeless", the Flatlanders were more accepting of him than he may have been accepted elsewhere. Coley did double take to see if anyone was looking as he submitted to his obsessive-compulsive tendencies, quickly bending down and snatching a floating cigarette butt out of the water. He looked around again and slipped it into a small ziplock plastic bag he had in his pocket, balancing his little mutt in the crook of his arm as he did so.

Gomer looked away from Coley and watched his father and Sid, locked arm in arm. He remembered his father's credo, "Life is what it is, live it!" He smiled to himself, grateful for another day clean and grateful that his father could be out and about to enjoy this day.

Jeff Nelson, gave new meaning to his business name, Wake of the Flood Plumbing, as he careened his truck through the puddle and into the parking lot just a little faster than he probably should have. The waves crashed through the crowd, actually causing the water level to go higher than the rim of some of the members knee high rubbers. Gomer almost lost his balance. There was the typical shouting and fist shaking as Jeff exited his truck with a big mischievous smile.

"You better have that snake with you, Asshole!" One of the members shouted as his newly drenched sock squeaked and squished inside his boot.

He opened a back panel of his truck. Gomer ran over to grab the industrial strength snake and began to shove it into the storm drain. Jeff flipped the switch and began to manipulate the turning flexible 3/4 in. spring. A few tugs and forward thrusts later, he felt something give. A little geyser of water erupted from a manhole cover down grade as the cover lifted up and slammed down a couple of times. This stopped as quickly as it had appeared as the puddle noisily left the corner of Petersen and McKernan streets for an unseen destination. All but a few of the members retreated into the banquet hall.

Gomer and Jeff sat down at a table. They huddled in close.

"How are you today, Jeff?"

"I'm doing okay, my brother." He hesitated. Gomer asked,

"What ... what's that? Everything okay."

"I gotta admit, I've been praying all the way here. I am struggling this morning, I kept entertaining the thought of driving over to the South End in Dana, to see if anyone is out."

"Wow, how many years do you have?"

"I've got the same thing as you have, my brother, I've got today. That is all any of us has ... I woke up, I was feeling okay. I was a little distraught. It is so hot and humid and I have a job in a basement later on today. It is going to be murder." Gomer nodded in agreement. Then it dawned on him where this was going, having ridden in his sponsor's truck numerous times before. Gomer said,

"Hot and humid ... the truck?"

"Yes, the fucking truck!"

"Aw, dude, when are you going to deal with that? You need to get that rug power washed."

"It usually doesn't bother me, but today it hit me like a ton of bricks."

About four months ago, at the end of April, Jeff was doing a 12th Step call. He was picking up the son of a client of his who had developed a bad habit. Something he should not have done alone, but it was 3 in the morning and he figured that he would just pick the kid up and drop him off at a detox.

The kid was drunk when Jeff showed up. On the way there, he kept thanking Jeff for helping him out. He was spouting all of the usual stuff. He was fucked up and that he needed to get clean and he was going to go to meetings ... all the while, he was fidgeting and going through his pockets. The kid began opening something, Jeff looked over and was horrified that it was a plastic corner bag. He was pulling into the municipal hospital and neglected to see a speed bump as he was focusing on what was in the hand of his passenger. As he went over the bump, the kid dropped the bag on the carpet of his new truck.

"Fuck, Man!"

"What the fuck did you bring into my truck?"

"That was a half gram of dope, man, FUCK!"

Jeff, sighed, silently said the Serenity Prayer. He got the kid to the front entrance. Exited the truck and walked around to the passenger side. He handed the kid a small fox tail brush and simply said,

"Clean it up."

The kid agonized over the fact that he had to sweep his dope out into the parking lot. He handed Jeff the brush back, and thanked him, he also apologized and began walking the road of recovery as he loped into the intake area of the facility.

Jeff didn't think anything else of the matter until about a week and a half later. It was one of those warm muggy spring days. He walked out to his truck and opened the door. He slid in to the driver's seat to be greeted by the unmistakable smell of heroin.

"FUCK, Fucking FUCK! What the FUCK?! He raged. He rolled down his window leaned his head out and went to pick up Gomer, who inhaled the aroma and looked at his sponsor with wide eyed disbelief as he got into the vehicle.

Underneath the picture of Coleman Hawthorne III hanging from the large oak tree outside his office, Jeff and Gomer continued their breakfast. Gomer said.

"Yeah, I remember that morning you picked me up, It smelled like a poppy field in Afghanistan inside your truck. I remember thinking, Okay, Jeff, I guess you're having a good morning."

"I'm glad you believed how it happened."

"Of course I did, who can make up shit like that?"

They both had a good chuckle about it as their subsequent and wholly unprincipled conversation deteriorated into cracking each other up about some of the newcomer women in the program who were "white key tag worthy", meaning a young lass they would likely relapse with if they encountered them on the wrong day at the wrong time, leading them to Surrender once again and start counting from day one as they continued their trek down the road.

They sipped their coffees. Gomer looked up and saw Sid and his father walking over to the table. Gomer sighed and shook his head as he saw what Sid was carrying. It was the cracked and faded leather and hemp harness which Sheriff Coleman Hawthrone the III, wore under his over sized white suit, preventing his neck from being snapped when he was "hung" on that beautiful Autum day in 1879.

"You can't seriously expect me to wear that crumbling relic during the Fall Festival?" As he eyeballed the rusted and flimsy fasteners on the harness. Gomer's father slapped his shoulder and said,

Ah, Comon, Sonny boy, What's the worst thing that can happen?" Moe smiled and looked over at Sid as he said this. Gomer looked at a parking lot puddle full of familiar faces who were silent for a few seconds before they all burst out in laughter.

"Yeah, Dad, what IS the worst that can happen?" Gomer said as he placed his hand on his neck and began to massage himself.

As the leaves are beginning to turn and throngs of tourists are about descend upon us, NOW would be a good time to start ...

Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.

Thanks for Reading,


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Go play your hand you big-talkin' man, Make a big fool of yourself."

It was a very dry and dusty day in Muskrat Flats, somewhat of an Indian Summer. An Indian summer with its short but warm days brought forth a round of good memories for Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne as he peered out the window of his office. The oak and maple trees were beginning to show hues of bronze, yellow and red, dotting the landscape like those paintings he had seen in Paris a few years ago. Impressionism, they called it.

Sheriff Hawthorne took a big pull off of his cigar and swirled his tumbler of whiskey wishing he would have the opportunity to see those paintings again. But how to get to Paris? How indeed. He was needed here. He certainly had the means to do so, he just needed the time.

He sometimes fantasized that when he finally did get to Paris, he could convince some of those painters to come and add to the growing bohemian flavor of the community here in the Flats.

Perhaps it was a co-incidence, perhaps it was the location, but there was something about Muskrat Flats which attracted a certain type of person. Thinkers, writers, artists, and entrepreneurs seemed to all fall together quite by chance.

On any given day a lone wolf would wander into Muskrat Flats. Someone who would feel like an outsider anywhere else in the world ... they would wander into town and find themselves at home and looking for a place to live, to write, to hang out their shingle and most of all enjoy the spirit of community. Call it a co-incidence but things were happening in town the way Hawthorne thought that they should. Yes they were.

Sheriff Hawthorne looked over to the right, and peered down Petersen St., where the new Odd Fellows Hall was being constructed. Yes the summer of 1879 it had been a good summer, indeed. He was roused from his thoughts as the door to his office opened.

Edna Bartleby walked in, she was wearing a well worn apron and a house dress of somber earth tones. He could see that she had been crying. He rose from his chair and put out the cigar. He tipped his hat.

"Edna, what is wrong, how can I help you?" She was cradling a folded document.

"Can ... can they do this?" He looked at the document. It was from the Silverstein Brothers, the owner of the silver mine which had given birth to the little oasis Hawthorne and so many others called home many years ago.

Hawthorne rolled his unlit cigar around in his mouth. Tsking to himself as he read. He sighed.

"Tell you what Edna, ignore this letter. You are about the tenth person from your neck of the woods who has gotten one of these. I'll talk to the Silversteins and see what we can figure out."

She headed to the door. He reread the letter he had seen already addressed to ten different former employees of the mine. It was a scam of the worst kind, a legal one. The Silverstein Brothers had a mercantile where most of their employees shopped. The did so because in the leaner times they could get product from the mercantile on credit from their future earnings. It was not clearly explained that these purchases had an interest amount factored into the transaction which amounted to about 15%. So, there were workers who's whole check was going right back to the company with a balance still owed.

The Silversteins were coming to the end of the road with the mine. Their yield was half of what it had been in its heyday. There was a recent mine collapse about 18 months ago where five miners were lost. Much to their dismay, the Silversteins were encouraged to pay off a settlement to the deceased worker's families, a situation which surely would not have happened if Hawthorne did not get involved. This left a bitter taste in their mouths and an even more bitter resentment toward the Sheriff.

Now, what the Silversteins were doing was firing workers who had a tab they could not afford to pay back with the intention of taking their land and homesteads as a means to settle their debt, at least that is what they wanted to do.

"Can they do this?" Edna asked. "Can they really do this?"

"Technically they can, but they manipulated the system to their advantage. That is not how we do things in the Flats now, is it?" She smiled at the Sheriff who just winked at her.

"No, Sheriff, It certainly is not." She held her head high as she walked out into the warm dusty street. The Sheriff took a swig of his whiskey strapped on his side arm and ventured out into the street.

Sheriff Hawthorne walked down the street tipping his hat and smiling to those who greeted him. He entered the mercantile and walked up the stairs to Abraham Silvertein's office. He really ran the show, his spineless bother Jerome was more of a figurehead in the company. He did all of his older brother's dirty work.

Sheriff Hawthorne reached into his pocket pulling out the 10 documents he had pertaining to this matter. With the letters in his hand he walked into the office unannounced.

Abraham was sitting in the chair of his opulently adorned office with Celeste, one of Hawthorne's favorite girls on her knees in front of him with her beautiful blonde head bobbing up and down. He slammed the door behind him.

"Can I interrupt?" Celeste was used to making quick getaways. She was up and pulling her breasts back inside her dress. She gave him a smirk as she passed by. He winked and whispered,

"sorry sweetie." She hissed back

"You OWE me one, TODAY!"

"Hawthorne, vaht's the meaning of this, They don't knock in zee barn you grew up in?"

"On Beacon Hill we had butlers, to knock and answer when knocked. It was rather stuffy and I feel that I have missed out on some of the social folkways, I should have learned as a child. A point I just, so rudely have proven to you. So, If you will forgive my faux pas." He continued.

"My detachment from a segment of society whom I had so admired, much to the chagrin of my family, is why I chose to move out here. This wonderful community, of hardworking folks, artists and musicians, inventors, this little oasis I named Muskrat Flats."

Abraham was fastening his pants.

"Jah, I'm sure you haf a point..."

"I dropped by because I figured you would be hard at work on your next investment, your next scurrilous scheme which I would like to discuss with you." he said as he waved the documents in his hand and threw them on his desk. Silverstein picked up the papers and leafed through them.

"Jah, so vaht. These schwein-hund owe us a lot of money. Ve vill get vaht ve are owed. I don't vant to be responsible ..." Hawthorne cut him off mocking him.

"Jah, I don't vant to be responsible." He slipped back into his own voice. "Being responsible seems to be something you are incapable of. Being responsible means that you do the right thing. Being responsible means not following through with an obvious scam like this."

"Now, you just vait a minute."

"No, I have waited long enough. I would need time to look through the legal books and to find a precedent which proves what you are doing is wrong legally. To tell you the truth I don't think it is illegal. I would take it to the supreme court if I had to, to protect these "dogs" as you call them. I call them my neighbors."

Silverstein was glaring at him.

"I know the mine is failing, but I also know that by the time you close down its operations, you are NOT going to have stolen the land from the workers and families who made you rich in the first place. "

"You know sheriff, Fuck You! Look at your self, you got rich building this town, too!" He spat on the floor.

"Yes I did, I got rich beyond my wildest dreams, but in case you haven't noticed. I spread it around. When I do well everyone does well. You just covet what other people have and are willing to put them on the street to get it." He glared at Silverstein. I've got a proposition for you"

He outlined the proposition to Silverstein. He offered to buy the mine, and settle the debts owed to the mercantile. The offer was soundly rejected.

"I think my vay is better."

"I'm not going to let this happen. That I guarantee, as long as I am Sheriff."

"Vell, ve'll see vaht happens then, Jah? Vaht if the great Sheriff Hawthorne is not there to protect the vorkers, hah? Vaht if ve elect another Sheriff, Jah?" He began laughing an insane maniacal laugh.

"Okay, Abe, that's going to happen ..."

"Okay, vaht if you just. How you say ... Disappear, vaht then."

"Look Abe, I don't like you, maybe it is your accent, maybe it is because you were with Celeste. Maybe it is because you are the grimy little shit that I scraped off of the bottom of my boot on one of your shelves down stairs. I don't like being threatened. And You ... are ... NOT ... going to win. My offer stands I suggest you take it."

"Tell Bartelby he is out by Friday." He slapped the stack of documents back in Hawthorne's hand.

That was the last conversation that Hawthorne had with Silverstein. Hawthorne had something to prove. Unfortunately, he was not going to be there to see it. He was sure that Silverstein was going to kill him and he had to beat him at his own game.

The next afternoon he had a meeting with all of the future members of the Odd Fellows. He outlined his plan, he explained why it had to be that way. He told Edna Bartleby what her role in the plan was. She was to open a mercantile. She was not to undercut the prices across town. Former Union Officers who were friends of Hawthorne were coming into Muskrat Flats to help keep the peace.

The next afternoon, Silverstein was walking down the street scheming. There was a loud crash. The Sheriff Came flying through the window of the saloon. He was followed by his two best friends who were calling him a swindler. He dusted off his white suit and tried to calm them down. but they were determined. A crowd gathered. One person shouted out what the Sheriff's crimes were, he was taking kickbacks and going to allow the repossessions to happen. Everyone was drunk and disorderly. Before Silverstein could catch his breath there was a noose around Hawthorne's neck and he was on the back of a horse. Within seconds someone slapped the horse in the ass and Hawthorne was swinging from one of those colorful oak branches he was admiring a few short days ago.

His legs kicked for a minute and then his body went limp. Silverstein puffed his chest out at what he saw. He was a happy man.

The next day, one by one everyone who worked for the mine went to the mercantile to pay off their debts. Within days, Edna Bartelby had a fully stocked store and was doing a great business. Workers stopped showing up at the mine because they got jobs with the Coleman Hawthorne Foundation. It seems that after the sheriff was hung in a drunken rage, his will was discovered. He paid off all of the debts of everyone in town and purchased their land on which they could live indefinitely until it was willed either to a next generation or a land conservation trust. That is how the Farm Museum, the Railroad station and everything else that is so unique about Muskrat Flats came to be.

The Silversteins had no choice but to close up shop and they moved out of town. They had too much to lose, they knew when they were beaten.

Nobody shopped at the mercantile because they were predators. Edna Bartleby was a sweet heart and people wanted to see her succeed. The community thrived it became a destination for the generations, just as it is today. Sheriff Hawthorne's little experiment worked, even though only a handful of key people in town knew it was an experiment. It worked because the community had faith.

About 10 months later, an election was held for the office of Sheriff. Coleman Hawthorne the III was re-elected posthumously as Sheriff of Muskrat Flats.

At the swearing in ceremony scheduled a year to the day of Hawthorne's hanging, Deputy Waldo Robertson was going to accept the position as the Sheriff. He had prepared a speech which he would have slurred because he had gotten drunk, again. The ceremony was scheduled for 12:05 PM, right after the Noon train rolled into town dropping off three scruffy passengers.

Ned Bartelby was on the platform making a speech. He finally concluded.

"It is my great honor and privilege to name Coleman Hawthorne the III as your next Sheriff. Accepting on his behalf Deputy Waldo Robertson. Roberstson began to stumble across the stage.

A loud booming voice shouted,

"What's This? There stood Coleman Hawthorne in his signature white suit with his arms outstretched watching Robertson waddle across the stage. With a big smile on his face. He beamed at the crowd.

"I Win!" Robertson focused in on Hawthorne and pissed his pants. As Coleman Hawthorne swaggered across the platform to the podium. He was followed by two men.

Ladies and Gentlemen this is Jean Luc, and Esteban, they are two artists from Paris who want to live here with us in Muskrat Flats. What do you think of that?"

The crowd was aghast. Some of the crowd gasped, those in the know were hysterical with laughter. He looked over to Celeste who was crying and winked. The crowd started cheering and jumping up and down.

"Bon Jour, mon amis! Yep it's me. Sorry about the way I left the Flats a year ago. But I really needed a vacation and you all had a job to do ... saving your town and protecting your way of life. I could not be here to help you, and trust me, I really didn't want to leave you hanging."

That comment garnered groans and boos from the crowd as well as smattering of raucous laughter.

"But seriously, It is my pleasure to accept the position, for the second time in my two lives as the Sheriff of Muskrat Flats. And if anyone needs to dicuss this with me you now where to find me, either in my office or the basement of the Odd Fellows Hall. Speaking of ...On to more important things ...what's that, Edna? Do I smell coffee and blueberry muffins?"

Things were back to normal in Muskrat Flats, nobody blinked. Everyone kind of knew that Hawthorne was coming back, After all, who would really want to hang him, he had always been there to protect them and help them along. They finally did it on their own and they were proud of it.

Hopefully Abe and Jerome never looked back as they were ...

Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Everyone is equal in my eye."

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.”

Gomer sighed.

“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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"So, Let's get to the point ..."

The winds had died down as quickly as they began. Litter, felled trees and uprooted vegatation intermingled with what appeared to be construction debris were strew across the landscape, leaving Muskrat Flats a humid chaotic mess. Fortunately there was no loss of life.

The Flatlanders did what the could, what they had always done. They went to the Odd Fellows, got the days news with a few home made blue ribbon winning blueberry muffins and some freshly roasted coffee courtesy of Sid Bartelby's wife, Iva.

After breakfast was done they all ventured out to help with the clean up where they could. Some went to the Farm Museum to help tend to the horses and clean up the small live stock pens. Others went to Hawthorne Ave. to help clear the roads for the imposing orange Asplundh emergency vehicles, whose inhabitants in conjunction with the local utilities were steadily working to shore up and finalize the electrical, cable, and telephone connections. They were in contact with Gomer Eckstien who was keeping the folks in the flats informed of what was happening on the ground with his eye in the sky view from his single engined multi-colored bi-plane.

Other residents tended to their own situations doing their yard clean up and organization. That was a week ago. For the most part things are back to normal in Muskrat Flats ... well as normal as they could ever be.

Gomer Eckstien was dressed a little less casually than he normally would have been. After all it was a special day. His Dad, Moe, turned 75 today. Gomer was going to visit him where he resided, an assisted living community on the grounds of the Municipal Hospital. .

Moe Eckstien ended up in Muskrat Flats in the early sixties. Much like his son he was a writer and musician. Even then Muskrat Flats had already developed the reputation for being a more forward thinking an tolerant community which had a tendency for embracing the odd and fantastic, a tip of the hat and lasting legacy to Muskrat Flats founder, Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne.

Gomer pulled his tri-colored primer swatched F150 into the parking lot. He enjoyed these visits with his father but lately they had become tedious. His father was fading. Up until the last 8 months, Gomer had known his Dad to be as energetic and virile as he was. He was a strong, successful man and an active member of the Odd Fellows. He was a frequently published magazine contributor, often writing political satire and social commentary. He had three books under his belt and was working on a fourth, a memoir, with which his son, Gomer was helping him.

Gomer looked about the grounds. They were pristine with perfectly manicured shrubs and lawns. There were no signs that last weeks microburst, they were no longer calling it a tornado, had affected the grounds at all. Gomer thought to himself and said a short prayer. He quietly gave thanks that conditions in the Flats had not been worse after seeing the devastation happening in Texas as a result of Hurricane Ike. He prayed for the strength and the acceptance he needed to get through the next three hours.

He looked in his rear view mirror only to see the hot air balloon gondola he had neglected to unload as he rushed around in the morning trying to get away from the Jump school in time for his appointment with his Dad. He looked in his ashtray and there it was. It was a plump fat joint of the finest cannabis grown in the solar powered shipping containers located somewhere within Muskrat Flats.

That joint had been sitting there in his ashtray for more than three years. It was the joint he kept telling himself he would smoke tomorrow, but every morning he seemed to change his mind and put off smoking it yet another day. It was a silly and dangerous game he played with himself, but it seemed to work.

It reminded him of some old school Alcoholics who carried a pint of liquor in their glove compartments in the instance that they had to go on a 12th step call to bring an alcoholic to a detox. The bottle was there to help the sick and suffering alcoholic, to staved off the DTs allowing him to comfortably bide his time until he was safely bedded in a medical detox facility, much like the facility they had on these grounds. The very same one Gomer had been through three times to detoxify from his drug of choice.

Although Gomer had been a dyed in the wool heroin addict, a situation which led to the demise of his last band Canker Soars, he had been clean for almost five years. He found that joint on the ground in the parking lot outside a venue where his latest band Gomer Shabbos and the Hook Nosed Satans had just played. It was the ultimate test for him. Had he not been where he was in his recovery, he surely would have smoked it. He even considered smoking it. Not being responsible for his first thought, he pushed this thought aside and used the tools at his disposal to work through the situation. He was, after all responsible for his second thought and his first action.

He thought about what his sponsor Jeff had said.

"It is simple, if you are an addict and you continue to use, things are going to get worse. If they don't get worse, then maybe you are not an addict. But only you can make that decision."

Gomer did make a decision, he knew who he was. He chose to keep the joint as a reminder of how it all started. The drug that had taken him down that long, dusty road and garbage strewn road of addiction.

He checked his teeth in the mirror, grabbed his leather bag and walked in.

"Sonny, you are early, so good to see you!" Gomer smile and kissed his Dad on the forehead.

"Hi Dad, how are they hanging?"

"Feh ... they hang, that's about all they do with all of the medication I'm on." Gomer laughed .

"Hey what are you doing on Friday night?"

"We've got a job, a wedding in Eden Prairie."

"Minnesota? Shit that's outside St. Paul, right? We played there once. Garrison Keillor was in the audience that night, I was hoping he would have us on the show ..." He trailed off and shifted in his chair looked pained an uncomfortable.

"So, what is happening Friday,"

"Hector and Beaver are coming in to visit. There are a couple of other writers in here. We are going to turn the rec room into a Coffee House. Hector is going to play some guitar, Me, Beaver and a few others are going to do some spoken word. someone is going to read some passages from Howl. We are going for the North Beach Beat vibe."

"Wow, Dad! Lemme guess, it was your idea."

"Well, Larry picked up the ball and ran with it. I just picked the name. Larry wanted to call it the "Hep Cat" but we're calling it "The Incontinent Cat." Gomer laughed hysterically.

"So, how are you doing, sonny?"

"Good, dad."

"No, I mean how are you doing? You still got that joint in your car?"

"Oh, yeah that. I doing good, Dad. A day at a time, like they say."

"They say that don't they." He leaned in.

"You know the Blackstone kid, the homeless guy?"

"Yeah, I know Coley."

"Tunrs out he is not homelss after all and he's across the yard in the psych ward. they say he is doing well."

"Yeah, everyone in town is talking about it."

Gomer unpacked his recorder and set up the mic. He turned it on and hit the record button.

"So speaking of North Beach. I ever tell you about the time I saw Lenny Bruce?"

"What?!!" Gomer asked wide eyed.

"I was already living in the Flats. I was heading back out West for a few weeks anyway when Beaver called me. He was working at the Fillmore West at the time and told me that Lenny Bruce was going to be playing in June.

"Beaver had been working for Bill Graham at the time. Every now and then Beaver and I would head out to Palo Alto and hang out in the coffee houses near Stanford. We would see Jerry Garcia there. He was playing a banjo all the time. So there was a lot of overlap between the Beat scene and the growing hippie scene. All of the literary greats were around as well. Kesey, Alan Ginsberg ... Beaver and I saw Alan Ginsberg read from Howl!"

"Wow that is soo cool." Moe just kind of drifted off, obviously processing the memory. He continued.

"So, when Beaver told me Bill Graham was trying to get Lenny Bruce's number from Lawrence Ferlinghetti so he could book him at the Fillmore, I knew I had to be there ... The icing on the cake is that The Mothers, you know, Frank Zappa, were on the bill as well."

"I know who the Mothers are, Dad" Gomer expressed with annoyance.

"It was actually kind of a nightmare for Bill. Lenny was pretty heavily into his own drug use at the time and he was constantly being arrested and harassed by the cops for obscenity. Heh, compared to today's standards? Lenny Bruce was a lightweight. But then, Nobody, and I mean Nobody dared to do what he did. He was a warrior for the first amendment. That's why I write the way I do."

"So, the story goes that Bill went to pick him up at the airport in this old convertible Karmaan Ghia at about 3 in the morning. All Lenny did was complain about how cold it was and what a nut Bill Graham was for driving around with the top down, so early in the morning. It was probably Bill's way of saying "fuck you" for having stood him up at the airport earlier in the day. Bill dropped him off in North Beach and didn't see him again until he was two hours late for the gig."

Moe sighed.

"It was embarrassing, Sonny. So much of what I had heard about Lenny Bruce and recordings I had heard ... it was squashed that night. He was on stage a broken, paranoid, babbling man. He wasn't very funny and was obviously hopped up on something. Bill kept walking around like he used to, repeating over and over and gesturing to the stage, "I'm not responsible for this ...I'm not responsible for this!"

Fortunately, Frank Zappa saved the night, that was intense, I tell you what."

"What about Lenny Bruce? Did you get to meet him?"

"I really didn't want to. Perhaps at one point in my life I did, but not that night. A few weeks later he was found dead with a needle sticking out of his arm." Moe stopped and made eye contact with his son.

"I'm glad I never found you like that Sonny." Moe broke up a bit as a tear rolled down his cheek.

"I don't know what I would do without you, Sonny ... I just don't know." He beckoned for a hug.

Gomer leaned in and put his arms around his father, holding him tightly beginning to weep himself.

"I love you, Dad, I don't know what I am going to do without you."

"I know, Sonny, I know. Just do me a favor ... hold on to that joint." They hugged once again.

The next day down at the Odd Fellows Hall, the regulars gathered to bid Gomer farewell and a good trip. They all sat around listening intently as Gomer related the tale of his father seeing Lenny Bruce. They all enjoyed some finely roasted coffee and some of Iva's blue ribbon winning blueberry muffins with some freshly made butter Sveltie brought along from the Farm museum. It seemed like any other day, but they were there for Gomer. They knew what he may be coming back to.

Disease is a strong thing, whether it be mental or spiritual, those situations, with God's grace, can be corrected. But when they are physical, sometimes there is only so much you can do other than just be there ... be there for support.

Gomer said his farewell's as the rest of the band piled into the van. He looked at his joint which he moved from his truck to the ashtray of the van. As Gomer pointed the van in the direction of Eden Prairie. He thought about his father and said another prayer. He looked at the joint again and said to himself, "I'm all set today. But, I'll puff that fatty tomorrow, I'm sure I will," He put the van in gear and he was ...

Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Drunk Stuntmen September Update.

Greetings Stuntfans - Sorry it has been so long since we last contacted you all. Your reporter was forced to take an extended leave of absence to attend Silver Days and the Labor Day Holiday Run in Muskrat Flats. I divided my time between volunteering in the in the kitchen at the Oddfellow's Hall and doing some glass working demonstrations. For a kitchen run by a benevolent organization, they are busier most commercial kitchens I have seen.

Feeding all of those hungry bikers, working the Land Trust BBQ as well as keeping up with the meals on wheels dinners was enough to keep anyone hopping. This all changed as the Flatlanders had to stop business for a while in town to help with the post Tornado cleanup.

Corey Blackstone's house, down the Street and around the corner from Hawthorne Park, sustained the most damage as the front porch and most of the contents of the first floor were strewn about the neighborhood.

It was an eye opening experience indeed. Corey had a closely guarded secret exposed by the tragedy leveled upon his homestead by the freakish weather ocurrence. Why a multi-millionaire would sleep in a refrigerator box in the dining room of his deceased mother's house was as queer a concept to grasp as was why would he, a regular anonymous donor to facilitate local civic improvements would care to while away his days picking up trash and cigarette butts from the local parks? Accompanied by his dog, Chubby he did his part to keep the scene clean, when he was not furiously scratching calculations in his black composition notebook.

As the townspeople pulled together to work on the cleanup process, it was a logical choice to gravitate to the Odd Fellows Hall, which already had the reputation as a meeting place for all townspeople, not just the Brethren in the organization. Needless to say a lot of blueberry muffins had to be baked and many eggs were scrambled, before I caught a ride to the Municipal Airport.

Now that I am back to reality in the Happy Valley, the heart beat of the Stunt Nation, it is only appropriate to thank all of you who came to the various shows the Drunk Stuntmen played over the course of the Summer of 2008.

If you want to read some real news about the Drunk Stuntmen click here.

As Always You will find me ...

Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Stormy Weather

It has been a busy day in Muskrat Flats. It all started at about 2 pm on Tuesday when the residents were roused from their normal routines by the yellow air raid siren perched atop the Fire Station on Hawthorne St.

Sid Bartleby, former commander of the Civil Air Patrol sounded the alarm, some thing which was a regular task of his, during the Cold War years every Friday at Noon. But he had not activated that droning siren in a long, long time ... there really was no need to do so.

As residents heard the siren they tuned into to the local broadcast to find out that a warm front from the Hurricane down south was about to collide with a cold front front the Northwest. A tornado warning for the tri-county area had been issued. The local weathermen predicted Muskrat Flats would get the brunt of it.

Fortunately it wasn't as bad as they had predicted, but there was some severe damage in some parts. The town has been shut down and a majority of the residents have begun the task of cleaning up and regrouping after a series of two tornadoes ripped through the outlying areas of the Flats.

Most of the downtown area and the local businesses were spared. As was a major portion of the Farm Museum. Where there was damage, the damage was caused by high winds and falling debris. Sadly, however, some of the champagne grapes succumbed to the violent nature of the storm. Sveltelana Smith and her crew were out there early in the morning assessing the damage. The assault on her crop came mere hours before the grapes were to be harvested.

She and her crew bent over the vines, taping and splicing and pruning broken limbs where necessary. The remainder of the crew was quickly harvesting what could be salvaged.

Most of the berries were already bruised and browning in the morning sun, their sugar content intensifying as they began to decompose. Ever the industrious and positive thinking person, Sveltie decided to make the best of the situation and turn these battered berries into a limited edition sweet sparkling wine with the traditional method champenoise. It was to be a busy day, as they had to act quickly.

Nobody was really harmed. There were some close calls as a tree limb fell and caved in part of the roof of the horse barn at the museum. In another part of town, a few houses were destroyed and there was a close call with a dog named, Chubby.

Earlier in the day, the locals had gathered in the usual spot outside the kitchen at the Oddfellows Hall. The brother's were talking about the success of the Labor MDA Charity Run and Picnic a few short days earlier. The usual coffee with freshly baked native blueberry muffins were being consumed. The television in the corner was showing video of New Orleans, meteorologists from all over the country had descended on the crescent city to do their live news feeds awaiting the landfall of Hurricane Gustav.

"I think that is awful ... all of those reporters down in New Orleans." Sid Bartleby said.

"Why, Sid?" someone asked.

"Because everyone is expecting a repeat of Katrina. They want to see the whole city drown on live TV as it happens." There were a bunch of groans. Sid was quite the conspiracy theorist. Someone changed the subject.

"Gomer Eckstien, what a character, huh?" Jeff Nelson said.

Gomer had quite the day at the MDA picnic. The topic of conversation turned to the events following the musical performance by Gomer's band, Gomer Shabbos and the Hook Nosed Satans.

Gomer got into a very loud and public confrontation the Rabbi from the Ark of the Covenant Synagogue in the neighboring town of Baptist Lake. The Hook Nosed Satans played a rousing and energy filled set or hardcore klezmer music finishing up with a jam based upon a medley from the the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack.

Rabbi Bob Feldman confronted Gomer, waiting for him, glaring with his dark eyes. Stroking his bushy beard with one hand and his other arm folded across his chest. He was was tapping his toe, certainly not from the rhythm of the music he had just heard. His two young sons were standing behind him.

The Rebbe was pissed off that some one could be so irretrievably callous as to name their band Gomer Shabbos and the Hook Nosed Satans. A an obvious ethnic slur against the Jewish faith making light of both a sacred holy day and ethnic stereotypes. The rabbi was loaded for bear as he approached Gomer.

"How, DARE YOU!?" Gomer was still reeling from the adrenaline pumping through his system from his set. He was equally charged.

"How Dare I What?"

"Achh!?" The Rabbi gasped at the insurrection.

"Your name ... making light of the Shabbos, Hook Nosed Devils?

"Calm down, Shlomo, it's Hook Nosed Satans, it's a joke, a play on words to fit the style of music."

"A joke? I've got 6 million reasons why you should not joke of such things!"

"Oh, boy ... here we go again ..." Gomer sighed.

"Ya, here we go again." The Rabbi said with his voice rising. His face was getting redder by the second. "AND, YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER, BEING A JEW!"

"Wait a minute buddy, How do you know I'm Jewish?"

"well ... you obviously are." Now it was Gomer who decided to turn the tables and chose his words wisely.

"WHAT!!?? I'm obviously Jewish? What kind of shit is that? Because I have a big nose? Is that it? You ultra orthodox Torah thumping fuck!" Gomer pointed at him,

"YOU"RE GOING TO HELL!" He yelled leering at the Rabbi with a big maniacal smile. You just don't fuck with Gomer.

The folks in the crowd who knew Gomer began to laugh, but the Rabbi wasn't having any of it. He knew when he was being made sport of. He took a swipe at Gomer. Gomer turned and ducked quickly avoiding the punch slapping the cleric in the face with his sweaty greasy pony tail. By then people had begun to restrain them. They were separated and the scene was defused.

Sid Bartleby asked,

"So, Gomer, do we hire him for the Picnic next year?"

"Of, course we hire him. The crowd loves him. He is irreverent. He is the consummate showman." Jeff Nelson said.

"We may not be able to afford him, next year. Did you see the line up for his upcoming tour? He is playing a couple of theaters along the way." Someone else replied.

"I don't know," someone else interjected, "he was pretty over the top. We don't want to get a bad reputation." Sid replied.

"We don't want to get a reputation for censoring the entertainment. Besides, Gomer's style is uniquely representative of Muskrat Flats. It is guys like him who started this town. He is involved in the community. I say yes, if he will have us we hire him."

"Here, Here!" a couple of the brothers had said. It was then that Sid Bartleby's beeper went off. It was Josh Barrington, the Sherrif, still digesting the blueberry muffin he ate not to long ago in that very room, alerting Sid to the National Weather Service's update for the Flats and the Tri-county area.

As he was walking through Hawthorne Park, picking up litter and cigarette butts, Coley Blackstone heard the siren. That was odd he thought. He looked at the alarm clock he had strapped to the outside of his two wheeled laundry basket. The clock said 2:15 pm.

He fished into his basket. He did a double take to make sure no one was looking.

In these times, everyone is hooked up to some kind of electronic information technology device whether it be a cell phone, a Blackberry, or a laptop. Every one has them and you see them every where. But you don't often see a "homeless" hermit whip out an I Phone and start scrolling through the menus with an unusual display of digital dexterity.

He saw that he had a weather alert - Tornado Warning for Muskrat Flats and the Tri-county area.

"Shit" He was about 25 minutes away from home.

He packed up his stuff, tying the 7-11 bag full of debris and cigarette butts to the side of the carriage. He grabbed the leash and whistled loudly and yelled,

"CHUBBY! Come here, boy!" The little shaggy mutt was sniffing around about 50 yards away. His ears perked up and he turned his head to look at Coley. Chubby began galloping toward his master.

Chubby was a mix breed somewhere between a Bichon and a terrier. He looked like a minature version of a sheep dog with his black bangs often obscuring his runny brown eyes. He had a stubby little tail which was alway wagging at a furious clip. He has a slight respiratory problem which caused him to grunt a little bit with every step he took. To the outside observer he seemed down right cranky.

Chubby had an odd little habit however, he had a taste for bananas. Coley loved bananas, he always had them on hand. He would keep them in a wooden bowl on his mother's dinig room table. One night he roused from his slumber, grabbed his composition book, ready to attack another mathematical calculation. He reached out to get a banana, but the bowl was empty. He thought that the help probably had eaten them. And made a note to get more the next day, which he did.

The same thing happened the next night, the bananas were gone. This was a mystery to him, a mystery which he was going to solve.

The next night, he hid in his cardboard refrigerator box in the middle of the living room. There were two bananas left in the bowl. All of the sudden he heard some grunting. The grunting got louder as Chubby made his way down the stairs one step at a time. Coley watched as Chubby hopped up onto the dining room chair, and then to the table. He grabbed the two bananas and made his way back to the floor and out the flap in the kitchen door. Coley grabbed a flashlight and followed him.

He heard grunting underneath the porch. He shined the light. There next to a composting pile of banana skins swarming with fruit flies, stood Chubby, biting the peel off of the bananas and consuming the sweet fruit. He looked up at Coley, knowing he had done wrong.

Coley was left with no choice but to lock the bananas in the kitchen cupboard. Occasionally when he was in there and the cupboard was unlocked, Chubby would sneak up and steal a banana, making a quick escape and usually devouring the fruit, before Coley could catch him. Needless to say he needed to be punished and that meant, no bananas.

Chubby ran to catch up with Coley who was heading up Petersen St. at a brisk clip. Everywhere around him residents of the flats were racing around. They were picking up last minute supplies, the children from school and day care. They were battening down the hatches in preparation for the strom.

"Hey, Coley! Tornados coming better get cover." A well wisher shouted across the street.

"I know, I know. Thanks." He looked down, Chubby was grunting along with him, keeping up.

"We gotta get home, Chubby, Storm's coming." The sky began to darken and the wind picked up.

They got to a few hundred yards away from his home when it began to rain. There was thunder and little bit of lightning. He looked down at Chubby who seemed a little frightened. He picked him up and held him in his arms. Coley could see the entrance to the Storm/Bomb shelter his mother had installed in the the back yard. The rains and wind began to pick up even more.

Chubby spied something and began to wiggle. He leaped down to the ground an ran across the street. There, the neighbor had placed a bushel basket of summer squash with the sign "Free" in front of it. Chubby ran up to the basket and grabbed a curved yellow squash. He turned to look to Coley who was frantic that Chubby had gotten away.

Chubby made a bee line for the front porch and squeezed underneath the trellis as Coley chased him. The wind picked up more the sky darkened and then ... everything was still. Coley knew what was coming. He ran into the house, grabbed a bunch of bananas. He ran outside, kicked in the trellis and kneeled down to look under neath the porch. there he saw poor, wet and confused Chubby biting into a summer squash wondering why it didn't taste right.

Coley held out the bunch of bananas and yelled,

"Chubby, come here boy, you can have all of these, just come to me now."

The sky darkened even more and Coley heard a roar behind him. It sounded like a freight train crashing through a barn. Chubby dropped the summer squash sniffed it one more time and then ran to Coley. He picked up Chubby and they made it to the shelter in the nick of time as the Tornado cruised by.

He held Chubby tightly in his arms, crying at the fact that he almost lost his only friend.

An hour or so later, after a few more calculations in the composition notebook, Coley emerged from the shelter. Chubby was resting comfortably, comatose from over consumption of bananas. Coley was awed at what he saw. The tornado had ripped away the front porch and dining room of his house. There was a gaping hole with the contents of his house strewn across the yard. His refrigerator box was caught between two branches in the old oak tree in the front yard.
Coley was awed, indeed, by the wreckage. He opened up the shelter and whistled down to Chubby. He came up. Coley picked him up again and held him in his arms.

"Look what happened to our house, buddy. Look what happened to our house."

The onlookers, shocked at not only what happened, but at who had emerged from the shelter, began to murmur amongst themselves.

"Our house?!" Jeff Nelson asked Jeremiah Smith and Sveltie, quietly.

Coley looked around at the crowd and looked at the house. the charade was up.

"I guess I'm going to have to retire earlier than I had planned" he thought as he whipped out his I phone and dialed the number for his Shrink.

As if a Tornado is bearing down on me ...

You will always find me,

Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.

Monday, September 1, 2008

"Teach Your Children, Well ..."

There were strange happenings in Muskrat Flats last week, and it is beginning to seem like that is what the locals expect. That is why they live there.

There are many reasons why people end up living in the Flats. Some folks such as Jeremiah Smith came into town with the sole intention of staying the weekend and moving on. Little did he know that he would take up permanent residence putting his degree in Organic Farming and Renewable Land Management to work for him and his lovely new bride.

Jerry graduated from Hampshire College, a fine institution where in a non-traditional academic setting, he honed the farming skills he heard he had inherited from his grandfather.

Jeremiah Smith arrived in Muskrat Flats one summer morning about 20 years ago. He had been traveling around the country after he graduated from college, not quite sure what he wanted to do or where he wanted to go. Gomer Eckstien, a friend from Amherst College, and a Muskrat Flats native, told him about Silver Days and encouraged him to come and check out the scene.

He was very amused by the antics of the Hibernian Flatlanders as well as the re-enactment of the first Silver Days inauguration ceremony. He was very interested in the concept of the Farm and Agricultural Museum and fell in love with the rustic nature of the whole community. He was really starting to feel comfortable in Muskrat Flats when something caught his eye. It was more than something ... someone caught his eye.

In the vendors area in front of a row of neatly manicured lavender plants, near the Victorian Style Railroad station constructed under the watchful eye of of long deceased Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne III, was a tent where locally produced wine was being sold. He heard some live Grateful Dead coming from a boom box inside the tent. He was interested in trying a sample of the wine but not as interested as the vision of natural beauty which grabbed his attention and bolted his feet to the ground.
Her name was Jenny she was about 5 foot 11 and had long brown hair. She was wearing a black tank top and a colorful batik skirt. The bells attached to her ankle bracelet chimed in rhythm with the music as she swayed along to the beat. She was the first hula hoop dancer Jeremiah had ever seen. He had dated many women throughout his college career, but he had never witnessed such grace and beauty. She danced around seeming as though she wasn't even concentrating on keeping the hula hoop going, yet the over sized black and yellow ring kept its speed traveling up and down her svelte body. She looked somewhat Eastern European in her facial features. Perhaps she was a runaway from a Russian Circus, he mused. This led to him immediately coming up with her new nickname, a nickname she would not hear for about 6 months, Sveltelana.

She continued to ease through her dance as she brought the hoop down to her ankle jumping as if she were skipping rope. The hoop then moved up her body, over her hips, past her neck and lovely face to her hand, raised high over her head. It traveled back down her arm slid down past her breasts. She had her eyes closed, which was a good thing because Jeff was starting to realize he was not only staring but becoming envious of the intimate physical contact she shared with an inanimate object, that hula hoop. When she did open her eyes the first ones she made contact with were Jeremiah's. He was absolutely lost, stunned like a deer caught in the headlights. It was too late. He was in love. She took pity on this cute tourist and began the conversation by simply saying "Howdy, Stranger!" He was destined never to leave Muskrat Flats, not without her at least. But he stayed, he was home.

Jeff is now the director of the Agricultural program at the Muskrat Flats Farm Museum and Historical Archive. Sveltelana, heads the department which is the main profit center for the agricultural museum, putting her hard earned degree from the University of California Davis campus to work as she tends to the many grape varietals she and her staff turn into award winning wines. Their "Running Rats" Nouveau Beaujolais placed first in it's division in a wine competition hosted by Appellation.com in 2007.

Jenny and Jerry were at the museum. It was crowded and there were farming demonstrations happening all day long. A few blocks away the Oddfellows were hosting their annual MDA Charity Run and Labor Day Picnic. They were standing near the entrance to the museum when they ran into their longtime friend and neighbor, Jeff Nelson. Jeff is the owner/operator of Wake Of the Flood Plumbing. His young daughter Jane was was with him smiling and listening intently to the conversation which had turned to Jerry and Jenny quizzing Jeff about a date they had heard he had earlier in the week.

"So, she invited you out...?" Jenny Asked.

"Yeah ... Dude, it was so dysfunctional." Jerry asked,

"She doesn't live in the Flats does she?"

"No, she is from up the river a piece, she lives on the West Side."

Jenny smiled. Two of her workers hail from West side, a rare breed they are, in a good way of course, It must be something in the water she thought. Jeff Continued.

"Honestly, it was more like a job interview that a date. She told me about her, I told her about me ... I mean told her everything including all of the addiction bull shite, but she knew about that already." Jerry asked

"You did?"

"She read my blog, and decide to contact me anyway." He laughed and continued. "Oh, course I told her everything. It was all about honesty, I wasn't going to screw it up." He sighed and continued,

"So, She asked me what I wanted in a woman and I basically said, honesty."

"Right, on..." Jerry chimed in. Jeff began to smile,

"So, it was then she decided to tell me she was living with her boyfriend!"

"Dude!" Jerry exclaimed, Sveltie just started laughing.

"She leaned in for a kiss, I am ashamed to admit it but I kissed her back..."

"Daddy!, she has a boyfriend!"

"I know, I know...well she quickly decided that we probably should go any further apologized and then took off."

"Good for you, Jeff. That worked out just fine," Sveltie said.

"The funny thing is, by the time I checked my computer the next time I went online, she deleted me as one of her friends, she put up her boyfriend's picture instead of hers on her profile and she updated her "about me blurb" to say that she is living with a wonderful man, the love of her life and they are to be married." All three of them burst out laughing. Jeff's daughter just slapped her hand against her forehead. Jerry said,

"Dude, you're lucky you didn't end up in twelve pieces in a chest freezer somewhere." Sveltie added,

"Yeah, she was going to boil your bunny, Holmes" Jeff smiled and sighed,

"I know, I know, I think I learned my lesson. No more internet dates." They began walking to the Oddfellows to get some lunch.

The route to the Oddfellow's Hall is just a short walk from the entrance to the Farm Museum. They took a right out of the museum and headed West up Beacon St. At the Intersection of Beacon and Main they took a right for one block and then another right onto McKernan St. McKernan is a one way that feeds right into Petersen, where the benevolent order has their home base.

There were motorcycles everywhere. They had been hearing them all day. They started appearing as they walked down McKernan by the time they hit Petersen bikes were lined up like dominoes along both sides of the Street. In the parking lot of the Oddfellows Hall, the participants of the MDA Labor Day Run were feasting at the Labor Day picnic.

Bikers of all shapes and sizes with their companions were staring up at the sky. Gomer Eckstien was doing a sky diving demonstration. His target was a huge bullseye set up in the middle of the grassy area at the Petersen St. Skate Park across the street from the hall. Gomer was circling down in a tight spiral leaving a trail of green and orange smoke, which was coming from an apparatus strapped to his ankle. He hit the ground safely and right on target ... a good thing since his hard core Klezemer band, Gomer Shabbos and the Hook Nosed Satans was scheduled next as part of the day's entertainment. Gomer's assistants grabbed his chute and he began to head across the street to meet the cheering crowd. Gomer looked over and saw a guy sitting on a bench. He waved and said,

"Hey, Coley." The man looked up briefly nodded his head and acknowledged,


As the smoke cleared, Jeff his daughter and his two longtime friends settled in for their portion of the barbecue. They watched as Gomer set up his gear. He had changed from his jump suit to all black and was wearing a decidedly ethnic looking broad brimmed hat. He was putting together his clarinet and the fiddler was tuning up.

Jeff looked around. Across the street he saw Coley. Coley was one of the locals, he was a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and someone Jeff and Sveltie had gone to high school with. He had always been an very intense character, even in high school. As Jeff looked on, Coley was doing what he could always be seen doing. He was dressed in camouflaged shorts with a large overcoat and a winter cap. Inappropriate dress for the 80 degree temperature in the Flats, that day.

Coley was sitting in his usual spot next to his two wheeled laundry basket. He was furiously doing hand written calculations in a weathered and tattered composition notebook he carried in that basket. He was obsessed with numbers, so the people in town thought. But there was a little more to Coley. He had a plan, as crazy as he was, he had a plan.

What the locals from the Flats didn't know is that Coley is short for Coleman. To the general public, Coley is another lost soul, another scarred and disfigured war casualty. Although strapping and strong in outward appearance, the scarring is in his mind. Coley is one of the many descendants of the the boozing and fornicating founder of the Muskrat Flats, Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne III.

In a famous paternity suit in 1970, Coley's grandmother had secured a settlement from Sheriff Hawthorne's estate. She was the Grand daughter of one of Hawthorne's little bastards, a mean spirited man who inherited only his father's taste for whiskey. When she found out about her lineage, she did what any struggling mother would do, she tried to get her due. The case was settled quickly and quietly. A portion of her estate was put into trust for her only living relatives, her daughter and her grandson.

Coley grew up in Muskrat Flats and had a pretty normal childhood, but there was something odd about that boy. He was always a loner which didn't concern many people because he was also very bright and compassionate. He was always seen tending to the wounds of other children and wounded animals. His mother thought he would go to medical school, perhaps grow up to be a great surgeon. But two things happened in his 19th year, his mother died and he enlisted in the Army.

By the time he enlisted in the Army, he was well aware of the secret his mother had kept hidden from him so many years. She always worked, but they seemed to live beyond their means, they certainly didn't seem to live on a medical tech's salary. When he saw what his mother's estate was worth his eyes widened. He could live comfortably for the rest of his life on just the interest alone. But the work ethic instilled in him by both his mother and grandmother prevented him from doing so. Off to Iraq it was.

Iraq was too intense for him. He worked in a field hospital and had the best intentions, but was wholly unprepared for the carnage and heart ache he would experience.

He tried getting jobs when he got back, but had lost the drive to move forward in his life. He soon just holed up in his mother's house. He painted and he wrote and he drank . He continued to drink for years until he couldn't take it anymore. One day, he just stopped.

He ventured out into the public. He went for walks and picked up litter and interesting gimcracks he encountered along the way. He became more and more visible downtown. Folks who knew him gossiped, concocting stories about how he had been a resident at Walter Reed and the local VA hospital for all of these years. Everyone who tended to the house or provided a service got paid every month, like clockwork. The taxes were up to date, even though they never saw their client. Nobody really associated Coley with Emma Blackstone's kid, the hermit who lived on the fringes at the end of Promontory Lane, the wealthiest man in Muskrat Flats.

The locals certainly didn't think the drab looking homeless guy with the wire basket shopping cart was responsible for so many civic minded improvements in the Flats such as the rehabilitation of the railroad at the Farm Museum and the construction of the Petersen Skate Park, or the 1o sets of field pipes donated to the Hibernian Flatlanders so they could expand their Bagpipe instructional program in the public schools.

As he sat in the Skate Park. Coley could hear Gomer Eckstien whip up his band with his toe tapping brand of hard core folk music. Coley went through his composition book and began another equation. He had taken to obsessively figuring out how much money he had accumulated from interest in hourly increments. It was mentioned earlier that he did have a plan. He was in therapy and he was making progress.

He figured that soon he would retire from his current lifestyle and get a job, volunteer of course. He thought he would like working in the vineyard, tending the grapes which became the product which would cause him so much anguish for over a decade. He thought that maybe he could influence them positively and give the wine good karma he might reduce the number of sick and suffering alcoholics out there.

He usually slept through the night but occasionally he would awake inside of his cardboard refrigerator box, which was nestled in the middle of his mother's neat and tidy living room. to arrive at the most recent calculation of the state of his interest. He smiled to himself when he saw the the number, soon he could retire.

Gomer finished up his first tune and the Hook Nosed Satans took advantage of the break to tune their instruments. Gomer took the time to thank all of the sponsors, the Oddfellows for their wonderful food and of course the annual anonymous donor, the one who donated frequently to local causes.

"To that anonymous donor, whoever you are, you make Muskrat Flats a better place to live!"

The crowd hoisted their drinks and cheered. Jeff watched as Coley packed up his stuff and began to move along. He thought he saw Coley say something, but obviously couldn't hear. He watched as Coley trudged down the street.

"What are you looking at, Daddy?"

"Someone I used to go to school with, honey."

"You know him, is he a friend of yours?"

"Not really, but he is a good guy, he has some problems."

"Like you had "problems?""

"Yeah, kind of, but I don't think he drinks anymore."

"That's good. You be a good Daddy you don't drink either."

"I won't honey, not today." She hugged him. Jeff wondered, again what Coley had said.

It was a reply to Gomer's schpiel. Coley simply said,

"You're welcome Gomer, Muskrat Flats is a great place to live."

Once again you will always find me ...

Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.