Friday, January 17, 2014

A Different World

It was a different world, then . . .

In every cafe, at lunch counters and bars people sat smoking, languidly or furtively, dreamily or seductively, and this was not, in the day, seen to be a threat to anyone other than the person enjoying the cigarette--but if, with a view to the culture of the time, there was a truly injurious hazard to the health, welfare and public decency to be suffered, or at least observed, that could be found at a glance in any diner, classroom, railroad passenger coach or city bus should some woman across the way carelessly cross her legs, to the exposure of a stocking-clad knee by more than a hem's width--there was your 'side-stream smoke' of the day.

Why! In those years, even so much as the dropped strap of a slip from a sleeveless blouse was a shock to the public sensibility, and an unseemly cause of distraction to many a man. For indeed, what if some fine gent had been about to read in his newspaper something terribly important to the future of the world and the rest of his life at just the moment he should catch a glimpse of a woman nearby who had let the black satin strip of a thing like that slip? Well! There you had a menace to the commonweal and the general welfare if ever there was one. Things were different then, in that day when women were seen so lushly to blush, their faces flushing brightly to a plush pink were someone urgently to whisper, "Darling! Your slip is showing!"

Friday, June 21, 2013


Mom, Dad & Grandpa with some Army Air Corps pals
circa, 1944 just before or after their marriage.
(You can't quite see me yet, but I'm there, too!
One look at Grampa's face tells you.

Mom on honeymoon en route to LasVegas,
stopped at a gas station. It's Dad
--behind the camera--
You can see who she's posed with for this snapshot.
(Right Click for Enlargement)
That's his motorcycle with sidecar behind Mom.
Whoever the cowgirl is, it's not Carole
Lombard, but boy is she cute!

Mom's College Grad photo.
As my sister describes her:
"She was Class of 1938 valedictorian in high school and graduated Cum Laude at Brookings College in SD. On Fulbright scholarship she attained her Masters Degree with honors in Social Work at the University of Minnesota while raising two children as a divorced mother."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Moon of Manakoora

Inspired by a scene in Delmer Daves' Dark Passage . . .

Do click that, if you will. It is the score to this which folliows, or there is nothing here . . .

Around about two in the morning, out in the city, in the fog, who really knows what time is? What time "it" is--well, that's just looking at the face of a clock, not into the hidden deep of that wide place where no hourglass or wristwatch can tell what the truest tense of your time is, the breadth and depth, the length of it; or how a person's thoughts may best tell it, whether in present, past or future--at two a.m. in the fog.
I'm sitting in a diner, one of those railroad cars they turn to the purpose. However they got it here without railroad tracks, how I got here, all I know, that's the way it is: here I am on Post street just up from Fillmore. On the radio some Hawaiian song is playing.

I've got a suit and tie on, but my shoes look like they've been for a walk in the Bay, and there's a 'five o'clock shadow' on my face, twice around the clock.

It's misting out. My felt hat is wet. It's off my head, on the table. The blue serge of my suit is damp, so it sparkles in the light. I was reaching for a napkin when the girl came stumbling in at the door; she went down, spread-eagle, face flat to the floor. I could've just sat staring at her, but I'm the curious type. So I get up; go over for a closer look. I'm the sole patron in the car, the guy behind the counter just stands there scratching at the back of his paper cap, wondering, waiting.

I heard a groan, so I knelt down at her head. "Miss," I said, "you drunk, or dropping dead, or . . ."  She didn't move, so I put a hand to her shoulder blade--the blade, not the shoulder.

She jerked and rolled on her side to face me; she says, "Say! Not on the first date, buster." She slowly rolled back over.

The guy in the cap shared with me a shot of the wry eye, and then I said, "I could help you up."

She batted a hand toward me. "Leave me be."

"Fine. Nighty-nite then, Sister," I stood back to my feet. To the guy I said, "Sing her a lullaby, Mack. She might like that."

Oddly enough, she turned her face up, sneering a bit of a smile, with a trickle of blood running from the corner of her mouth; her cheek on that side was reddened, as if from a slap. She's pretty, 43 or 44.  She smelled of gin. She sat up and said, "Moon of Manakoora." I looked at the diner guy as he came closer; he shrugged. Looking back down at her, I see she's pointing, "On the radio, ya dopes. Dorothy Lamour. That's my lullaby."

"Here," says the guy. "Let's get you up. This ain't a Pullman car, case you'd like to know."

"Nuts!" she said, pulling her arm away from his hand. "I can get myself up. Just bring me a cup of coffee."  There was a chrome bar leading up the steps from the door. She had hold of that, and was managing to pull herself up.

I'm back at my table having a sip. She's standing up, still holding on, swaying some. The proprietor is handing her a napkin. "Here. Ya got blood on your chin."

She rips it from his hand, says, "Okay, doc. How long you give me to live?" She wipes the blood, looks at the napkin. Her eyes rise to mine, and they fix. She takes another look at the napkin and starts down the aisle. The napkin falls as her hands drop to my table. Now I'm fixed in that stare again. Her mascara has run some, but the penciled arcs at her brows are glamour magazine perfect. "Say!" she says, "If he comes in; if he finds me here, you'll stick up for me, won't you--you won't let him . . ."

"Sure, sure," I say, great hero that I am. "But you better sit down before you fall down." I don't worry about being original with my cliches. I always say, 'if the shoe fits wear it.'  I stood up to help her into the opposite seat and this time she didn't pull away.

The man in a paper hat came with a glass of water, set it down in front of her. She looks up. "You Sammy?"

"That's me. Why?"

"It's on the sign, ain't it?"

"Say," he says. "You want I should call the cops?"

"No!" She turned from him to me. "Don't you do that. Leave it alone."

"Suit yourself," says he. "But I don't want any trouble in here."

A little blood was trickling again. I handed her a napkin. "Why, Sir Galahad!" she says. "How goddam gallant of you." She took it, dabbed her mouth a little.

"Who did it?" I asked.

The look she gave me was dark, hooded. She cracked a little smile. "You never saw that picture with Dorothy Lamour?"

"What picture?"

"The one that song's from, ya dummy."

I shook out a match, looked at her, looked at her, and looked a bit longer at her, blew a stream of smoke over her glass of water, watched it undulate upward over the bulges in that thin coat she had on. She reached for my pack of cigarettes and shook one out. "Well?" she asks, waiting for a light. I tossed her the matches.

She took the cigarette to her lips and struck herself a light. "You're a real hard case, aren't you?" She blew that in smoke, right at my face.

"When it seems right," says me.

She tossed the matchbook down to the table; gave me a narrow look. "How come you ain't shaved?"

"Maybe I'm growing a beard."

"Or maybe you've been out on a bender."

What was this dame--some kind of clairvoyant? I asked her. "You got a crystal ball in your lap there? Or did you read it in my coffee grounds?"

"I can read it in your 90 proof breath, Buck."

"Ah . . . well, kinda looks now like I'm the one reading something from your past?" I nodded toward the door.

He was big, this bruiser coming in; his eyes slid around till they came to a stop on the back of this dame's head.  One stride up the stairwell and  three along the aisle; he was there, just behind her, his meaty mitt having landed on her upper arm. "Get up, Dolores. Let's go." She tried to jerk her arm from his grip but it was no good. He barked. "I said, let's go!"

Water was dripping from the brim of one of those over-sized fedoras. Never could figure what would make a big man think he needed a big hat like that. You figure that maybe in some big men, there's a small one trying to get out. I said, "Maybe you should let go of her."

"Shut up, shrimp." He showed me his teeth, ground them together to say, "This ain't your business."

"Stop it, Jake!" She was still trying to pull her arm back. "You're hurting me!"

"Stop it, Jake," I said. "You're hurting her." And that did it. He jerked his hand away to bring a finger toward my face. "I ain't tellin' you twice, bub."

"Well," I said. "I guess 'bub' is nicer than 'shrimp'."

"Oh, a wiseguy, eh?" His hand was balling into a fist. Sammy was halfway down the aisle, but he stopped, shouted:

"Say! I don't want no trouble in here. Take your Hell outside, Mister!"

When our nasty guest had turned his eyes back to me, he was looking into the bad end of some business that was mine: an Army issue Smith & Wesson .38. My elbow was steady on the table, the gun gleamed blue.  I said, "Do like the man says, Jake. Take your Hell outside."

He turned to Sammy. "Hey! He's got a heater on me."

Sammy saw that and said, "Put that away!"

"When I'm done with it," I said.

"Do it!" says Dolores. "Shoot the dirty bastard. He's got it comin'."

"Shut up, slut!" He turned to me. "She ain't worth it. She's a whore. My whore. She works for me, see?"

I looked at Dolores for a second, then back at him. I said, "Kind of looks like the lady just quit the job on account of these lousy working conditions."

"Why, you . . ." his fist came up. I cocked the trigger.

"Now, wait a minute." He ran a hand over the front of his coat.

"That's too long," I said. "Try three seconds."

"She was holding back on me, see? Skimming off more than she had coming."

I said, "Take a look at what you got coming. Take a good look, because it might be coming sooner than you think."

He laughed between his grit teeth. He turned to Dolores. "Who is this chump? What are you to him, anyway?"

She didn't get to answer. I said, "I'm just the 'chump' that's going to drill one dumb gorilla full of holes, he don't turn around and walk out of here right now."

Slowly, his lips curled into a smile. "Maybe I don't believe you. Maybe I think you're just a lousy shrimp without the guts to put down that gun, and fight like a man."

"Maybe something else," I said.

"Yeah, what?"

"Could be I don't like being inconvenienced."

"Well, I'll show you some of that!" My gun went off just as his fist got cocked back for the punch. The shot went to his chest. Under the chin for the next, and out through the back of his head, clean as could be, seeing there must not have been much in there to get in the way.

"Jesus Christ!" Sammy looked down in horror. "You must'a killed him."

Taking my hat up off the table, I said, "Must have."  I stood, put that on my head, pulled a fifty-cent piece from my pocket and sent it spinning on the table top. I was just about to the door when I heard the dame yell, "Hey! Wait a minute." I kept going; went down into the short stairwell, pushed against the door and stepped out to the street. The mist had turned to a light rain. I heard the sound of high heels clattering, and a shout, "Wait! Hey, wait!" Under the circumstances, that didn't seem feasible, though maybe I did slow down just a little.

Almost knocked me over when she collided, her hands coming to my arm, my waist. She was winded, but managed to say, "I got a place up around the corner."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Ghost of Old Man Laverne's Revenge

It all began in John Johnson's field a few miles out of Laverne, Minnesota, where that giant turnip of his got growing to the shock of the whole world. Laverne is 20 miles east of Sioux Falls, where Old Man Laverne, founder of the town and first pioneering settler of this lush river valley, had first come into the land by way of South Dakota, ever thereafter cantankerously stating (to anyone who really didn't care to hear) the outlandish claim that his homestead was in South Dakota, and not Minnesota. For many, this brought to mind another peculiarity of Laverne's, being the way he never did call his farm a 'farm', but instead always said it was his 'ranch'. His "ranch". That was always prime fodder for a grand old laugh. A wild west cowboy from Minnesota, is it? One old wag from around the cracker barrel at Pete Petersen's dry goods store in town is historically recorded to have said, "He might as well have tried that in Wisconsin."

It is by reason of this background that not a few old residents in and around the town have for years refused to call Laverne "Laverne," so long as Laverne was refusing to call Minnesota, "Minnesota."  So, they just call it 'town', as in, "Going into town, Ma." Some don't even bother with that and just say, "beer joint." Or "barber shop." Because any fool knows you don't go to a barber shop out in the middle of a corn field. It just goes without saying, if you can say it, without saying, "Laverne".

The Johnson farm is part and parcel, rock and rill, hillock and 'crik', the original homestead of Old Man Laverne, and with each passing day there are more denizens of the area who surely believe that the giant, stadium-sized, ten-story tall turnip growing out in that field must be what they've come to call "the ghost of Old Man Laverne's revenge." And the more that monster vegetable was seen to grow and expand daily, threatening to claim the ground of every farm around, the countryside came to be engulfed by crowds of curious on-lookers; foreigners from so far away as Sioux Falls with buffaloes on their license plates. That was not the end of it. Afterward, they came from Fargo, Minneapolis, and Duluth. The bigger it grew, the further away from whence they came; Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, New York and San Francisco, and before it was over, London, Tokyo, Paris and Beijing, China.

Sven Swenson was on the scene of the turnip the day it had expanded to the extent of stretching his pasture fence bordering on the Johnson place, pulling out his posts--pop! pop! pop! all on down the line. He was standing there, squinting in the sun, looking upward to the towering top of that turnip, hat off in hand, wiping brow-sweat to his sleeve and saying to another neighbor, Ole Olson, "I tell you, Ole, by the looks of the way that thing's a growing, it won't be but a couple weeks fore it's plowed through town and gone clear over the South Dakota line."

"Be soon on its way over there to Sioux Falls," said Ole. "But did you ever find out what John Johnson's been usin' for fertilizer?"

"Buffalo Chips," declared Sven. "He gets 'em by the truck-load off that pre-serve they got up there at Blue Mounds."

"Where they got that buffalo herd up there?" asked Ole.

"You betcha," said Sven.

And they went on talking about it, as was the whole world when two weeks later, the newspapers came piling off the presses to declare in two-inch banner heads, "Laverne Turnip Crosses South Dakota Line!" The article beneath, and all the television news commentators were now reporting that the Pentagon had been brought in to the matter, right after the Department of Agriculture had thrown up its hands. When the U.S. Army with a convoy of trucks and artillery had arrived to set up a bivouac here in the Pebble River Valley, as anyone could see, the situation had come nothing short of critical, a 'national emergency', as State of Minnesota Assemblyman Knut Knutson was calling it, declaring from St. Paul, the day Johnson's turnip expanded over the border to South Dakota, "This looks like a job for the Department of Homeland Security, the EPA and by golly, I hope not, but, well, I hate to say it, the UN.? But let's not let the turnip get before the horse--or the cart. Either one."

There were reporters from all the major news services in the world standing behind those barricades the Army had set up to keep people safely away from the constantly expanding outer contour of the turnip. Wolf Blitzer was there on the scene conducting an interview with John Johnson and his neighbors, Sven and Ole. With microphone pressed before the harried, perspiring faces of the three farmers, addressing them all at once, the man from CNN was saying, "At the risk of sounding like we just fell in here off the turnip truck, I must ask what are local folks saying about this agricultural monstrosity?"

"By Golly!" said Ole.

"Yah," said Sven.

"Yah sure!" said John Johnson, nodding to affirm the views of his neighbors.

"You betcha," said Wolf, trying to go native, and pressing for more, "But you, Mr. Johnson, that is your turnip is it not?"

"Sure was," said Johnson, "till it got off over the state line into South Dakota. Now it's hard to say who it belongs to. Man in the Moon by this time next week by the look of it."

Wolf stepped in. "Sounds like a job for the ICC."

"Or NATO," said Sven Swenson.

"But you, Johnson, do you really believe this fable we've been hearing from some of the townsfolk; what they've been calling 'the ghost of Old Man Laverne's revenge?"

Johnson, taking his eyes back down off the height of the turnip to the crisp clipped bearded face of Wolf said, "Though that should not be repeated above a whisper, I wouldn't put it past him. No sir."

After a knowing wink aside to the international viewing public, Wolf said, "But it was after all you who planted it, which rather ties you in to the ah . . . conspiracy, don't you think?"

"No, because like my neighbor Sven Swenson here's been trying to tell me, I must have got my turnip seed mixed up with the rutabaga. He says judging by the size, it's more like a rutabaga."

"Yah," said Sven, "because who ever saw a turnip that big?"

"True enough," said John Johnson. "And come to think, it is out of the same seed stock from Old Man Laverne's farm. That I will admit."

"You never told me!" said Ole.

"Wasn't your business," said Johnson.

"Well, I'm jiggered," said Ole. "The curse was right in the germ, waitin' all this time to come out like a three-eyed cat. And it's the same family line by marriage between the Luvernes and the Johnsons, of course."

"So it is a conspiracy!" cried Wolf.

"Hereabout," said Sven Swenson, "we call it marriage."

"You could say it comes to about the same thing though," said Ole.

"Why sure," said Johnson. "Ya see, Old Man Laverne's my great, great, granddad on my mama's side, Frenchmen, that lot. And though he never had any use for Norwegians, his daughter found a good one!" Johnson and his neighbors broke out laughing as though they'd been enjoying that one for the past three generations.

"A good Norwegian?" asked Wolf.

"No, a good use for one," said John Johnson with a wink, as his merriment was soon joined by the thigh-slapping hilarity of the rest.

"Ah. Yes, I see." said Wolf, "But for the enlightenment of our viewing audience, you could say, could you not, now that your turnip has invaded the South Dakota border, well then, in a very real way, the Old Man Laverne's revenge is complete, seeing his old er . . . 'ranch', has now been annexed to South Dakota, making good on his storied old claim?"

"By golly," said Ole Olson.

"Well, I'll go further than that," said Johnson.

"Yes?" said Wolf. "The public is waiting."

"Well," said John Johnson. "You betcha!"

Wolf turned full face to the camera saying, "And that is the news for now, from here on the scene of the turnip ranch. Back to you, Atlanta."

While the military was getting set up with the artillery and batteries of Sidewinder, Patriot and Cruse missiles, a large group of protesters were beginning to make their presence known by way of their signs, their songs, their bull-horns, their fancifully dyed hair and their Birkenstocks. The local population who were quite happy to see the presence of the military, in hopes of saving so much of Minnesota as was left, were not so overly impressed by the antics of the protesters.

"Bunch of dad-burned, barefoot turnip-huggers!" groused Ole Olson as he, Sven and John Johnson now spoke with FOX news about the situation, while they watched a young man in orange, braided hair and many rings dangling from his ears, nose, brow and lips go by bearing a sign, to wit, "Don't Tread on the Turnip!"

Shep Smith of FOX presented his mike, asking, "So what is your view of their position when these protesters say that shooting Patriot missiles at the turnip will increase global warming?"

"I'm not too sure about it!" so said, John Johnson.

Shep, in an attempt to be fair and balanced, objectively pursued the matter playing the Turnip Hugger's advocate. "And when they say that the oxygen this turnip is putting to the atmosphere from all that foliage of turnip greens up there could close the Ozone Hole, your answer is . . . ?"

"I wonder how much turnip it might take to close their pie-hole," said Ole. "That's about what."

Just then they were interrupted by a commotion over near the barricade. "Follow me, boys!" declared Shep, motioning to his crew.

A Five Star General, Lance O'Leary by name was armed with a bullhorn pointed upward upon the glistening white globe of the turnip and he was giving orders. "This is your first warning, whoever you are up there, to come down immediately before we are forced to take stern measures!"

Mrs. Ole Olson having now come to her husband's side as they both neared the barricade was heard to cry, "Landsakes! Why, I never in my life!" She turned away shielding her eyes. "What's that on his naked back?"

"Looks like some ratty old Sears & Roebucks mail order git-box to me," said Ole.

Shep Smith, mike in hand a few paces away from them began to address the camera, "Folks, it looks like the military has a situation on its hands. There is a young man with rock climbing gear -- try to get the camera on him up there, Frank -- attempting to scale the face of the Turnip. Yes, he is driving pitons, hooking ropes, he has a guitar on his back -- wait a minute. Something coming in here." An aide was handing Shep a slip of paper. "Yes, the man has been identified. It is Spike Spiderman a Minneapolis coffeehouse entertainer, and sometime public event streaker who has been arrested numerous times for singing the blues in the nude, during half-time at ball games, downtown parades, political rallies and whatnot. Yes, and by the looks of him now, the only thing he has to cover him are his tattoos, his rings, his Birkenstocks equipped with cramp-ons, and that guitar on his back."

Mr. and Mrs. Nels Nelson, neighbors to John Johnson on his north boundary were now standing with the Ole Olsons, when there came a thunderous sound, as the earth beneath them began to heave. Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Olson were screaming. The barricade ruptured as the turnip was now seen to be visibly in motion of its expansion. The people in a panic took flight as the missile batteries and artillery mounts were up-ended. Screams and howls of human terror were dampened under a groaning and grumbling come up from the ground, cracking as it shook; earth and stone being plowed out of the way by the rising girth of the turnip.

Within 24 hours, it was over. Just . . . over. And done. Or, as the Frenchmen like to say at the end, "FIN." The third planet from the sun, had been replaced by a turnip; a very large turnip to be sure, but yes, just that, and only that--except for three people: there was Spike Spiderman, plus Mrs. Ole Olson and Mrs. Nels Nelson, both blonde, both buxom, both in their mid-thirties, and both of whom had become entangled in rising adventitious roots as the turnip came up, bursting the ground from beneath their tennis shoes. Happily, the atmosphere of earth had been taken over by the turnip. And due to the way the crown of the turnip had come to replace the North Pole of the earth, all the encumbering foliage was frozen and broken away, sent off as space junk, jettisoned from the turnip by the turbulence of such cataclysmic, high plasma winds as had been electromagnetically generated during the transformation of Earth to Turnip.

Now, it was time for mankind to have a fresh start on Turnip, with all the turnip food and turnip juice three lucky people could use, while they worked their way south toward what might be seen for the Florida or which is to say, 'South Beach' of the turnip, where the weather would be mild and sunny, and they could relax by the shore of a turnip juice sea, look up at the stars by night and listen to Spike Spiderman play his low-down, butt-naked, nitty-gritty, "All I Got is These Darned Old Raggedy Birkenstocks Blues."