Assorted Tales from
By Johnny Culver
age fifty, looked across the sidewalk café table into the sparkly eyes of her
editor. A worn, oversized shoebox sat between them. It was a warm summer
weekday (which day?) morning
“Muriel,” her editor shook his floppy head of curly hair, “No one is going to believe a word of this. Did your mother have some sort of…problem? Dementia, maybe? She was pretty old.”
“I told you, over and over. She was the editor and owner of the town newspaper. Edna Mueller would tell it like it is!” Muriel tapped the box impatiently. “If you don’t want to work on this project with me, I’ll find someone else who will!”
Her editor sighed. “Alright. Now tell me again where you found all this?”
“Apparently, my mother would write about the events of her day in a journal. Not to be published. Just for herself. Just some assorted tales, that’s what she called them, in assorted styles.” Muriel explained. “I never knew they existed. A neighbor found them in her bedside stand. She had just passed away. I haven’t been back to Tylertown in thirty years.” She looked out to the street, and looked back. “Sometimes I regret leaving so young.”
Since getting on that train at the Cheeseman stop thirty years ago, Muriel had been around the country hitchhiking, served in the Peace Corps, received degrees in Art History and Literature, and was now a resident of New York City, where she earned a living as a copywriter while earning a solid reputation as a director of experimental theater.
Opening the dusty handwritten manuscript, Muriel pushed aside a few yellowed photographs and began to read aloud.
Come and listen you fellows
So young and so fine
And seek not your fortune
In the dark, dreary mines
It was a wet
March evening. Candy Dish huddled under the rough granite overhang that once
served as the opening to the Mosstown Mines, a few miles outside of
Tylertown. Decades ago, the nearby train
tracks, now in disrepair, moved coal, freight and passengers to the rest of
In the distance, eighteen-wheelers barreled down Route 800, their powerful diesel engines laughing at the decaying wooden trestles through the steady downpour.
Candy’s torn backpack sat safely beside her, bursting with nothing of value. Candy whispered the old tune playing in her head, while, in her hand, an dying flashlight barely illuminated her presence.
It will form as a habit
Seep in your soul
From the wet darkness, an ancient cracked voice joined in:
'Til the blood in your veins
Runs as black as the coal
"I met him
once, you know. Years ago, in a smoky old bar in
Candy looked up to see Edna Mueller, clad in a yellow slicker as cracked and time-worn as her face. The raindrops fell from her grey hair, into her worn blue eyes, seemingly ignited by the passing highway headlights.
"Considering a new profession, Candace? I think you may get to miss the sunlight after a while, down there in the mines."
"Miss Mueller! I...no, I'm, well. I'm leaving."
“I hope you’re not expecting a train to come down those tracks. The last one sped out of town exactly 35 years ago this week,” she added. “That train couldn’t wait to get out of that old Cheeseman stop.”
Candy nodded. “That sounds like me, I guess. Can’t wait any longer. I just have to get out of here—“
“Your mrother been hitting you again? If he has, I’ll call the police and they’ll come right over and—“
“No, nothing like that. She would never hit me, she doesn’t even know I exist.” Candy hit the flashlight with her palm, coaxing out a few more minutes of light.
Edna groaned, crouched down beside the girl, and pulled a Lucky Strike from inside her slicker. “Awww, these old bones…smoke?”
Candy shook her head and continued. “She doesn’t even know I’m in the same house with her. All she does is sit in her room all day and listen to the radio. And drink her wine.”
“How does she get by? I mean, she must come out sometime.” Edna asked, striking a match on nearby granite.
“Herman waits on her like a queen bee. Brings in her food, gets her wine, cleans up after her. She never leaves her bedroom, all dark, with the window shades down. If she does, it’s not when I’m around. Being ignored, that’s the worst. Being unloved.”
Edna inhaled deeply, looked out at the rain and continued singing.
Like a fiend with his dope
And a drunkard his wine
“Unloved? Your mother loves you, she just doesn’t know how to show it. From what I hear, she’s had a few pretty bad experiences with love. Your father dumped her. Walked away. What was it? Just a year ago?”
Candy rattled the flashlight.
A man will have lust for
The lure of the mine
“Do you ever
talk about your father? As I recall, he was the smartest, best looking, and
“most likely to succeed” in his class over at the high school. And I even remember printing his engagement
announcement in my paper. Must’ve been almost 20 years ago.
“Christopher Dish is engaged to Lulu Svenson, of New York City, where she is employed as a
receptionist at the Acme Talent Agency in
“Then Herman and I came along.” Candy said. “We got in the way.”
“In the way? Never! Your mother must have been pretty overwhelmed. A new husband, a new town, a houseful of babies…” Edna sighed. “Pretty rough stuff for a woman, who was used to a very different life. She tried so hard to make it work, and he just up and left.”
The flashlight flickered.
“Broke her heart. And now you want to do the same and break it again.”
Candy pulled her jacket tighter. “Okay, Okay…”
“Candace, give your mother a chance. Talk to her. I’ll bet she’s feeling as lonely as you are. As ignored as you are. Misery loves company, they say.”
“I guess.” The flashlight sputtered. “ You seem to know a lot about this stuff, Miss Mueller.“
“I’ll tell you a little secret, Candace. Just between you and me, alright?” Candy nodded.
“Remember that train that sped out of town 35 years ago? There was, just like you, someone very special, waiting to take that train. But she got on board, paid her fare, and just never came back. For years, I used to come down there, half expecting to see her, waiting at that Cheeseman station, suitcase in hand, but, my, that was so long ago—- ”
“I haven’t heard from my daughter is 35 years. I still feel ignored and unloved.” She wrapped her thin arm around Candy’s wet shoulder. “No one on earth deserves to feel that way.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Mueller, I didn’t know—“ Candy stammered, turning off her flashlight.
Edna wiped her eyes. “Ahhh, don’t worry about me, I’m tough as those trucks out on the highway, dearie. C’mon, let’s get back to the Town Tooter. Maybe that nitwit Donna’s done something really stupid again!”
A few moments later, the two were settling into Edna’s oversized Buick.
“Miss Mueller, how did you know I was down here?”
“Well, I–“ From the back seat, a happy cheep whistled out of the darkness. “Let’s just say, a little bird told me. Let’s get going!” She turned the key and the engine roared to life. A familiar song began to play on the AM radio.
Where the rain never falls
Where the sun never shines
The two sat quietly in the dark, listening.
It's dark as a dungeon
Way down in the mine
“Merle!” Edna cackled. “Still looking out for me…and Candace!” She patted her passenger’s wet leg, switched on the powerful headlights and drove away, into the cold, dark evening. Behind them, the empty Cheeseman station continued to wait.
“That’s something,” the editor stated. “What kind of girl would leave her mother like—“
“Look, here’s another chapter.” Muriel quickly interrupted. “Older, some of it handwritten.”
“What about this Candy? What’s a Herman Dish?” The editor asked, hungry for more.
“That’s this section. It’s long.” Muriel continued to read, as her editor flagged down the waitress.
Welcome to the Dish House
“...And another thing, Candy,” Mrs. Dish continued. “I still have my doubts about your ability to get a job at the Wallpaper Warehouse. I also have my doubts about other things, such as your ability to make a good dish of tater tots. Look, even Herman here is a bit hesitant to put them in his mouth. I'd say all that time you are spending next door at the Treadway residence is going to waste. You have yet to learn a thing about cooking from Violet Treadway and I doubt you ever will. And don’t get me started about that questionable “Writers Club” you go on and on about. Maybe some Thousand Island dressing will make these tots a little more palatable. Herman, get your mother some Thousand Island dressing, will you?” Herman reached back in his chair and opened the refrigerator door. “…And the jar of bitsy bacons, while you are in there. Candy, are you listening to me? Or do I have to suggest that you play camp-out in the back yard again tonight? “
“I hear you, mother. The entire neighborhood can hear you,” Candy replied, not blinking.
Herman, what a gentleman you are. This
Candy began to reply, but was interrupted.
“That is what you tell them, isn't it, Candy? You shock those ladies with tales of my lewd conduct, my staggering though the Hilltop Mall, begging for loose change— just to get enough coins to buy a bottle of Lancers.Well, Candy, I have not had a drink all day. What do you think of that? It is nearly and I am sober as a judge. What do you think of that?”
“That is very nice, Mother. I am proud of you.“
“Don't give me your lip, young lady. Or I will be forced to ask your brother Herman to do a little favor for me. You wouldn't want that again, now would you? How on earth did I ever get such a bad daughter? Your father was right. I should have listened to him and put you into reform school while he could still afford it. Now we’re stuck with you, smart-mouthed, lazy, troublemaking, and good for nothing. Candy's supposed to be sweet. Nothing like you. You are sour. Like cabbage. Herman, meet your new sister, Miss Cabbage Dish.” Herman swallowed a tater tot with difficulty.
“May I be excused?” Candy crumpled her paper napkin. “I have homework. I’m not hungry anymore.” She headed to her bedroom, off the kitchen, and closed the door.
Mrs. Dish called after her. “Can't stomach your own cooking, is that it? Leave the burnt tater tots, leave this depressing kitchen, and leave us. Herman and I can get on very nicely without you.” She patted her son’s hand. “Can’t we, Herman? Eat your tots, my boy, and we'll take a drive to the Hilltop Mall and the Quicker Liquor store. I need something to calm my nerves. I feel a little jittery. One day, Herman, we are going to leave this dump house, this dump Tylertown, this dump life, that dump husband and make something for ourselves. Go somewhere, a place where people recognize me for who I am, and you for who you are. That Army didn't know what they were doing, discharging you like that. Big mistake on their part, it was. They'll regret it one day, when they need you the most, they'll call, ask you to re-enlist, and I will have to tell the US Army, "Sorry, but, remember? You discharged my Herman Dish. Scarred him for life, and you can't have him back.” She patted his hand again gently. “You'll all mine now, all mine.” She rose from the table and slipped her tattered pocketbook under her arm. “Herman, bring the car around. We're off to the Hilltop Mall to do a little shopping.” “
“Cabbage, dear,” Mrs. Dish called towards Candy’s bedroom. “Stay in your room while we are out, and get on to your homework. Don’t want to be last in your class two years in a row, do you?” In her bedroom, Candy flipped through her history assignment. Thirty pages on the Ming Dynasty! And a creative visual project! I hate to read, she thought. Maybe she could find a recipe for fortune cookies in the library.
There were more important things to concentrate on. From her book bag she pulled a worn copy of the letter she had written to the local broadcasting personality, Miss Dionne Diggs. Hopefully today her letter would be read on the air, on WBTC 1640 AM. At tonight, and all her worries would be over. No more Cabbage Dish! Saved by the radio!
Radio! Where was her transistor radio? She dug frantically through her book bag, and then glanced around her sparse bedroom. "Mother", she growled. She imagined her mother in the back seat of their Dodge Dart, the transistor radio to her ear, as Herman sat in the drivers seat, navigating his way to the Hilltop Mall, a half hour away. Oh well, Candy thought as she pulled on her windbreaker. With any luck, her mother and brother wouldn't be back for at least two hours. Two hours of freedom, and Candy knew just where she could spend the time. She picked up her notebook, shoved the letter inside and headed out the door without looking back.
Next door, Violet Treadway was busy preparing for her Writing Club meeting, fluffing pillows and bustling about her quaint living room. She turned as the front door opened and Candy Dish entered, out of breath, notebook in hand.
Candy began. “Good afternoon, Mother Violet. I know that I am early, and you’re busy getting ready for your Writing Club meeting, but can I ask you a favor?”
Violet nodded and smiled. “Of course dear, anything for my favorite nextdoor neighbor.”
“Mother took my transistor radio again, so I would like to listen to “The Dionne Diggs Radio Show” over here. I’ll keep the radio low so it doesn’t disturb you. Is that alright?”
Violet returned to her bustling. “Just fine with me, Candy, I have plenty of time before the ladies arrive. We’ll listen together, but we will have to keep the volume low because Otto is very sensitive to radio noises.” She waved her dust cloth at a tiny bird fluttering about its sunlit cage. “Aren’t you, Otto?” she asked it.“Once I had Bargain Bill Butler and his all new classified ads radio program on just a touch too loud and poor Otto just fainted right off his perch!” She looked at her watch. “It’s time for her radio show now.” She turned on the large tabletop radio, just as the program began. Violet and Candy settled on the flowery sofa and listened. The voice of Dionne Diggscrackled out of the tinny speaker.
“Dear listeners, good afternoon. I am sorry to inform you that due to a personal emergency, I will be unable to host my show this afternoon. Filling in for me will be Bargain Bill Butler with all new classified ads. I hope to rejoin you tomorrow at this time...ta ta.” Candy reached over and shut off the radio.
“Darn it! And she was going to read my letter today, I just know it!”
“Candy, you wrote a letter to Dionne Diggs? Whatever for?”
“She...I...she...I…can't tell you. It’s personal. Between Dionne and me”, Candy stammered, clutching her notebook over her chest.
“But it wouldn't be too personal if she was going to read it on the air today and all of Tylertown was going to hear this letter, would it?”
“When she reads your letter on the radio, all your problems are solved and you get all sorts of prizes and become a local celebrity.”
“Prizes? Just for
writing a letter? There are a few prizes I would like to have around the house.A new
“Nothing like that. Your prizes are related to the personal problem that you write to her about in your letter.”
"Dear Dionne Diggs. I am a poor old woman who needs new wrought iron furniture for the back yard and an Amana Radar range for my kitchen. If I don't get these items soon, I will stick my head inside my old gas oven, turn it on and end it all. P.S. I love your show. Signed Miserable."
“No,” Candy replied, slouching deeper into the sofa.
continued, “Dionne replies, “Dear Miserable: Please don't stick your head
inside your old gas oven and turn it on. Instead, use this new
“Mother Violet,” Candy snapped, “Let’s say, for instance...if I was a Girl Scout and had every merit badge except my “family pet” merit badge, but couldn't fulfill the obligations associated with the merit badge because my mother is allergic to dogs, Dionne would give me, as a prize, a kitten from the Humane Society and ten cases of Kitty Chow. Then I could earn the merit badge in question and have a full sash! Let’s just say…but that is not what my letter was about.”
“I would rather have new wrought iron furniture for my back yard.” Violet peered out her front window. “Why did your mother take your radio this time, Candy?”
“My brother, Herman, has come home from the Army and she wanted to go to the Hilltop Mall on a special errand. Our car radio does not work. The knobs broke off. I would rather not be around the two of them anyway. And Daddy went out for a walk”
“Private Herman Dish back in Tylertown. A hero returns. Ooh, the ladies are here! Get the door, will you, Candy? Time to take the Jell-o mold out of the deep freeze and change into a clean dress.” Then in a flurry of activity, the doorbell rang, Mother Violet dashed through the kitchen door while unzipping her dress, and Candy jumped from the sofa.
She politely opened the front door to find Wilma Rae Soar and Donna Glotz, the other members of the Writing Club, out of breath and looking baffled.
Wilma Rae looked at the number on the front door, then at Candy. “I didn't know that you lived at 201 Deadwoods. I thought you lived at 203 Deadwoods with your mother…“
“I do live next door, Mrs. Soar. Mother Violet asked me to answer the door while she changes her dress and takes the Jell-O mold out of the deep freeze.” Candy motioned for the ladies to enter. “Hello, Miss Glotz.”
Donna surveyed the room as she caught her breath and removed her trenchcoat. “Darn that hill. Hello, Candy.. I see that your brother, The Mr. Herman Dish, is back in town.”
“Where did you see him, Donna?” Wilma Rae asked.
“Pulling out of a parking space at the Hilltop Mall. A few days ago. With Woolworth bags. I had just left my hair appointment at the Two Buck Cut—”Donna patted her ironed lifeless hair, “when I looked out my passenger window and there he was. He must have been on a shopping spree.”
Wilma Rae interrupted. “If you will excuse me, I have to get a glass of water. I am sure Violet won't mind if I barge into her powder room.” She peeked into the powder room. “Donna, look at this Dixie Cup dispenser. And these guest towels! They’re from Fingerhut!”
Not looking, Donna agreed. “They do look nice, don't they? You get your water. We don't want to be responsible for your dehydration.” Wilma Rae walked into the powder room and shut the door. “All-right, Candy,” Donna whipped out several typewritten pages. “I want your honest opinion of my work.”
“But isn't that what the Writing Club is for? The other ladies should be here, too.” Candy said.
Donna lowered her
voice. “What do they know about real writing? Did you forget that my husband
and I moved here from
“I thought he
drove a truck in
“Well, the truck was owned by the newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer.” She motioned Candy towards the sofa. “Sit, we don't have much time. Have another glass of water, Wilma Rae. Those Dixie Cups are pretty small. Six to eight glasses a day, remember?”
Wilma chimed from the powder room “How thoughtful of you to remind me.”
behind Candy, cleared her throat and began. “”Love’s Fiery
Embers”, by Donna Glotz. Chapter One.
Candy thought a
short moment before replying. “
“No, no. This is
romance, amour, love. You're too young to know about
love, Candy Dish. This is art, literature at its best. Geez, what’s the use? I
never should have left the big city,” Donna complained, as Wilma Rae returned
“I feel so much
better now. That is a great idea about six to eight glasses of water a day,
although with these
Wilma continued. “And Violet must be almost done dressing by now. You know, I think she has the perfect arrangement in this house. Her bedroom right off the kitchen like that. It used to be the garage, I think. Or a root cellar, if I recall.”
Candy opened the front door. “Our house next door is just like this, except we don’t have a dishwasher. C’mon Miss Glotz, we can pull the overhead projector up the hill in my wagon.”
“I'll carry the extension cord,” said Donna, and the two were out the door and down the hill. At the foot of the driveway stood Larry Pinkel, leaning against the hood of his car.
Donna and Larry
"Oh, geez," Donna groaned when she saw her husband. "Candy, this is my soon-to-be former husband, Larry Pinkel. I no longer use his name. I am sure you have heard of him, Pinkel the Mass Transit Murderer.”
"I did not kill him, Donna!” Larry whined.
"You sure as hell did. Don't even try to lie your way out of it, mister. Your supervisor said, quite plainly, in his personal letter to me, that you were playing "bus driver sneaks up on the pedestrian and honks the horn" and caused him—” she turned to Candy, “the pedestrian, to smash his head on the telephone pole."
"Ah ha! I got you there! It was a flagpole, not a telephone pole." Larry looked sympathetically at Candy. "It was an accident," he said. Candy looked on, confused.
"Accident my big toe, my close personal friend, Wilma Rae Soar,owner of Wilma Rae’s Beauty Barn, who just happened to be on the bus at the time of the "accident", says that she could see that "bus driver sneaks up on the pedestrian and honks the horn" look in your eyes, like a rabid dog. And Wilma Rae never lies."
She turned to Candy, who was now trapped between the two, clutching the handle of her red wagon.
"He was a pretty pitiful bus driver, as it was. His paycheck could barely cover my hair expenses. How were we supposed to survive, I thought to myself, on his meager paycheck, nothing like the bacon he brought home at The Cleveland Plain Dealer, but thankfully Mother once again came to the financial rescue. But now that he has lost his job—“
Larry stumbled back. "I lost my job?"
"What do you think, loser? They would name you "bus driver of the month"? Hang your picture in the bus depot kitchen as inspiration to all the other bus drivers? Of course you have lost your job. Your supervisor, in his personal letter to me, said I could come and pick up your last check tomorrow." Donna reached down and picked up the extension cord. “Be useful and put that overhead projector in the wagon."
"Are you sure?” Larry questioned, lifting the projector. "You were wrong about the telephone pole and maybe you are wrong about this."
"Lift with your back, not with your legs," Candy suggested.
"No, this time I'm right. Your supervisor also suggested for the few remaining days that we are living under the same roof, before they put you away forever in the Duck County Jail and toss away the key, that I lock up my pocketbook and other unmentionables. There have been rumors that you have been seen with that "Missy, I would love to root through your pocketbook" look in your eyes. And other drivers have reported their bag lunches have been rifled through while they were out on their routes. Bag lunches supposedly safe in the bus depot kitchen."
"That gives me the shivers, even in this warm sweater." Candy shivered, as the projector landed in the wagon with a clang. “Unsafe bag lunches.”
"Shiver all you want, Candy. My friend Wilma Rae Soar has seen him with those buttery hands in action. And Wilma Rae never lies. Let’s get back to our meeting.”
"I've had enough of this. I'm going to wait in the car." Larry opened the car door and slumped in, turning the radio dial to Lite tunes.
Donna turned towards him. "Don't get too comfortable in there, Pinkel. They don't have bucket seats and air conditioning in the big house!" Larry slammed the car door as the two headed up the hill, laughing, wagon in tow.
Moments later, Donna Glotz appeared at the front door of the Treadway house, out of breath, for the second time in an hour. Violet was busy arranging snacks.
“That hill is too much for me. Even Candy is having a hard time. Wilma Rae, you did bring up the transparencies, didn't you?”
Wilma nodded and
patted her tote bag. “I could also use another
“I knew she would do it.” Donna nodded, “Like my mother says, some things never change. What did she do?”
Wilma agreed. “My mother says that, too. In fact, I can remember, not too long ago, when both of our mothers were in the same room at the Beauty Barn and they both said, "Some things never change".
“The day Mother
came all the way from
“What did—“ Mother Violet began, but was interrupted by Wilma Rae.
“Well, still, I knew she would do it. I knew that Millie would skip her appointment. I just knew it. Like clock work. Every other Tuesday she makes an appointment and every other Wednesday she skips her appointment. I could set my watch by it. What a terrible role model for her employees down at the Seven-Eleven.”
Donna looked out the front door. “You’re almost halfway, dear! Keep it up!” she called.
“The next time
she calls to make an appointment, I will lay it on the line.” Wilma Rae
“She goes way out of her way, way over to the Rite Aid at the Hilltop Mall,”interrupted Donna
“And, as a result of your appointment missing habits,” Wilma continued, “the next time you schedule and skip, or “S and S” as we call it, we will be forced to charge you a "no show" fee to cover the cost of your hair color— ”
“Wilma Rae, Don't forget to tell her that fee will also cover the wear and tear on your Impala— and the cost of one gallon of gasoline,” added Donna.
“Yes, I will be sure to add that little fact into the conversation. Does she think we are made of hair color?”
Violet tried to interject, without success.
“Does she think that her hair color is a free gift from Rite Aid?" Donna suggested.
"Ladies,” Violet announced. "Time for the Tylertown Writing Club to begin." The three ladies took their seats at the dining table,
Candy entered through the kitchen door.
She explained. "I couldn't get the wagon up the front steps, so I left in the garage. I can wheel it in when we need it." Candy then took her seat, completing the creative quartet. She took a handful of Fritos from the center of the table.
"Wilma Rae, I look forward to hearing your assignment this week." Violet started. "Is it like your last work, "Tips for Luncheoning on Interstate Family Trips"?"
produced a few sheets of paper from her windbreaker pocket. "Violet
Treadway! Are you not familiar with your own syllabus? Today's theme is
"Give Tanks," if you recall. My work is a short biography of both
Raymond Emery Crane and his cousin, Oscar Jerome Backus, from whose middle
names "ELJER" was coined." She began to read proudly. "In
1907 an old dinnerware plant was purchased in
She was interrupted by Violet. “Wilma Rae, the assignment was "Give Thanks." You have to listen to your "h's" a little more closely!"
Candy raised her hand. "May I read my work?" The others nodded in agreement. "Okay, well I wrote a letter to someone. It's titled, "I Give Thanks that Dionne Diggs is my Friend."
Wilma Rae loudly pushed herself away from the table. "If this written work contains any references to that eel, Miss Dionne Diggs, I am not going to listen. I will be in the powder room, admiring the guest towels." The room became very still. Even Otto seemed to be holding his breath.
Candy sighed. "Okay, I'll bite. Why do you call her an eel? Maybe you didn't hear an "h" again.”
"I never told you? I still carry the photograph in my locket." Wilma Rae pulled off her necklace, opened the front and passed it around for all to see. "Just to remind me of the worst day of my life."
Violet admired the small photo "That is one pretty dress. Like the one Dianne Carroll wore in Julia." She passed the locket to Donna.
Wilma Rae continued. "That was the desired effect. When Dionne and I were in high school together I wanted to wear the prettiest dress to the Senior Prom. I wanted to look like Virginia Graham on Girl Talk"
Donna passed the locket to Candy. "I could see it. There is a resemblance."
“But I know that any dress that Virginia Graham wore on Girl Talk was too expensive for my family to afford, so we found one in the Sears Roebuck catalog that looked just as pretty.”
Candy passed the locket back to Wilma Rae, "Who is Virginia Graham and what does this—"
"Have to do with Dionne Diggs? Well, to make a long story short, she was voted Kraft Foods Beef Gravy Queen, some stupid contest she entered to get her picture in the newspaper, so I let her borrow my Sears Roebuck mail order dress for the ceremony, which was the night before the prom. Well, wouldn't you know that part of the crowning ceremony was to be dunked into the ceremonial gravy boat. The dress was ruined - stained a horrible brown and stunk like old pot roast. We haven't spoken since.”
Donna was shocked. “You didn't wear the dress to the prom?"
"And have packs of dogs following me all the way to the gymnasium? I never forgave her and I never will. We were going to return the dress to Sears Roebuck after the prom and get our 55 dollars refunded, too! I had my underarm shields all laid out and ready! But I got back at her, let me tell you. I call it, "The Jell-o Incident.” And Violet Treadway here was in on it, too!"
"Good thing she wasn't voted Battery Acid Queen," Donna added. "The Jell-o Incident?"
Violet explained "We were in Home Economics Class with Dionne Diggs and we all had to make something in our home kitchens and bring the completed dish—" Candy smiled to herself "— in the next day. I made steamed carrots with Thousand Island Dressing-
"I made Spamwiches," Wilma Rae said.
"Mmmmmmmm," Donna and Candy thought aloud.
Wilma continued. "Well, Dionne decided to make Jell-o, the easiest thing in the cookbook. She was all set to get an A-plus so we decided to have a little fun. We took her cookbook and ripped out the page with the last step of the recipe." She smiled at Violet. "Care to continue?"
“The next day, Dionne was in tears. She got an F for her Jell-o."
"An F!" Candy was amazed that she was not the only one in the history of Tylertown to receive an F. What was the last step of the recipe?"
"Chill before serving!" Wilma Rae busted out and the four laughed heartily, causing Otto to tumble off his perch.
Otto slowly climbed back up onto his wooden perch, after being abruptly blown off by the explosive laughter from the ladies of the Tylertown Writing Club. After shaking his feathers clean, he peered down his beak through the bars of his birdcage and out into the Treadway living room, where the ladies sat.
What a bunch of fools, he thought. What an embarrassment to the human race. Glad to be a parrot and not one of them. Well, all except for the Dish Girl. That Candy. Now she’s got potential. A few more years, slip her into a halter-top and cutoffs, put her on a Harley, and we’ll be going to town! Too bad that drunken mother treats her so badly. Always cutting her down, treating her like an empty beer can, using that clod Herman Dish as her henchman, keeping her in line. He didn’t last a week in the Army before he was tossed out with the military trash. “Personality Conflicts.” Yeah, right. More like a few sandwiches short of a picnic. A wacko.
Otto watched as Candy licked the Fritos crumbs from her stubby fingers, then wiped them on her worn Sea World T-shirt, causing his primal instincts to slowly surface.
Oh, Candy, Candy, someday you’ll be mine, all mine. We’ll run off and the world will be ours! With your looks and my brilliant mind, nothing will be impossible. With my powers of suggestion, I will command others to do our deeds. We will rule the Earth and sky.
Long ago, when
Otto was imprisoned at the Fish Wish Pet Store, he befriended a Beta Fish named
Ha, some powers, Otto thought, just watch his! He cocked his slightly. Candy, Candy it’s getting very hot in here, take off your T-shirt, and show me the Promised Land. Otto tried to use his mind to make the young innocent girl obey his thoughts. Just one glance at that tanned, young skin, glowing with adolescent perspiration—
Sitting opposite Candy, Wilma Rae Soar wiped her pale brow with a tissue and began to unbutton her heavy wool cardigan.
No, no, I command CANDY, not that old bag, Wilma Rae Soar. Otto shielded his eyes with his wing, unable to bear the sight of Wilma Rae in a sleeveless polyester turtleneck, flapping her dough-like arms, attempting to diagram a compound sentence in the air.
Go back to your Beauty Barn, Wilma. This writing stuff could make your brain fry, Otto thought. She’s been inhaling too much of that hair coloring.
Otto knew from experience the toxic levels of those fumes. One afternoon, as his owner, Violet Treadway, nodded off during a repeat of ‘The Mike Douglas Show,” Otto swung aside his cage door and flew out the window towards downtown Tylertown. But within a block of the Beauty Barn, he began to feel dizzy. Moments later, the powerful stench of the hair relaxer and Breck Shampoo forced him to end his getaway and return home by foot. He returned to his cage just as Mike Douglas ended his brief chat with his co-host, Charo, and Violet awoke with a snort.
He had been out of the cage many other times since then, exploring other parts of the small town in which he was confined: the bus depot, with employee bag lunches out in the open kitchen area, waiting to be sampled. The Rexall Drug Store, reeking of Jean Nate bath water and stale cigars.
Otto’s favorite place to visit was, by far, the unofficial smoking area behind Tylertown High School Girls Athletic Building Those bad girl teens puffing away, clad in their cheap dungarees and too-tight blouses, enveloped in an endless cloud of menthol cigarette smoke and pointless, expletive-heavy chatter. He filled his mind with their tales of abusive boyfriends, uncaring parents, and vengeful gym teachers. Upon returning to his cage, exhausted and wheezing from the secondhand smoke, he was ready to dream of more excitement from the outside world.
That is, if Mrs. Violet Treadway left him alone long enough to sleep. He glanced at her, presiding over the meeting like an admiral surveying her troops. If it wasn’t some club meeting in her home, it was housecleaning or furniture rearranging or music practice on the horrid Wurlitzer in the corner of the room. Anything to keep busy; too busy to think about her past and that day that changed her life and the lives on the other Tylertown residents forever.
Full of Life
Otto remembered quite vividly how it all began. The Hilltop Mall Annual Celebrity Guest Free Concert, sponsored each summer by Bargain Bill Butler and His All New Classifieds. The celebrity guest that year was international star Charo. Wilma Rae Soar, using her connections in the beauty industry, was able to snag two seats close to the stage, near the Piercing Pagoda, which also served as the celebrity dressing area.
During Charo’s costume change, Violet Treadway leaned over and whispered into Wilma Rae’s ear.
“This is the best gift anyone ever gave me. We’re sitting so close to Charo, my all-time favorite performer! Thank you, Wilma Rae, thank you.”
“Anything for my best friend. Happy birthday.” Charo returned to the stage.
Violet leaned forward, and gazed at her favorite performer. “That’s exactly how I feel. Full of energy! Full of life!” She clapped her hands in time to the pre-recorded Latin music blaring from the cassette recorder on the nearby steps.
Wilma Rae shook her head in disagreement. “Is that what that means? Full of energy? I thought it meant something else. Look how she moves when she says it. Her body language is not saying full of energy. She is sexed up and I am glad no—” she quickly surveyed her immediate area, “children are here. If they were, I would—”
“Cuchi-Cuchi!” Charo squealed, shaking her fringe-clad bottom.
Wilma Rae pulled a tissue from her shirtsleeve and wiped her forehead. “That’s so annoying when she shakes like that. I happen to like Charo as a performer, but when she gets into that sex-crazed mood of hers, I am ready to turn off "The Mike Douglas Show" and turn on "That Girl." Two very opposite young ladies, I would say. Charo and That Girl.” She glanced up at Charo, who was unaware she was being criticized.
“Not so young anymore. And
That Girl is a high society lady in
“Is That Girl married to Donald Hollinger?” Wilma Rae asked, over the din.
“No, she married the television talk show host, I forgot his name.”
“Mike Douglas, I'll bet. They have so much in common. Both on at the same time on the television. Monday through Friday. Poor Charo, she had her eye on Mike Douglas, too.” Wilma placed her purse under her seat and joined in the clapping. “She is a young Spanish girl with nothing but love in her eyes, and talent in her heart. She must have been devastated when Mike Douglas proposed to That Girl, that man-hungry, society ladder-climbing tramp. Actress, my fanny.” She jumped to her feet and shouted to the stage, “I feel for you, Charo!”
Charo took a few steps back and waved hesitatingly at Wilma Rae Soar, who by now was perspiring quite a bit. “Cuchi-Cuchi!”
“Cuchi-Cuchi, to you too! What a survivor she is!” Wilma shouted to her fellow shoppers. “How strong she is. I take back everything awful I ever said about her. Violet, watch my purse. I'm going right up on that stage and give her a big hug to show her how much I love her. She started up the stage steps, arms outstretched, knocking the cassette recorder to the terrazzo floor. The music stopped, D batteries rolled underfoot and Charo bolted for the Piercing Pagoda. The well-trained Piercing Pagoda employees picked up their piercing guns.
Shortly after, Charo became very attached to Violet Treadway and Wilma Rae Soar. She traveled with them almost everywhere.
Shortly after, at the IGA Supermarket on
“I hope Charo likes these saltines. And this dip.” Violet thought aloud.
“Maybe we should get something other than dip, maybe salsa,” Wilma Rae offered.
“I have a feeling that Charo is so tired of salsa. She must eat it every day and every night, 24/7. Dip would be a welcome change for her.” Violet turned to the new cashier, and studied her nametag. “Candy Dish, what do you think about this? Dip or salsa?”
Candy was told to refrain from socializing customers during her shift, so she thought before speaking. “I would vote for the salsa because she is in an unfamiliar place, and feeling a bit uneasy. Salsa is more familiar to her and would put her at ease.” She glanced at the almost-empty buggy. “Anything else?”
Violet handed her the last item. “Just one of these smelly mothball things that hang in the toilet bowl. When I buy these, I usually have to tell the cashier to be very careful with them. If they break and separate from the piece of wire that attaches to the side of the toilet bowl, they are useless. But Miss Dish, I’m sure that you are smart enough to realize that without me telling you.”
Outside, an automobile horn blared several times, startling Wilma Rae. “Charo! She’s getting impatient. Maybe we should have given her the car keys so she could play the radio.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s almost time to get to play practice. The show must go on!”
Ann interrupted from behind. “You're in a show? I was in a show once. At Pilot Wheedles Academy for Stewardesses Talent Night. I played Marie Curie, the woman who discovered radios.”
“She was very good. On a flight last week, she did a
scene for me.”
“The scene where Marie—that’s me— rips a button off her corset and invents the volume knob!” Ann beamed.
picked up her shopping bag and headed towards the door with Wilma Rae in tow.
“Ah, yes, the play, the production. Wilma Rae, I’m not too happy with the
play.” She turned and waved to Candy Dish, who was busy bagging Ann and
“Not happy with the entire play? Or just a part of it?”
“Just the title, Little Women, it lacks excitement. Sounds like something bookworms would come to see.” Violet said.
Wilma laughed as she pulled her sunglasses over her eyes. “Bookworms? Ugh.” They approached Violet’s car, where Charo sat in the front seat, rummaging through the glove compartment. Due to the summer heat, the windows were rolled down.
“Cuchi-Cuchi!” Charo waved with the ice scraper.
“Hola, Charo, we bought treats.” Violet placed the groceries in the back seat and climbed behind the wheel. “Sexy Stewardesses Teach Archery at Club Med,” now that’s a title. All we need to do is replace the spinning wheel with a tanning bed, sprinkle a little kitty litter on the stage floor and we’re set! A Broadway smash to be! I’ll be in the spotlight in no time!” She started the engine and motioned for Charo to put on her seat belt.
Wilma Rae settled in the back seat. “So I will no longer play one of the disfigured widowed neighbors?”
Violet glanced at her friend through the rear view mirror. “You will have a featured role as Elga, the Swedish nurse, suffering from a rare disorder, which causes her to unbutton her uniform every time she hears the phrase “bow and arrow.” Wilma Rae Soar, your name will be up in lights! Get ready to kiss that Beauty Barn goodbye!”
“Goodbye Beauty Barn!”
Violet continued. “And music, we’ll add music and
singing! Lights! Orchestrations! Call Wheedle Airlines! Book a flight! Call the
Plaza Hotel and Gower Champion! Hail a Taxi! Order take-out from the Carnegie
Deli! Buy subway tokens!
“Cuchi-Cuchi!” Charo waved
the ice scraper at the passing shoppers and the ladies laughed giddily as the
car sailed down
Otto snapped back to the present as Candy shoved another handful of Fritos into her mouth and crunched loudly.
Violet’s “unannounced guests” were the worst. Otto recalled countless summer afternoons when he had been snug under the gingham bird cage cover, ready to slip off to sleep and dream of “bad girl” cheerleaders. Then suddenly, the doorbell would bing-bong and in would come one of Violet’s motor-mouth neighbor friends, wired and ready, for ninety minutes of nonstop, cage-rattling chatter. And the worst drop-in offender was none other than the fourth member of the Writing Club, Donna Glotz.
Just the thought of that Glotz woman made him shiver. She was like sandpaper being scraped down the bars of his cage. Donna this, Donna that, Larry this, Larry that. Geez, she should join Toastmasters if she wants to talk so much.
Toast! Otto looked at the tiny grandfather clock on the table. Dinner! Time to end this meeting and get fed. He could taste that burned toast already, with a light smoke flavor, cut in quarters, each piece lodged between his mirror and water cup. He leered at Violet. Plug in the toaster, plug in the toaster.
Suddenly, without notice, another hearty guffaw erupted from the table, causing Otto to once again fall from his perch, this time upsetting his water cup. He shook the water from his feathers and sighed. No dinner coming soon, but at least he could dream of pecking Fritos crumbs from the faded t-shirt of one Miss Candy Dish.
Across from Candy, Wilma Rae Soar wiped her underarms with a tissue as she animatedly described her favorite shrub.
Geez. Otto turned away, repulsed. There goes my appetite for toast.
The Knife Grinder
On the other side of town, Mother Dish sat in the back seat of the Dodge Dart, her daughter’s transistor radio held to her ear. Herman, his hands clenched to the wheel in the “ten and two” position, and navigated their way to the Hilltop Mall.
Bill Butler has everything under the sun listed in his classifieds. He just
announced that he has, for sale, a portable knife grinder. The money we could
make with a knife grinder, you driving around
Herman clumsily rounded a turn, hitting a pothole.
“Careful now, Herman. This car is going to make us rich. No more cheap Lancers for me. I will only have the best, and,” she reached forward and patted Herman on his shoulder, “of course; you will have the best. Look, a public telephone, at the Shell station, Herman pull over, pull over!”
The Dart came to a stop in the dusty gravel and Mother Dish leapt from the car. She clutched her dime and raced to the phone, still holding Candy’s transistor radio. Maybe when I’m a rich and single woman again, she thought, I could invite Bargain Bill Butler over to the house for dinner.
Herman Dish shifted into park, not releasing the foot brake, just in case.
“This is WBTC 1640 In Tylertown and you are listening to Bargain Bill Butler and His All-New Classifieds, brought to you today by Wheedle Airlines, Tylertown’s only airline. “When you need to leave town, Pilot Wheedle’s gonna take you”, and by Tiny’s Tavern on Route 800. “When you need to get in touch with Pilot Wheedle, he’s right here.
“Now, Back to Bargain Bill.
“Thanks for listening, everybody. I’m glad to tell you that the 22 shotgun we just listed a few minutes ago was just sold for 45 dollars to a member of our community. His name will be withheld, pending his firearm permit. “Happy hunting, Larry!
“And now, let’s take a call – Hello, this is Bargain Bill Butler and his All New Classifieds and you are on the air! Where are you calling from?”
“We’re at the Gulf station off Route 800, Bill. This is Lulu-Lulu Dish, remember me?”
“Well, Lulu Dish, welcome back to my show, we haven’t heard from you since your Lancers Bottle Collection went up for sale in the spring. And listeners, Lulu got a pretty penny for that collection, thanks to ol’ Bill here. And the tables at the Hasta Pasta Italian Buffet up at the Hilltop Mall are a lot cheerier. Those bottles made great candleholders!”
“More of those classy bottles? Well, Lulu, let’s make you some money!”
“No, Bill, I am calling about that knife grinder you have up for sale. Herman Dish and myself would like to purchase it. Herman! Get my checkbook out of my purse and bring it over here. How much is the seller asking, Bill?”
seller is none other than my lovely daughter, Betty. Betty
“Give? Herman! Put my checkbook back in my purse, and get back behind the wheel!”
“It was a nursing school graduation present from one of her close friends, the Sitter family, but unfortunately, her father, ol' Bill here, also purchased one for her, a much pricier model. So, listeners, she says to me, ‘Dad, what am I going to do with two knife grinders?’”
“So, I says to her, ‘I can sell one my radio show.’ So, she says to me, ‘Dad, I could not sell it, as it was a gift. I will just give it to someone who needs it.’
“Bill, we need that knife grinder more than anyone else. Herman is going to make a huge living grinding knives out of the back my Dodge Dart and we are going to be rich!”
“Lulu Dish, just
get to my daughter’s garage over in
“Thanks for calling and good-bye! Listeners, that’s why ol’ Bargain Bill is here. Bringing people and knife grinders together for years! And next time you have to be somewhere in a hurry, think of Wheedle Airlines. Let’s take another call…”
Later, as Herman Dish navigated the Dodge Dart home, Lulu Dish clutched her newly purchased bottle of Lancers, sunk into the seat and napped, dreaming of knives and Bargain Bill.
The next morning Mrs. Dish wasted no time getting dressed in her best pantsuit. Avocado, they called the color. She rushed Candy off to school and Herman drove her to the Tylertown airport. As she finished off the last of the Lancers, Herman strolled inside to purchase their tickets. He used his military discount.
A short time later they were on the plane, where they were greeted by Ann and Dee, stewardesses in training.
"Welcome aboard Wheedle Airlines, Mrs. Dish, and Mr. Herman Dish." Ann smiled at Herman. "May we see your tickets and seating assignments?" Herman blushed.
"Show her the tickets, Herman." Herman dug through the pockets of his windbreaker, not locating the tickets. He smiled sheepishly back at Ann.
"Herman, where are the tickets?" Lulu Dish had no choice but to place her hands on her hips
"Is there a problem?” Ann asked.
"They don't seem to have their tickets,
"Look, Herman here bought two round trip tickets
for our trip to
The intercom crackled and Pilot Wheedle slurred from the cockpit. "Passengers, please be sheeted. We will be airborne snortly."
"Look, we bought tickets, and—" she looked around the empty compartment, "I know Pilot Wheedle personally. He can vouch for us. When we return to Tylertown, in a few hours, we will go back to the counter, get our tickets and show them to you. I have to get that knife grinder! My good friend, Bargain Bill Butler promised—"
"Right, Dee. After all the favors we have done for him, and he for us—" the two exchanged a knowing glance. "Of course, but without seating assignments you'll have to stand.” She grabbed the microphone and announced to the empty plane "Prepare for takeoff, passengers. Shortly Pilot Wheedle will have us hundreds of feet—"
"Thousands,” Ann corrected.
"Thousands of feet in the air. And remember, cigarette smoking only."
"Thank you. The future of every knife in Tylertown rests on this trip. Could we please sit down somewhere?" Herman Dish sat in seat 1-A and studied the airsick bag
"Oh, all right. But don't get any ideas about sneaking up to coach class, either.” Ann said.
Mrs. Dish was confused. "Sneaking UP to coach class? Where are you seating us?" Herman Dish rose from seat 1-A as Ann snatched the airsick bag from his hand. She continued speaking into the microphone.
"Move those kitty carriers; we got two free loaders coming through!”
Mother Dish began to get angry. “You mean...but we have paid for our— "
Later, as Wheedle Airlines Flight 1 headed towards
"I am a little thirsty,
Ann mused aloud. "What are we are going to do
with the rest of our lives? Just think, in a few months, we'll be graduated
The small plane lurched to the right.
"We will be deaf stewardesses. How will we know if someone is ringing his or her call button, or if Pilot Wheedle has given the two bell signal, indicating it is safe to move around the cabin? So here we are, moving freely about the cabin, before it is safe to, and we cause an accident in mid air. What will Pilot Wheedle think of us then?"
The small plane lurched to the left.
"Deaf, accident-prone graduates will not be a
good reflection upon the integrity of his school. What if we’re kicked out of
Ann ignored her. “Well, I'd like a glass of wine. What kind do we have?"
Ann agreed. “I think I will have a glass, too. Maybe
we should ask Pilot Wheedle if he'd like a glass too.” Ann rose and rapped on
the cockpit door. “Pilot Wheedle, would you care to join us in a glass—“A thump
came from behind the door. Ann looked around. “What the—”Another thump was
heard, and Ann looked at the cabin floor. “
“We…are…suffocating…” Herman nodded as he brushed a cat from his shoulder
”And those damn cats stink. Get us out of here this instant!“ Mrs. Dish eyed the wine bottle and empty glasses. “Wine? Have we popped up in first class?”
Ann held up her hand in protest. “Not so fast, passenger. That thumping is very annoying.”
“We...have to get out of there. I am allergic to cats…wine?”
The plane rocked to the left, then to the right. Pilot Wheedle’s voice erupted from the tinny speakers.
“Snortly we swill be landing. I’ll have a Pino Grigio.”
“This Donna sounds like an interesting character. What’s she all about,” her editor asked, sipping his beer.
Love of Life
Years ago, young Donna Glotz lay on the floor of her living room as Gumpy Lake’s first winter snowstorm pelted down outside. She watched television, absently patting her tight dark curls. Her eyeglasses lay by her side.
Suddenly, she called out to her mother.
“Mother, I love watching these soap operas. They’re so real. Mother, come in here and see Love of Life. Vanessa Sterling is going out on a date. She is wearing a very flattering dress. A lovely shade of gray. Wonder what it looks like in living color. Mother, did you see those color television sets in LOOK Magazine? Wouldn't it be nice to have one of those...we could see the real color of Vanessa's dress...”
She stopped mid-sentence as her mother exploded from the kitchen, a red onion in one hand and a large knife in the other.
“Donna Glotz, can you shut your trap long enough for me to finish peeling these onions? Do you think onion rings appear out of thin air? For Lord's sake, you'd think you were on the TV yourself, the way you blabber on so much. Now turn off that crap and turn on WHAT’S MY LINE? Bennett Cerf is on today.”
“Love of Life isn't over yet.“Donna glanced at the cuckoo clock on the wall.
“Either turn on WHATS MY LINE? or get in your room and finish your homework. Your grades could certainly be improved.” With that, her mother spun on her slipper-clad heel and returned to work.
Mother Glotz replied to her daughter’s whining without looking back. “Not another word out of you.” She glanced at the ceiling, “Oh Lord, why did it have to snow so much today that the plow couldn't get up here to Gumpy Lake? Why did the schools have to close today, of all days? Change the channel, now.” Donna grudgingly complied.
Hearing the sound of studio applause from WHAT’S MY LINE? Mother Glotz jammed the knife into the red onion, tossed the joined pair through the kitchen door and headed straight for her wingback chair, stepping over Donna, barely missing her eyeglasses. “Oh, good, I didn't miss too much of WHAT’S MY LINE?” She quickly sat, elbows on her lap, chin in hand, and gazed at the black and white screen, humming along with the whimsical music.
“Mother, which one is Bennett Certs?” Donna shrieked.
Mother snorted. “Cerf, not Certs, the one on the left, wearing the bow tie. He is good looking, and funny, too.” She laughed again. “Oh, Bennett.”
“He's a funny looking guy, Mother. I wonder if he has kids my age. Are they on television, too, Mother? His kids?”
“Donna, please, I am trying to enjoy Bennett Cerf. If I knew that you were going to be this annoying today, I would have shoveled you a route to school myself. Here, read the TV Guide.” Not moving her eyes from the screen, Mother Glotz tossed a current issue of TV Guide towards Donna, again barely missing her eyeglasses.
“Oooh, Helen Hayes is the special guest. Helen, you are one glamorous woman. What's her line, I wonder…” She read from TV screen, "I wear two wristwatches." My, that is a line, if I ever heard one. I wonder if Helen Hayes laughs at Bennett Cerf.”
Donna flipped absently through the TV Guide.
Heaving a sigh, Mother Glotz continued. “Oh, Bennett, take me away from Gumpy Lake and into your world of sophistication. We could stroll down Park Avenue, dine at Twenty One, and enjoy our sponsor-related parting gifts.”
Suddenly Donna stopped her page turning, and grabbed her eyeglasses from the floor. “Mother, look, there is going to be a writing contest. A writing contest with prize money. With the prize money, I could buy us one of those new color television sets.” She struggled to read through her thick lenses.
“What are you saying, you can't even spell your own name, let alone win a writing contest. What could you possibly write about anyway...Ooh, Bennett, if I wasn't married to my Clarence, I would walk out of this miserable life, rush to New York and whisk you off that stage.”
Donna read aloud. “The Ford Motor Company is sponsoring a "Wake up the Youth of America" Writing Contest.” She looked at her mother. “We have a Ford station wagon, AND a Ford television set. I have an advantage already.”
Mother Glotz gazed at the screen, her eyes becoming watery. “It’s a Philco Ford television, if you want to get specific.”
“What could I write about? Ford Cars? No, everyone else will do that.”
Mother leaned back in her chair. “A commercial. I don't know how much more Bennett Cerf my heart can take. Donna, run upstairs and get me a cool washcloth. I’m feeling a little warm.”
As Donna rose and for the stairway, she thought aloud. “…Ford...Cars, Trucks...Ford City...Ford’s Theater.” She tried to snap her finger. “Mother, that's, it, I’m going to write a play about Ford’s Theater in Washington DC and I am going to win that contest. Color TV, here we come! Finally we will see what color dress Vanessa Sterling is wearing on her date!”
“Sure you will, and I’m going to bear Bennett Cerf's child. Forget the washcloth. Run in the kitchen and get the bowl of onions. The show is about to start.”
Excited, Donna ran into the kitchen.
Mother Glotz glanced out the window and was surprised to see the television antenna, which was normally attached to her roof, land on the snow-covered hedge in her front yard.
A short moment later, the television screen went black.
“What the…?” She jumped from her chair, opened the front window and stuck her head out.
“Larry Pinkel, I was under the impression that I was paying you five dollars to shovel my driveway, not throw snowballs at my television antenna.” She became angrier with each word. ”When your mother hears about this, I, Bennett Certs, I, he, I am very angry right now, young man.”
From the kitchen, Donna piped in. “Cerf, not Certs, Mother.” She entered the living room with the requested bowl of onions. “I told you. Larry Pinkel could not be trusted to do anything. All he thinks about is throwing snowballs. Yesterday, I saw him eyeing our roof on the way home from school. Tell him that he is going to have to pay for a new antenna with his own money.” Donna stood behind her mother, hands firmly placed on her bony hips.
Mother Glotz bellowed out the window. “You hear that, young man? You are going to have to pay for a new television antenna. What is your mother’s telephone number?”
“Tell him that he is nothing but trouble and one day he is going to end up in reform school. All alone.”
“All alone”, Mother Glotz repeated, at a much louder volume, out the window. “And you can be sure that reform school will not have a television set—”
“Or a television antenna to throw snowballs at.”
“Or a television antenna!” Mother Glotz pulled her head inside the window and caught her breath. “All that yelling is hurting my throat.” She gazed sadly at her silenced television set. “Bennett, oh Bennett, when will I see you again.” Donna handed her the bowl of onions. “Well, back to my onion rings.Donna, close that window before we heat up the entire yard.” She returned to the kitchen.
Donna stood alone at the open window. “Larry Pinkel, you are a good for nothing, useless kid! Thanks to you. I can’t watch the end of Love of Life! I will never know how Vanessa Sterling’s date turned out. My snow day is ruined! You’ll see, Pinkel. One day I will be a famous writer and you will be mopping floors. My floors! Ha!”
With that, Donna slammed the window shut and folded her arms.
She though for a moment, then announced in her best quiz-show voice. “Next on WHAT’S MY LINE, we will have the author of Fords Theatre, Miss Donna Glotz. Hmmm, I like the ring of that.” She smiled.
Breaking the magic of the moment, her mother bellowed from the kitchen. “Donna, those wastebaskets aren’t going to empty themselves!”
Donna turned and headed up the staircase, patting her tight dark curls. “Just you wait, Mother, just you wait.”
Candy Dish stood at the end of her driveway and looked across the quiet street. Opposite her, Yvette Butler did the same.
“Yvette,” Candy began, “could you please stop throwing your cigarette butts on our lawn? My mother thinks that I’m the one flicking them.”
“Well, Candy Dish, I didn’t know that you smoked! You were always welcome to join us behind the gymnasium for a few puffs.” Yvette leaned against the Butler mailbox and folded her arms. “The rest of the cheerleaders would be more than happy to let you join our little fold. We enjoy our quality time together back there, chatting about classes and boys and our parents—”
“Yvette, I don’t smoke and you know it. My mother has enough wild ideas about me running through her head, I don’t want to get her started on another. She has the impression I am failing out of school, I steal from her, and I have yet to find out what else.” Candy sighed and licked the driveway. “You have it made, Yvette, daughter of a celebrity, head cheerleader, the perfect summer job at the Seven Eleven.”
“I thought you worked at the Wallpaper Warehouse.”
“I did, until Mother told Herman to stop giving me a ride to work, and I had to walk. I was late so often, the manager fired me. Mother thought I was teasing Herman in the car—”
“Herman Dish, that goon? What is with him, anyway? He spends all day washing that run-down Dodge Dart of yours. And that silly knife grinder. He spends all afternoon spinning the grinding stone round and round. Sometimes, he leers at me when I’m outside. He gives me the shivers. If my dad ever found out that Herman Dish was leering at me, well, something would happen.” Yvette looked down the street.
“Waiting for someone?” Candy looked down the street as well. “ It’s a grindstone, and Herman is going to go into business, sharpening knives. The future of every knife in Tylertown rests on him.”
“I have a ride to work. No more walking for me.” Yvette fumbled through her purse, yanked out a Newport and lit it. “Don’t stare at me, Dish. I can smoke all I want. My dad is at work, and won’t see me. Want a drag, Candy?”
Candy turned and headed up the driveway, then stopped and turned to face Yvette.
“Yvette, what’s it like to have a home you can feel safe and comfortable in, a parent who loves you, trusts you, and believes in you?”
Yvette stared blankly.
“I have none of that. I have to go next door to get that. To Mrs. Treadway’s house.” Candy pointed to her neighbor’s long, steep driveway, and, as if on cue, Otto cheeped happily from his cage on the Treadway porch. “Look how far I have to climb to feel safe, to feel wanted. In that house, I have an opinion, I can say what I feel, I am wanted.”
Yvette blew a puff of menthol smoke toward her yard.
“You got all that and more. If I were you, I wouldn’t smoke, I wouldn’t lie, and I wouldn’t steal from my boss—”
Yvette coughed “What do you mean? I never—”
“Oh, c’mon Yvette, I saw you take those binoculars out of your purse yesterday when you came home from work. You showed them to your boyfriend.” Yvette ground her butt into the concrete. “The guy that dropped you off yesterday? The guy you are waiting for right now?”
“If you tell anyone about him, Dish, you’re dead meat. He happens to be a close friend of mine—”
“He also happens to be 28 years old, Yvette. And married.”
“Candy!! Candy Dish!!” Violet Treadway’s musical voice called down the driveway. “Five minutes to the Dionne Diggs show! And mint iced tea!”
“Get in here!” The grated, slurred voice of Mrs. Lulu Dish shattered the calm summer afternoon. “Empty the dishwasher! Now!”
Candy sighed, turned and continued her way up her driveway. “Like I said, Yvette Butler, you got all that, and more.”
Yvette stared down at her scuffed Keds, not saying a word.
Muriel huddled in the last seat of the crowded subway car, bundled against the refrigerated air. She had just returned from a late meeting with her editor, and was heading home to her walk-up apartment in Washington Heights. On her lap was the now ever-present shoe box of journals and notepads, upon which her editor had placed a large label “TALES FROM TYLERTOWN!?”
As the train lurched past Lincoln Center, Muriel picked up where she’d left off, and carefully extracted a cardboard-mounted collection of yellowed newspaper clipping. She glanced at the date on top. August 1975. A weekly column, Muriel thought, a society column, or housekeeping tips. The writer’s photograph in the top corner caught her eye. “Definitely not a society column, by her looks,” she thought, not noticing a well-dressed older man reading over her shoulder.
At 72nd Street, the train screeched to a halt and the doors slid open, releasing the harried passengers onto the icy underground platform. The man headed out, then turned and spoke above the din.
“Hey! That’s Donna Glotz! I haven’t thought about her in years. My parents used to read her in the paper and laugh at—” The door slammed shut, cutting him off. A second later he was lost in the sea of passengers.
Muriel sighed and returned to her reading.
(Mary, do you think that this is ok to fit in here, even though we met Donna many pages back?)
By Donna Glotz
The Tylertown Department of Parks has decided to repaint the inside of my favorite summer spot, the Tylertown Pool! So, for the next few days, I will be typewriter-bound just down the hall from my editor’s perfume-drenched office. Um, Edna Mueller (and her Norrell) is a constant reminder of journalistic professionalism and integrity. Welcome back from vacation, Edna!
Well, summer is in full swing and I, for one, am taking advantage of the long days, moonlit evenings and warm breezes by watching/gobbling up/taking in all that our television station, WBTC-TV, has to offer. With our local writers club away for the summer, performing their version of “Little Women,” and our resident actresses in training, Ann and Dee (formerly of the now defunct-Wheedle Airlines) Broadway-bound, we’re all starved for a little quality entertainment around here. WBTC-TV, our local CBS affiliate to the rescue!
This summer brings us some of the best variety shows to ever grace the tiny tube! I, for one, am a real fan of Tony Orlando and Dawn, and Mr. Orlando himself is my personal favorite. Dawn I could take or leave. Each week, the talented trio sings a few of their many hits, performs a funny skit or two with superstars like Jack Albertson or Dinah Shore. Tony shines as he sings, dances, insults his African-American backup singers (Dawn) and displays a finely maintained chestful of hair. The last segment of the show is my personal favorite. Tony leaves the stage and sings his way through the audience, up and down the aisles, while Dawn, alone on stage “ooohs” and “aaahs.” (If I only knew how far in advance this show was taped, I would write away for tickets. Television City, here I come!)
Unfortunately, this week, my 30 minutes in “Tony Orlando Heaven” quickly turned towards the other direction. As I recall, Tony was in the audience singing my favorite song, “Skyrockets in Flight, Afternoon Delight,” all the while perspiring very profusely (Note to the Eye Network: It’s summer, pump up the A/C in Studio 33! Especially for the nighttime programs. You never see Bert Convy perspiring when he walks though the Banana section of the audience during “Tattletales”).
Well, it was apparent to members of the audience that the star of their show was sweating bullets, while his backup singers, Dawn, were up on stage, oblivious of the pending tragedy, cool as cucumbers, singing their “ooohs” and” aaahs.”
Quickly, ladies in the audience began to dig through their purses, searching for hankies to offer to Tony with which to wipe his now-soaked brow. Tony looked about as he continued to sing, choosing from the sea of handkerchiefs, finally selecting one, to the excitement of the audience. As Tony leaned down to give the owner of the chosen hanky a thank you kiss-on-the-cheek, I gasped in horror. Tony Orlando was about to offer a thank you kiss to no one other than my Norrell-drenched editor, Edna Mueller!
As I reached to pull the television set for a closer look, the power cord stretched and yanked itself out of the wall, instantly ending my television viewing. By the time I had the set plugged in and running, the show was over, with only the credits (costumes by Bob Mackie) rolling. As the camera panned over the applauding audience, I could see Edna waving her toxic hanky at the camera (and me), cackling with giddy satisfaction. Well, that did it for me. I switched off the television, and headed right for the icebox, where my soon-to-be ex-husband, Larry Pinkel, had left an icy-cold bottle of Reingold Beer. (Note to Larry: Now two things won’t be waiting for you when you are released from the Duck County Jail; me OR your beer!)
Now, as I sit, writing this exclusive column, I wonder. Had Tony Orlando survived his exposure to deadly amounts of Norrell, both on the tainted handkerchief and Edna Mueller herself? Had this experience caused the singing trio to "revamp" the format of their variety program, opting for an “aroma-free” stlye? Are Dawn going to continue singing their “ooohs” and “aaahs” onstage, while their “ticket to fame and fortune” roams dangerously through the audience?
Turning towards the office of my editor, I just overheard her talking on the phone. “I’ll tell you what, Rona (Barrett, a good friend of my editor’s),”she cackled, “I am never washing this cheek again!” She expelled a cigarette-ravaged laugh and slammed down the receiver.
Well, readers, aside from that incident, there is little else to report in this sleepy town.
The local Seven/Eleven is sponsoring a “Smoking the Summer Away” campaign. Buy a pack of cigarettes and the Seven/Eleven will donate money towards the Tylertown High School cheerleaders’ “get the heck outta town campaign” in August. Unwanted cigarettes can be dropped off in specially marked container in the Seven/Eleven parking lot, which is maintained by the above cheerleaders.
Summer life is about as exciting as watching paint dry, which I have been dong these days, waiting for the Tylertown pool to reopen, and water polo practice to recommence!
Guide Alert, Readers! Edna, passing my desk on her way to the ladies room, has
just informed me that during her above-mentioned
Well, readers that’s all the space I have for this week, and it is getting a little (Norrell) difficult to breathe in here! Until next week …XXX Donna
Lulu Dish slammed the slender leather belt, the only piece of clothing her husband left behind, against her son's bare back. It left a long pink indentation, like a road map with no beginning and no end. His muscular body flinched in pain, but he remained silent, as usual. The once shiny silver buckle was held tight in her hand.
"Herman, you good-for-nothing moron! The knife grinder is gone, stolen, all because of you. My dreams of a better future were stolen right along with it. We were going to use the grinder to make a fortune and get out of this god-forsaken town forever. But you had to leave the car unlocked at the mall. What were you thinking?"
Again she whipped the belt against him, this time beginning a trickle of blood down his back. Herman tightened his grasp on the front fender of the family's Dodge Dart.
"You'll never amount to anything. You are about as useless as that Candy. That waste." As she became angrier, her words became more slurred, due to her recent consumption of two bottles of Lancers fine wine. "Herman Dish, ha, the hero returns to Tylertown. My son the hero? I know exactly what happened that weekend in the Army. I have all the paperwork your admiral sent me...more like my son the pervert. You're no son at all. I don't have one daughter, I have two daughters! Don't think I don’t know the real reason you were discharged from that Army. You are a waste of a man!"
Lulu Dish lost her balance for a moment, dropping to belt to the garage floor. Quickly Herman turned and caught her before she fell completely to the oily concrete.
"Herman," she slurred, catching her son's thick forearm for support. "There you are, always looking out for me. Catching me when I fall."
She stood up, leaning on her son. "I need a nap, Herman, help me upstairs to my bedroom. I like to nap in the blue robe from Bergdorf Goodman. Goodman. Where is my good man, Herman? Where is he?"
Lulu fell into a nice sleep. Her sleep brought her back to where she was comfortable. A place where she was glowing and pretty and wanted. She wished she could sleep forever.
Candy Dish burrowed deeper into the corner of her bedroom closet, knowing full well that once her mother began her nap, Herman would be looking for an outlet for his anger, and his sister would be just the next outlet in a never-ending stream of hate and frustration.
If only she could make it from her bedroom, past the kitchen and out the back door by the time it took Herman to carry their mother up the stairs, she would be safe for another afternoon.
Why doesn't he stand up for himself? Why doesn't he turn around, grab the belt out of her hand and beat her senseless for a change? Why doesn't he drag her lifeless, drunken body out of the house, straight down to the town dump along with the rest of the garbage? Why doesn't their father come back from wherever he slipped off to and make everything all right? Where was Christopher Dish, the hero of all those television programs now? Where was her daddy, who used to call her princess, the one who fought away the moon and the monsters?
She silently slid back the closet door, and in a moment she was past the kitchen, past the foul odor of stale cigarette smoke and spilled wine, and out into the afternoon sunlight.
One of these days she was going to leave a note for her father, she thought. "If you have come to get me, to take me away from all of this, I'm next door waiting for you. I’ll be your princess once again."
Herman won't get me this time, Candy thought as she skirted around the hedge separating her yard from the Treadway house.
Yvette Butler slammed the only available Seven-Eleven-approved flyswatter against the Slurpee machine, ending the life of the targeted fly.
"You fly, get out of here, I’m working." Outside, her bad-girl friends were hosting a charity car wash, sloshing suds and laughing.
" I wish I was outside, not in here, swatting flies like you." In agreement, the dead fly fell to the tile floor. Yvette wished she were out with her friends in the parking lot, raising money for their favorite charity, "The Girls of Newport Fund."
Otto tumbled off his perch for the second time in as many minutes. ‘That damned Herman had better not be laying a finger on my Candy Dish’, he thought. ‘Cause if he is, he will have to deal with me at the end of the day. And, I, Otto, am a lot to deal with.’
The parakeet peered out the front window and flapped his colorful wings with joy as Candy slipped between the hedge. ‘She looks a little ragged,’ Otto thought, ‘a little mussed up, but not hurt, not crying out in agony. My princess is safe!’
Outside the changing room at the Tylertown pool, Donna Glotz sat behind the bushes. The high school boys were inside, whipping their wet towels in the mildewy air. ‘A writer needs to see things first-hand,’ she thought, as she frantically searched the brick wall for the loose mortar, which, once again removed, allowed a perfect spyhole into the mischief inside.
driver cracked the whip over his horse, preparing him for another snowy,
holiday trip through
Svensen stood on the corner of
Lulu adjusted her recently-purchased hat in the holiday wind. He just may be the one, after all.
(You’ll want to put some kind of divider here—I recommend asterisks. Then keep that dividing mark consistent through, whenever we change from a flashback scene to a present-tense scene with Muriel and her editor.)
Muriel put down the papers and glanced at the bedside clock. !
Wilma Rae Soar, owner of Tylertown's own Beauty Barn, lounged on a chaise beside the town's community pool. Next to her was her best friend, Violet Treadway, along with Otto, safely inside his locked birdcage. Otto was busy picking at the remains of a Clark Bar. In the pool, the high school boy's water polo team practiced, their wet skin glistening in the early morning sun.
"Wilma Rae, just look at us, a few months ago we were two old women with nothing to live for but The Mike Douglas Show. Now we are famous actresses. And tomorrow is our first out of town...gig." Violet grinned with excitement.
famous. Not yet. Our production of Little Women has only been seen here in
Violet continued. "I really think we should drop the classic title, Little Women, and call it what it really is. Sexy Stewardesses Teach Archery at Club Med. And your role is no longer that of Jo, the confused teen, but that of Elga, the Swedish nurse, suffering from a rare disorder which causes her to unbutton her uniform every time she hears the phrase "bow and arrow." The Amish are going to love the show, but the scene in the tanning bed may cause problems. You know how they hate electricity. Maybe there was a fire or something..."
Wilma Rae reached for the bottle of Coppertone from under her chaise and unscrewed the top. "We have had good reviews. And I must confess the time away from the Beauty Barn has done me a world of good.. Those headaches I used to get? Gone," she stated as she poured a large amount of sunscreen/lotion (avoid repeated word “Coppertone”) into her palms.
"It was the fumes from the hair relaxers that gave you the headaches, I just know it. You just rest up for the performance. Remember, a critic is going to be there." A light breeze blew a cigarette butt towards them, but Violet caught it before reaching Otto, who let out a short squawk of disapproval and resumed his examination of the Clark Bar.
"Well, I would hardly call Donna Glotz a critic. And she has reviewed us before. Remember her review of our Church Penny Bazaar performance? “The only thing missing from this Club Med is the male element." I have no idea what that meant. Something about her husband, no doubt." Wilma Rae slathered the lotion liberally onto her arms. "The Beauty Barn is in good hands. How would I have known that...what is her name, that woman I hired to sweep up hair...that she would have been so willing to take on running the Barn full-time?"
Violet thought for a moment. "You know, I really don't know her name. The only thing I know is that she has suffered a terrible tragedy, her daughter running away like that. Just horrible, right before graduation." Violet peered over her sunglasses, "And speaking of Donna Glotz, isn't that her over there?" She pointed to the bleachers, where a short trenchcoat-clad figure lurked, holding a pair of binoculars, frantically making notes in a small composition book.
Wilma Rae nodded. "Donna seems to be covering the world of sports in Tylertown, as well. She’s at every water polo practice, I hear. Poor woman, ever since her husband was sent off to jail, she has to wear so many hats to make ends meet." She waved to Donna, and turned to her friend. "Violet, be a dear and read me my mail. I have so much Coppertone on my hands; those letters would just slide right through my fingers."
Violet reached under Wilma Rae's chaise lounge and retrieved a small pile of letters and circulars. "The new Rite Aid circular," she announced.
"Save that for...whatever her name is, that woman running the Barn while I'm away. The one who used to sweep up hair? She may run short of essential beauty items during my absence."
"Okay...and here we have the new TV Guide. Look, Karen Valentine is on the cover. She's the only reason I watch that Room 222."
"I agree. Take it with us, if the Motel 6 has a television. You know those Amish and electricity."
At that moment, a small typhoon of heavily chlorinated water, created by the frolicking young men of the Tylertown Water Polo Team, erupted from the nearby pool, soaking the two women, as well as Otto.
Wilma Rae carefully removed her sunglasses and glared at the swimmers. "You boys watch where you're splashing. We came here to get some sun, not to get drenched."
Otto shook the water from his feathers, nodding in agreement.
"You almost ruined this picture of Karen Valentine." Violet added, carefully wiping the TV Guide with her towel.
In the pool, a gangly student turned towards the women, as a hidden Donna Glotz scribbled furiously in her composition book.
"Well, guys, what do we have here. None other that those sexy stewardesses, and look, we have Elga! Hey, Elga, bow and arrow, bow and arrow!" The other boys laughed heartily.
Wilma Rae glared
at the boy. "Harley Butler, you watch your tongue. I happen to know your
father, and I don't think he would be too pleased to know that his son was
being disrespectful to helpless old women. "Violet,” she said,her voice rising, "when
we get back to the Barn, maybe we should place a call to Bargain Bill
"You old hag.” Harley muttered loudly. Otto to let out an angry squawk.
Harley turned to face the bird. "Hey Otto, where's your girlfriend? Where's Candy Dish?" Otto looked away in disgust.
At that, Wilma Rae rose from her chaise and approached the pool. As the water polo team caught sight of her oily gray skin and flowery one-piece swimsuit, they quickly backed away, out of the water and towards the locker room.
"Harley, you were such a good boy," Wilma Rae recalled. "I used to baby-sit you and your twin sister, Yvette, when you were babies. Sing you to sleep, give you baths, and powder your little bottoms. Harley and Yvette Butler, the sweetest babies in Tylertown, I used to say. Now look at you, a smart-mouth, disrespectful boy who is all wet."
Violet smiled at her friend's choice of words
Hands placed firmly on her hips, she continued. "I have half a mind to get in that water and give you the spanking you deserve." Harley's eyes widened in horror. "Abandon pool, abandon pool!" he bellowed, climbing out of the water and joining his teammates in the locker room, slamming the heavy steel door behind him. Donna Glotz darted from the bleachers to her secret loose-mortared location behind the locker room to continue her "investigation."
Violet clapped wildly. "Wilma Rae Soar, forget Karen Valentine, you should be the guidance counselor on Room 222!"
Wilma Rae returned to the chaise lounge and made herself comfortable. "Now, where were we? Any more mail?"
"A letter." Violet examined the postmark. "All the way from
"My sister. Read it." She sighed, liberally reapplying the tanning lotion. Otto returned to his Clark Bar.
the envelope. "From the desk of Vera
professional." She continued. "Dearest
Sister: Hope all is well with you in Tylertown. Did you get the article about
Aloe Vera I sent you? The liquid from this plant may be very useful in your
Beauty Barn. Life here in
Then one morning, three weeks ago, as I was watering, Julia, my Aloe Vera plant on the porch, I noticed that the FOR SALE sign was gone. That afternoon, as I returned from the mailbox, down the street and into the cul-de-sac came the dirtiest car I have ever seen. I thought it was a Corvette or a Corvair, or something sporty. It pulled into the driveway next door and out fell the dirtiest girl I have ever seen, causing me to gasp and drop my Aloe Vera catalog. She had long raggedy hair; her face seemed burnt from days of traveling. (A little you-know-what will take that redness away in no time) She wore a dirty rumpled miniskirt and carried a set of tattered pom-poms. Even from my driveway, by the smell, it was apparent that she had not bathed recently either.
Shielding her eyes from the hot afternoon sun, she started towards the porch. Approaching the front door, the girl grabbed the railing for support, as if she had been confined behind the wheel of her automobile for quite some time. Suddenly, she stopped, turned towards the car, and, putting her fingers to her lips, whistled weakly.
The passenger door opened and out climbed the biggest and dirtiest Basset Hound I'd ever seen. After pushing the door shut with his nose, he stopped, with his sad eyes, glanced briefly in my direction, and lumbered up the walk towards the girl, dragging his oversized ears on the pavement. (Aloe Vera for those poor ears!) The girl opened the front door and they both went in, locking the door behind them.
That was the last time I've seen them outside, three weeks ago. She must take the dog out in the middle of the night, when the liquid from the Aloe Vera plant is most potent. She has her groceries delivered, opening her door just enough to let the delivery boy slide in the shopping bags, and he always leaves with a generous tip. Eventually, the dirt was removed from her car, exposing the most beautiful pink convertible Corvette I have ever seen. Well, the first one I have ever seen. Passing cars would slow down to get a good look and a few have stopped to take snapshots, the girl and her dog nowhere to be seen.
Sometimes, when I am out in the yard caring for my plants, I can see right in her living room window, and there she is, practicing some kind of cheerleading routine, her pom-poms waving madly in the bay window. The basset hound sits, his nose pressed to the glass, and watches me, ignoring his energetic owner. His deep sad eyes daring me to me to solve their mystery. I also thought he was eyeing Julia, my Aloe Vera plant on the porch, so I brought the poor thing inside, where, at this moment, she sits at the dinette table, next to me. Dearest Julia.
Oh, Wilma Rae, maybe there is no mystery to solve. The girl may just be as ordinary as you and me. Maybe-oh, dear sister, as I look out the window, pen in hand, her front door is opening. She's walking out of the house, carrying her pom-poms. She looks so different from the day she arrived, her blonde hair is combed and clean, tied back with a pink ribbon, the pleats on her pink skirt are smooth and neat, even her saddle shoes are polished. The dog waddles behind, as clean as could be, with a similar ribbon tied around his bouncing tail. They're at the corvette now. The girl is opening the door, allowing the dog to climb in, with a good deal of effort I may add. The powerful engine, after months of waiting, is roaring to life. I hope the sound isn't upsetting poor Julia here-oh, they're gone. I just looked away for one second. Maybe if I get up and look-Julia, Julia--!
Dearest sister, in my haste to get a better look out the window, I have knocked poor Julia off the dinette table and onto the carpet. I must end this letter and turn to more pressing matters, my poor Julia. Love, your sister, Vera Mae." Violet folded the letter and placed it under her friend's chaise. "Well, now that's a letter. Cheerleaders? Pom-poms? What would the Amish say about that? This makes me question the very nature of aloe vera."
Wilma Rae glanced at her friend. "I've been questioning the very nature of Vera Mae for years. Any more mail?"
Otto squawked in agreement and returned to his Clark Bar.
The next day, Candy rushed through the door of the Treadway house just as Wilma Rae Soar volunteered to present her most recent assignment for the Tylertown Writing Club. After dropping her backpack on the sofa, and waving to Otto, she slid into her seat at the card table. Surrounding her, on folding chairs, were hostess Violet Treadway, and guests Donna Glotz and Wilma Rae. Wilma Rae cleared her throat, adjusted her hearing aid and began to read aloud.
On the carpeted stairway sat international singing star, Charo, quietly strumming her guitar.
“Save on Snacks and Drinks,” by Wilma Rae Soar,author of Luncheoning on Interstate Family Trips.”
Donna interrupted. “I know I shouldn’t ask, but wasn’t our assignment to write about Labor Day? Snacks and Labor Day? I don’t—”
Violet replied. “Donna, let’s just wait and see. Go on, Wilma.”
Wilma Rae continued. “Avoid snacks made just for kids. They are usually way more expensive than the same thing just a few aisles over in the store. I've found that many kids' snacks are devoid of any nutritional value. I would much rather have my kids eat real fruit than fruit roll ups or that gummy fruit stuff.” She paused and took a breath, ignoring Donna, who was shifting impatiently in her seat.
“Cake mixes are not very expensive, so buy them on sale and use a coupon and you can get them for next to nothing. Make cupcakes instead of a layer cake for kids. Buy large bags of cheap, store-brand chips. Kool-Aid is much cheaper than soda pop.” She took another breath.
Donna snapped her own typewritten assignment on the table. ”What does this have to do with Labor Day? Look, I don’t have all afternoon to waste here. Wilma Rae, are you sure you heard the assignment correctly?” On the stairs, Charo struck an off-key chord.
“After Labor Day comes the start of school, and snacks and drinks are an important part of school lunches.” Wilma painfully smiled at Donna. “I was getting to that part, Donna.”
“You should get to the point at the beginning of your piece. Remember when I wrote about Mr. Pibb, the manager of the Rexall Drug Store?” Donna said, “Right to the point, that column was right on target.”
Violet added, “As I recall, Donna, the paper made you retract a good bit of what you said about him. You wrote things that weren’t even true!”
Donna pushed back her chair and stood, smoothing her skirt. “I was on a deadline, alright? And I took a little journalistic license. Who here has a column in the Tylertown Times? Me!”
“I’ll use this little break to visit your powder room, Aunt Violet. Okay, I guess I didn’t see the column. What did she write about, that guy, Mr. Pibb?” Candy asked, nodding at Charoas she ducked into the small powder room, underneath the front stairs.
“She wrote that the manager of the drugstore lived in an old bottle factory. So for days and days, people called the store and asked, “Do you have Mr. Pibb in a bottle…well you’d better let him out before he suffocates!” Violet said, and then cried out to her guest. “Candy, you have to jiggle the light switch to get it to work. Someone—” she glanced at Otto “—has gotten into the habit of picking at the wires in there,Lord knows why.” At that, Otto turned his attention to a newly-discovered piece of gravel in his birdcage.
Wilma Rae stifled a laugh with her tissue. “I thought it was pretty funny myself. My telephone bill was a little higher that month!” She shuffled her papers. “Should I continue? Oh, and by the way, Donna, my column, This Week’s Wig, appears, on occasion, in the Tylertown Times as well.” Charo struck another off-key chord.
Donna headed to the buffet table, suspiciously eyeing Charo, and turned towards Wilma. “Yeah, back on page seventeen. It’s more like a free ad for your Beauty Barn, Wilma Rae. And you know—” she bit into a carrot stick “—I’ll be darned if I don’t read almost the same things that you write about in your column in those magazines at your Beauty Barn. What a coincidence!”
Wilma Rae folded her assignment. “Well I don’t have to sit here and be accused of things!” Charo strummed another sour chord.
“Does she have to do that?” Donna cried out. “What’s she doing in here anyway? I thought we agreed our writing club is members-only.”
Wilma Rae replied. “What could I have done…left her out in the car all alone? She would be so bored out there with only the radio to keep her company. She’s far more comfortable with us, right, Charo?”
“Cuchi! Cuchi!” Charo replied happily, waving her guitar pick
“And we have plenty of salsa and chips in case she gets hungry,” Violet added. “Let’s get back to work.”
“Whatever,” Donna sighed. “How, where was I…hey, is she…shackled to the railing?” She moved closer to Charo and examined the long dog chain attached to the singer’s left wrist. “Violet, you can’t do that!”
Violet smiled sweetly “We can’t have her loose in town, can we? She could find a telephone and call her good friend, Mike Douglas, and tell him where she is.Wilma, continue with your writing sample.”
Donna interrupted. "You may wonder why I know the correct usage of the word ‘shackled.’ My soon-to-be ex-husband, Larry—" Violet continued to smile sweetly.
"No, we don't wonder, Donna," Violet interrupted. "We all know about Larry, err, Barry, don't we?" All in the room nodded in agreement, including Otto. "Back to issues at hand."
Donna clicked her tongue and looked away.
“Ever since we saw Charo perform up at the Hilltop Mall Annual Celebrity Guest
Free Concert, she, well, has become an important part of our lives. Her music
brightens our day and my salon, and my customers just adore her. Now, where was I? Oh yes—”
-she resumed her recitation. “Kool-Aid is mmuch cheaper than soda pop—”
“If anyone ever found out about this, that you are holding her hostage, well, big trouble is all I can say, big trouble.” Donna headed towards the window and peered through a crack in the lace curtains. “Every day Mike Douglas pleads with his audience for her safe return, offering a reward for any inform—” She stopped mid-sentence.
“Cuchi! Cuchi!” Charo said, strumming her guitar.
Wilma Rae beamed. “I love when she does that. Makes me feel special.”
Candy emerged the powder room, turning off the dangerously-wired light fixture and interrupted. “Hey! Miss Soar just inspired me! I have a great idea for something to write about. A Letter to the Editor or something.” She picked up her notebook and began to write.
“What…you are going to write about school lunches?” Wilma asked.
“No…save our shacks! You know, down by the Cheeseman trolley stop, and that shack? The one next to the where the trolley stop used to be," Candy explained, flushed with excitement.
Violet looked at Wilma Rae in horror. "Why, I'd almost forgotten about that shack. Candy Dish, you must forget about that shack. Never mention it again!"
Wilma Rae shuffled her papers. "It’s been so long, Violet. I thought it had fallen down by now."
"What about the shack? What's going on there?" Donna snapped from the window. "My readers have a right to know."
"Donna, most of your readers do not want to be reminded about the shack or anything related to it. Let’s have some snacks, girls:" Violet nervously picked up the bowl of Fritos and passed them to Wilma Rae's trembling hands.
"It was a long time ago. Maybe fifteen years ago. I can't talk about it." Wilma Rae shoved a handful of Fritos into her mouth. "Poor Donna Jo...and Lotta. What they went through. What we all went through. Those were bad times here in Tylertown."
"You mean Lotta Clump, the substitute teacher?" Candy asked. "And this is Tylertown, not Tylertown." On the stairs, Charo strummed a discord.
Violet looked around the room and sighed. "Ladies...and Otto. What we are going to tell you was never meant to be heard, ever again, in this town. Those were dark days."
Donna and Candy shifted in their seats at the folding table. Charo leaned in as far as her restraint allowed.
Wilma Rae and Violet leaned in and whispered to Candy and Donna
"A while back, this town was very different, but very much the same."
“It was a long time ago. I’d almost forgotten about it.”
“Tylertown was very different then.”
“Even the name was different.”
“Then one day, something happened down at that old trolley stop.”
“The Cheeseman stop. Everything changed.”
“Donna Jo…rest her soul. She’ll never know the importance of her sacrifice.”
“Wilma Rae and I wanted to preserve that day. So others could see what went on. If anyone knew about Tylertown they would not have believed it. Called it impossible.”
“So we wrote down everything we knew. Everything we saw.”
Violet stood up silently, went to the old cedar trunk underneath the front window and opened the lid. “Wilma Rae, right here. Just where we left it.”
Donna drummed her fingers impatiently on the wobbly table. “Can we get to the point, please? I can’t spend all afternoon inside listening to old wives’ tales. I plan on going out to the pool to get some sun.”
Suddenly, outside, the sky grew dark. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Charo shivered and hugged her guitar for warmth. The sound of rain bounced from the shingled roof.
Candy smiled across the table at Donna. “The pool is closed.”
Wilma joined her friend at the trunk, turned it around so the back faced the card table. She peered inside. “In the same old Rexall bag. Everything looks okay. Untouched.”
Violet locked the front door, then reached over and switched off the overhead fixture, leaving a tall reading lamp as the room’s only light. Candy instinctively reached over to the reading lamp and angled the shade towards the two women, now crouching behind the trunk’s lid, creating a spotlight. The room was silent.
Violet’s voice came from behind the trunks lid. “Ladies and…Otto, the Tylertown Sock Players is proud to present, The Secrets of Tylertown.” Charo strummed a theatrical chord.
“Oh Geez,” Donna moaned in the dark. “I wish I had a Reingold.”
Several hours later:
“…and that, dear friends, is the Tylertown Sock Puppet Theatre’s presentation of “The Mystery of the Cheeseman Trolley Stop.” Violet Treadway announced, switching on the overhead light in her living room. Beside her, Wilma Rae Soar crouched, behind an old trunk, placing the sock puppets back into their protective Rexall bags. “I hope you enjoyed the show.”
Across the room, on her flowery sofa, sat two other members of the Tylertown Writing Club. Candy Dish, in her washed out Sea World sweatshirt, was busy writing notes in her spiral notepad, while Donna Glotz sat rubbing her eyes in the newly brightened room. At the foot of the staircase sat Charo, asleep against the banister.
“Did it stop raining yet?” Donna yawned, glancing at her watch. “Geez, how long was that play of yours, anyway?”
“So,” Candy began. “The ghost that haunted the old trolley stop was really Donna Jo Gorley, the woman who was murdered years ago, when the Tylerville still played that game…of hide and seek. And the name of the town was changed to Tylertown.”
Violet smiled. “I’m glad someone was paying attention, unlike our other members.”She turned to Donna. “You really should have that snoring looked into dear, there could be something wrong with you medically.”
Donna squirmed. “Maybe if the play was a little more interesting, I would have stayed awake for the second act.”
“Second, third and fourth act.” Wilma Rae piped in, closing the trunk, and struggling to stand. “These old bones. I think my sock puppet days are gone. Maybe I should go back to playing bridge with you, Violet.”
“Bridge! That reminds me. I have to tell you all something.” Violet quickly rolled up the window shade beside Otto’s cage, causing her parakeet to awake with a start. “You, Otto, I can forgive for sleeping through our production, you’ve seen it before—many times before.” She turned to her friends. “The bridge club was at Millie Carnation’s house last week—”
“Did she charge admission?” Wilma snorted.
“—last week, and Mille was about to pass, when—”
“Pass who?” Wilma asked.
“Well, let me see, Mille was about to pass me on the outbound lane of the Golden Gate Bridge, when I moved onto a footbridge to get out of the way, when I glanced over to her desk and noticed that she had—”
“What?” Donna looked up from her chipped nails. “Bridge? That’s a card game.”
“Violet, you took your eyes off the board while playing with Millie? I heard she cheats.” Wilma said.
“Well, as a matter of fact, she did try to cheat—tried to switch over to a wooden covered bridge—”
Candy joined the conversation. “Well, if she tried to pass you on a wooden covered bridge, you’d end up hundreds of feet below, in the creek. Even I know that.” Donna looked at her, confused.
“That Millie is one sneaky bridge player,” said Wilma. “So, what did you see on her desk?”
“She had the latest copy of the Gumpy Lake Gazette, and I saw that—”
Donna interrupted. “That piece of trash. They won’t carry my column.”
Wilma rolled her eyes. “Go on, Violet.”
“And this meanswhat?” Donna asked, looking around the room, then slumping back into the sofa. “I am not eating raw fish!”
Later that week, Wilma Rae stood on the sidewalk in front of her Beauty Barn, notebook in hand.
‘Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Hair, care, nightmare-’
“Arggghhh!” She ripped the sheet from her pad, crumpled and tossed it to the ground. Behind her, the glass door opened and the girl who swept up hair quickly appeared and used her ever-present broom to sweep the trash back into the shop. Wilma smiled weakly and stamped her foot. “I just cannot write a poem to save my life!”
At that moment, Stuttering
Millie Carnation came clomping down
“Why did you stamp your f-f-foot, Wilma? I’m not late, am I?” Millie looked up at her hairdresser. Or did you catch a rolling penny under there?”
“Shut up Millie, and get inside. I am not going to wash and set you today. I have too much on my mind.”
“Then who is…oh, damn, no, n-n-not that girl who sweeps up hair. She talks to me l-l-like I’m three years old!” She reached up and pushed open the glass door. “If I had a car, I’d head over to the T-t-two Buck Cut at the Hilltop Mall. They never have anything on their mind!”
After Millie’s wash and set, she sat under the oversized dryer, her voice barely audible.
“Oh, Lord, Wilma Rae. Any half-wit can write a h-h-haiku poem. What’s the big d-d-deal “Roses are red, Violets are blue, you over-charge your customers and water down your rinse, too.”
Wilma looked up from her notepad. “You know, Millie, you don’t stutter when you recite poetry, just like that guy on Hee-Haw.”
“Humph!” replied Millie.
From the shampoo sink,
where she was washing combs and brushes, the girl who sweeps up hair quietly
joined in the conversation. “In
“How do you know all
that?” Wilma asked. “Have you been to
“It’s that lady on Courtship of Mr. Eddies F-f-father,” Millie said. “She has this weird effect on people! Like voodoo!” The dryer switched off and she pulled her head from underneath. “Five s-s-seven five, huh?” She thought for a moment, and then patted her freshly washed curls.
“This do is very nice
Better than the Two Buck Cut,
But hurts my wallet more”
Millie clapped her hands in delight and headed for the door, then stopped and turned. The girl who sweeps up hair looked up from the sink. “That’s six-seven-six. Close. Keep trying!”
Millie nodded and placed her chubby hand on the pink Formica counter, where Wilma was seated.
”I’d love to pay you,
Sorry! Purse is at the store,
Add it to my tab.”
And she was gone. Only the jingling bell on the front door served as a reminder of her presence.
“Just like that guy on Hee-Haw!” Wilma repeated.
The day before the haiku
fair, a few members of the Tylertown Writing Club met for an emergency session
“I’ll go first.,” Violet offered.
”Plum tree in the yard,
Your pits jam up the mower,
And hit me in the legs.”
Candy shook her head. “That’s five-seven-six. No go.” She looked around the table. “Miss Glotz?”
Donna looked at Candy, then at Violet. “I really haven’t, um, I’ve been so busy working on my column…this haiku stuff is hard!” Her eye caught the flickering television.
”TV at eleven,
Though full of lights and prizes,
Leaves much to be desired.”
Candy, put down her pencil and clicked her tongue. “That’s six-seven-five. No go, either.”
“What if I just say “V at eleven?” That’s one less syllable.” Candy shook her head.
“The girl who sweeps up hair gave me these written instructions on how these haikus should be, and we have to stick to them. We have to win this contest!” Candy caught her breath. “Why did she and Miss Soar have to work this morning?”
“Allright, Candy Dish, you write a winning haiku and snatch the prize for us.” Donna crossed her arms and leaned back in her seat. “Line one position two-VIPER” she said to the television. “Any idiot can play that game.”
“Donna, focus on our problem, not Now You See…” she caught a glimpse of the television. “Line three position four-TELETYPE-well that woman is just stupid, on that game. I can play better than her,” Violet said, irritated. “The answer was right there!”
A moment later, Donna startled her club-mates, during the ticket plug for Now You See It. “I’ve got it!” She cleared her throat, arched her neck and began to recite.
“On Now You See It,
Players Are Poorly Chosen,
“Five-seven-five, simple theme, slightly obscure…I love it!” Violet exclaimed. “To heck with the Japanese values, Donna, we have a winner!”
“And we avoid similes and metaphors!” Candy added. “Haiku contest, here we come!”
Exactly twenty-four hours
later, the writing club was seated in the audience at the
“Go on, Donna!” Violet whispered, waving back. “Make us proud!”
“She looks nervous,” Candy added.
Wilma Rae waved. “She had better be. The reputation of our Writing Club depends—”
She was interrupted by the crackly voice of the judge. “Thank you, Mosstown Writers Guild. Finally, representing Tylerville—”
“That’s Tylertown,” Donna corrected. “The name was changed many years ago.”
“It seems someone needs to attend a production of the Tylertown Sock Puppet Theater’s production of “The Mystery of the Cheeseman Trolley Stop,” Violet hissed.
“You may begin…Mrs. Pinkel.” The judge continued.
“That’s Glotz.” Donna corrected again. “Donna Glotz. You may recognize my name from the Town Tooter?”
“That piece of trash, they won’t carry my column,” The judge snorted. “You may begin.”
Donna looked up at the lights and cleared her throat. She looked out at the small audience and coughed.
“Is there a problem, Miss Glutz?”
“That’s Glotz, geez.
Alright, here I go.” As Donna began so recite her haiku, she caught a glimpse
of the television program the
“Uh, I, uh…Line three position six-PARSLEY! The answer was right there! What kind of people go on that show anyway?”
The judge tapped his pencil and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Miss Glutz. Nowhere near the traditional haiku format. Thank you.” He looked around the small multi-purpose room.
“But I, we, Now You See It, that wasn’t the poem!” Donna whined. “Let me start again!” Again she caught a glimpse of the flickering television. “Line one position two-HACKSAW! Tell the janitor to turn off the TV over there!” She stomped her foot in frustration.
In the audience, Violet, Candy and Wilma shook their heads.
“What time is the next bus?” Wilma asked, reaching for her purse.
“I hope the Mosstown Writers Guild enjoys their fifty dollars,” Candy added.
“No flowers at the bus stop,” mumbled Violet.
The judge continued. “Concentration is very important. Come back next year when you are able to do so. Anyone else from the Tylertown Writing Club?” Violet, Candy and Wilma stood and headed up the aisle in silence. “Very well, I am pleased to announce the winner of the Gumpy Lake Cultural Center Haiku contest is—”
Suddenly from out of the blackness behind Donna came a familiar voice.
“W-w-wait!” Stuttering Millie Carnation appeared. “I, also, represent the Tylertown W-w-writing Club.”
“Whatever.” Donna sighed, throwing her hands in the air and heading towards the custodian. Violet, Candy and Wilma turned to face the stage.
Wilma cried, “What’s she doing here?” Violet hushed her.
“Alright, Miss, you have my attention,” the judge said. "Proceed.”
Millie looked the judge directly in the eye.
Tylertown, that’s far!
But for a big cash prize, I’d-
Crawl through a minefield.
“And my p-p-personal favorite…”
Eleven, the store I,
Own and op-e-rate!
That night, Tiny’s
“Millie, I never would have thought!” Wilma Rae exclaimed over the din.
“You sure saved the day!” Candy added, grabbing a handful of party mix.
“I knew she was there all along,” Donna confessed, finishing her third Reingold.
“Millie, the bus stop is going to look so pretty with the flowers we are going to plant with the prize money. Fifty dollars worth of flowers!” Violet exclaimed.
Slowly, with great effort, Millie climbed from her stool onto the wooden bar. The room became very quiet. Millie took a swallow of her watered-down drink, winced and spoke, loud and clear.
Flowers at bus stop?
Nice, but the fifty dollars
Goes to beauty tab!
The Otto Factor
“C’mon, Violet, lets get the l-l-lead out!” Too short to knock on the door, Stuttering Millie Carnation called into the Treadway house from the front porch. “Just lock that damned b-b-bird in the cellar and let’ go! Time’s a wasting!”
Violet Treadway stood in her living room, purse in one hand and a stern pointing finger in the other. On the receiving end of that finger was her sometimes-beloved parakeet, Otto, in his cage, looking as innocent as ever. Except for the tiny bandage on his beak.
“That’ll teach you, Otto, to pry the lock off the rotary telephone. If I ever find you trying that again, well, let’s just say, we may need more bandages from the pet store!” Violet reached over to the flowery sofa and picked up her sweater.
“Bro-mulf,” Otto muffled through the bandage. Mulf-bro!”
“We are going shopping and will return in one hour…no tricks.”
Otto glanced in the direction of the wall clock, and was shocked to find it covered with a flowery dish towel.
“Ha!” Violet smiled, buttoning her sweater. “You’ll never know what time it is, will you? I’ve learned a few tricks, too, Otto. One hour.”
She switched the answering machine to the ON position, and in a moment she was on the porch, looking down at her friend, Millie. “Millie, I don’t know why I keep that bird around…”
“You’ve had him for quite a while, why, as l-l-long as I can remember. Got your shopping list?” She clomped down the wooden porch steps, pausing to pick up the morning edition of the Town Tooter. “Mind if I b-b-borrow this?”
“Sure, Millie, just bring it back this time, and don’t use it down at the Seven-Eleven to wrap coffee grounds in. Use your own newspaper for that.” Violet patted the pocket of her flowery housedress. “Oh yes, Wilma Rae gave me a list, too. A few necessities.” She showed the list to Millie. “Shouldn’t take too much longer.”
”The d-d-distributor doesn’t give credit for dirty p-p-papers! That Wilma Rae is so cheap, can’t she s-s-shop for her own damn self?” Millie said, eyeing the list with suspicion. “B-b-breck Breck Breck Breck Breck Breck Breck Breck?”
“She wants eight
bottles.” Violet looked up and down
“Don’t you listen to the President, Violet? Gas rationing is very important. Why d-d-drive when you can walk? It saves gasoline!”
Violet walked around to the driver’s side, stepping over a large puddle of oil on the blacktop. “Millie Carnation, talk about cheap, you have that Pacer of yours running on fumes, it’s so well tuned, and my Buick here, well, it gets about a mile to the gallon. At a dollar a gallon, that’s—”
“Un-American!” Millie yelped, climbing up into her seat. “Ahhh, here it is…” She unfolded the newspaper and began to read aloud.
Millie folded the paper and slipped it into her oversized handbag. “What does she n-n-need a push button telephone for? No one ever calls her and she doesn’t have a s-s-single friend.”
Voilet turned right at the corner of
Millie turned and looked up at Violet, her knuckles firmly clenched on the wheel in the ten and two position. “How old is that b-b-bird, anyway? I remember when your h-h-husband bought that televsion set, just to keep O-t-t-t-to company. He loved Route 66. Otto, I mean!”
“Oh, I really don’t know, he’s always been around,” Violet replied, disinterested, as she slowed the car to a crawl, approaching Wilma Rae’s Beauty Barn. After a short moment, Wilma Rae stuck her head out the door, followed by the girl who sweeps up hair, who swept her way out to the sidewalk, broom in hand.
“Oily or Dry, Wilma Rae?” Violet called out.
“Oily. Oh, is that Millie Carnation’s forehead I see in your passenger seat, Violet?”
“G-g-get two copies of the receipt, in case she conveniently l-l-loses one, and can’t pay you back. Wilma’s cheap like that!” Millie stammered, loud enough for all on the street to hear.
“Stop looking in the mirror, Millie!” cried Wilma Rae, pulling her head back inside, followed by the girl who sweeps up hair, sweeping her way back inside.
“You two...really!” Violet scolded, heading down
Later as the duo sped past the dry cracked concrete entrance to the Hilltop Mall towards Murphy’s Mart, Millie suddenly exclaimed, “Violet, remember high school? The J-j-jello Incident?”
“When Dionne Diggs decided to made Jell-o and we took her cookbook and ripped out the page with the last step of the recipe." Violet smiled, recalling one of her favorite pranks from her early years. "Care to continue?"
“The next day, Dionne was in t-t-tears. She got an F for her Jell-o."
“What was the last step of the recipe?" Violet teased, unable to control her laughter.
Millie couldn’t contain her giggles. "Chill before serving!" Violet chuckled along, then calmed herself as she carefully turned off Route 800 into the freshly paved Murphy’s Mart parking lot.
“But Violet, my point is… remember where we hid the ripped out c-c-cookbook page?”
“”No,” Violet replied, wiping her eyes, “W-w-where?”
“At the bottom of Otto’s c-c-cage. And that was forty five years ago!” Millie peered over the dashboard. “Take that space, next to the shopping buggies!”
Moments later, the two were pushing their buggies through the electric doors into the brightly lit department store.
“Look at everything here, Millie. For once, Donna was right. Montgomery Wards has nothing over this…palace!”
Millie nodded in agreement. “Nice shopping b-b-buggies, too!”
“We’re going to be gone a bit longer than one hour. I had better call Otto and let him know…got a dime, Millie? I’ll use that payphone over by the restrooms. Oh, look, Ladies AND Mens!”
Millie patted the pockets of her faded dungarees and fished out a dime. “That bird answers the telephone now? Violet, I may be short as a t-t-tree stump, but I am not as dense as one!”
“Whatever, Millie, really! I can try out the new telephone answerer!” Violet took the coin and carefully dialed her number.
The line rang once, twice, then a third time. After the third ring, there was a staticky pause, a loud click, and a computerized female voice came on, announcing: “You have reached an automated answering system, At the tone, please state the name of the person you are trying to contact.”
“Millie, I should have read the book on how to use this telephone answerer. I hope Otto hears me.” Violet said quickly, her hand cupped over the receiver.
“Otto, this is Violet Treadway, I’m the lady who lives in your house and feeds you and—”
BEEP! “Did you mean to say (pause) Violetta?”
“No, I didn’t, Otto, if you are listening, and not getting into trouble, I just want to tell you—”
BEEP! “Did you mean to say (pause) Othello?”
“Otto, WearegoingtobelongerattheMurphysMart,thanonehourandstayoutoftrouble—”Violet quickly rattled.
BEEP! “Please hold while we locate (pause)Mary Murphy.”
“No!” Violet angrily slammed the receiver back onto the payphone, then regained her composure. “I can see why Donna wanted to get rid of that machine!”
Millie jammed her finger into the coin return slot. “Damn! There goes my d-d-dime, too.
“Don’t worry about that bird Violet. He’s survived this long, a few more hours won’t make a…look! A S-S-Slurpee machine!”
Later, as Violet and Millie made their way through the glistening store, the two stopped at a promotional display of photographs of early G.C. Murphy Department stores.
Violet pushed her Breck-filled shopping buggy aside and examined the display. “Look, Millie, here’s a picture of the Tylertown G.C. Murphy from…1900! Look at the old clothes!”
Millie looked up from her Slurpee cup, at the display, and pursed her cherry-stained lips. “That’s where my Seven-Eleven is now, on M-m-main Street…recognize any of the people…that fire hydrant is s-s-still there!”
Violet scanned the stiffly posed figures. “No…no…no…” she paused and squinted. “…Millie, look in the store window, next to the woman with the parasol…see?”
Climbing upon her buggy, Millie looked closer. “It’s a bird cage, r-r-really old…and a bird inside—”
“Look at the sign next to it, on the wall.”
“G. C. Murphy welcomes…” Millie read, “…Otto? Violet Treadway, it can’t b-b-be!”
“Beeline to the checkout, Millie. We’re going home!”
Later that day, back in the Treadway living room, Otto sat calmly on his perch, innocently looking out the front window as Violet once again shook a stern finger in his direction.
“Otto, I want dates, places, names, spill the beans! How old are you?”
Millie piped in from the corner. “He’s not going to tell you a th-th-thing, he’s a time traveler, I tell you. From another d-d-dimension!” She finished the last of her Slurpee. “He’ll live for another three hundred years, on a space ship…just like in that dr-dr-dream I had a few weeks ago.”
Otto turned from the window, catching Millie’s glance.
“Why, that damned bird just winked at me! Violet, did you see that?” Millie shuddered.
Violet sighed. “Whatever, Millie, let’s get this shipment of Breck over to Wilma Rae. Time’s a-wasting!”
One sunny winter
“She won’t pay for her treatment, I can assure you of that, Violet. She’ll scoff and accuse me of trying to take advantage of her celebrity status. All she did was scare away an intruder at the Seven-Eleven last night. Big deal,” Wilma stated quietly, tossing an Eva Gabor catalog into the nearby trash can. “I never get any good mail, Violet, just bills and wig catalogs. That’s why I’m so glad you bring your mail over here to read. Or, like we do in the summer, we take our mail to the park and read it there.”
“Wilma Rae, I hope you don’t keep any of those wig catalogs out where the customers can see them. Your job is to style hair, and if they see you with all those wig catalogs, they may think that you are not a good hair stylist.” Violet patted her own tight grey curls. “And head over to the Two-Buck-Cut over at the Hilltop Mall.”
From the hair dryer, Millie said sleepily, through the steamy cloth on her face. “I’d go there, but it’s too far to w-w-walk…”
“She’d crawl through a sandstorm for a cancelled postage stamp,” Wilma muttered. “Got any interesting mail there, Violet? What’s that shiny envelope?”
Violet waved a large silver-colored envelope in her hand. “It’s for Otto. He must have sent away for another autographed picture of The Bionic Woman. Sometimes I just don’t know about that bird. If he makes that creepy ‘bionic eye’ sound when I bend over to pick up the newspaper one more time, I‘m taking away his portable television for good!”
“I just can’t keep up with him. First it was his Wonder Woman obsession, and now The Bionic Woman? Well, at least, these days, he’s not running off with your Buick.”
place he won’t dare look for the car keys!” Violet patted her bosom
thoughtfully, then re-examined the envelope. “Why it’s from his old friend, Ultra Man! We haven’t heard from him
since he saved
“Maybe he could travel b-b-back in time for me and tell me where I left that roll of b-b-buffalo nickels my father gave me on my 16th birthday. I sure could use ‘em n-n-n-now!” Millie said, over the roar of the hair dryer.
“Open it, Violet,” Wilma Rae urged. “Can he tell us about our future, too? Will I open another Beauty Barn? Will Crystal Gayle ever sit in my chair…”
“If Otto knew I opened his mail, he would be so upset. Who knows what he would do to get back at me. I just got finished paying for the new wiring in the powder room under the stairs. He chewed that up pretty bad.”
“Open the damned letter!” Wilma said, slapping her hand to her mouth. “Oops, darned, I mean.”
“Well…”Violet carefully lifted the flap. “…Look, what a loose flap. This letter could just fall right out.” She shook the envelope violently, causing the letter to drop out and fall to the tiled floor. “Oops!”
Wilma Rae quickly snatched up the letter and began to read. “Dear Violet, Wilma and Millie. I know you are reading this letter, because I have traveled through time.” Millie reached up and switched off the hair drier.She popped her wet head out and looked around the room. Wilma and Violet did the same. “Millie, your hair is still wet.”
“W-w-what the-?” Millie stammered. “Wilma, you’re m-m-making this up! No tip for you!”
Wilma shook her head and continued to read. “Crystal Gayle will never sit in your chair, Wilma. I know this because I am writing from…the future!” Wilma dropped the letter and gasped in horror.
“Ultra Man? Are you in this beauty barn?” Violet called out. “Are you hiding in the corner by the coat rack?”
Millie interrupted. “Violet, that Ultra Man won’t answer y-y-you. He’s in the f-f-future.”
“But how does he know what’s going on in this room? Crystal Gayle? Wet hair? Read on, Wilma Rae.”
Wilma flipped over the letter with her white sandal and continued to read. “Put the letter back in the envelope and give it to Otto. This is for his eyes only!”
“Give me that letter, Wilma.” Violet snatched the letter from the floor and jammed it back into the silver envelope. “There! This is foolish. I will never read Otto’s mail again!”
Millie leaned back and turned on the hair dyer. “Don’t mess with time travel! It’ll get ya every t-t-time!”
Later, in the Treadway living room, Violet cautiously approached Otto’s cage. He was on his perch, asleep. Violet quietly slipped the letter between the rungs and turned to leave, pausing to pick up the newspaper from the floor.
“Brrooiinnggg!” Otto schreeched. “Brrooiinnggg!”
Violet sighed loudly. “That’s it, Otto. No more Bionic Woman for you!”
Alone that night, Otto read the letter from his time traveling friend.
“Otto, I am writing to you from the 23rd century. Please be ready to join me. Bring a sweater, as everything is air-conditioned. Very truly yours, Ultra Man.”
Otto glanced around his owner’s plain living room. Outer space! What kind of help could he offer? He glanced at his mirror and let out a happy chirp. This was going to be the adventure of a—
The next thing Otto knew, he was seated, alone, on the bridge of the starship USS Jayne Doe. The viewscreen in front of him showed an endless road of twinkling stars. Ultra Man was nowhere to be seen.
“Why, I can talk!” Otto exclaimed aloud. “This is…out of this world! Once I get back home, that old bag Violet Treadway is gonna hear it from me! I want a subscription to Popular Mechanics, better birdseed, a new cage—”
Otto was quickly silenced by the swoosh of a door opening behind him, and turned to see who it was. Commander Heather step onto the bridge and took her place in the center seat.
She wiped her brow. “Whoooh, Navigator Otto, you sure missed a heck of a concert! Lullaby Op. 49 No. 4 for flute and piano by J. Brahms, well, it sure does get the ol’ heart a fluttering! Now, what is our position?”
Otto looked down at the console, up at the viewscreen, than back at the Commander. “Well, I…ah…we…”
“Navigator, I left you in charge for two hours. Surely we have reached the Junction by now!”
At that moment, the doors swished open again and Officer Dish quickly took her seat, tucking in her tight blouse.
“Sorry, Commander, I had to clean up after the concert. We ran out of Handi-Wipes.”
dropped open at the sight of Officer Dish. “
“No problem, Officer.” The Commander sat back in her chair and sighed. ”You know, his reminds me of my first venture into the unknown. We had everything we needed to make the mission a success strapped to our belts, and we carried our bag lunches. As we crossed the desert terrain, where aliens roamed freely, out of nowhere came an ear-piercing whistle blow—”
”Oooh!“ said Officer Candy, pursing her lips.
“Ooooh is right! We ran as fast as we could to the ladder, climbed into the ship and sealed the hatch. I, as the eldest, gave the command to lift off,” Heather continued, enjoying recalling her adventure. “Later, miles above the desert, we analyzed the events of the past hours. As we toiled away, searching to find the mystery of the desert terrain, checking the readouts and displays, I noticed that it was time for lunch!
“Oooh!” Candy repeated, stretching her arms over her head.
Otto gaped at the two in disbelief. Was this the excitement of space travel? The Future?
The doors swished open again and the on-board Telepath appeared. Otto felt a shudder down his spine as she took her place behind the Commander.
“Ahhh, Telepath, just in time. I’m getting to the good part. I looked around the cabin for my applesauce cup and Little Debbies and realized the inevitable had happened.”
“The loss of nutritional supplements and prepackaged fruits,” said the Telepath, matter-of-factly.
“Correct. We had left our bag lunches on the deserted surface...where aliens may have found them!”
Otto looked around, unable to speak.
”Unsafe bag lunches! Commander, what did you do?” Officer Candy brushed back her blonde hair.
The telepath looked sternly at Candy. “Officer Candy, the commander is trained to survive in the most dire of situations. I am sure she acted properly and retrieved from her utility belt a lunch ticket, which she redeemed in the cafeteria and enjoyed a hot meal, consisting of vegetables, meat, chilled whole milk and a fruit cup.”
“Exactly, Telepath. Then we put our heads down and took a little—”
Otto couldn’t take it any longer. “The unknown? It sounds like recess to me. You know, maybe I shouldn't have come to the future after all. I was much happier in my cage, in the living room, enjoying The Bionic Woman, looking in my mirror—”
“Navigator, you should be concentrating on our destination. The Junction.”
“Perhaps the navigator is jealous of your interstellar adventures, Commander,” the Telepath observed. “His own life must be less than spectacular. An ordinary parakeet—”
Otto seethed. “Look, you…you…I am Otto, ruler of the living room, and Ultra Man is my close ally!”
“Enough, Navigator! Would you like the Telepath to replace you?”
Otto stared at his console.
“I thought not. Resume course.” Otto pressed the controls with his beak, pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to navigate a starship.
Later, Otto sat at his console, organizing his thoughts. “Ultra Man must be here in somewhere. I just have to find him, and he’ll send me back home. I can see why he needs my help. These nitwits—” he glanced back at the Commander, immersed in a crossword puzzle, then at Officer Dish, who was rummaging through her beaded purse, and finally at the on-board Telepath, busy at her computer terminal. “—nitwits need a lot more than my help.”
The telepath broke the silence. “Commander, as we approach our destination, I have discovered from the database that there are several things we should know about this Junction.”
Otto shook his head in disbelief. “This should be good, geez.”
Commander Heather snapped her fingers at Otto. “One more word out of you and…and…well, you don’t want to know. Just sit there, look at the view screen and navigate!”
“Now, Telepath, you were saying?”
Officer Dish looked up from her beaded purse and exclaimed, “Oooh, I did have a pack of Clorets!” She waved the pack for all to admire. “My breath is sooo gross. Oops, go on, Telepath.”
“In this Junction, there are several things to consider. We should avoid, at all costs, one elder named Joe, as he is unable to keep up with the others in the Junction.”
“Noted,” The Commander commented. Otto quietly clicked his beak.
“The leader of this Junction is one Kate, and she will undoubtedly attempt to persuade us to remain as long as possible. Her evil lair is called the—information is sketchy here—the “Resty Shade.”
“Also noted. Evil lair.” Otto quietly beat his wings in the air.
“Finally, as we get closer, we will experience…’lotsa curves’…in our route.”
“I hope I don’t get all queasy,” Officer Dish said. Otto quietly jumped up and down in his seat.
“Lotsa curves, Kate, Joe, what is this mysterious place?” Commander Heather thought aloud. “Does it even have a name?”
Otto was unable to hold his tongue. “Brrooiinnggg!” he schreeched. “Brrooiinnggg!” He angrily turned to face the others.
“The name of the place is Petticoat Junction! It’s a hotel on TV, a TV show, you idiots. Look, you looney Telepath, I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but it’s all wrong. And you, Commander Heather. I think you took too long of a nap at recess!” He glanced up at Officer Dish, busy biting a cuticle. “And you, Dish, it could have been so good…” He looked around frantically. “Ultra Man? Get me out of here!”
But nothing happened, and soon Dish, Heather and the Telepath, all in foul moods, were upon him.
“Brrooiinnggg!” Otto screeched again, louder. “Ultra Man! Use your powers and help me…Brrooiinnggg!”
Millie Carnation awoke under the hair dryer with a start. Above her stood Wilma Rae, loudly tapping on her wristwatch.
“Millie, you have to get ready! This is no time to nap under the dryer. You are going to get your picture taken!”
Millie groggily looked around the room. “My buffalo n-n-nickels…Ultra M-m-man?”
Violet piped in from the corner of the Beauty Barn, switching off the overhead television. “Millie, you were dreaming!”
“I…what…the m-m-mail…did you get the m-m-mail…the letter in the silver envelope?”
down at her thrifty friend. “It’s
Violet smiled at her friends rhyme. “Wilma, get the TV Guide. What’s on after Petticoat Junction?”
Meanwhile, miles away, at the Duck County Jail, Larry Pinkel scooped the last of the laundry from the jail’s institutional clothes dryer in the recreation room. Nearby, his cellmate Carl sat, looking at the TV Guide.
“Larry, what do you want to watch, now that Petticoat Junction is over? I just love Uncle Joe. He’s sooo funny!”
“Carl, I can’t watch any more TV this afternoon. I have to get to work on my column and send it in to Miss Mueller before tomorrow. Look at all these socks. I hope none fell under the dryer.”
“That would be a good TV show, your column. Behind Bars, a gripping tale of life in the Big House. Or a musical,” Carl replied. “I’m sooo glad you won that column of the year award for it. Barry Stinkel,” he giggled, putting his hand over his mouth.
Larry lifted the laundry basket under his arm. “Now I just have to think of something to write about. Did you like last month’s column?”
“The one about the napkins in the cafeteria and who likes theirs folded a certain way or else they get really mad and storm out and pout in their cells?” Carl put down the TV Guide. “I was soooo riveted!” he rose and joined Larry at the door. “Maybe you could write about all the records we have in our cell and about how much fun it is to play them. And about how, sometimes, when I play my Pajama Game record…all the other guys sing along—”
“Records!” Larry dropped the basket, causing the socks to tumble out on the waxed tile floor. “Carl! I think our records may still be being delivered to Tylertown! To Donna’s house and not to us, here! We never updated our address with the Columbia House Record Club! Donna could have our record!”
Carl recoiled in horror. “And this months selection was Dames At Sea! I can see her now, drinking her Reingold Beer and singing along, sooo badly. Yeech.”
From the outer hallway, a loud voice roared. “Dames At Sea? That’s a great musical! Me favorite!” Into the recreation room lumbered Warden O’Malley.
“Warden, were you listening to our conversation?” Larry asked, picking up the loose socks.
“Or listening to the end of Petticoat Junction?” Carl added, placing his hands on his bony hips.
“I was comin’ to get me socks, Matey. Me tootsies are getting frozen back in me office. I can’t be tippy tappin’ on frozen toosties, now can I?”
Larry looked up at the warden. “You tap dance?”
“That’s why Dames At Sea is your favorite?” Carl said.
“Well, it ain’t fer them cheesy Busby Berkley sets, Matey!” The warden laughed heartily. “Boys, you gotta get that record fer me ta have a listen to. Maybe they’re be somethin’ in it for the two of you!”
The cellmates looked at each other, then at the warden.
“To have our own community theater group here at the jail?” Carl squealed.
“No more laundry duty?” Larry piped in.
“We’ll just wait and see. Now get me that record!” The warden spun lightly on his heel and left the recreation room.
Larry and Carl wasted no time in distributing the clean socks to the rest of the inmates, then headed back to the pay telephone in the dark recreation room, where a few other cellmates sat, watching Ultra Man on television.
Larry rummaged a
dime from his pocket and dialed. “I hope they answer the phone. It’s a holiday.
Maybe they’re closed on
Carl shook his
head. “That would be sooo bad for us. Maybe they can send our record by airmail
Larry shushed him.
“Is this the
“My name is Pinkel. Larry Pinkel—”
“I’m sorry, the
office is closed for
Larry and Carl
looked at each other. Carl spoke first. “Please Doreen,
we just want to make sure that you sent our Dames
At Sea record to us here at the
“—and not to a
Donna Pinkel in
“Hisssss. She’s sooo mean, Doreen,” Carl stated, into the mouthpiece. “She threw a radio at us, once. During Christmas.”
“We just have to have that record, Dames At Sea! It was our automatic selection of the month!”
“That selection is out of stock. If you would like, we can forward the alternative automatic selection to your correct address. Please call back tomorrow.”
“What is the alternative selection of the month, Doreen?”
“The original film soundtrack to…’Hello Dolly!’ Please call again tomorrow.” The line went dead.
Larry turned and slowly hung up the receiver. “Hello Dolly!”
“Yeech!” Carl spit, “That’s the worst selection of the month ever! I would automatically return it! Columbia House has no musical taste whatsoever.”
”We’ll just have to call back tomorrow. Maybe the Warden will loan us another dime to make the call.” Larry sighed, shuffling towards the door. “And we are free to choose from any category, Carl. I guess I had better work on my column.”
Carl followed. “You could write about how mean Doreen was to us on the phone, and how you bet that she has all the copies of Dames At Sea hidden under her switchboard, so no one could listen to it, and…” And they were gone.
The few other
cellmates sat in the dark, watching Ultra
Later that evening, Millie Carnation, behind the counter of the Seven-Eleven, dozed and had another dream. This dream was more theatrical than the last, like a stage play
It was the Gumpy
Lake Loews Rialto,
Night. The Heavens. The constellations parade forever. An eternal procession. A shimmering driveway to the heavens. Timelines barrel past, like shooting stars, their tails intersectng at infinite points.
An ancient figure beckons. Her serenity soothes the mighty power of time. We accept her invitation.
"About a thousand or a billion years ago, two a’ them time lines intersected. Clotheslines tangled in some messy place. One from very far away, and too long ago to remember. It's just kinda a memory. No big deal. The other, well it's not happened yet, and...Little Harley, I told you not ta play on that driveway with all that glass! Look at yer knees, all cut up! And if ya ripped that pleated skirt a’ mine, well, I'se gonna have ta get the belt out and use it on you! If I have ta come out there..."
"I'se better be paying attention ta them timelines. Someone’s gotta..."
The Star vessel, the USS Jayne Doe, speeds through the stars, to worlds, and adventures unknown. On the command deck, its crew prepares for what waits ahead.
COMMANDER HEATHER : So this well dressed man from Alpha Centuri gets on a stellar transport and says to the driver, "Do you have change?" And from the back of the transport, a voice calls out, "Your shoes don't match your antennaes! Go home and change!" Only in the Milky Way, kids, only in the Milky Way! That Cindy Adams-auton! What a hoot!
OFFICER CANDY: Commander Heather, my readings indicate we will be appoaching the specified destination shortly. We should get on with the briefing that was sent to us from the high command.
COMMANDER HEATHER: (sighing) If we only had more information about where we were headed. We're sailing, blind in the dark, with no lights on.
OFFICER CANDY: And our headlights are covered with mud, and, well, that’s about as far as I can take that analogy, Commander. Maybe our onboard telepath can help us. Provide us with some insight.
COMMANDER HEATHER: Wipe the mud off the headlights? Good thinking, Officer! Activate the telepath finder! Where is she?
COMMANDER HEATHER: My readings say she is in the ship’s library, near the card catalog. She's looking up something. Dewey Decimal number 800.125, Women’s History. (pause) Earth History!
COMMANDER HEATHER: Get her up to the command center, snappy!
COMMANDER HEATHER: Telepath, what can I call you, a name perhaps?
TELEPATH: On my world, I am called Glotz. Just Glotz.
COMMANDER HEATHER: Well, Just Glotz, I see you have been studying Earth History, Women’s Earth History, in order to make me more comfortable on this all-woman space-faring vessel—
NAVIGATOR OTTO Almost all women, I remind you.
COMMANDER HEATHER: Navigator Otto, I am well aware of the differences between you and the rest of my crew. Parakeets and humans. May I remind you that we did rescue you from your prison, and your mirror, and in exchange, you would provide us with...services...that we all need from time to time?
NAVIGATOR OTTO: Yeech? Well, Miss, can you read my mind, don't expect my beak to be tapping on your door anytime soon. You'd have to poke out my eyes with a fork and drag me on the back of a Rexall shopping buggy to get me close to you.
TELEPATH: I have given it some consideration, Navigator. My Rexall buggy is oiled and ready. Checkout time could be very near.
COMMANDER HEATHER: Enough of this. Just Glotz, Women’s Earth History? Maybe I can answer some questions about our past. Fire away.
NAVIGATOR OTTO: Geez, I wanted to be the one to say that.
TELEPATH: There are many references to powerful women in your history. I have researched back as far as...well, since the invention of your...recording player.
NAVIGATOR OTTO: Ahh, the ol' Hasbro close and play. The seashore, a dozen D batteries and the 45 record that came free in Lays potato chip bags...
TELEPATH: If you are referring to "The Four Chessman" and their minor hit "I'm Not Ggonna Stay," the marketing campaign failed, as the salt from the potato snacks caused the vinyl to degrade. But, Commander, I do have a question about a similar event. This earth woman, Donna Summers—
NAVIGATOR OTTO: Her name was Donna Summer, No last S.
TELEPATH: I see someone here has an affection for twentieth century discotheques. Navigator, if we check your quarters, will we find quiana shirts and a Donny and Marie AM-compatible microphone?
NAVIGATOR OTTO: No!
TELEPATH: And perhaps all the back issues of INTERVIEW magazine featuring one Liza Garland? And a sport jacket with the sleeves pushed up?
NAVIGATOR OTTO: It was Minnelli—no!
COMMANDER HEATHER: Just Glotz, your question.
TELEPATH: Ah yes, this performer, one Donna Summer—no last s—had recorded a song during her life that was very popular with humans, Hot Stuff. –
NAVIGATOR OTTO: From her Bad Girls album, which also featured the hits—
COMMANDER HEATHER: Enough, Navigator.
TELEPATH: In this song, Hot Stuff, she tells her audience that she had, in the first verse, dialed about a thousand numbers, then in the second verse, another hundred numbers, and found no one home. Eleven hundred unanswered telephones.
COMMANDER HEATHER: I see, no one home...hmmm.
TELEPATH: Where were the residents of her town? Had they been abducted by interstallar creatures? The entire population, gone, except for Donna.
COMMANDER HEATHER: I have another theory. I think that, after Donna dialed the first few numbers, maybe ten, people caught on that she was dialing numbers at random, looking for Hot Stuff, and word got around the small town to not answer when she called. Maybe she was calling during dinner. I wouldn’t answer—
TELEPATH: Was she dialing at random, or was she methodically going through her local White Pages, knowing who in her town would have the Hot tuff that she was looking for?
NAVIGATOR OTTO: It’s a song! For crying out loud, it’s just a song to dance to! Don’t— Commander, a signal is coming in...from the specified destination!
COMMANDER HEATHER: Hmmm...interstellar creatures? I’d better get my purse. Officer Candy, get my purse for me, and there had not be any money missing when I look inside. Or Certs. There’s a full roll in there.
OFFICER CANDY: I prefer root beer barrels, Commander.
TELEPATH: Perhaps, they, the interstellar creatures, as well, are seeking Hot Stuff.
NAVIGATOR OTTO: Geez. Look, Just Glotz, you are really starting to get on my— Commander, the interstellar creatures are sending out an audio message! I think I can access it.
COMMANDER HEATHER: Let’s hear it, Navigator.
OVERHEAD SPEAKER: Coochi Coo.Coochi Coo.
COMMANDER HEATHER: Well, this may require more than my purse. Officer Candy, get my Totes umbrella! And my rain bonnett! We're goin’ in!
NAVIGATOR OTTO: You know, maybe I shouldn't have come along with you after all. I was much happier, in my cage, on the porch, enjoying Tylertown’s summer air, looking in my mirror.
COMMANDER HEATHER: Tylertown? Why does that name ring a bell? It sounds so familiar...
TELEPATH: Explain, Commander.
COMMANDER HEATHER: A bell, ringing, jingling...
Millie awoke with a start, alone behind the counter of the Seven-Eleven. She had only been asleep for a moment or two. The bell on the front door jingled in the dark.
“Violet, its m-m-me. You have to get down here to the S-s-seven-Eleven right away. Something else has h-h-happened!”
Violet reached for her eyeglasses. “What is it, Millie?”
‘There was an-n-nother intruder in the store. But this time…I didn’t s-s-scare ‘em away!”
“Stay put, Millie, we’ll be right there!” Violet quickly replaced the receiver and grabbed her bathrobe. In the dark living room, Otto had been awakened by the telephone, as well.
“Brrooiinnggg!” he screeched. “Brrooiinnggg!”
Violet called out, “Not now, Otto. Millie Carnation is in trouble! She needs us!”
Soon after, Violet was in the parking lot of the Seven-Eleven, holding Otto’s cage in one hand and a large flashlight in another. Under her slippered feet, broken glass from the store’s front window crunched and crackled in the dark night air.
“Millie? Millie Carnation? It’s Violet!” she called out, slightly afraid. “And I’ve brought my attack dog with me…just in case.” She shook the cage.
“Growl…Arf!” the parakeet screeched. “Arf…Growl!”
From the dark storefront, Millie called out. “Oh really, V-v-violet. That b-b-bird couldn’t frighten a house f-f-ly!” Otto rattled the cage with his beak.
“Look at who decided to v-v-visit me after closing this evening,” Millie continued. Violet shone the flashlight into the store, and was surprised to see Millie, behind the counter, pointing a pistol at her shadowed intruder, dressed in a tan trench coat.
“What the…?” Violet exclaimed.
“Oh, geez,” the shadowed intruder moaned, in a familiar voice. “Right about now, I could sure use a Reingold.”
“Donna Glotz, it that you in there?” Violet called, walking into the dark store. She left Otto on the sidewalk outside.
“It’s D-d-d-Donna, alright, Violet. I’m calling the police,” Millie replied, clenching the pistol tighter.
“No!” Donna cried out. “Please, let me explain….it was a…uh…a…simple…”
“Act of stupidity, dear?” Violet came up beside Millie, took the pistol from her hand and placed it next to the closed register. “Give me that, Millie. She couldn’t hurt a housefly. Donna, what are you doing here? Why did you break in?”
Donna thoughtfully examined the display of pine tree-shaped air fresheners behind the counter. “I…ah…was…I was walking past the store and saw that the front window was broken, and being the investigative journalist I am, well, I came over to, well, investigate. That’s when this woman here—” she pointed at Millie “—cornered me…and…and…most likely let the real intruder get away!” Donna looked Millie shakily in the eye, pulling her trench coat even tighter.
“B-b-b-bull!” Millie spit. “The window broke when you fell against it, Donna Glotz. I startled you when I came into the s-s-store. You’re the same person I scared away a few d-d-days ago, too.” She reached back to the wall telephone and lifted the receiver. “I’m not calling the c-c-cops. Much worse.” She brought the receiver to her mouth. Operator? G-g-get me the T-t-town T-t-tooter!”
With that, Donna lunged forward and grabbed the receiver from Millie’s tiny hand, yanking the cord from the wall. “No! You can’t tell Edna! Please!” Her voice echoed through the dark store.
“Brrooiinnggg!” Otto screeched from the sidewalk. “Brrooiinnggg!”
“Oh, shut up!” Millie and Donna cried out.
Lunging out, Millie grabbed the belt from Donna’s raincoat, causing a magazine fall out onto the cold tile floor. “H-h-ha! She is a thief! Guilty…g-g-guilty!” Millie cried, gleefully.
Violet squeezed herself between the two. “Donna, all this for a magazine?” Violet reached down to pick up the magazine in question as Donna looked away in fear. “Why didn’t you just buy it? What could be so special about a—” Seeing the magazine’s cover, Violet’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “Well, I’ll be! I never thought I’d see—”
“I…uh…I…um…” Donna stammered, backing away.
Millie looked over at the magazine and chuckled. Well, I’ll b-b-be! Donna, planning on doing a l-l-little investigation? Through the p-p-pages of…Playgirl?”
With that, Donna fainted against the wall, pulling down the display of pine tree-shaped air fresheners with her.
It was after lights out at the Duck County Jail. The building was quiet, except for the light snoring of Officer O’Malley, in his office down the hall.
“Larry?” Carl whispered from the bottom bunk.
“What is it Carl?” Larry replied, from the top bunk.
“I can’t sleep. Every time I close my eyes, I see Doreen, sitting in Terre Haute, Indiana, with stacks of Dames At Sea records in front of her, and she has a pair of pinking shears, with the zig-zag edges, and she is putting scratches on both sides of each record, then putting them back into their jackets and, using a hand held hair dryer, she seals the shrink wrap up, and then she puts the records back onto the shelves, where the order pickers will find them the next morning and ship them out to unsuspecting Columbia House Record and Tape Club members!” Carl shivered, pulling the rough blanket up to his chin.
“You have to be strong, Carl,” Larry said in a comforting voice. “Repeat soothing words, and you’ll fall asleep. I have to think about my column. Gee, nothing ever happens around here.”
“You are sooo right, Larry.” Carl sighed. “I am always free to choose from any category. I am…” Suddenly, his eyes opened wide, and he sat upright in his bunk. “I am, uh, not tired any more, Larry. I, uh, have to go to the bathroom sooo much. Be right back!” And in a second, he was out the door and down the cold hall, barefoot in his pajamas.
It was after
eleven at the Columbia House Record and Tape Club in
Reaching for her handbag, she recalled her recent calls. Donna? Donna Pinkel? Tylertown? She vaguely recalled something she overheard about her sister, Donna, moving to Tylertown, or Tylertown. A bus accident…jail time for her husband, Barry, or Larry…Larry Pinkel! She had just spoken with her sister’s husband, Larry Pinkel, in jail!
In a moment, she
had re-plugged her headset and powered up the switchboard. As she impatiently
waited for the console to warm up, she thought about her younger sister, Donna,
who had always had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Caught out after curfew, last to be picked for dodgeball,
holding the can of Reingold beer when the police
arrived, and now she was stuck with some Broadway showtune-loving
lowlife, serving time in the big house! And who was that Carl, in the
background? Most likely his partner in crime. She called herself a reporter these days, but
Doreen had yet to see a word of her sister’s printed in the
The two had not
spoken to each other in quite some time, but now Doreen felt it was her
responsibility to set her misguided younger sister in the right direction, and
not to add additional disgrace to the Glotz name. After their father’s odd
The READY light flashed on the switchboard, and Doreen wasted no time in dialing her sister’s number in Tylertown. The line rang once, twice, then a third time. Doreen looked at the clock on the wall and wondered where Donna would be at such a late hour. Most likely, once again, at the wrong place at the wrong time.
After the third ring, there was a staticky pause, a loud click, and a computerized female voice came on, announcing: “You have reached an automated answering system, At the tone, please state the name of the person you are trying to contact.” Doreen shook her head in puzzlement. Donna lives alone, or so I thought. Why would she need such an unusual answering—
“Donna,” she said, clearly and slowly into the mouthpiece, in her best Columbia House voice.
“Did you mean to say (pause) Dorette?” the machine replied, hundred of miles away.
“No, I said, Donna,” Doreen said, a bit sterner.
“Did you mean to say (pause) Dorette?” the machine repeated.
“I said, Donna, not Dorette,” Doreen snapped, irritated at her sister’s poor choice in answering machine equipment.
“Please hold while we locate (pause) Dorette,” the machine commanded.
“No!” Doreen stamped her foot in frustration. She hung up and quickly redialed, confident she had the right number.
This time, there were no rings or staticky pauses “You have reached an automated answering system. At the tone, please state the name of the person you are trying to contact. BEEP!”
“Damn it!” Doreen snapped.
“Did you mean to say (pause) Dorette? “Please hold while we locate (pause) Dorette.”
There was a final staticky pause, and the line went dead.
Frustrated and angry, she ripped off the headset, grabbed her handbag, and stood, smoothing her maxi-skirt. Some Lincoln’s birthday this turned out to be, she thought. She would deal with her sister tomorrow. Now it was time to head home and relax. Reaching behind her swivel chair, she pulled out a flat square wrapped package. In a short while, she’d be on her couch, Reingold in hand, listening to Hello Dolly!
Tiny looked over at the door just as stewardesses Ann and Dee strolled through in their smart jet set uniforms, and headed for their regular spot at the end of the bar, their Samsonite luggage rolling not far behind.
“They are shiny, I’ll give you that. And liquids run right off this…this…”
Ann glanced up at the television, where Match Game PM played quietly. “Look! Art Linkletter! He invited me up to his room once. And they say “KIDS Say The Darndest Things”. Filthy mouth, that Art Linkletter had.”
Ann disagreed. “No, the announcer Johnny Olsen, he’s the one. He has access to all those prizes on The Price Is Right. If we knew him, we wouldn’t have to play any of those silly pricing games, or get stuck in that stinky contestants row. We’d go right to the showcase!”
“We wouldn’t even have to help control the pet population, by you know, having our pet…“
“Ladies,” Tiny interrupted, tossing the last peanut to her parakeet guest. “The usual?’
At the corner table, Violet patted Donna’s arm, as Millie sat uncomfortably, arms folded across her chest.
“Watch out for that T-t-tiny. girls! She’ll water down your drink when you’re not l-l-looking!” She glared at Donna, the questionable magazine under her hand. “You’re paying for the window, I remind you. Thermopane g-g-glass!”
“Millie, that’s the tenth time you’ve said that. You should just be happy that we were able to move the ice machine over the broken window, so that no one could see what happened,” Violet said. “And not try to break in again!” She looked at Donna. “Now, why would you possibly want to steal? You could have just bought it.”
Donna wiped her eyes with the remainder of Kleenex in her hand. “Sure, and have everyone in town find out about it and laugh, and have them despise me even more?”
Millie snorted. “You don’t have to b-b-blabber everything about your life in your column, you know. Althought the cole slaw on your f-f-forehead last summer was pretty damn f-f-funny!” Millie sipped her drink and winced. “Ahhh, Tiny! Watered down…just like I s-s-said.”
Donna ignored her and continued. “It’s been a while since, I have you know, been, you know…” She struggled to find the right words. “And I thought the magazine would, you know…”
“What dear? What’s been a while?” Violet said as Millie stifled a laugh.
“Well, the pictures and the articles would, you know…cause its been so long since, you know…”
“Since what, Donna?” Violet asked.
“S-S-SEX!: Millie shouted. “S-S-SEX! She has not had sex! She wants to think about sex!” The bar was suddenly quiet.
“Oh, I see,” Violet replied quietly. Donna slunk in her seat, pushing a long stray bang out of her face.
“Is there a problem, ladies?” Tiny asked politely. Ann and Dee lost interest in Match Game PM, and swiveled on their stools to see the problem more clearly. Even Otto was interested in the potential problem.
“Donna needs sex and she went to the Seven-Eleven to find it,” Violet explained to the crowd, then looked back at Donna. “ She apologizes for any inconvenience caused. They’re going to know eventually, so they may as well hear it from us first, not from the Town Tooter. Now, go home, forget about all of this and get some sleep. You too, Millie. We’ll take care of your broken window tomorrow.”
Millie snorted and finished the last of her drink. “L-l-look at the time! Almost ! What a L-l-lincolns birthday this t-t-turned out to be!” She stood and glared at Donna, one more time. “If you ever…”
Donna smiled weakly. “Can I keep the magazine?”
At the bar, Tiny tossed a stray peanut into Otto’s cage for the ride home. “Little bird, how you put up with these ladies, I don’t know.” Otto chirped in agreement. “Ladies, closing time. You Jet Setters need your rest!”
As the clock
“Put down the hair dryer, AND the pinking shears. I am soooo onto you!”
“Who is this?”
“Don’t play games with me, Doreen. Step away from the Dames At Sea records, and no one is going to get hurt.”
“What are you talking about? Records?”
“So much for your plan. You are sooo Dames At Sea? That’s me favorite show! Carl! What are ye doin’ in me office and on me phone at this late hour? Did ya get me record?”
“Are you the Carl who?”
“Oh, Officer O’Malley, I was just …ummm, wrong number…’bye Doreen!”
Why: Ring in the New Year! (Please bring a covered dish)
Invited Guest List
Lulu Dish, 202 Deadwoods
Herman Dish, 202 Deadwoods
Candy Dish, 202 Deadwoods
Bill Butler, 205 Deadwoods
Betty Butler, 205 Deadwoods
Yvette Butler, 205 Deadwoods
Harley Butler, 205 Deadwoods
Wilma Rae Soar, c/o Wilma Raes
Millie Carnation, c/o
Tiny Diddle, c/o
Donna Glotz, c/o The
Edna Mueller, c/o The Town Tooter,
Larry Pinkel, c/o The
(Guest Carl), c/o The
Pilot Wheedle, c/o Wheedle
Ann, c/o Wheedle Airlines,
Otto, c/o his locked birdcage
Never has this house been so full of life, Violet Treadway thought to herself as she looked around her crowded living room. Her first New Years Eve party in decades was going to be the talk of Tylertown tomorrow morning, and those who either politely declined her colorful invitations or chose to ignore them, would be sorry, tomorrow, on the first day of 1977.
From his locked cage, Otto chirped gleefully to the disco holiday music Candy Dish was playing on the stereo console in the corner. She was accompanied by Larry Pinkel and his new friend, Carl. Both men had brought to the party a tall stack of record albums and they sat quietly, waiting their turn as guest disk jockey.
It was their last night of freedom before they returned to the Duck County Jail to continue their sentences, but apprehension and sadness was not to be found in their faces, as they were beaming with holiday joy and tranquility.
Violet turned and took an empty glass from the large hand of her nextdoor neighbor, young Mr. Herman Dish. “A refill on that Yoo Hoo, Herman?” she asked her guest. “And thanks for coming over tonight. I hope your mother will be able to join us, too.” Herman smiled shyly.
And unlike so many situations in the past years, Violet did sincerely hope that Lulu Dish, a woman that she had so little in common with, would decide to join them and not spend another New Years Eve drinking alone in her dark bedroom. Maybe put on a fresh dress and lipstick and finally meet some of the people of her town whom she had hidden from, ashamed of her own past and present, and so afraid of her future.
Over the din, the doorbell chimed and Candy and bounced to the now-open door, where she greeted her classmate, Yvette Butler. Candy and Yvette had lived across the street from each other for most of their lives and, until now, had not exchanged as much as a curious glance in the other’s direction. Yvette with her boyfriends and cigarette pals and summer job as cashier at the Seven-Eleven, and Candy, with old women as her only friends and a mother who belittled her every move. The two had seemed destined to walk totally separate paths throughout their lives.
But now they stood together awkwardly in the Treadway vestibule. Behind Yvette, in the evening shadows, stood her brother, Harley. He semmed afraid to come into the house of the woman he had exchanged nasty words with during the summer. He’ll be in soon, Violet thought, And it won’t be long before he’ll be in the kitchen, eating cranberry brownies with a tall glass of milk, just like he did when he was a boy, so many years ago.
glass in hand, Violet entered the kitchen just as her best friend, Wilma Rae
Soar, slammed the shut the door of her
“Violet! This oven of yours is non-operational! I lit it
over an hour ago, and it is still not nearly hot enough for my cheese puffs
with anchovy filling! This party is ruined, I may add. I would have had better luck if I rolled one
of my hair dryers out of the Beauty Barn, down
turned towards the sink and smiled, “thanks so much for helping in here, but,
this is not Tiny’s
“Sure, Miss Violet, and leave this crazy woman all alone in your kitchen? She’d be putting that stinky anchovy filling into everything on the menu, as soon as our backs are turned!”
Wilma Rae’s mouth dropped open “What? Well, Tiny, my cheese puffs with anchovy filling are a bit more upscale than your proposed menu of spamwiches, cole slaw and party mix!”
Tiny rolled up her copy of Jet. “I have been serving spamwiches, cole slaw and party mix for the past fifteen New Years Eves, Miss Soar! And never have I heard a complaint from anyone’s mouth. There.”
“That’s because their mouths are too dry to speak, Tiny. I guess that’s why you have to keep all that Reingold beer behind the bar. Now, if I served my cheese puffs with anchovy filling—”Wilma was hastily interrupted by Violet, who wedged herself between the sparring duo.
friends, let’s remember that this is a party! Tiny, get out there and enjoy yourself. And Wilma Rae, this is an electric oven. You
didn’t turn it on! Right here!” She pointed to an
array of buttons and switched on the
Later, in the living room, Tiny sat, with her copy of Jet, watching the other partygoers. After a moment, she caught the eyes of stewardess Ann and Dee, who quickly joined her.
“Hi Tiny,” Ann giggled.
“What a swell party,
we thought we’d have to, kind of, miss it,”
“Oh?” Tiny asked, uninterested.
“We had to fly
Tiny suddenly became very interested and leaned toward the uniformed duo. “Secret? Well, let me in! I love a good secret!”
In front of the stereo console, Candy chatted with Larry and Carl.
“It was sooo nice to be here for the holidays, Candy.” Larry said.
“Tylertown is sooo nice, Candy,” Carl added. “Everyone is sooo nice, here, too.”
asked, as she placed a fresh stack of records on the changer. “What are you doing at the
Carl blushed, held his original cast album of The Pajama Game to his chest and turned away.
“He is sooo nice, Candy, you’re right,” Larry smiled and added, “You see, the Beckley, West Virginia town jail was full, and they sent him up here— for a crime he did not commit, I may add!”
Carl turned back
to the conversation. “You see, Candy, I was once the drive-through teller at
the Beckley Savings and Loan in
“No, her…her…” Carl stammered, “…her…her...”
Larry jumped in. “Julia was this silly Aloe Vera plant that Miss Soar took with her everywhere she went. To the store, to the library…”
Upon hearing the
name Soar, Tiny, Ann and
Carl continued.“…and to the bank! Well one day, Miss Soar came around to the drive-through, right after a leaky old gasoline truck had pulled out, it was sooo smelly, and she thought that Julia could use a little sun outside the car while she checked her balance. So she put that…that plant…on the drive-through drawer that I could pull can back in with the lever I controlled inside. Where people put their cash or deposit slips in, or I put the Dum Dum lollipops in.”
“Smelly gasoline. Yeech,”
“Did she tell me the plant was there? Did she push the intercom buzzer? No! So, here I was, talking with my supervisor, Betty Link. I was asking her who she thought was the best Dolly in Hello Dolly—”
“The movie doesn’t count. Just on Broadway,” Larry added, for clarification. “Or the touring company. Bus and truck.”
“Yeech,” Ann shuddered. “I hated the movie. And usually I like movies.”
“We don’t even
show it, you know, on board the plane,” said
“Carol, or Ethel, or Ginger,” Carl went on. “I just wanted to give her time to think—”
Tiny interjected. “Don’t forget Miss Pearl Bailey! She played Dolly on Broadway, too! She’s in this month’s Jet.”
“Oooh! Good point. She was sooo good,” Larry agreed.
“So I turned around in my swivel chair to give Betty Link a little private time to think about Hello Dolly, and before I knew it, I had banged the lever and pulled the drawer back into my window and that …that plant crashed to the parking lot, right into a puddle of…of…” He began to sob.
Larry filled in.
“Of gasoline! And, that woman, being the richest woman in
“Not even my supervisor, Betty Link, could help me. Two years I was sentenced. I offered to buy her another plant, but she was sooo mean.”
“Oh,” Candy said, baffled.
“How, you know,
Carl wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “If I ever hear that plant’s name again, I don’t know what I may do, how I may react.”
“No telling what he’ll do. I’m sooo worried about him,” added Larry.
Tiny continued. “You know, I think Miss Dianne Carroll played Dolly Levy, as well. It was in Jet magazine.”
“Who is Dianne
Carroll?” Candy ignored
“She was in
that, you know, show on TV,”
her co-worker. “No
“Juliet! The TV show was called Romeo and Juliet!” Yvette Butler
screamed from the foot of the stairs, where she was sitting with her brother.
“You want this
Harley added under his breath. “
Otto chirped in agreement.
Later in the evening, Donna Glotz arrived, bolted through the living room, and made a beeline for the kitchen and Violet. She collapsed against the refrigerator, gasping for breath. She reached behind her, opened the refrigerator, located a bottle of Reingold Beer, popped off the top and took a long drink. Foam erupted from the bottle and poured onto the floor.
“That’s much better. Violet, I knew I could count on you for a cold one.”
At the table, Pilot Wheedle and Edna Mueller played cards.
“Donna, what are you doing? What has gotten into you?” Violet asked, bending down to wipe spilled beer foam from her clean floor.
“Been arrested, shot off your foot, trapped in a basement, chased by wolves…what is it this time?” Edna asked. Not looking up from her playing cards, she added, “Got any nines, Wheedle?”
“Go fishin’, sister,” Pilot Wheedle slurred.
Donna playfully shook her finger at the teetering man, “Why didn’t you tell me
you were going to
“Got any nines, Edna?” Pilot Wheedle slurred.
“Your readers have a right to a good column now and then, Donna!” Edna barked.
“Donna, this old lush can’t even pay attention to the cards in his hand, let alone keep track of his passengers.” Violet sighed.
Wilma Rae piped in from the laundry room, where she was folding napkins, fresh out of the clothes dryer. “Celebrity? They had better some to my Beauty Barn and let me take their picture for my Star Wall, like when Doctor Spock came to visit…ow…hot napkins! Be careful, there, Lulu, or else you’ll melt that nice pant suit you’re wearing.”
“Those pointed ears, he’s hot stuff.” Edna cackled. “Spill it, Wheedle, who’s the celebrity in town…I may have some nines for you!”
Wheedle motioned for the ladies to gather around closer. “It’s a sheekret, but I’ll bill the speans…his, er, hers name is…Tammy Miami.” With that, the pilot passed out, dropping his playing cards to the floor, and banging his head on the kitchen table.
Edna looked down at the dropped playing cards. “That old boozer. He did have nines!”
“Tammy Miami? Geez, what a drunk.” Donna chugged the last of her Reingold and sighed.
Later, after the last of the guests had left, Donna sat alone in the corner of the darkened living room, covered by a blanket, the stereo console nearby playing a Tony Orlando song. Empty beer bottles littered the carpet.
“Oh Tony, if only you were the celebrity on that plane. What a great way to start the New Year. You and me, and, okay, Thelma and Joyce, a.k.a. Dawn, too…goodnight, Tony…” And she was fast asleep.
Violet stuck her head through the kitchen door and smiled. Her party was a success. “Good night, Donna. Sweet dreams. And you too, Otto.” And she closed the door, leaving Donna and Otto alone in the semi-darkness.
Otto let out a tired chirp in reply.
Later in the early morning, muffled voices could be heard on the front porch.
“Maybe they’ll let us use their bathroom. I gotta go. Knock.”
A knock was heard at the door. Otto chirped.
“Me too. Knock again.”
Again a knock was heard. Otto rattled his cage with his beak.
“Knock three times!”
“…on the ceiling of you want me…”
“Very funny, Tony, I gotta use the bathroom!”
Otto banged on his mirror.
“Look, a taxi-cab! C’mon, Thelma! There’s no one home here at…200 Deadwood.”
“Maybe we should tie a yellow ribbon around that tree to let them know we were here. They’d be tickled.”
“Very funny, Mr. Orlando!”
Otto frantically chirped and shook his cage until it came crashing to the floor.
“What was that? Let’s get out of here! C’mon, Joyce!”
In the corner, Donna snored lightly. It was the first day of 1977.
Miss Millie Carnation carefully folded the current
issue of the Tylertown Times and
placed it in her lap as Wilma Rae Soar secured her hair with a large can of Adorn. Around them, the Beauty Barn was
decorated with paper leaves, pumpkins, and other fall-related items. Outside,
“What the hell is wrong with that w-w-w-woman? Oh, well, at least she spelled my name right,” Millie sighed. Her beautician glanced down at the folded tabloid.
“Donna’s column? I haven’t seen it yet,” Wilma Rae replied, vigorously shaking the can of hair spray.
“Here, you r-r-r-read, and I’ll spray,” Millie stuttered, passing the newspaper to Wilma Rae with one hand and taking the can of Adorn into the other.
By Donna Glotz
If you have any complaints about this column, join the club—er…contact the editor directly. -Ed
It’s October and
change is everywhere. In
Another change prompted me to take a little trip over to the Montgomery Wards at the Hilltop Mall. It seems my soon-to-be ex-husband, Larry Pinkel, changed his mind and used his rare telephone privileges to call me! I was home, and the clock on the kitchen wall reminded me that only three hours remained until the season premiere of the Tony Orlando and Dawn Show (the name was changed to the Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour, for who knows why, all I was concerned about is me, an ice cold can of Reingold Beer, and my Tony! Dawn I can take or leave.)
As usual, his feeble, chalky voice disgusted me. “Donna, it’s getting a little cold up here at the Duck County Jail. Could you run out and buy me a little something to sleep in keep me warm at night and mail it on up here tomorrow,” Larry whispered into the phone.
“Larry Pinkel, you should have thought about cold nights in jail before you ran over that lady with your bus! And don’t tell me it was an accident. I remember, quite clearly, that ”boy, I need to run someone over” look in your eyes!”
Suddenly, I had a plan! My brain made a quick U-turn, and I whispered right back at him in my most kittenish voice.
“Sure, I’ll run right out, anything for you, dear husband,” I purred, and slammed down the avocado telephone receiver. (You guessed it, readers! My favorite color is avocado green!)
Thirty minutes later I was in the men’s department of the Montgomery Wards, where I picked up for him the tightest, scratchiest, most uncomfortable woolen long johns in the store! And the last pair at that, complete with ripped, faded packaging! That’ll teach him, I thought, bypassing the soft, flannel Robert Bruce pajamas and terrycloth robes on the way to the checkout. I looked up at the wall clock. Only two and a half hours till Tony-time.
As I stopped to
admire a monogrammed his and hers sleepwear set, I heard familiar voices and
looked up. It was none other than Bargain Bill Butler and his son, Harley,
shopping for the younger’s undergarments!
I quickly ducked behind the nearest pajama display case and pulled up my
raincoat collar to hide my face. Since the “discovery” of my presence behind
the bleachers of the Tylertown Pool by ol’ Bill himself, I made it a point to
shy away from any member of the
I lurked behind the display case, praying for an escape route to appear. The minutes dragged on as I crouched in the corner. The wall clock taunted me. Only two hours to go.
Bill Butler noticed a
I made my move. Head down, hunched like a quarterback on the baseball diamond, my raincoat wrapped tight, I barreled past Harley, past the gift wrap desk and through the front doors of the Montgomery Wards, right into the parking lot! I collapsed to the ground in exhaustion as fellow shoppers eyed me with suspicion.
Catching my breath, I looked up to see Miller, Hilltop Mall’s security guard!
“Going somewhere, Mrs. Pinkel?” Miller asked. He pulled me to my feet, causing me to drop the worn package of long johns. “You’re going with me. I’ll just have to give Miss Mueller a call.” I fainted in his thick arms.
Some time later, I awoke, alone, in the Montgomery Wards tiny security office. The long johns lay balled-up on the floor. The clock on the magazine-strewn desk read . I would miss the season premiere of the Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour, quite possibly one of the most important moments in TV history! (Alongside the first broadcast of Love of Life in color!) Where was Edna Mueller when I needed her? Most likely, back at the newspaper office, puffing away on her Lucky Strikes, cackling nastily, having fun at my expense. My days as a journalist were over.
Not this time, I thought. I stood, still a bit wobbly, grabbed my raincoat, and tugged at the doorknob. Unlocked! Carefully peering through the cracked door, I saw that the store was dark and empty.
Slinking through the air-conditioned darkness, hugging my body against the displays and racks, I slowly made my way towards the front of the empty store.
Through Automotive, past Baby Wear, behind the Customer Service desk, and through Automotive again, for what seemed like days, I slithered like a snake, avoiding capture in the steamy jungle. Freedom lay just around each corner, behind every smartly dressed mannequin. As I stopped at a nearby bubbling brook, er, water fountain to quench my parched throat, I noticed an eerie glow coming from the home entertainment section. Miller, the security guard? Luring me, teasing me into his trap with an RCA 21-inch color console with AM/FM Radio and stereo turntable in a faux walnut console?
Closer and closer I crept to the dim light, hugging my raincoat for warmth in the chilled store.
I arrived in the clearing. Directly in front of the above-described television set, reclined on oversized avocado beanbag chairs were Miller, the security guard, and my toxic, Norrell-drenched editor, Edna Mueller. The television was playing the final entertaining moments of Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour!
Edna spied me from the corner of her eye and cackled with glee. “Donna, your favorite show is almost over. Miller and I just had the best time watching Tony and his guest, David Bowie. He’s hot stuff!”
Miller added, between bursts of laughter. “Oops, I kinda forgot about you’se there, Mrs. Pinkel. Sorry, you kin jest get on home. That back door’s open. Over there.” He glanced away from the television program. “Now, that was a Rainbow Hour, right Edna?”
“Whoo-whee,” Edna wiped her brow, sat up in her beanbag and looked directly at me. “Donna, I’m sure you just picked up the long johns in the parking lot and were going to return them to the Lost and Found…right?” Her beady eyes pierced through the semi-darkness. It was all too much for me to bear. I gulped and nodded in agreement, then slunk out the back door to the accompanying sound of David Bowie and Dawn, singing the lively chorus of “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes.”
Later, at home, I half-heartedly watched the season premiere of Mannix!, while calming my frayed nerves with a sip (or two) of Reingold. What would Mannix! have done in my situation, I wondered. Then I realized in horror that I had forgotten the long johns back at the Montgomery Wards! I could never return and purchase that last pair of scratchy woolens, as they were, by now, considered “evidence” in this case. My plan had failed. I quite possibly was no longer welcome at the above-named department store and I had missed my favorite TV program. Someday, Tony, I’ll “knock three times” on your door, leaving Dawn in the dust!
In other town news, a change is in
the works for this paper and her sister publication, the Town Tooter. Our sharp-as-a-tack editor has decided to combine both papers, shutting the Tylertown Times and expanding the Town Tooter to serve all of
What is it with Tab and the bottles it comes in? Is the frosted glass hiding something? Why do laboratory mice shy away from this fizzy beverage? Don’t they want to watch their weight? Maybe Stuttering Millie Carnation over at the Seven-Eleven will know. But, for the time being, I’ll stick to my Reingold!
Editor’s Note: That David Bowie…whooee! You sure missed a good show, Donna.
Wilma Rae looked up from the paper. “Only one newspaper from now on? The Town Tooter? I guess that’s progress. I just hope they don’t mess with my TV listings.”
“And my c-c-c-crosswords,” Millie added. “What the hell do I know about Tab? The next time I see that girl, I’m gonna tell her the real truth about goddamned Tab!”
Wilma shook out her customer’s plastic smock, releasing strands of chemically treated hair into the air. “That it’s really flat RC Cola? That’s why the mice shy away from it?”
“N-n-n-nooo.” Millie rose from her chair and patted her bouffant, admiring her reflection in the mirror. “I’ll tell her that it kills laboratory m-m-m-mice, and just imagine what it will do to you, Donna. Do you really want to see inside the bottle?” She smoothed her dress. “And, I’ll add, do you really know what the hell is in that can of b-b-b-beer you’re drinking? You can’t see through the c-c-c-can, or see into it, right?” With that, she reached into the pocket of her faded housedress and pulled out a tattered five-dollar bill, handing it to Wilma Rae. “Keep the change, d-d-d-d-dear.”
even after all these years, you’re still the same. You go away for the summer,
all tired and grumpy, down to
Millie smiled. “Well, Wilma Rae, some things never ch-ch-ch-change!”
Free at Christmas
Bargain Bill Butler snuffed out his cigarette in an almost empty coffee cup, coughed and turned to his microphone. In the booth, framed by a once-green Christmas garland, his wife, Betty, did the same. Outside, the cold rain tapped on the station’s sheet metal roof.
Miles away, Lulu Dish struggled to fit inside the phone booth beside the Gulf station on Route 800, using her pocketbook to protect her stringy gray hair from the pounding raindrops, which, she thought to herself, should be snowflakes this late in the year.
“Put on your headphones, Bill,” Betty hacked through the radio station’s crackly intercom system. “Break’s over…back to business, let’s take a call…”
Herman Dish forced a coin into Lulu’s chubby hand and quickly returned to the family’s Dodge Dart, not wanting to get soaked in the sudden icy downpour. He turned on the radio.
Hello, this is Bargain Bill Butler and his All New Classifieds on WBTC, brought to you by Wheedle Airlines, and you are on the air! Where are you calling from?
We’re at the Gulf station out on Route 800, Bill. This is Lulu…Lulu Dish.
Well, Lulu Dish, welcome back to my show, and happy Christmastime to you. We haven’t heard from you since your Lancers Bottle Collection went up for sale in the spring. And listeners, Lulu got a pretty penny for that collection, thanks to ol’ Bill here. And the tables at the Pounds a Pasta Italian Buffet up at the Hilltop Mall are a lot cheerier. Those bottles made great candleholders!
More of those classy bottles? Well, Lulu, let’s make you some holiday spending money!
Staying dry, I hope!
Trying to, Bill…I’m calling about that knife grinder you have up for sale. Herman Dish and myself would like to purchase it. How much is the seller asking, Bill?
Well, the seller is none other than my lovely wife, Betty! And I am sure she would like to give you the knife grinder, Lulu.
Bill: It was a wedding present from one of her close friends many years ago. Last week, she goes to me, “Bill, lets get rid a that ol’ knife grinder. It’s just taking space up in my daddy’s garage, and its blocking the way to the Christmas tree box.”
Bill: So, I say to her, “I can sell it my radio show”. So, she goes to me, “Bill, I couldn’t sell it, as it was a gift. I’ll just give it to someone who needs it-“ Betty in the booth here is nodding yes, listeners.
Line One: Bill, we need that knife grinder more than anyone else. Herman is going to make a huge living grinding knives out of the back my Dodge Dart, and we are going to be rich!
Bill: Wait, Betty wants to say something. You’re on Betty!
Betty: Merry Christmas, Lulu Dish, just get that
big bottom of yours over to my daddy’s garage over in
Betty: For Lord’s sake, Lulu. Our sponsor is
Bill: Thanks Betty! And Lulu, Thanks for calling and good-bye!! Listeners, that’s why ol’ Bargain Bill is here. Bringing people and knife grinders together for years!! And next time you have to be somewhere in a hurry, think of Wheedle Airlines…Santa sure does!
That night Lulu tossed and turned, occasionally dreaming of Christmas, knives and Betty Butler. Outside the rain turned to a wet snow.
The sky was icy clear the next morning as Lulu wasted no time getting dressed in her best avocado pantsuit and too-tight parka with fur trim. She rushed Candy off to school and Herman drove to the Tylertown airport, where he strolled inside to purchase their tickets, using his convenient military discount.
A short time later they were on the plane, where Ann and Dee, stewardesses in training, greeted them. Mistletoe hung over the door.
"Happy holidays! Welcome aboard Wheedle Airlines, the
preferred airline of one of
"Show her the tickets, Herman."Lulu commanded. Herman dug through the pockets of his NAPA Auto Parts windbreaker, not locating the tickets. and smiled sheepishly back at Ann.
"Herman, where are the tickets?" Lulu had no choice but to struggle in her too toght parka and place her hands on her ample avocado hips.
"Is there a problem?” Ann asked.
seem to have their tickets, Ann."
Herman here bought two round trip tickets for our trip to
The intercom crackled and Pilot Wheedle slurred from the cockpit. "Passengers, please be sheeted. We will be airborne snortly. Ho ho ho."
"Look, we bought tickets, and-" she looked around the empty compartment, "-I know Pilot Wheedle personally. He can vouch for us. When we return to Tylertown, in a few hours, we will go back to the counter, get our tickets and show them to you. I have to get that knife grinder! My good friend. Bargain Bill Butler promised-""
"Right, Dee. After all the favors we have done for him, and he for us-" the two exchanged a knowing glance, "Of course, but without seating assignments you'll have to stand. " She grabbed the microphone and announced to the empty plane "Prepare for takeoff, passengers. Shortly Pilot Wheedle will have us hundreds of feet-"
"Thousands-" Ann corrected.
"Thousands of feet in the air. And remember, cigarette smoking only."
Lulu breathed a little easier. "Thank you. The future of every knife in Tylertown rests on this trip. Could we please sit down somewhere?" Herman Dish sat in seat 1-A, and studied the beverage list
"Oh, all right. But don't get any ideas about sneaking up to coach class, either.” Ann said.
Mrs. Dish was confused. "Sneaking UP to coach class? Where are you seating us?" Herman Dish rose from seat 1-A as Ann snatched the beverage list from his hand.
kitty carriers, we got two free loaders coming through!
Wheedle Airlines Flight 1 headed towards
Ann mused aloud.
"What are we are going to do with the rest of our lives? Just think, in a
few months, we'll be graduated from
The small plane lurched to the right.
"We will be deaf stewardesses. How will we know if someone is ringing his or her call button, or if Pilot Wheedle has given the two bell signal, indicating it is safe to move around the cabin? So here we are, moving freely about the cabin, before it is safe to, and we cause an accident in mid air. What will Pilot Wheedle think of us then?"
The small plane lurched to the left.
accident-prone graduates will not be a good reflection upon the integrity of
his school. What if we’re kicked out of
Ann ignored her. Well, I'd like a glass of wine. What kind do we have?"
“Maybe we should ask Pilot Wheedle if he'd like a glass.” Ann rose, pulled
three plastic goblets from the galley and rapped on the cockpit door. Pilot
Wheedle, would you care to join us in a glass-“ A
thump is heard from the floor. Ann looked around. “What the-“
; Ann eyed the cabin floor as another thump is heard. “
Lulu gasped. “We…are…suffocating…” Herman nodded, brushing a howling cat from his shoulder, sedning it flying toward the rear of the aircraft.
”And those damn cats stink. Get us out of here this instant-“ Lulu noticed the beverage list and empty glasses. “-a winelist? Have we popped up in first class?”
Ann held up her hand in protest. “Not so fast, passenger. That thumping is very annoying.”
Lulu sighed loudly. “What I have to go through to get a knife grinder.”
The plane rocked to the left, then to the right. Pilot Wheedle’s slurred voice erupted from the tinny speakers.
“Snortly we swill be landing. Ho ho ho.”
Thousands of feet below and miles away, Donna Glotz handed her first Christmas column to Edna Mueller, editor and owner of the Town Tooter, who was finishing up a seemingly important telephone call.
"Howie, sweetie, it'll be just fine. Your old friend, Edna, will get to the bottom of this. Now, leave those nurses alone!" She slammed down the receiver, snuffed out her Camel cigarette and glared at her only columnist. "Donna, this had better be good. I would hate to fire someone at this time of the year. It's cold outside. Baby."
Donna chewed hard on her wad of gum. ", Edna. I did my best. Merry Christmas."
hope I am going to read about a traditional Christmas - " Edna coughed
harshly, "-this most treasured time of the year. Now, get out of here! And
spit out that gum, you look like a cow!" With that, Donna was out the door
and onto snowy
Edna cackled, lit another Camel, and began to read.
Tinsel-y Tylertown Tidbits
By Donna Glotz
This is my first Christmas in Tylertown and I am amazed at the beauty
this town can pull together in such a short time.
Yesterday, I was
out for a walk, enjoying all the lights and the snarled holiday traffic, when I
decided to visit
There I was, under a bare oak tree by the bleachers, enjoying a few sticks from my Plenty-Pak of Juicy Fruit gum. As I crumpled the gum wrappers and threw them into a wet pile of leaves, I noticed an elderly man slowly approaching. Ever on my guard, I tried to recognize him from my short stint as an ace reporter here in town. Handsome and distinguished in a dark overcoat, white shirt and tie, with a thin umbrella cradled in his arm. Not from around here, I surmised. I was immediately on the defense. A cat on the prowl. My mood quickly turned from sweet to sour.
In a second, he was beside me.
"Nice afternoon," he said. I ignored him. "May I trouble you for a stick of gum?"
"Get your own Plenty Pak, you creep," I barked, and walked away.
An hour later, I was home, where my soon-to-be ex-husband, Larry Pinkel, was home for a holiday break from the Duck County Jail. (Note to Corrections Department: Is this legal?) He and his cellmate, Carl, were hovering in the corner of the living room next to my shiny Rexall Christmas tree. Their ears were glued to my Radio Shack turntable, and they were tittering like teenage girls. I ignored them and headed to the kitchen where I found my Reingold...and my radio, which had been left on all day! (Readers: Even I know to not waste electricity!)
"Hey Donna," Larry said, poking up his balding head. "My introductory order for the Columbia House Record Club arrived! Carl and I ordered it ourselves with our own money. From selling potato peel petals. We went cell to cell."
"Hmph," I snorted.
“Ten long playing records, for a penny—”
"Plus shipping and handling," Carl added, barely audible.
"We're listening to A Chorus Line! And we got...Camelot, Hello Dolly, and The Pajama Game!”
I turned to face the pasty duo. "Let me guess, you chose all showtune selections."
Larry shrugged his bony shoulders and grinned goofily.
"But we are always free to choose from any category!" Carl yipped, and the two collapsed on the tile floor in childish laughter.
Nauseated, I went to the icebox and grabbed my beer. As I sipped, I could hear the two of them in the other room, happily singing along to something about Brits and Brass. (Camelot, no doubt.) I felt all alone in my own home.
Suddenly, the melodic voice of Dionne Diggs, our radio news announcer, caught my attention.
"This just in. A stroll in our local park turned sour
today for one of
The victim was rushed to
I choked on both my gum and my beer. What had I done? Was he the same man I had refused to share my Plenty-Pak with? My chance to return to Cleveland and journalistic fame had been tossed in the leaves next to those soggy gum wrappers! If only I had offered him a stick or two of Juicy Fruit, he would not have been at the park's drive when the careening Buick peeled through! Thanks to me, he was going to have a miserable Christmas, and possibly influence mine!
Right now, my life couldn’t get much worse. My finances are shaky, as is my career in journalism, and my fruity husband and his spineless (what?) may soon be back in my life-full time. I had completely lost control of my life.
Leaning against the icebox, I clutched my forehead and moaned in despair. The 101 Strings Holiday Symphony pounded through my skull.
“Stop making all that noise, Donna,” Larry screeched from the other room. “Turn off that radio. We can’t hear our records!”
That was it. I grabbed the radio from the top of the icebox, ripping its cord from the wall outlet, stormed into the living room and tossed the 101 Strings right at the aluminum Christmas tree, sending it crashing to the floor. Larry and Carl dropped their record covers, grabbed each other in terror, their eyes wide, and began to whimper. I—
Edna, put down Donna’s copy and rubbed her eyes in exhaustion. “A simple assignment…”, she muttered aloud. “Snowmen, carolers, puppies, anything but this…”
The phone beside her jingled loudly.
“Town Tooter…Mueller…You’re checking out of the hospital? Lawsuit against Tylertown? Howie, you wouldn’t! It was an accident! My fault? Howie, what my reporters do in their spare time is none of my…did you ask her nicely for the gum?…I can do what with her gum? Well, you old…Goodbye!” With that, Edna slammed down the receiver once again.
“Merry Christmas to you, too, Donna,” she said aloud.
Meanwhile, on the icy street outside Betty Butler’s father’s garage in Gumpy Lake, the holiday mood was not much cheerier, as Lulu and Herman stood and examined the oversized knife grinder recently given to them.
“Well, Betty’s father isn’t too nice of a guy, is he? They could call this town Grumpy Lake, Herman. This thing must be five hundred pounds. How are we going to get it home?” Herman tried to lift the grindstone off the base, but lost his grip and, within seconds, the wheel-shaped rock rolled into the street, just as a black Cadillac Sedan deVille, with Ohio plates reading “SCR-HOW,” came speeding down the street, towards them.
“Herman, watch out!” Lulu called out to her son. But it was too late. The driver of the Sedan De Ville quickly swerved to avoid the grindstone, causing the car to skid on the ice and crash right into Betty Butler’s father’s garage!
Herman shoved his hands into the pockets of his NAPA Auto Parts windbreaker and shrugged, just as Bettys Butler’s father appeared in his green Christmas garland-lined front doorway, shaking his fist.
Lulu clutched her forehead and moaned in despair. “Merry Christmas, Herman.”
Happy Holidays From Otto
I, Otto, wish you Happy Holidays. But this year they will be belated wishes. This delay is through no fault of my own. I had the entire holiday letter writing process planned down to the wire, but a clog was thrown into the timetable by none other than that dimwit-owner of mine, yes, none other than Violet Treadway.
Her 286 IBM-PC-jr. has been sitting in the corner of her living room for years now, right next to the Wurlitzer organ, gathering dust. And now she decides to take it out of the box. Geez. So, I sit in my cage and watch her figure out how to turn it on. She looks behind it, under it, presses all the keys, and then she smartens up and calls next door to the Dish residence. Yes, the home of “va va voom” Candy Dish. Soon, Candy was in my living room, with the computer up and running, that 80 meg hard drive spinning like there’s no tomorrow. She explained to Violet about file management, keyboard shortcuts, Lotus worksheets, Windows 3.1, the whole she-bang. Hours of exhausting hands-on training. Perspiration creating, hooded sweatshirt-unzipping training. Candy drilled and pushed, spewing out for Violet everything she knew about DOS commands, hard disk defragmentation and Internet protocol as I watched with excitement and pride.
By dusk, as Candy was tightening the last Phillips screw on the hard drive chassis, she asked Violet if she had any final questions.
“Just one, dear,” Violet asked. “Can I get Channel Ten on this?” She pointed to the mammoth Philco Ford Console television receiver under the bay window. “That other television doesn’t get Channel Ten and there is an Andy Williams movie on tonight.” With that, I tumbled right off my perch and let out a squawk that was heard around the block, causing many of the neighbors to call the local chapter of the ASPCA, accusing a Mrs. Violet Treadway of abusing her adorable, innocent parakeet. I laid low under my gingham cage cover for a few days after that.
Voilet is away now, visiting her niece in Akron. I get along just fine without her. Crank up the furnace a notch, fill up the ol’ water dish, replace my mirror with a snapshot of Candy Dish in her back yard, and I’m sitting at the computer keyboard, pecking out my traditional holiday letter.
January: Violet attached a small mirror to the rungs of my cage. If I give it a few quick nudges, it moves so I can see the television without turning my head. My new favorite show is Wonder Woman.
February: Our favorite next door drunk, Lulu Dish, passed out in a snow bank behind Tiny’s Tavern on Route 800. She was found a few hours later when Tiny was hosing away a “disgusting puddle of yellow snow.” Tiny swears she was mumbling her son Herman’s name, over and over. Poor Candy had to nurse her mother back to health. Candy…nurse…oooh…good thoughts.
March: Tylertown had a visit from a real celebrity. Lady BIRD Johnson! Her “Spruce Up America” caravan came through town, distributing free fir tree saplings to many of the town’s residents. She even stopped by Wilma Rae’s Beauty Barn for a complimentary shampoo and combing. The event was covered by our own Donna Pinkel, er, Glotz, new society reporter for The Daily Chronicle, our local newspaper.
April: At the
first sign of spring, I “flew the coop” and headed out to
May: School’s out and I thought it was the end of my visits with the bad-girl cheerleaders behind the high school gymnasium. Three months without stale cigarette smoke, greasy hair and language not fit for a truck driver? But, fortunately, May also brought the opening of Tylertown’s first Seven-Eleven convenience store. Yvette Butler, the head cheerleader, and the daughter of Bargain Bill Butler (and his all new Classifieds Radio Program), is working as a cashier for her summer job so her bad-girl friends hang out in front, smoke, curse and generally harass the customers. Bill Butler, on his daily radio show, often encourages listeners to stop down and enjoy a Slurpee.
This year’s Memorial Day parade was quite a spectacle, with the procession led by our own military hero, the Mr. Herman Dish. Herman spent six months in the United States Army, until he reappeared at his mother’s front door, discharge papers and duffel bag in hand. For some strange reason, he has not uttered a word since his return. His mother makes up for it, though, filling the ears of anyone within range with tales of his military exploits and heroism. The parade also included Donna Pinkel, who passed out free copies of the Memorial Day issue of The Daily Chronicle. I proudly displayed her column, Tylertown Tidbits, on the bottom of my cage for several days!
June: I don’t recall much of those 30 days. All I remember is Phyllis Diller guest hosting The Mike Douglas Show, a series of loud guffaws from Violet and Wilma Rae, and tumbling from my perch and hitting my head on the ceramic the water dish. When Candy Dish got word of my terrible mishap, she rushed to my side, feeding me toast crumbs and lemon water until I regained my strength. A real Florence Nightingale!
July: Spent most
days in my cage, which was dangling from a ceiling hook on the front porch.
Tylertown was my kingdom. The world passed by each morning and afternoon.
Yvette Butler, walking to her job at the Seven-Eleven each day, lit up a
Dish is back! She dropped her bow and arrow on the Dish driveway, ran up my
porch steps, yanked off my gingham cage cover and, well, caught me in a rather
embarrassing situation. You see, just the previous day, Yvette Butler, who was
caught off guard by her father as she returned home from her job at the
Seven-Eleven, flicked a freshly lit
Later in the month, as I was pecking through the Dish trash cans, searching for one of Candy’s discarded hair scrunchies, I ran across a letter from the US Army to Mrs. Lulu Dish, mother of Herman Dish. It seems Herman was dishonorably discharged from the Army, after he was caught off-base in a rather—
Violet? She is not due back for another two days! Her suitcase is on the porch! Her key is in the door! She is in the living room! File Save! PF 12! Delete file! Shut down! Ctrl Alt-! SQUALK!
I Want a Clark Bar
Female Announcer (recorded): This is WBTC 1640AM in Tylertown. It’s and that means that it’s time for Bargain Bill Butler and his all-new Classifieds. Now, here’s Bargain Bill!
Bill: Well, thanks to Miss Dionne Diggs for that warm, as always, welcome. It’s another hot summer day and we all want to get out to the Tylertown pool for a little sun and fun. So, let’s hit the phones, listeners, ‘cause we got a lot to buy and sell! Hello! You’re on the air! Do you want to buy or sell?
Line One: I want a Clark Bar! (pause) I want a Clark Bar!
Bill: Well, we all want a Clark bar, buddy, and I’ll bet if you head on down to the Seven-Eleven on Main Street where my lovely daughter, Yvette, is behind the counter, I’m sure you—
Line One: I want a Clark Bar! (pause) I want a Clark Bar!
Bill: I heard you, buddy, just like the television commercial, and there’s no better place to –
Line One: I want a Clark Bar! (pause) I want— Otto! What are you doing with that tape recorder? Otto, you bad bird! Get away from the telephone and back into your cage! …a Clark Bar! Squawk! (Click)
Bill: Well, listeners, what some birds, er, people won’t do for a candy bar! Now, let’s go to another call. Hello! You’re on the air! Do you want to buy or sell?
Line One: Bill, this is Tiny Diddle. How are you?
Bill: Well, well! How are things out on Route 800, Tiny? Keeping cool behind the bar? I can just picture you, with a tall icy bottle of Reingold Beer, just waiting to serve it to me!
Line One: Bill, I am not buying or selling. I am giving away!
Bill: Not beer, I guess. I’m making a real sad face here, listeners!
Line One: I got books, Bill, lots of them! Dozens of copies of Love’s Fiery Embers, by one Elena von Pinkel, who gave them to me a few months ago to sell at the register. Bill, I have yet to sell one copy and I need the counter space! Help me!
Bill: Free books at Tiny’s
Line One: Aaahhh, Bill, just a little warning, the book is not for all readers.
Line One: It contains some mature language…and poorly written at that. It’s…it’s like a romance novel, a really bad romance novel.
Bill: Tiny, we got another caller on line two, maybe a taker for your books. Stay right there. Hello! You’re on the air! Do you want to buy or sell?
Line Two: Loves Fiery Embers is a tragic tale of love that spans the centuries, and it is not poorly written!
Bill: Who is—
Line Two: They’re not selling, Tiny, because you made me put brown paper covers on all the copies I gave you. No one can see my name, or my picture. I call that bad marketing on your part. If I had an agent, I would have him come right over there and—
Bill: I take it we have the author on the line…Miss—
Line Two: Elena. Elena von Pinkel. That’s right, I am the author of that classic-to-be. And I invite
all of your listeners to head down to Tiny’s
Line One: They’d better hurry, Bill, ‘cause those books are going to be in the dumpster out back pretty soon!
Line Two: Tiny Diddle, you wouldn’t! I’m coming out there this very minute! How dare you? Literary art does not belong in the dumpster…Hello? Hello? Who is on this line? Donna, is that you on the other phone? Edna, I am on a personal call…this better be a business call, Donna, official Tylertown Times business, or I am going to come over to your little desk and…This is Elena von Pinkel, not Donna Glotz, Edna, no! (Click)
Line One: Like I said, Bill, they’ll be in the dumpster if anyone wants them. (click)
Bill: Well, listeners, it’s twelve-fifteen. Let’s take a little break. When we come back, we’ll be having our weekly call from the Information Desk at the Hilltop Mall, where my lovely wife, Betty Butler, is standing by, and has all the bargains and specials, just waiting to be read on the air! Stay tuned!
“This is the worst summer of my life,” Yvette thought aloud, as she turned to rearrange the display of pine tree-shaped car deodorizers behind her. The aromatic cardboard fresheners came in many colors: orange, red, pink, and green, but all were pine fragranced, as Yvette had discovered recently, during an unusually slow afternoon.
Yvette was startled to hear an approaching voice. Her off-again on-again
her happily. “
behind the register and grabbed the matches. “You know,
“That pop machine has nothing to do with me. Look at all the stuff we sell here. How’s about a Bubs Daddy gum?” Yvette pointed to the long sticks of grotesquely flavored bubble gum in the display case.
Yvette lowered her voice. “You could at least get your cigarettes from me.”
“Yeah, and have you tell your dad, and then he blabs it all over the town on his TV—”
“Radio,” Yvette corrected.
“Radio thing and
get us all into trouble, and grounded. Just gimme the matches and we’ll all be
“Can’t wait for school to start, an’ we’ll be best friends! Mean it!” In an instant she was back in the parking lot, where she distributed her winnings to the waiting group of young smokers.
“Christ,” Yvette muttered, then looked at Candy, who was quietly lingering over the magazines. “Dish, you want matches, too?” she barked.
“Well, then how ‘bout a nice half pint of chilled whole milk? Or one of those Del Monte fruit cups?” Yvette clicked her tongue in frustration. “Christ, Dish, buy something. One a’ them magazines!” She came from behind the counter and approached her neighbor.
Yvette’s approach, tensed up and eyed the front door as a possible getaway. “I
don’t have extra money for magazines,
Yvette continued. “I’ll sell you one a’ them old issues for half price. I got a bunch a’ them in the back.” She pointed to the current issue of LOOK. “Like that one. Cover price’s a dollar. We take the old ones in the back, rip off the covers and mail ‘em back to those guys that print it. Then we throw the rest away. Out there in the back behind the store. In the dumpster thing. You can have one for fifty cents. You could have a whole box of them for four dollars, maybe two. Not just all LOOK’s, but any ones you want.”
“I could just go around to the back of the store, to the dumpster and take what I want, then. And not pay you anything,” Candy replied, amazed by the lack of reasoning in Yvette’s business plan. “That’s a silly idea.”
Yvette’s face reddened. “Ya, well I don’t have a wacked up brother, like you do,” she blurted in defense. ”I got friends. More than you do.” She approached the plate glass storefront window and waved unsuccessfully to the girls outside, who were huddled around the phone booth, laughing and counting their change. “See? Friends. You don’t know what that means, Dish.” She returned to her position behind the counter.
her. “Those girls are not your friends,
Yvette took her place by the cash register, turned and began to continue her defense, but was interrupted by the nearby radio. “Shhh! He’s on!” she announced, turning up the volume.
Female Announcer (recorded): Now, back to Bargain Bill!
Bill: Welcome back, listeners! And thanks Betty for those bargains from the Hilltop Mall. If I were a bargain-hungry resident of Tylertown, I’d be on my way to the Fish Wish Pet Store over at the Hilltop Mall, and get me some of those painted turtles! Like Betty said, two for a dollar! Look, we got a call! Hello! You’re on the air! Do you want to buy or sell?
Line One: Hi Bill! We love you! (cough) All of us! (background laughter) We’re your fans!
Bill: Well, thanks. It sounds like my fan club consists of a bunch of pretty young ladies!
Line One: (background laughter) Oh, Bill! You are so funny!
Bill: What can I do for you girls today?
Line One: We just want to tell you that we have a real deal for your listeners, Bill. (cough) Anyone who wants to quit their smoking can come an’ see us down at the Seven-Eleven parking lot, by the phone booth, and for only five dollars, we will take all your unsmoked cigarettes off your hands and dispose (cough) of them! It’ll only cost you five dollars!
Bill: Now, that’s a deal, listeners! If I smoked, I’d quit, just to take advantage of that deal! Thanks ladies! And give my little cookie, Yvette, a big hello, will ya?
Line One: Sure will, Bill. (cough)Bye! Oh, yeah, and Yvette is giving away free Bubs Daddy’s! And she stuffs her bra! (background laughter) (Click)
Bill: What the…? Listeners, we’ll be right back. Geez.
Yvette Butler quickly snapped off the store radio, and reached for the ringing telephone on the wall behind her. Candy politely looked away, out to the phone booth, where Bargain Bill’s fan club was doubled over with laughter.
“Seven-Eleven, may I— Daddy! No…I had nothing to do with…it’s a long gum, bubble gum…I am NOT giving them away…and get fired…” She rapped on the counter to get Candy’s attention. “…well, watermelon, cherry, and red hot…Daddy, it is not a bargain! Did you hear what they said about me…they sell for 10 cents each…”
her mouth, hiding her amusement. Outside,
Yvette continued “…on the air? Daddy, I can’t. I’d be so embarrassed…no, I am not going on the radio…I have a customer…a policeman…” she motioned frantically to Candy.
“Officer O’Malley, Ma’am. I’ll have a Clark Bar, some Faygo, these donettes, and uh, one of those pine tree-shaped car deodorizers,” Candy growled, in her lowest voice possible. “Can’t keep Tylertown safe driving around in a smelly squad car, can I, little woman? And them Hostess Donettes are just the thing to—” She was cut off by another flail of Yvette’s arm.
“…what? Oh sure, I’ll tell him Daddy.” She spoke loudly to Candy. “Officer O’Malley, feel free to take a Bubs Daddy gum on your way out!”
Candy replied heartily, unwrapping her Clark Bar. “Well thank you little lady, I’ll be looking out for your store here. You be safe and sound under my watchful eye. Have a nice day.” With that, Candy rushed to the glass door, opening and closing it loudly enough for Bargain Bill Butler to hear, through the telephone wires, at the radio station miles away.
“Good-bye, Daddy.” And, with that, Yvette slammed down the phone and looked at Candy. “Smelly squad car? Donettes?”
“Well, “ Candy replied sheepishly. “I was under pressure. Look,
“We gotta keep this a secret, Dish” Yvette said in a hushed tone. “Impersonating a cop? That’s serious. I saw it on Room 222 once. In color.”
Candy bit into her chocolate bar. “I want a Clark Bar!”
Muriel said to the corporate travel representative at the other end of the
line. “It’s in
Tylertown I see is in
it! Where I used to live. How can I get there?” Muriel
exclaimed loudly, causing her cubicle mate to look up from her hushed personal
telephone conversation. “It’s near
“You said Tylertown, ma’am. I was looking for that location. If you’d like to speak to a supervisor, I’ll connect you. Just tell the supervisor you were speaking to Jubilee, representative 31.”
“That’s not necessary, Jubilee. You’ve obviously never seen The Tylertown Sock Puppet Theater production of “The Mystery of the Cheeseman Trolley Stop!” Muriel smiled. “So, how can I get there?”
“You thought I was loud,” her cubicle-mate whispered into the phone. “She talks about cheese…get away from the good cereal!”
slammed down the telephone receiver and glared at Donna Glotz across the
conference room table in the back room of the Tylertown Times office on
“Donna, this is the last straw,” Edna angrily hissed. “That was none other than Bargain Bill Butler on the phone. He said that his son, innocent little Harley Butler, came home from the pool yesterday, mumbling something about being watched—spied upon—oduring water polo practice.” Donna shifted in her seat, and picked a bit of deviled ham from her cheek. “Well, Bill went over to the pool to investigate, and, behind the bleachers, and do you know what he found?”
Donna examined the bit of deviled ham. “Ummm…no?”
At that, Edna angrily stomped her foot, causing Otto to tumble from the windowsill into the room. “An empty can of Reingold beer and a tube of white lipstick. Now, I don’t know of many women in this town who prefer white lipstick, do you, Donna?” She pointed her gnarled finger at the now Norrell-filled air, as Donna reached for a red paper party napkin left over from last year’s holiday party and subtly attempted to remove her white lipstick, as well as protect her from the potentially toxic perfume. “Ummm…no?” she mumbled, through the napkin.
“Donna, it was you again. I told you, ordered you—” Edna took a deep breath and lowered her raspy voice “—asked you to stay away from the pool when the boys are there. How would it look if they accused you of something? I’ve been in this town a lot longer than you have and I know there would be plenty of trouble around here. And you do know what would happen if there was trouble around here?” Donna, hanging her head, was silent. “Well, “Barry Stinkel” wouldn’t be the only columnist of mine at the Duck County Jail! Clear?” Edna rapped her bony knuckles on the table. “Now get to work! I want a new edition of Tylertown Tidbits on my desk by dinnertime! But first, run over to the Seven-Eleven and get me my cigarettes. Lucky Strikes.” Donna quickly rose and brushed bread crumbs from her lap. Otto flew under the table and began pecking at the bits of deviled ham on the worn carpet.
“And some Juicy Fruit gum,” her Edna cackled. “Fresh breath is essential in this business.”
Donna shoved the
used red paper party napkin into her cleavage and slunk out the open door,
nodding to stewardesses Ann and
Edna sighed and picked at the remainder of her cottage cheese and pineapple chunks.
“Otto, that is one stupid woman,” Edna said. “As if I don’t have enough to worry about already. I have to baby sit that one. Let me tell you, little bird, if I find one typo in her next column, out she goes. Off Page One.” She stabbed the last pineapple chunk with her fork. “But who would replace her? This Week’s Wig? No, not front page material. Bingo Banter…no general interest there. The Birth and Death column? That’s a thought,” she mused, munching on her last pineapple chunk. “People do buy the paper just to read Donna’s column, though. Like gaping at a car accident.” She cackled.
Otto, finished with the deviled ham crumbs, jumped to the tabletop to examine the remains of Edna’s cottage cheese.
Edna smiled at her winged friend, put down her fork,
and turned to gaze out to the dirty back alley.
“I’ve been in the newspaper business for as long as I can remember,
Otto, and the past few months have been very hard. The paper is losing money.
To top it off, it seems every day I get offers from large newspaper publishers,
national companies, wanting to buy the Tylertown Times and The Town Tooter. My Town Tooter.
I started the Tooter at my dining room
table. Every day, those publishers call. Or write letters. One even sent a
basket of oranges. And each offer I get is better than the one before it.
Otto looked up from the now-rancid dairy product, cocked his head, and let out a sympathetic cheep.
Edna smiled weakly and turned from the window to see the perky faces of Ann and Dee framing the doorway of the break room.
“Mrs. Mueller?” Ann asked, timidly, coming completely into the doorway. She nervously tugged at the hem of her uniform.
“It’s Miss Mueller…and who are you?” Edna queried, pushing her now-rancid cottage cheese aside.
“I’m Ann, and
this is—” she motioned to Dee, who also framed herself in the doorway and,
while chewing her gum, smiled with artificial sincerity at the old woman, “—
“Wheedle Airlines? Well, c’mon in girls. Any friend of Pilot Wheedle is a friend of mine! Sit down, please!”
Ann and Dee
quickly seated themselves across from Edna, and, in unison, folded their gloved
hands on the table. “Oh, Hi Otto,” Ann said. “
“Now, what can I do for you two young ladies? And how is that old sot, Pilot Wheedle?”
“Well,” Ann began. “We have an idea for your newspaper. An idea for a column.”
“Glad to hear it,” Edna said.
Edna ignored her. “I‘m always looking for good ideas for our newspaper. And, after forty years, I know a good idea when I hear it. So, let’s hear it. Who knows, it may even be good enough for Page One.”
The loud crashing sound of garbage cans came from the dirty back alley outside. Otto jumped to the windowsill to survey the situation.
thinking that a…travel column, well, a lot of people here in Tylertown have
never been out of
Edna combed her yellowed fingernails through her thin grey hair and thought a moment.
“Girls, I like it. I’ll try you out next week. Get me a column by Monday and we’re in business. Could be just the thing this paper needs to get on its feet again!”
Ann gushed. “Thank you, Miss. Mueller. We won’t let you down. Everyone is going to love my penmanship…the typesetters, I mean.“
“Oh, right.” Ann nodded. “Just one teeny question, Miss Mueller, what page are we going to be on? So I can tell my Aunt Violet?”
Edna beamed. “Well, Page One, of course!” Again, from the dirty back alley erupted the crashing sound of trashcans. Otto quickly leaped out the window to investigate.
“What the—?” Edna struggled from her chair to the window and gasped, putting a wrinkly hand over her mouth as she spotted a trench-coat-clad figure running away.
“Someone’s been listening outside this window the whole time. Who would do such a low-down, dirty—?”
Just then, Otto jumped up and returned to the windowsill, clutching a red paper party napkin in his beak. Edna examined it closely.
“White lipstick. I should have known,” she muttered, and quickly bellowed out the window. “Where are my Lucky Strikes? And my Juicy Fruit?” She turned her head in and caught her breath. “Sorry ‘bout that girls…just life in the newspaper business. You have to be tough to survive. Can you handle it?”
“Will we be in
the Town Tooter, too?” Ann asked.
“And we have an idea for the name of the column, right
Later in the week, at her tiny desk in the hallway, Donna Glotz attempted to concentrate on her column. It was due an hour ago. She struggled for days, trying to find an angle for the subject Edna had assigned her.
“Glotz,” Edna had cackled last week, “From now on, I am going to give you a little guidance, a little push, to get your column going in the right direction. This week’s push is “Tylertown History.” Now, get crackin’!”
Now, past her deadline, Donna had yet to start her column. These days, she cared little about Tylertown and even less about its history. Her salary had been cut, the town had fined her for littering the park with beer cans, and her imprisoned soon-to-be ex-husband, Larry Pinkel, had snatched the Best Newspaper Column award from her. The throbbing in her head from last night’s consumption of a six-pack of Reingold during the Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour was contributing to her misery.
In the nearby break room she could hear the loud voices of Ann and Dee.
“What’s going on in there?” Donna moaned out to the stewardesses, slamming her palms on the heavy metal casing of an avocado-tinted IBM Selectric.
voice replied first. “
“It is not a silly history book. My Aunt Violet’s, you know, written journal of her sixty years in Tylertown, this town, is very interesting. She let me borrow it while she is visiting her sister, Zelda,” Ann called out. “Donna, come here and see how cute Violet decorated the cover. You know, with little violets. Flowers, I mean.”
Donna snapped out of her listless fog. “You have her journal …here? I would love to see it.” She bolted from her folding chair to the break room.
Later that day, Donna, stood in her editor’s office, column in hand. Edna, immersed in travel brochures, didn’t bother to look up.
“Glotz, it’s too late for me to proof your column. Get it right out to the typesetters before they charge me overtime.”
“You trust me?” Donna bounced on her heels.
“No, but it
would be impossible for you to turn a column about Tylertown history into one
of your self-indulgent, trivializing rants. It had better be good.” She
returned to her brochures. “Ever been to
“Ummm…no?” she replied, caught off guard, “Why do you—?”
“Just wondering, now get going!” Edna barked, sending Donna scampering out the door to the typesetter’s office.
On the way to the typesetter’s, Donna stopped at the Seven-Eleven for a bottle of pop. As usual, Yvette Butler was behind the counter, enviously watching her friends in the parking lot through the plate glass window.
“Just this RC Cola, Yvette,” Donna said, placing the cold bottle on the counter. “Aren’t you lucky to be working today. With this air conditioning. It must be ninety degrees outside.”
“Huh?” Yvette’s hands flew over the register keys. “Too early for beer, huh?” Donna ignored her, placing her change on the counter. “Have a great one, Mrs. Pinkel.”
Donna flung open the glass door and replied defiantly, “The name is Glotz. Miss Donna Glotz.”
Outside, in the lot, Donna was greeted by Yvette’s friends and their ever-present cloud of cigarette smoke.
“Donna Glotz! We love your column!” one friend exclaimed hoarsely.
“You inspire us!” added another.
“Yea, on how not to turn out!” The girl exploded in fits of laughter, accompanied by an occasional cough.
“Humph!” Donna clutched her column under her arm and stormed down the sidewalk, waiting until she was blocks away and under the shade of a cool tree to open her RC Cola. She remained there for a few minutes, catching her breath.
“Hi Donna,” called a voice in the tree. Donna looked up to see the tanned legs of Candy Dish dangling from the leafy limbs. “You’re in a real hurry.”
Donna looked around. “I have to get my column to the typesetters.” Candy jumped to the ground. Her dirty blonde hair was embedded with leaves. “This week, Candy, I had a little journalistic roadblock.”
“What do you mean?”
Donna slumped against the tree and sighed. “I just don’t know what to do. I was late and I couldn’t think of…”
“May I?” Candy took the brown envelope from her hand and removed the contents. She began to read aloud.
Note: My editor, the vibrant Edna Mueller, thought up the topic of my column this week.
To me, there is nothing more interesting than history. As a child, I loved those old movies on TV, especially Gone With The Wind, which was very historical. At breakfast, I would sit at the table staring at the old man on the Quaker Oats box, and wonder, “What was life like in his times? How did he promote his product back then? Did everyone eat oatmeal? Did his kids get free oatmeal? Did he know Betsy Ross? What was the first Thanksgiving like?”
So, when it was
suggested that I pose a few questions to one of our oldest local citizens, I
jumped at the chance. I would be interviewing living history! None other than Violet Treadway of
We sat in her back yard, with her lethargic, lazy, old parakeet, Otto, to keep us company. She was dressed in an ancient dress, quite appropriate for a woman of her age.
VT: Hello, Donna.
DG: How are you?
VT: Very well, Donna.
DG: How old are you?
VT: A lady doesn’t reveal her age! I’m 97.
VT: How old are you, Donna?
VT: When I was thirty, Tylertown was a very small town. Back then, we had mail delivered twice a day.
VT: I remember, after the war, when the boys came home. The train station was full of wives and girlfriends and—
DG: I’ve accomplished a lot for thirty.
VT: I‘m sorry?
DG: I have had a very fulfilling first thirty years. So, I didn’t graduate from college.
VT: In my day, women wouldn’t think about college.
DG: I lived in a big
VT: Yes, the men from the war, like I was saying about the war—
DG: Let me finish…even though my soon-to-be ex-husband, Larry Pinkel only drove a truck for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I tried to maintain some class.
Candy stopped reading. “This is all about you!”
“I was on a deadline,” Donna explained.
“And this part?” Candy continued reading aloud.
VT: Donna, you are truly an amazing young lady.
DG: You do what you have to do, I always say.
VT: That Column of the Year award should have been yours. Your editor doesn’t know talent when she sees it. Edna Mueller, right? She used to baby-sit me when I was little. She was old, then, too. And that perfume! Whew! Was the Confederate Army testing chemical warfare back then? And the way she smoked, right in front of us children. And her language, right out of the gutter!
Candy looked up from the typewritten pages at Donna. “That picture is not Mother Violet! And she is not 97 years old, and she is visiting her sister, Zelda, miles from here! This is all made up!” She silently read further. “And the rest…what’s not made up… “Oh, Donna, I’m just a kid, but even I can see that all heck’s gonna break loose when this is published,” Candy said, stuffing the sheets into the brown envelope. “Otto won’t be too happy either. But I have an idea.” She looked at Donna and smiled.
The next day, Ann and Dee sat in the break room, mulling over ideas for their upcoming column.
“The Baseball Hall of Fame?” Ann suggested. “Close by, I mean, not too far from here.”
“I got it!”
“That’s easy. Don’t stay in motels in
“Listen up, staff. Now, this is a story. This is journalism.” She pointed under the headline, “Tylertown Tidbits”, by Donna Glotz.
Edna read aloud. “The
“Very interesting, a creamery,” Ann thought aloud.
“That must be where the Seven-Eleven is now. Read
more, Miss Mueller,”
“A period of general depression continued between 1854 and 1865. The 1850 census indicated a population of 577 with only 69 added during the next decade.” Edna slowly folded and placed the paper on the table.
“A depression. How, you know, sad, is that. Everyone must have been so, kind of, glum,” Ann mused.
“All she needed was a little push.” She turned to the table, where Ann and Dee sat. “Girls, “Travel Tidbits” will have to wait. I like where Donna is going with this. It may take this paper in a new direction.” Edna pictured a marquee in the air: “Tylertown Times and her sister publication, the Town Tooter, the historical record of North Central Ohio.” She walked to the open window and flicked her cigarette into the dirty back alley. “Forget “This Week’s Wig.” The readers want history. They want to read “Last Week’s Wig!””
She smiled at Ann and Dee. “I’m sorry, ladies. But your writing does not meet our present needs. I welcome you to submit your work at a later time.”
“But thanks anyway,” Ann added as the two left the room. “You have a nice, you know, break room.” “Goodbye. We hope to see you on another flight soon.”
Alone, Edna looked into the dirty back alley. “Girls,” she said loudly towards the open window, “of course Donna wrote that column all by herself. Not convinced? Well when she writes her next column, I will stand over her typewriter like a hawk, watching every character she types. Every move she makes.”
Without warning, from the dirty back alley erupted the crashing sound of trashcans. “Trust me, girls, I know every move she makes.” Edna cackled loudly.
Muriel pulled a newspaper clipping out of the box. This one was not yellowed with age, like the rest.
From the kitchen table of Lotta
To start off, thanks a lot for the good things you printed in memories of my passed-on husband, Big Harley. I told him all the time not to hold up our double wide with the car jack and go under, but he never listened. Just to keep from buying new concrete blocks. And, yup, his father is the same guy "Bargain Bill Butler" (and his all new Classifieds) so many of your readers remember. I never knew little WBTC Radio had so many people listening to it! I sure didn’t.
Out here at
And anyone who Big Harley owed some money to, as soon as the insurance check comes in, write and tell me how much he owed you and I will pay you the money.
Sitting here at the kitchen table, waiting for Little Harley to come home on the special school bus, I just read what you guys printed about pumpkins and Halloween. It brought back lotsa memories for me when Halloween was simpler and more had meaning in it.
It was Halloween in Tylertown, 1976.
The Hilltop Mall out on Route 800 was buzzing with excitement. Pumpkins, decorated by our own high school cheerleading squad, and me, were everywhere, from the Montgomery Wards all the way down to the Fish Wish Pet Store, where Mrs. Treadway’s parakeet, Otto, had been put in front of the store, his birdcage decorated with tiny cutout ghosts and witches. He even had a little patch over one eye, like a pirate guy. The fountain in the middle of the mall, where us girls used to sit, was covered over with plywood to make a stage. And folding chairs were in front of it.
It was the Annual Celebrity Talent Show and the guest that year was that guy talk show personality, Mike Douglas. To celebrate, a lot of the people in town decided to come dressed up as some of Mike's favorite TV guests. I dressed up my basset hound, Loopy, as the dog from the Hush Puppies (which Mike wore sometimes) commercials,. He took his place right in front of the stage and fell asleep.
The owner of the local newspaper, The Town Tooter, Edna Mueller, came as actress Rose Marie, with hair bows in her hair and a hacking cough in her throat, on the arm of Pilot Wheedle (of Wheedle Airlines), who was dressed up as Foster Brooks!
My future husband’s sister, Yvette Butler, was dragged to the mall by her father, Bill, in a short miniskirt, with drawings of dollar bills on her arms and legs. She wasn’t very happy about that and spent all her time sulking by the pay phones and arguing with Harley, who was trying to jiggle dimes out of them phones. If I knew back then that she was going to be my husband’s sister in the future, I woulda tried to get more Bubs Daddy gum from her when she worked over at that Seven-Eleven!
The lady that worked at the Seven-Eleven, Miss Millie Carnation, showed up dressed as Totie Fields, in a Halloween-decorated wheelchair. She made her right leg disappear, just like Totie and she was short, too.
People came from
all over to catch some of Mike Douglas in person. Some came from as far as
Since me and Julia didn’t have on a costume, we sat in the back, over near where Candy Dish was working the spotlight-thing and the tape recorder with the music. On the other side of Julia was where Miss Glotz sat. She was the one who Harley said followed him around all the time. She wore her raincoat, like she always did, and fell asleep fast, but still held onto her notebook and pen.
So Candy turned on the spotlight and the tape recorder and Mike Douglas came onto the stage. He walked around Loopy on the floor and came into the spotlight. Everyone was clapping like they were in the audience of his talk show, even though it was at night.
So it was dark and the pumpkins were all lit up and everyone got all quiet. Mike started singing this song about this girl and men in her life who followed her around. It was kinda scary, like Halloween. I looked around to see if anyone was following me, but nobody was. Then he finished singing and said something about that the girl’s name was Kay. No big deal.
Then he goes,
“From 1961 to 1965, I hosted a talk show out of then-KYW-TV Channel 3 in
The people in the audience clapped and looked around. “That’s a chunk a change,” I thought out loud, and wondered, not out loud, who that guy was who did it. Miss Glotz made a snoring noise and moved around a bit.
So, to make along Halloween memory short, Larry Pinkel, the guy in jail, was the mystery ride giver. Miss Glotz heard “Pinkel” and woke up, kicking the chair that Julia, the aloe vera plant, was sitting on, making her fall off and break her clay pot. Crashed all over the tile floor. Miss Vera Mae Soar, who was in front, looked back at us and started screaming a lot and came over to us with her whisk broom and broom dish-thing to sweep up Julia.
Then, all of a sudden, we hear, “Cuchi! Cuchi!” from Charo, the lady who was living, against her wishes, in the basement at the Beauty Barn. It turns out that my mother, after sweeping up all the hair, left the basement door open and Charo ran away barefooted, all the way to the mall. She was Mike’s favorite guest on the TV show. She ran through the mall, up onto the plywood stage and started crying and pointing at us. We didn’t get anything she was saying ‘cause she is Spanish.
Mike got what she was saying, I figured. He ripped up the check and tossed it at us like party confetti and left with Charo. It’s all good and over, ‘cause Charo was always trying to get at my mother, when she was feeding her in the basement, and trying to teach her Spanish. And undo her chain.
So, I went back home and watched the end of The Dawn Show with the guest they had on, Tony-somebody.
Oh, that’s the school bus outside on the road. It won’t come up our driveway, ‘cause ‘a all the broken glass. Little Harley’s gonna be home soon, and he’ll want his snack. I thank the Lord for Twinkies, applesauce in little plastic cups and Yoo Hoo drink. Walmart’s got good deals when you buy these in bulk. Once his grownup teeth grow in, I may give him a Bubs Daddy gum, as a snack, too, if I can find ‘em at the Walmart. Or else I’d be fixing Little Harley his snack most of the day. He’s gonna look so cute running up the driveway in his Halloween costume. He dressed as a cheerleader, and used my pompoms, too!
Well, Happy Halloween to everybody backs in Tylertown. I should come back and visit soon, but I don’t think if anybody I know lives there anymore. Just Yvette who is working at the Wal-Mart, where the Hilltop Mall used to be. No big thing.
Oh, yeah, P.S., I wrote this Halloween poem. For my Mother, Mrs. Clump. She died. Maybe you can print it.
by Lotta Clump-Butler
If only pumpkins were allowed in life’s last room.
Life snuffed out, in the October dusk. Ready to ignite the smallest sky.
Almost Halloween. Doors opening and the innocence of pale children, the fear of what may take place, igniting their young, wet eyes.
As her eyes were once.
If a carved pumpkin were brought into the room, and placed next to her pillowed exhausted head, would it have made a difference.
Maybe one of the ones, with the over-carved mouth, causing the entire misshapen gourd to collapse inward.
Pumpkin. Unable to speak, to cry, to laugh.
Would the woman have thought the pumpkin was mocking her own ravaged mouth, face, her carved out body? Where her essence was now decaying.
Ha! The pumpkin would exclaim. Look what I have and you don't, dying woman!
Would she turn to the mocking pumpkin, and spoken with her last breath?
I will repair you. Speak, laugh, cry, ignite!
And the pumpkin would shine in her memory.
If only pumpkins were allowed in life’s last room.
A Day of Shopping
Vera Mae Soar of
She carefully put down her plant mister and feather duster. “Dearest Julia,” she cooed to the nearby Aloe Vera plant. “Our bath will have to wait. We’re going for a little ride in the car. Off to run a few errands, and maybe I have a surprise in store for you. Can you say Jo-Ann Fabrics…ribbon department?”
Vera Mae was navigating her Buick Cutlass down Route 19 towards downtown
“How friendly everyone is today, Julia, speeding past us just to say “hello.” Julia, safe in her seatbelt and shoulder strap, looked ahead.
Moments later, Vera noticed an unusual sight on the side of the four-lane highway.
“Julia, it looks like our trip to the Beckley Savings and Loan will be delayed by a few minutes. Car trouble up ahead. Remember our promise to the West Virginia Department of Highways. They told us, thatif we’re going to drive this slowly, the least we could is pick up trash or provide roadside assistance. And a Soar never breaks their promise, especially if there is a fine or points on our license involved...hold on!” And with that, Vera Mae pulled over behind an avocado green 1968 Dodge Dart, parked on the shoulder of the busy highway, hood open, hazard lights blinking. And leaning against the car were two flight attendants, one redhead, one summery blonde, a stylishly dressed middle-aged woman and a young girl holding a gingham-covered birdcage!
After activating her hazard lights as well, Vera carefully stepped out and approached the quartet. “Car trouble?” she queried, in her best Department of Transportation voice.
The stylishly dressed middle-aged woman turned to the girl and spoke first. “Well, Candy, it seems we’ve been fortunate enough to break down within the outskirts of Harvard. You may marry an Ivy League man yet.”
“No, no, you’re
She was interrupted by one of the flight attendants. “We have help coming. Don’t worry about us.”
“We called the
Three A’s,” The summery blonde attendant added. “We just have to get back on
the road. We’re headed to
“I’m their chaperone,” the stylishly dressed middle-aged woman added.
“And I’m a bird-napper.” The young girl holding a gingham-covered birdcage said. Underneath the checkered fabric, a series of happy chirps erupted.
Vera was ecstatic. “Actresses? My traveling companion, here—” she pointed out the Aloe Vera plant, strapped in safely behind the tinted windshield, “—starred in the Beckley Community Theater Production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” The plant that falls off the mantel when Martha collapses against it? Did her own stunts.” Vera Mae added proudly, as the young and middle-aged woman glanced and smiled at each other.
The redheaded flight attendant pointed at a tow truck pulling behind them and smiled. “The Triple A is here. Thanks for stopping, ma’am. Have a nice day.” And with that, the doors of the tow truck opened, three elderly men descended and slowly approached, oblivious to the heavy highway traffic around them.
“I’m Arthur.” The first man tipped his greasy cap.
“They call me Andy.” The second man did likewise.
“My name’s Frank.” The third man bowed politely. “Andrew’s out sick today. Bad case o’ the runs. We’re the Three A’s,” he announced. “Hey, Vera Mae, how’s tricks?” He glanced at the Cutlass. “Giving that Julia of yours driving lessons yet?” The three men laughed.
Vera Mae placed her hands on her hips and squinted through the noonday sun at the three chuckling men. “Do I have to remind you gentlemen, that the legal driving age in this state is sixteen?”
the stranded quartet at the State Police headquarters, Vera Mae continued her
journey down Route 19 towards
"Well, they were a quiet bunch of passengers. You would think they would have been full of questions...how I became an official Department of Transportation representative...what were my duties and responsibilities...the intense training I put myself through...but they just sat back and let me do all the talking...Exit 2, Beckley!"
The oversized Buick carefully pulled off the interstate and onto the exit ramp.
"And that parakeet. The way he kept looking at you. If I could read minds, I would have read that his mind was full of lust. Right blinker activated!"
Buick carefully turned right onto
“Actresses? I can imagine the acting they will be doing in
And with that, Vera navigated the oversized Buick onto the freshly black-topped parking lot of the Beckley Savings Bank, and headed for the drive-through banking window, where she was immediately spotted by the teller on duty, Carl.
"Oh, Jeez," Carl moaned, spotting the approaching automobile, "here she comes, right on schedule, just like clockwork, right on time. Betty, I'm goin' on break to smoke a cigarette. You can have her." He quickly removed his headset, spun around and started to stand, but was cut off by the pointing finger of Betty Link, his supervisor.
sit down. Your cigarette break can wait. Miss Soar is a customer of this bank, and one of the wealthiest residents of
this county. Treat her with respect. If everyone in
"The entire town would suffocate in a cloud of cigarette smoke.” Carl sighed and returned to his seat. “All right. It's just she is so...so weird. And the way she carries on about that damned fern, Janet. Takes it everywhere she goes. Bet it’s in the front seat, just like last month, all seat-belted in."
"It's an Aloe Vera plant, Carl, not a fern. And her name is Julia. Now, be nice."
Carl took a deep breath, put on his headset and flipped the switch that allowed him to talk with his outdoor customer. "Welcome to Beckley Savings Bank. May I help you, Miss Soar?"
Outside, Vera Mae shifted into park, turned off the ignition, unfastened her seat belt, rolled down the driver’s side window and knocked on the metal speaker box.
"Hello? Hello? Is this drive thru open?" She knocked again, unaware of the amplified rapping sound carrying through the wire directly to Carl's headset.
"Oww!" Carl yelped, pulling at his earpiece. "Miss Soar, I can hear you. You don’t need to—"
"Betty Link, is that you on duty? How have you been? And your husband, Clem?" Vera questioned the metal speaker box.
"Miss Soar, look over here...at the drive thru window. This is Carl, not Betty Link." Carl half-heartedly waved at his customer. "Unfortunately," he added under his breath. At her desk, Betty tapped her mechanical pencil and whispered a short "tsk tsk."
"Carl, why hello...this is Vera Mae Soar," she waved at the indoor teller, "I have a little banking to do."
A quarter hour later, Carl placed Vera's receipt into the metal canister, dropped the metal canister into the pneumatic tube, pressed SEND, and slid back in his chair. "Thank you for your business, Miss Soar. And tell your Janet I said hello."
"Julia, not Janet.," Vera corrected through the speaker. "And I believe Julia would like a Dum Dum lollipop. What flavors does Julia have to choose from?"
In his booth, Carl glared at Betty, who opened her drawer and pulled out a handful of Dum Dum lollipops, which she tossed back to Carl.
Carl studied the candy. "Root beer and lime," he replied.
"Root beer and lime? What a tough choice. Both are plant-related you know. Root beer comes from roots and lime comes from the lime tree. A very appealing and interesting selection. It is Thursday, and…" Vera’s voice faded as she pondered her selection.
"Just make up your darned mind, you—" Carl muttered, soliciting an additional "tsk tsk" from his manager as she left the room, “—valued customer.”
Suddenly, the metal canister returned through the pneumatic tube. "We'll take both," Vera announced, through the speaker
Later, Carl recanted the end of the transaction to Betty Link.
"So I sent the candy out to her through the tube. Every one. She takes 'em and shoves em' right into her purse. So, I says, "Miss Soar, aren't you going to give one of the lollipops to Julia?"
Betty’s eyes opened in mock horror. "Oh Carl, you didn't! She had to have known you were making fun of her...what did she say?"
Carl grinned. "She put on her seatbelt, started the car and says to me, "Carl, a real lady never eats Dum Dum Lollipops in public. And, what if we trip and fall while shopping at the Jo-Ann Fabrics? Really, Carl, where is your thinking cap? And she drove off. That one's not playing with a full deck. A few sandwiches short of a picnic."
“A few cents short of a nickel,” Betty added, and nodded in agreement, as a pink convertible Corvette pulled up to the drive-thru banking window. A moment later, a girl's weary voice came through the speaker.
"I'd like to open an account, please. For me and Loopy." A dog barked in the background, as Carl and Betty looked at each other in amazement.
Towels for Homework
Yvette Butler had to read The Scarlet Letter for English class, and everyone in her family knew about it.
“Yvette, why don’t you just read it and get it over with?” her mother Betty, tired of her daughter’s constant complaining, had suggested Friday after dinner, while her daughter grudgingly loaded the dishwasher. “And don’t forget we have house guests coming soon. Bill, tomorrow you have furniture to move, and a bus station to go to, and a list of things to buy at the IGA, and…”
“Forks go pointy end up, Yvette,” interrupted her father, Bill, who had a different idea regarding the assignment in question. “When I was in high school, and we had to read something that we didn’t want to, we, meaning other kids my age, we had a trick, and used to find someone among the older students who had to read the assignment we didn’t want to read, and have them tell us what the story or play or poem was all about. Simple as that.”
‘Simple as that?” replied Yvette, interested, looking up from the mashed potato encrusted pan she was scraping in the sink.
“Not as simple as that, dear. Didn’t you have to pay the older student? And didn’t your father find out when the cancelled check come back from the bank and he realized you had signed his name?” Betty always knew how to ruin a good plan. “As I recall this little “trick” of yours cost you a pretty penny back then, time and money, Bill. Not a real bargain, looking back.” Betty added. “And neither is rinsing the pots and dishes off before we put them into the dishwasher. We use twice as much water. Whoever gave you this helpful hint, wasn’t being very helpful.”
“Humph,” replied Bill.
“But,” Yvette continued, “since Daddy knows about it already, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with it. And if I could get other kids in class to do the same thing, it would cost less per student, and what a bargain that would be, right Daddy?”
Bill smiled at his clever daughter.
“Then, if I got caught, I would get into less trouble, or get a present…right?”
Betty frowned at her daughter’s lack of good sense. “Yvette, I’ll finish clearing the table, and just put that pot into the dishwasher. The time you spend scraping it out, well, you could be upstairs reading your assignment. It could be the best thing you ever read!”
“Better than that movie we read? I don’t even think so.” And with that, Yvette slouched out of the kitchen.
“We watched Valley of the Dolls on television, Yvette, you didn’t read it,” Betty called to her daughter, and then fixed her stern glare on Bill, fidgeting in his chair. “And you and your….silly ideas!”
“I am going to the Baskin Robbins for ice cream.” Bill announced, pushing back his chair. “And no one else is invited.”
“We have Ann Page ice cream in the deep freeze, don’t waste your money,” Betty nagged.
“I have a coupon.” And he was out the back door.
“Humph,” snorted Betty, mocking her husband, sweeping crumbs from the table to the floor with her ever-present damp Handy wipe.
In the family room, Yvette telephoned her on again, off again friend, Candy, who had another suggestion regarding the looming assignment.
“It’s always weird how you know when to pick up the phone, and I am on the other end, Dish,” Yvette said, blankly.
“The telephone rings, and I answer it, Yvette.” Candy explained. “Why don’t you get sick, so you don’t have to read it? Just smoke a pack of your cigarettes and then you’ll be really sick by Monday morning. You stay home from school. End of problem.”
“The match would burn out before I smoked all of them. Dish, you make it sound so easy, like you wanna do it, too. Not read it, I mean.”
“I read it last week, Yvette.” In the background, the slam of a car door could be heard. “Herman’s back, I have to hang up.”
Yvette peered through the family room window across the street to the Dish driveway. “How gross is he? And he still wears those Army kinds of clothes, too.”
“Goodbye, Yvette.” And the line went dead.
“What kind of
Army clothes?” Harley
“Harley, you’re making my head hurt. A head ache-thing,” Yvette moaned.
“I want to play all these before, you-know-who gets here and breaks everything,” Harley added, scotch taping a green translucent sheet, resembling a football field, onto the large black and white television screen. “She’ll tear all these up.”
“She’s a house guest, guest of the house,” Yvette said, still looking out the window. “Green clothes from the Army. We should take our Montgomery Wards catalog and give it to him. So he can dress better.”
“No, it’s holding up the game from the floor.” Harley pointed to his side, where the current Montgomery Wards catalog served as a base for the cracked Odyssey console. “Makes it higher.”
In the kitchen, Betty painfully listened to her children’s unstructured conversation in the other room. What a couple of dimwits, she thought. Definitely not from my side of the family.
It was her husband’s side of the family that had more than their share of eccentric personalities, not including Bill’s sister, Iris, who was coming to visit the Butler house for a short stay.
Iris was a former stage actress, who enjoyed visiting family members around the country during breaks from performing over-the-top theatrical pieces from her younger days, and accidentally destroying anything of value in her path.
“Where is the end of the scotch tape wheel?” Harley cried out, frustrated, from the family room. “How can I hang the game when I can’t find the end?”
“I was over here, by the glass flat thing with curtains. I didn’t take it,” was Yvette’s convoluted reply.
“Yvette, get upstairs and start your reading,” Betty commanded, sticking her head through the swinging kitchen door.
struggled to create a complete sentence. “Why can’t she spend her house guesting time at other houses?” Yvette hated the thought of
giving up her bedroom to her bookish aunt, and spending countless nights on the
“Yeah,” Harley agreed. “Yeah.”
“Look, you two. You know that I don’t enjoy having her visit us any more than you do, but she is family…at least your father’s family,” Betty replied, not completely in the family room, nervously wiping the slats on the swinging kitchen door with her Handy wipe.
Suddenly Yvette stated, “I’m going upstairs now.”
“While you are up there, move all the things out of your bedroom closet and put them in the linen closet,” Betty said. “To make room for Iris.”
“Towels,” Harley added. “To wash.”
“We have a dishwasher that plugs in, Harley,” Yvette said, out of sight. “The Scarlet O’Hara Letter, ugh.”
“And I had better not find your homework in the linen closet.”
“Towels for homework,” Harley said, picking at the roll of tape. “She has all the easy classes. O’Hare Airport.”
Later that evening, Bill Butler headed back to his car, Baskin Robbins coupon still in hand. After requesting a free taste of all the thirty-one flavors in the ice cream case, he had decided against using his coupon.
“Bill! Bill!” It was the voice of his station manager and owner, Dionne Diggs, calling out to him from the back seat of her mammoth Cadillac Sedan Deville, parked nearby. “Over here! Yoo Hoo!”
Bill flinched and turned towards his boss. Tomorrow, Saturday, was his day off, so far. “Hello Dionne!” he replied, weakly.
“Bill, out for a little walk?” She spied the coupon in his hand. “Doing a little research for the show…tomorrow?”
“I’m off tomorrow, Dionne. Buckeye Banter is on instead, remember? Your show?”
off her oversized black sunglasses, exposing a pair of red, watering, swollen
eyes. “Pinkeye, Bill. My doctor
recommends three days of rest…in Greenbrier,
But Bill was cut
off by Dionne’s closing electric window. “Thanks a bunch a boodles, Bill.” She
turned to her driver. “
Bill returned to his house to find preparations for the arrival of his sister, Iris, in full swing. His son, Harley, was in the bathroom, removing all the glass shampoo bottles from the tub area. Yvette had emptied the contents of her bedroom closet into a packing box, and Betty had covered all the mirrors in the house with newspapers and masking tape, to prevent possible breakage.
“How will I know what I look like?” Yvette complained.
“You look like a damned hag,” Harley advised.
Bill intercepted the sparring siblings in the front hallway. “Kids, now be nice to each other, and in front of your aunt. That kind of talk is unacceptable, Harley.”
“It was a complete sentence; you have to give him credit for that!” Betty said, taping the last piece of newspaper over the hallway mirror. “Bill, I have a list of things for you to do tomorrow, if you get up at the crack of dawn, you should be done in time to get to the bus station to pick up Iris. And make sure you keep Harley and Yvette out of the house, so I can do one final cleaning.”
“We...uh...I...uh...have to do the show tomorrow...in place of Buckeye Banter…I’m going out to look at the back yard.” Bill headed towards the front door, but was cut off by Betty and her ever-present Handi-wipe.
“What? You have work to do here! I’m going to call that slave driver Dionne Diggs right this minute and tell here that your show will not be broadcast. I will not be the engineer of your program and you will not be hosting—”
“Dionne has pinkeye and she can’t do the show.”
“Fight, fight,” Harley cheered.
“Shut up, Harley,” Betty snapped.
“Pinkeye, like a rabbit,” Yvette added. “But all drippy.”
“Shut the damned up, Yvette,” Harley said. “I’ll give you a black—”
“Enough!” Betty clamored, causing the overhead light fixture to shake. “You will run your errands, Bill. Someone else will have to host Bargain Bill Butler and his all new Classifieds tomorrow morning.
“How about Yvette Butler and her all new Pimples?” Harley offered.
“Or Harley Butler is Dumb and his Feet Smell like Cheese?” Yvette suggested.
“Maybe Yvette Butler Can’t Find a Boyfriend Under a Rock?”
“Quiet!” Bill Butler ordered and looked at his wife, smiling broadly. “Betty, I smell a bargain!”
The next morning in the WBTC Studios, out on Route 800, Bill adjusted his daughter’s headsets. In the booth nearby, Harley sat in the seat usually filled by his mother, Betty. The clock on the wall read .
“Don’t be nervous, now, Yvette. Tylertown is going to love you!” Bill said, with a hint of hesitation.
“How do I look?” Yvette asked.
Harley leaned in and switched his microphone on. “Burp.”
“Shut up,” said Yvette
“You,” replied Harley.
Bill headed towards the door of the soundproof booth. “Your Aunt Iris is due at the bus station at any minute, and I have to be there. Do just as I said, you two. All the tapes are lined up. Do just as I said just read from the script.”
“Are you sure we
can’t be heard in
Back at the
Female Announcer (recorded): This is WBTC 1640 AM in Tylerville. It’s and that means that it’s time for Bargain Bill Butler and his all-new Classifieds. Now, here’s Bargain Bill!
Yvette: This is Yvette Butler. Let’s go back in time and play one of Bill’s old shows. From back when. Hit Harley.
Harley: You hit me and I’ll—
Yvette: Hit it Harley. Play the tape, Harley.
Harley: You do it.
Yvette: I’m coming in there and—
Harley: Phone. I’ll get it.
Line One: Hello? This is Mrs. Knox from Tylertown and I have something to sell.
Harley: Yvette, phone!
Line One: Yvette, is that you? It’s me, Mrs. Knox from across the street. How are you? Look at you, on the radio, your own show!
Yvette: The mall’s across the street, do you live there?
Line One: Across from your house, Yvette.
Harley: How stupid. Her homework is towels, everyone. That’s how stupid she is.
Line One: I have a gift set of Tupperware to sell, Yvette. A complete set 60 pieces, all with lids. Never used.
Yvette: Then why did you buy ‘em?
Line One: What?
Yvette: If you were never going to use them, why did you buy them?
Harley: She said they were a gift, stupid.
Line One: I said they were a gift set.
Yvette: If I got a gift, I wouldn’t sell it.
Line One: I’ll call on Monday when Bargain Bill is back (click)
Harley: You made her hang up. Troublemaker. Now we’re gonna get it. Burp.
Back at home, on the marble hallway floor, Betty slapped her forehead and sighed. We’re really gonna hear about this, Bill and his stupid ideas. She looked up at the sunburst wall clock. It was . Iris should have gotten off the bus just about now.
Harley: It’s the phone again.
Yvette: Don’t see who it is. It anyone out there has read my homework, please call me here and tell me the answers.
Harley: Read towels, what easy homework. I have
to make salad picker things out of plastic. It’s still ringing.
Yvette: What a goon.
Line One: (whispering) This is Miss Link down at the Tylertown Library and I have books that I am getting rid of. Just 5 cents each. Would you like to hear a list of them?
Yvette: Why are you whispering? Cat got your throat? Read us the list.
Harley: She’s the library lady, stupid.
Line One: Little Women, the Scarlet Letter, Tom Sawyer—
Yvette: Did you say The Scarlet Letter? Sounds interesting to me, what’s the book story about, Miss Link?
Line One: It is one of my favorites, you know. Well, I’ll just look at the study guide here. “Written in the 1800’s, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a tale of love and misery…
Three hours are forty five minutes later, Bill Butler stepped into the WBTC studio, just as the On the Air light went off. Yvette sat, head propped on her elbows, snoring lightly over the microphone. Piles of gum wrappers covered the desk. In the booth, Harley was asleep, sneakered feet propped on the console. From the speakerphone, the droning voice of Miss Link filled the room.
Line One: …and the symbolism of The Scarlet Letter will live on for another two centuries! Well, did that wet your appetite for reading, Yvette? Hello?
Bill thought for a moment, then pushed the disconnect switch. Miss Link could wait.
Later, the Bill and Betty Butler sat on their front porch, visiting with their house guest, Iris. Before them, on the lawn, Yvette sat, attempting to teach her cat, Puffy, the art of stick catching. Harley was at the end of the driveway, stuffing old newspapers into the storm drain.
“What scholarly children,” Iris said, looking over her spectacles towards the lawn. And so enterprising of them to have their own radio show, and a fine literature program at that!”
Betty smiled weakly and refilled her guests iced tea glass. “Did you enjoy dinner, Iris?”
“Well, about as much as I am enjoying this instant iced tea! Do you serve all your meals on plastic plates, Bettina?”
Bill drained his Reingold can and stifled a burp. “More like dog bowls to me.”
“And The Scarlet Letter! Many years ago, I performed the lead role. I still remember every line!”
“Really?” Betty stifled a yawn.
I am going to go out there and perform for the two of them…outdoor theater! There’s a bit of Hester Pryne in me still!” Iris stood and headed down the porch steps, knocking over and breaking her iced tea glass and the accompanying serving pitcher.
“Here’s a helpful hint,” Bill began, dryly. “Use plastic-ware outside, where glass-ware is more likely to break. And use glass-ware indoors, where plastic-ware makes you appear to be a poor hostess.”
“Shut up,” snapped Betty. “Your hints stink.”
Yvette snuggled under the blankets in her temporary bed on the
I didn’t have to read the book after all. What was the bib deal with Hester Prune after all? Too bad she couldn’t change the letters she wore, sometimes. An M would have been good to wear for a while. The kid was a brat. Jumping all around. And why is diary spelled like dairy? Too weird. After all.
As she reached over to turn off the lamp beside her, she heard a muffled crash from her bedroom, where Iris was staying.
“Her homework must be towels, too,” she mumbled and went to sleep. By her side, Puffy purred contently.
“I’m thinking of
taking a few days off next week,” Muriel said to Darla, her co-worker and
anyone want to go to
“To get away from the city for one thing. I’ve been here for too long. I need a change of scene,” replied Muriel, fingering the edge of the now ever-present box of journals.
wanted to go there. People in
Muriel sighed and returned to her reading.
”I told you not to eat the good cereal. Only to eat the generic cereal,” Darla hissed into the telephone. “The good cereal is for company…we’ll discuss it when I get home.” She slammed down the receiver and mumbled. “Whatta crazy husband. Cereal and Chinese food.”
Muriel tried to ignore her, but replied anyway. “Good thing you live near a Chinese take-out place.”
“If he could, he’d move his congregation closer to the strip mall. So he could eat more Chinese food,” Darla spit, and turned to dial her home number. ”I should check if he needs and sugar packets for his cereal. There’s plenty in the break room here.”
“Are you sure
you’ve never been to
The Fall of Donna Glotz
It is a fresh new day at the information desk at the Hilltop Mall outside Tylertown, a few minutes before opening. Yvette Butler appears with an oversize ring of keys. She sits behind the large semi-circular desk. After a beat, she stands and looks up and down the empty corridors.
YVETTE: Here I am, the queen of the Hilltop Mall, the information girl. I hate it here. (She collapses in her chair and slumps). I would rather be home or anywhere.
Wilma Rae Soar appears. She squints in the fluorescent light and pulls her sweater over her flowered housedress.
WILMA RAE (rubbing her head): Hmmm, did I miss a bargain? What was on my shopping list? (She recites) Radio Shack blank 30 minute cassette tapes, perfect for recording those PTA meetings or school plays. Two for one dollar from Radio Shack, a Tandy Company.
YVETTE: Oh, Geez.. (She snaps her fingers to get Wilma Rae’s attention) Wilma Rae, MISS WILMA RAE SOAR! (Wilma Rae looks at Yvette) The mall is not letting people inside yet. I can’t give out any information…to any of you’se guys.
WILMA RAE: How else could I get to the sale items before any one else gets in here? (Calls off) Thank you, Miller! You’re the nicest security guard ever! (She points a wobbly finger at Yvette). And, you, Information Girl Yvette, are not going to get in my way. Just let me at those dollar days bargains. I need to see them. Or the list of the bargains you read from whenever someone comes up to the information desk and can’t get to every store, so you direct them to the stores with the best bargains during Dollar Days—
YVETTE: Oh, huh? I can’t do something like that; you really should be waiting outside with all the other shopper people. I could get into so much trouble if anyone finds out I am even talking to you.
WILMA RAE (approaching the desk): The Hilltop Mall Dollar Days sale is about the biggest thing to hit Tylertown every year! There are many essential sale items I need for my Beauty Barn! All at dollar based prices. I know what you’re up to. All you information girls are alike. Just last week, I was over in Gumpy Lake visiting my Aunt Inez’s grave, when I decided to stop by the Woolworth’s, but out there they call it a Woolco and use a different color shopping bag—
YVETTE: How confusing.
WILMA RAE (sitting on the desk): I stopped by to pick a few bottles of their Woolworth brand, or is it Landers, bubble bath, which I use for foot softening, prior to the pedicure treatment at my Beauty Barn.
YVETTE: We use it to wash the sides and top of the place where we keep the thing that daddy rides around on the make the grass shorter.
WILMA RAE: And I stopped to ask the young lady at the information desk in this particular Woolco if she had a key to the ladies room, or something to bypass putting a dime into the slot—
YVETTE: Why should she—
WILMA RAE (turns and points at Yvette): Because I am a well-respected businesswoman here in Tylertown, and even though I advertise little and get out to Gumpy Lake even less frequently, there must have been someone in the past who has had their hair done at my Beauty Barn, then headed over to the Woolco in Gumpy Lake, and told the woman at the information desk what a wonderful salon I have—
YVETTE (puts her head down on the desk): Head beginning to hurt…
WILMA RAE: And I noticed that she was putting into a shopping bag, nine boxes of Lander cotton swabs and stuffing that bag under her counter, or the Woolworth’s brand, I couldn’t be sure.
YVETTE (her arms over head) Or Woolco…ow…
WILMA RAE: …and at three one hundred count boxes for a dollar, she was making out like one of those thieves from Mexico, you know, the ones who sell Fritos or Cheetos?
YVETTE: He’s called a bandit…head…major...hurting… (She reaches under desk and pulls out circular)…here, just stop…talking… (She buries her face in her arms)
WILMA RAE (grabs the paper ands jumps off the desk to her feet): Thank you dear, you have a nice day. (And she quickly heads to the rest of the mall)
Later that day, in the Treadway kitchen. The Writing Club is gathered around the table. A cassette recorder sits in the center, whirring away.
WILMA RAE: …mix the potatoes in with the cabbage, careful not to separate any of the skin from the potatoes—
DONNA: Are we ever going to get to the end of this? (She sips her beer)
VIOLET: Donna! One of the rules of this writing club is that the writer be permitted to read until the end—
DONNA: Whose end, hers or mine?
WILMA RAE: If you don’t want me to finish me reading my chapter on German Potato Salads, just let me know. This is a (she points to the cassette player) live recording, you know!
DONNA: I don't want you to finish reading your chapter on German Salads. And why are you wasting a good cassette tape on this silly—
WILMA RAE: All right, let’s vote. And this is a Radio Shack cassette tape. I can use it over and over. Two for a dollar, I might add. Radio Shack, a Tandy Company.
DONNA: Wilma Rae, your recipes are as interesting as that Hilltop Mall Dollar Days circular there.
VIOLET: (picks up circular) Wilma Rae, I must agree "Our World, My Kitchen" could be more interesting.
WILMA RAE: I’m not a professional cook, you know. I don’t know about this cooking industry and recipes and food and—
DONNA: Look, Wilma, take it from a professional writer, you should write about what you know, like that hair stuff you do—
WILMA RAE: Who is the professional writer? (Looks around) Do we have a new member in the group?
DONNA (stands and pushes her chair back): Me! I am a professional writer. I get paid to write! Why is every one always so against me?
VIOLET: I pay Mr. Herman Dish five dollars to cut my grass, Donna? Does that make him professional, too?
WILMA RAE: I pay the girl who sweeps up hair to, well, sweep up hair. Does that make her a—
DONNA: I get the point. (Turns to Violet) I thought you were on my side, Violet. I did a story about you last summer.
WILMA RAE: Professional hair sweeper upper?
VIOLET: And you said I was 99 years old and used a picture of Lizzie Borden in the article and you said I was—
WILMA RAE: Maybe we shouldn’t be recording this conversation.
VIOLET (putting down circular and picking up a sheet of paper for the table) Well Donna, let’s take a look at your writing assignment for this week (reads) Mama Lou, Mama Cass, Mamas got a great big—
WILMA RAE: Violet! (Reaches over and turns off cassette recorder)
DONNA: That’s it. (She reaches for her rain coat) I am out of this club for good! I’ll show you. All of you! (She storms out the back door, slamming it behind her.)
VIOLET: So, Wilma Rae, what else was on sale at the Dollar Days Sale?
The next day,
Donna Glotz casually pushed her shopping buggy down aisle six of the IGA on
“Hmmm,” she said loudly to no one in particular, “Meisterbrau is just as tasty as my regular beer, and it costs less!” Throwing her arms in the air, she cried. “My-eister brau...it’s for me!”
From aisle five, came an angry reply. “Will you shut up over there? How the hell can anyone shop with all that racket?” With that, Betty Butler turned her full buggy around the corner and headed directly for Donna. “I knew it had to be you…you dirty woman!” She banged Donna’s buggy with her own. “When you’re not spying on innocent children at the park, you’re ranting in public about your—”, she pointed angrily at the Meisterbrau on the shelf “—drinking problem! This early in the morning, too!”
temporarily blinded by Betty’s outfit, a lime green
“I didn’t know they drank beer in…adult films!” Betty rammed her buggy again. “Women who sell themselves. That’s who’s in those kind of movies.”
“Just like you, Batty Butler, on the radio with her batty husband, selling junk!” Donna rammed back. “Bill got a bargain when he met you, Batty, right off the back of the truck!”
Betty pushed her buggy aside and rolled up her sleeves. “I’d rather fall off the back of a truck, than fall off the…wagon.”
“And just for the record, Batty Butler, I was not just spying on your bone head son Harley in the park. There are a lot of others on that water polo team and a lot smarter too!” Donna pulled open her raincoat and tossed it to the floor. “Come and get it, Batty. Where’s your cheap husband now, Bargain Bonehead Butler, to help you out, huh?”
“I’ll get you, Glotz, and good.” Betty cried and then she was upon her.
Nearby, Bargain Bill Butler was comparing prices on spools of black thread. He heard his name and started towards the commotion, but seeing the unpleasant situation, ducked back out of sight and headed to the check out area and exit. “Catfight in the IGA!” he bellowed. “Catfight in aisle six!” And he was gone.
Later that week, Donna slammed shut her rusted mailbox door, and headed towards her rickety wooden porch. Included in the day’s mail was most likely a bill from the IGA to replace two damaged shopping buggys, as well as a request from the manager to kindly shop elsewhere, several overdue bills and the expected weekly correspondence from her soon-to-be ex husband, Larry Pinkel. His letters usually included what he had for dinner every night of the previous week, what his cellmate had for dinner every night of the previous week, what the two of them watched on television the previous week. He was, most recently, ending his letters with a request for labels from canned goods, as he and his fellow inmates were saving proof of purchases to redeem for a steam iron.
Sitting at her
kitchen table, she held an ice pack to her swollen eye and looked at the mail
more closely. A bright yellow business
envelope caught her attention. “This
simple test reveals your TRUE personality! Used by FAMOUS
Name: Donna Irene Glotz
Reason the parents chose this name: Her father’s brother was named Don
Nickname: Cat Food
Reason for nickname: When she was a baby, she used to eat cat food. (Out of the cat dish) The cat would try to drag her away, but Donna always got back to the cat food for more. In school, she told her classmates it was tuna fish or deviled ham when they saw the stacks of cans in her desk. She rinsed out the empty ones in the washroom.
Age: Won’t tell
Age he/she appears: Early Twenties
Noticeable features: A tiny hook on nose. Like Barbra Streisand. Shapely forehead.
How does he/she dress? Contemporary casual (Montgomery Wards and Murphy’s Mart) Ready for business.
Kind of transportation used: Feet or bus, or hitch a ride to the mall, for a sale. Sometimes gets picked up when hitching.
Most prevalent childhood memory? The police came to our house when she was a child, and told mother that father was missing. Mother didn’t even know he was gone. He never returned. Thought to have drowned in the lake. Mother later became obsessed with Bennett Cerf from What’s My Line? and used to mail him postcards every day. Sometimes more than one a day. Each card filled with explicit romantic suggestions. Bennett eventually had to press charges and file a restraining order against Mother.
Does he/she often share this memory with others? No. Only her sister, Doreen, knows about the postcards, as we would sneak them out of the mailbox and read them. (And Bennett, himself!)
She scanned ahead. Six pages! And she had a column to write before the sun went down! Reminder to self – don’t throw away overdue electricity bill.
Describe significant other. Mousy, slight, goofy-looking. Some say has a heart of gold. Person completing this questionnaire has yet to see it. Everyone seems to get along with him at the jail.
Where does the character work? The Tylertown Town Tooter, as reporter and front page columnist, providing rare insight on life in this dead town.
How does the character feel about his/her job? Loves the job, hates her cranky old editor. Could get a little more respect form her readers.
What would he/she like to be doing? Directing and starring in TV specials with Tony Orlando (Dawn she could take or leave) or writing features for the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER.
Did he/she date a lot in the past? Yes, maybe too much
What was the character's mother like? Bossy
Brother or sisters? Sister Doreen Anne Glotz. Currently works as operator at the Columbia House Record and Tape Club.
Donna chewed her
already gnawed on pencil and scanned to the end of the questionnaire. Where’s the
Then she spied
the fine print at the end of page 6. “Kindly
enclose fifty dollars cash for processing. No checks or credit cards. Mail to; I
wanna be a star!
A moment later she was at her trash can, depositing the overdue bills (except electricity) and the half completed questionnaire. With her vision a little fuzzy out of one eye, she didn’t notice the lime green figure lurking in the bushes nearby.
The next day at , things were buzzing at WBTC Radio. Betty Butler was in the studio, as her husband, Bill, was home with a touch of the flu. In the booth was her daughter Yvette, and son, Harley, both slouching miserably in their seats.
“Daddy has the barfies,” Yvette said. “He had a towel on his pillow.”
“This stinks,” Harley added. “I want the barfies, too.”
From the studio, Betty barked through the loudspeaker. “Shut up, you two. Just answer the phone when it rings.”
“What’re you gonna do, hit us too?” Harley mumbled, putting his hands over his face in mock defense. “Oooh, I’m all scared.”
A few minutes
into the broadcast, Betty proudly announced their new sponsor. “Brought to you by C. Miller Chevrolet. See the
“Vroom Vroom,” added Harley. “Floor it. Peel out.”
“Patty Miller won’t take a shower after gym class,” Yvette whispered to her brother. “She stinks.”
back. “I’ll bet the cars stink, too. See
Betty hosted the broadcast smoothly, directing her listeners to the Fish Wish Pet Store (turtles, two for a dollar) and to the information desk at the Hilltop Mall, where her daughter, Yvette, would be sitting three days a week, providing assistance to shoppers from all over the area.
Girl, what’s the state bird of
“Penguin, ok?” Yvette replied. “Like on Batman.”
“I wish I could be the Information Guy,” lamented Harley. “And get girls.”
As the broadcast drew to a close, Betty took a moment to share with her listeners a new money saving tip she recently discovered.
“Yes, cat food! Why feed your family expensive tuna or salmon when you could create a tasty nourishing meal using the same food that kitty cats have been enjoying for years! It’s so inexpensive, too! And great for school lunches.”
Harley clutched his stomach. “I’m going to need a towel on my pillow, ugh.”
“Here’s some information. That’s disgusting.” Yvette moaned.
“And finally listeners, I would like to say thanks for this money saving tip to none other than our local Town Tooter columnist, Donna Glotz! Dinner at her house most likely means a lovely table set with Meister Brau beer and Little Friskies. Well past her prime, she’s still kicking! Yum and good day!”
“Donna Glotz eats cat food!” Yvette muttered a bit too loudly.
“Meow,” Harley added. “Where’s her litter box?”
At that moment, in the quiet office of the Town Tooter, Donna sat at her tiny desk, putting the final touches on her now overdue column. At her side was the remains of her lunch, tuna sandwich and carrot sticks.
Edna Mueller stood behind her, reading from the typewriter. “…the people responsible for this scam should be arrested and put in jail. Tricking innocent citizens into sending 50 dollars in cash in exchange for fame and fortune is just wrong!” Donna, this is good work. You’re back on page one. Anyway, I think readers were getting tired of reading about what…Barry Stinkel…had for dinner every night. ” Edna expelled a ravaged laugh. “But that Carl is one funny cell mate!”
Donna shivered with excitement, as well as from the smoky breath on her neck. This was the kind of feedback she was waiting for. “I’ll show those old bags in the writing club.” “Thanks, Edna. I think I’ll finally get the respect from this town I deserve!”
shook her head and looked out the yellowed plate glass window to
From her seat, Donna could see Stuttering Millie Carnation, with a full Seven-Eleven shopping bag on her arm, heading towards the Town Tooter front door. Behind her was the girl who sweeps up hair with a red wagon full of plastic bottles. And behind her was the owner of C. Miller Chevrolet, with a cardboard box in his arms.
“What the—?” Donna exclaimed. “What’s going on?” She and Edna stepped out to the dusty sidewalk and met the laden trio.
“W-w-we heard, Donna. I didn’t know.” Millie turned and pointed up at Edna. “And you! L-l-loosen your purse strings a little, old woman! Don’t be s-s-so cheap!”
“What did I do?” Edna cackled. “Cheap? You should talk, you midget miser!” She turned to Donna. “What’s she talking about?”
The girl who sweeps up hair was next. “Mrs. Pinkel, I can only imagine how hard it is for you. Here are a few leftover bottles of—”she examined the contents of her wagon “—stuff you can do…something with. No one should have to live that way.” She stepped back, shyly. “And as old as you are, too.”
“How do I live—” But Donna was interrupted by the owner of C. Miller Chevrolet, who now stood face to face with Edna Mueller, close enough to experience the effects of her ever present cloud of Norrell perfume. He wisely breathed through his mouth, to avoid the pungent scent.
going to pull all of my advertising out of your newspaper. Take a lesson from
me and learn how to treat your employees a little better and I’ll reconsider.
I’ve known you for fifty years and never knew you were so…cheap.” He looked
sadly at Donna. “Starving the little lady here, too poor to
eat real food.” He leaned in closer. “Why her breath smells like it
right now! She must have had cat food for lunch!” Mr. Miller placed the bag of
groceries on the sidewalk, stepped back with Millie and the girl who sweeps up
hair and wagged his finger at Edna. “I’m warning you, Mueller. Clean up your
act, or else C. Miller Chevrolet is going to start advertising in the
Donna and Edna looked at each other, silent.
“Cat food?” exclaimed Donna.
“Cheap?” cackled Edna. “What the hell is going on here?”
“What are they
talking about? I haven’t eaten cat food since—”, Donna though aloud, as a Dodge
Dart stopped in the middle of
Edna cried over the din. “Donna, you’re fired!”
sped down Route 800, over the rolling
Coming to a
fork, she slowed and studied the sign before her. To the
Heading towards Tylertown, she felt a touch of apprehension. Where would she go? Who would she want to meet? Donna Glotz? Herman Dish? Who would be around, and for that matter, who would want to meet her?
She slowed at an
intersection, the main entrance to Wal-mart.
A bumper sticker of the car in the next lane caught her attention. “WBTC-FM 101 All rock, all the time.” She flipped on the radio and glanced at the clock. , still time for Bill Butler and his all-new classifieds. But tuning to 101FM, all she discovered was a speakerful of screeching rock guitars.
Twenty minutes later, Muriel pulled up in front of the IGA Food Dynasty, and got out of her rental car. The parking meter still had time, but she dropped in a few nickels, not knowing how long her visit would be. From inside the store, a young Asian cashier eyed her suspiciously, then returned to her copy of the Enquirer. Muriel nodded and looked across the street at the row of empty shops behind the cracked sidewalk, any one of which could have housed the Beauty Barn. Or her mother’s office.
At the corner
was the Seven-Eleven. Or, rather where the Seven-Eleven used
to be. Now residing in the brick and glass building was a
She stopped and
asked a heavy young girl for the right direction to
“My brother can get it for you …for cheaper,” the girl mumbled, pointing down the street. “Cuz, then you won’t have to walk so far.”
‘Get what?” Muriel asked, blocking the bright sun with her hand.
“You know—” the girl mimed inhaling a short cigarette. “They charge more out there.”
“No thanks,” Muriel shook her head and headed away.
The girl shouted behind her. “My brother’s got a pager thing, if you change yer mind!”
Deadwoods Street certainly lives up to its
name, Muriel thought, as she walked down the pothole filled road. Once
leafy hedges now shot lifelessly out of mounds of trash-covered dirt. Discarded
lawn furniture and assorted automobile parts dotted the brown lawns. She
“The Treadway House,” she said aloud, glancing at a grey curtain fluttering out of the cracked attic window. Could someone still be living there? But who?
Muriel reached into her purse and fished out an old leather address book, found among her mother’s hand-written journals. She quickly found the number for the Treadway residence and punched the digits into her portable phone. She waited, breathlessly, for the airwaves and circuits to connect.
From inside the weathered house, a telephone could be heard, jingling. Muriel’s heart seemed to jump out of her chest.
After the third ring, there was a staticky pause, a loud click, and a computerized female voice came on, announcing: “You have reached an automated answering system, at the tone, please state the name of the person you are trying to contact.
Muriel smiled. Just like her mother wrote!
“Treadway,” she said, in an almost girlish whisper
“Did you mean to say (pause) Head bands?” the machine replied, from the house.
“Treadway, I said,” Muriel repeated.
“Did you mean to say (pause) Mice heads?” the machine asked.
“Will someone answer the phone?” Muriel cried, stomping her foot in the dusty lawn.
“Please hold while we locate (pause) Ice trays,” the machine commanded, and then clicked off.
“Damn!” Muriel said, stuffing the phone back into her purse. “I came all this way!” she yelled at the old empty house.
Then, to her surprise, a flutter of color appeared in the cracked window, a blurry rainbow. And in the blink of an eye, the flutter emerged from the dark, dove into the sunlight and landed on Muriel’s shoulder, transforming into a colorful parakeet.
“Broiing! Broiing!” warbled the parakeet.
“Otto?” Muriel swallowed. “But you can’t be—”
Before she could finish, the parakeet flew from her shoulder and back to the open window. Muriel rushed behind, up the front steps to the door. “Otto?” she called, turning the glass knob and stepping into the house.
The Treadway living room was, as usual, a bustle of activity. Violet stood by Otto’s cage, hanging near the window, where the bird perched, nibbling on the remains of a Little Debbie. Millie Carnation sat at the dining table, playing cards with the girl who sweeps up hair. Harley and Yvette Butler crouched by the fireplace, peering up into the chimney. On the flowery couch slumped Donna Glotz, can of Meisterbrau in hand, talking back to the television.
“Y-y-you know, girl who sweeps up h-h-hair, you could still get a good job over at the Two Buck C-c-cut!” Millie stammered. “G-g-go fish!”
Harley pulled his head out of the chimney. “He’ll never get a mini bike through there.”
“Santa must take all his stuff apart and come down, then reassemble everything,” Yvette added. “That’s why nothing ever works right on, you know, Ex-Mass morning.”
“Boobs! Boobs! What a stupid game, this Match Game ’75—” mumbled Donna on the sofa. “No one ever matches that Brett Somers. She’s too drunk.”
From the window, Violet glanced at Muriel and called out to the kitchen. “She’s here! She’s here!” Muriel looked at the others, unable to speak.
“Go on, go on.” Donna waved Muriel to the kitchen. “The TV reception changes every time somebody moves. You need better rabbit ears, Violet!”
“She’s w-w-waited a long time for this, you know,” Millie said, as Muriel passed her towards the kitchen door.
Muriel took a deep breath and swung open the kitchen door.
Candy Dish sat at the small vinyl cloth covered table, writing in her journal. An old figure hunched over the stove, lighting her cigarette with the pilot light.
“I heard a passenger got off at the old Cheeseman stop today,” the figure cackled, not turning. “But I’ve been too busy to follow up.” A cloud of cigarette smoke enveloped her. “I could send that nitwit, Donna, but she’d probably make something up instead.”
“Mother?” Muriel choked. “Momma?”
Candy looked up from her writing. “They weren’t her journals, you know. They were mine. I kept them at her house, in her nightstand, for safekeeping. I hope you liked them.”
“Is that my little Murie?” The figure asked, turning from the stove. Tears ran down Edna’s cheek. She passed the lit cigarette to Candy, and reached for her daughter.
“How can this be? Momma! But you’re gone, and all of you, I mean—” Muriel sobbed, onto her mother’s shoulder. “I should have never left.”
Yvette and Harley poked their heads in through the kitchen door.
“Candy smokes,” Harley observed. “Burnout.”
“This is just like Ex-Mass.” Yvette added. “But no batteries.”
Candy stubbed out the cigarette. “I guess my writing wasn’t so bad after all.”
Edna pulled looked up at Muriel and wiped her eyes. “Dear, that’s all right. I understand.”
“Tell her Edna,” Candy said. “Make sure she knows.”
From the living room, Donna could be heard. “Pork rind! Pork rind! Geez.”
“Edna spoke slowly. “Murie, you can’t tell anyone about us. Promise?”
Muriel nodded. “Promise.”
And for the second time that day, Otto flew in and perched on Muriel’s shoulder. “Broiing! Broiing!”
That night, as
dusk blanketed over what once was the bustling little
The rental car