Like the kitsch statuary posed around Morris’s cash register—now
including Mae West and her parasol, recent inductees—the chucks, as if statues
themselves, perched on their haunches atop a simple dresser in a simple room.
Light and breeze entered the room unevenly through windows on three sides of
the rectangle. Both spirits passed through sheer curtains that seemed to
shimmy and shake like the leaves and the crops outside. The light was
buffered but shadowed and shined nonetheless.
The attention of the chucks was the heaving mass of bedding in the
middle of the room before them. It rose and fell like the leviathan. It made
deep and guttural sounds, sometimes rhythmic and sometimes abrupt. The
chucks might shift or twitch a bit but their wonder of this inexplicable beast
Its tempo accelerandoed as its volume crescendoed, and then it exploded
like the clanging of an old firehouse bell with all the activity attendant such an
Murmurs turned to howls, and light, breeze, the bed, and maybe all existence
quaked for a time without measure.
Scared the bejeezus out the chucks. By way of an open middle draw,
they jumped from the dresser and skedaddled from the room, moving faster
than one might think a groundhog could go. It looked like the final seconds
of a Three Stooges short when the film is sped up for dramatic effect.
Now the beast was still. Only the curtains moved and only the leaves
“Can I sleep now?”
Wouldn’t you know it. Miles cleaned up the trailer that the chucks had
so terminally trashed. There was a component here or a doodad there which
could not be resurrected, but Miles compiled a detailed list of such things
and a few more, submitted them to Henry (the liaison for the crew) who
slipped them into the breast pocket of his tailored sport coat with a half
wink and a quarter bow. In two short weeks, a flock of boxes marked NASA
showed up at the P.O. Miles and Henry (who Miles never called Hank)
became more than friends. Henry had spent most of his adult life in what
was too often referred to as intelligence, and now in the presence of Miles,
the unkempt, malodorous, snorting dog-faced boy, Henry faced intelligence,
real, formidable, and ferocious. And in the shape of a federal employee no less.
To say they stuck to one another would only be a start.
Henry’s extreme intelligence, realized as a child, though always
providing advancement only served to isolate and alienate him. His current
position as liaison for the witness protection program (WPP) – heartland
division, provided Henry vast stretches of solitude which he treasured right
up to his first interaction with Miles. For Miles, excepting the diversion of
the past couple of months, his experience was as a mirror image to Henry’s.
No one knew or understood exactly what they spoke about for hours without
end, but it was in a way worrisome. If these two were planning to rule the
world, it just might happen.
With help from Butch from the filling station, and the addition of the
care packages from NASA, and the loan whenever needed of one of Jesse’s
flatbeds, the trailer became a mobile soundstage. How is that even possible?
Butch also had an old school bus in perfect working order parked behind the
filling station. This he contributed as well. Celia would now drive the freshly
painted school bus back to NYC and pick up as much of the Great Ape Theater Co as she could muster and bring free Shakespeare to the heartland. Henry wrote some expeditious grants, so everyone was getting paid, Miles set up the itinerary with the help of other similarly situated P.O.s and there we are: “Billy Shakes the Prairie.” If you just speak a touch more slowly, there’s nothing antique or incomprehensible about Lear or Macbeth or Mid-Summer’s Night Dream. Never was. Never will be. Folks ate it up. Something new, ’magine that. What can’t become a wondrous place?
A tear forms in the corner of an eye. Its path to freedom determined
by the tear that went before. Down the side of the nose and on around the
lips to Phil’s chin. The tears don’t hit the floor but instead land on his shoes.
He sees no point in controlling their flow as Tosca’s aria has only just begun:
Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,
non feci mai male ad anima viva!
I lived for my art, I lived for love,
I never did harm a living soul!
Harold knew the aria by heart and better than that. His accompaniment
rose and fell with the breath of the inspired soprano who gave it life.
Her life. Would the floorboards beneath the pews, full to capacity now,
hold the stain of salt water or its mark of baptism.
If Miles and Henry wrote a grant to get funding for a bowling alley on
the side of a hill, bet your Daddy’s watch they would get it. Phil visited some
colleges in range that had music programs and creamed them for singers as
needed. If roles could not be filled, Phil or Celia or Jesse would fill in.
Truth be told, Jesse believed himself born to be Marcello now that his
voice dropped to a comfortable baritone.
Celia provided intensive coaching in stage direction to Phil. Really
the rules of that craft didn’t apply so much, since there barely was a stage,
and you could only enter or exit from one direction, at least until the thing
was renovated for “multi-purpose” use. Phil applied himself brilliantly and
Harold addressed him as “Maestro.” The wives were not enthusiastic at first
about the boys getting their opera company in Ardensville, but once they
were doing hair and make-up for the productions, the shop was busier for
the folks who were coming to town to see the opera shows. Win win win!
Go ahead, guess who did costumes.
Heavy coats and hats hanging on the backs of chairs tell us it is a
cold night out there. But here in the bar, the production crew is warm and
safe. The door is solid and the window to the outside is tip-toe height.
Safe and warm. No TVs or jukebox wearing through the same 10 tunes.
The undersized pool table is not in use. The light is on, but no one’s home.
At this hour, no one could see straight enough to hit the cue ball let alone
The bartender does not belt out “last call.” Slowly and in his fashion
he busses the tables and tells patrons—some by name—in sotto voce, “Let’s
get home before sun-up now.” Last drinks go back and down, and the empty
bottles and glasses are placed on the bar in a kind of salute to Joseph, the
host of this brick and panel corner of contentment.
A last group of six or so get their coats on and head for the door. They
call good night to Joe, who is already counting out facing the register.
A damp wind blows back at them as they jump to hail cabs on
Lower Broadway, New York City.