Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Excerpts from The Old Man's Letters

I get a lot of people asking me about the protagonist in The Old Man's Letters, old Jake Strider. Was he real?
Well, he was real enough to me. I remember how those bright, hazel eyes took me by surprise. They didn’t belong to an old man; they sparkled with wit and charm, radiating such humor and mischievousness. Yet there was a sageness there, purchased, no doubt, by the triumphs and the tragedies of his life. In an instant, those eyes shouted volumes about the man: he had been a lover and a rogue, a gambler who had bet it all. He had won and lost more times than most of us had played. He was kind, but not stupid, and there was a strength about him that mirrored tenacity and a core of willpower. He was a character extraordinaire, and I liked characters ....

I thought I'd offer a couple of the stories out of the book, to give you a feeling for old Jake, and his ribald sense of humor. Enjoy...


I don’t know if you heard about it, but evidently we had a Sasquatch/Big Foot sighting last week near the border of Oklahoma. It appears a family living way back in the hills was visited by a couple of “eight-foot-tall, hairy, man-like creatures” who broke into their outside freezer and terrorized the family until the husband supposedly shot and wounded one, and the Big Foots/Feet (Big Feets?) fled into the night. I see you smiling, “Yeah, right,” you say, still grinning.
But who knows what lurks in the darkness of those lonely mountains? Who really knows? Okay, I admit it’s more likely that some homegrown pot and a little moonshine were responsible for the appearances of the Big Foots/Feet, but it still makes for a great tale.
It reminds me of the story about that buddy of mine who bought a gorilla suit and a Tina Turner wig and used to scare late-night motorists on a road near his house. Burt was just naturally wrapped a little loose. He watched a documentary on the Big Foot phenomenon one night and became so intrigued, he chased down every scrap of in¬formation he could find on the creatures. Then he began scouring the hills in Arkansas for signs of a Sasquatch. When, eventually he couldn’t find one, he simply decided to become one.
Usually, after about half a bottle of Old Jack, Burt would throw his gorilla suit and his wig in the pickup and drive to a lonely area where the road entered the National Forest. He’d park the truck out of sight, don his costume and wait in the woods by the road for an approaching set of headlights. When the unsuspecting motorist got fairly close, Burt would lumber out into the middle of the highway and raise his arms menacingly at the lights, then he’d high-tail it into the woods on the other side laughing like a hyena. He did this for quite some time and had begun to enjoy the reports of Big Foot sightings that were circulating throughout the area, but all the fun came to an abrupt end one night for old Burt.
He swears this story is true. Personally, I’m not sure how much the whisky had to do with it, but this is the tale anyway.
One night, Burt had planted himself and his bottle of Old Jack in the woods and had already raised the blood pressure of several motorists, when he saw the lights of a big pickup headed his way. Little did he know that seated in that truck were a couple of guys who were nearly as Neanderthal as the creature he was imitating.
Frank Flip and his brother Vernon were just returning from an unsuccessful evening of poaching deer in the National Forest. They’d been sharing a jug of moonshine since about 10 p.m., and both were three sheets to the wind. When old Burt came out of the woods, he was pretty-well lit himself. He crabbed his way out to the center of the road and raised his hands, pausing a little longer than normal—his liquor-fuddled mind not quite register¬ing how close the approaching truck was. About the time he decided to get on the move, he stumbled, sprawling out on the shoulder of the road like a truck-struck raccoon.
Frank and Vernon were way too drunk (and probably too stupid) to be afraid of the giant hairy creature in the road. The pickup screeched to a halt and the Flip brothers stumbled out, guns in hand—they hadn’t bagged a deer that night, but a Big Foot mounted on the wall would be even better.
Burt scrambled to his feet with the sound of gunshots in the air and turf exploding around him. With a high-pitched scream, he was off and running, undoubtedly setting a Guinness World Book of Records for the fastest 100-yard dash by an imitation Sasquatch. He made it to the woods as bullets thudded into trees around him, his ears filled with the slurred shouts of the Flip brothers, still very much bent on having them a Big Foot. Burt headed straight into the woods—the Flips close behind. They probably would have caught him, but Vernon, in his unbridled enthusiasm, ran smack-dab into the low hanging limb of a pine tree, knocking himself out. By the time Frank brought him around, Burt was well gone and headed for the deep woods.
Old Burt ran until his heart sounded like a blacksmith’s hammer and his breath was coming in locomotive gasps. Finally, he just flat wore out and collapsed to the ground. Burt said he stayed like that for about 10 minutes—just lying there, trying to catch his breath. It was as still as a grave¬yard, the only sounds were the ragged breaths he drew. A sliver of a moon had risen above the trees, casting an eerie glow through the boughs and onto the forest floor.
Burt was about to get up when he heard a sound, like a branch being moved... Then he heard another sound... Something was moving in the periphery of the darkness
around him. Something big. He could hear the dry leaves crackling underfoot with each slow deliberate step. At first he thought it might be one of the crazies who had tried to shoot him, but he had lost them way back. Besides, something in the back of his mind told him that wasn’t it. There was a smell in the air — the heavy, musty blend of an animal’s liar — of matted hair and feces, and old earth.
Burt had just decided that this was no longer a good place to be and began to rise, when there was a guttural grunt from the darkness, and something reached around him from behind and jerked him to his feet—something with huge hairy arms, something that smelled like a badly maintained badger cage.
Now you have to bear in mind here that Burt was still dressed as a Sasquatch—complete with gorilla suit and Tina Turner wig. With a quick shift of his shoulders, he managed to twist around just enough to get a glance at his captor’s face. It was a vision right out of the X-Files — huge yellow teeth, flared nostrils and a pair of deep-set, haunted eyes that carried the strangest glint... That was enough for our gorilla boy. He fainted dead away.
When Burt came to seconds later, he felt something licking the back of his neck. The creature still held him tightly — but not painfully — as it licked the neck of Burt’s gorilla suit and issued a throaty moan. At that point, Burt said he was aware of two things—one: the creature was a male, and two: it really liked him. Well, being a love toy for an eight-foot Big Foot was right up there with the top 10 things Burt never wanted to have happen to him — right next to leprosy, root canals, and hemorrhoid surgery. Burt said he was beginning to feel like he was starring in a new version of Deliverance directed by Stephen King.
A final insistent shove from Mr. Big Foot was all the prompting old Burt needed. Fight or flight adrenaline hit his system in a rush and flight definitely won out. Burt threw his arms up and broke the grip of his lusty new friend and was gone like Black Beauty on bennies, leaving Big Foot with nothing but a wig in his hand and an ache in his... heart. As he streaked into the darkness of the woods, Burt said he was fairly certain he broke his first world record for the 100-yard dash. As he tore through the underbrush, he could hear the mournful wails of his hairy companion growing fainter in the distance.
Well, Burt ran until he was purely exhausted again, but as luck would have it, he had run in the right direction and had come out on the road. That was the good news. The bad news was he’d emerged less than 75 yards from the Flip brothers, who were just getting into their truck to leave. Frank spotted “the goll-derned Big Foot” and the race was on again. As the Flips came pouring out of the pickup, guns blazing, Burt started screaming incoherently about not being a frigging Big Foot and ripped the gorilla head off to show them. That would have worked, if he had been dealing with rational people. Vernon took one look at Burt and shouted, “He pulled his goll-derned head off! Shoot the heeaaad! Shoot the heeaaad! When a 30.06 round slapped the front of the head, jerking it out of Burt’s hand, he realized negotiation was not going to be an issue. In a blink he was headed back into the woods, unzipping and ripping off the gorilla suit as he stumbled along at breakneck speed (probably another Guinness Book record).
About an hour later, a state highway patrol officer was cruising along when he spotted Burt in nothing but his underwear, waving at him from the side of the road. Later, the officer was heard to remark that normally when they came across someone naked on the highway, they had to chase them down. This particular guy not only wanted to be caught and taken to the police station, he wanted to be locked in the trunk on the way there.
Needless to say, Burt gave up his late night escapades. The Flip brothers never got a Sasquatch to mount on the wall, and if this story’s true, somewhere out in those woods is a love-lorn Big Foot with nothing but a Tina Turner wig and the memory of what might have been.
Yes, love can be such a fleeting thing—or is that fleeing?


Every once in a while something happens that is just so much better than anything I could invent, I just have to shake my head in wonder and smile in appreciation of the devil’s sense of humor. Now this story is true, I swear. It may however, have been embellished somewhat by the time it reached me, but it was so good by then that it required little artistic license on my part. This is the tale as I heard it...
A woman went grocery shopping at one of the stores in Polk County, one of those super-sized places that ends with a “Mart.” When she finished her shopping she returned to the car, put her groceries in the back seat, got in behind the wheel and relaxed for a moment while waiting for her son, who was still in the store. Time passed, it was a hot day...
A little while later, a fellow who had just left the store was walking through the parking lot when he heard someone cry out. He looked over and observed the lady behind the wheel of her car, writhing and moaning loudly, holding the back of her head with her hands. Recognizing her distress, he rushed over and asked if he could be of assistance. He or she managed to get the door open, but at that point the lady was nearing hysterics.
“Help me! Help me!” she cried. “Call the police! I’ve been shot in the back of the head!” The man’s first response was to reach forward to examine the wound, but the lady pulled back screaming, “No! No! Don’t touch me! I’m holding my brains in with my hands! Please, please, call the police now!”
Who would have ever thought? An innocent soul shot while waiting at a store in our quiet little county! What is this world coming to? The man, quite unnerved, dashed off to the pay phone and called for an ambulance. Within minutes the ambulance and the police arrived, prepared for the worst, searching for the sniper, the point of entry, and looking for the blood...but there wasn’t any. Nope, no crazed gunman, no shattered windows or rendered flesh, no gore. When they calmed the woman down enough to examine her, they discovered that while she waited for her son, a package of refrigerated biscuits at the top of a grocery bag in the backseat had warmed to critical mass and exploded, the contents of which had slammed her in the back of the head.
Yes, you heard right, struck down in her prime by a biscuit-bullet, a gooey projectile of Pillsbury’s best that had smacked her hard enough to jiggle her eyeballs. (I swear I’m not making this up.) Those precious brains she was attempting to keep from draining out of her cranium were nothing more than the Doughboy’s buttermilks!
Now I have to wonder what was going through the lady’s mind (or what was left of it, as she perceived it) as she attempted to squeeze the biscuit/brains back into her head. Did it occur to her at any time that she was remarkably lucid for having the better part of her gray matter oozing through her fingers and dripping down the headrest? Did she notice at all that her brains seemed a little chilled?
Well, these questions and many more we’ll probably never have answers to, disappointing as it is. But I felt the tale itself was worth the telling.
In closing, let me leave you with the moral of this little story. It just goes to show you that you have to be careful out there, because calamity can rise up at anytime and strike you when you yeast expect it....

Pieces of Paper

Pieces of Colored Paper
By Michael Reisig
“Money is the barometer of a society's virtue.” – Ayn Rand
Watching the news last night I was reminded what a profound influence money has on all that takes place on this spinning ball of dirt and water. It appears, without a doubt, that the great motivator for this planet is small, colored strips of paper imprinted with pictures of dead leaders.
We all toil fervently at our various tasks, anxious with anticipation for nothing more than colored strips of paper distributed by our government. We have great structures dedicated to the storage of these strips. Some of us occasionally invade these structures in an attempt to steal these strips. We often kill each other over these colored strips. Entire governments and cultural systems can collapse if they run out of these little pieces of colored paper.
Every once in a while some enterprising individual decides to make their own strips of paper, which causes considerable furor with the ones who claim that privilege. Oddly enough everyone else is quite comfortable with the homemade strips, until they’re told they weren’t made by the right people.
We carry little books containing pages with blank lines in them (that are magically conjoined to strips of paper), and we simply write in arbitrary amounts on those pages, tear them out, and people give us things for the paper. Amazing, isn’t it?
There are many individuals who make their living telling others how they can get more of these strips. Here’s an oddity – people give them strips in order to learn how to get more strips. This apparent contradiction has always puzzled me, because in my experience most of the time you just lose the strips you had and rarely get more from the advice.
There is great respect given to those who have the most strips of paper, but here’s another lingering irony, much of the time the accumulation of those pieces of colored paper have actually made that person less respectable.
We are fraught with religions on this planet, yet the thing we all seem to worship most is strips of paper. In fact, in one of the greatest ironies, the leaders of many religious congregations preach money can’t buy happiness, yet they insist their followers give them strips of paper.
Even more bizarre is the magical electronic creation and storage of these colored strips. We have transcended simple control of pieces of paper and ascended into a God-like mystical realm wherein one or two of the great “pieces of paper” priests say, “Let there be more colored strips!” And, without anything tangible, there are suddenly billions of imaginary strips deposited in the Federal Reserve, or the Treasury. Everyone cheers and is pleased that the Gods have bestowed more strips on the people. Everyone runs out and makes a sacrifice to the Gods by purchasing a new car, or a computer, or a refrigerator.
In closing I would say, what I’ve discovered is that these strips of paper seem to be most significant in their absence. The saddest people I’ve ever seen, and the happiest people I’ve ever seen, were without pieces of colored paper.