I’d been seeing the flashing blue and red lights coming up fast behind me, and so I was soon forced to pull over by a uniformed highway patrol person for speeding.
As I groped around in the glove compartment for my registration card, I found and slipped my hand into an orange puppet that more or less stays in the glove compartment, and from then on, I spoke to the cop (who was leaning against my door) through the puppet. (Understand—and I’m not making much out of this—but there is something rich and appealing about a police person in her crisp, clean uniform, and I knew from previous experience if I were to provide objective, truthful, and unflustered replies to her queries, I was going to have to speak through a puppet as a way to overcome the emotional and situational challenge here. Oh, I was going to be entirely respectful, and I pledged to myself not to use obscenities or off-color gestures of the sort that often season my communications.)
I thought our initial conversation went swell, but it was soon obvious that the patrol officer just wasn’t following the logic or gist of my talking hand. For instance, she began to comment that though the constellations were certainly no mystery to her, she herself seldom ventured out at night to gaze at Cassiopeia or Draco, and that, hey, she didn’t even own a pair of binoculars. But all of this shit was non sequitur in response to my hand’s simply telling her that its orange head had been designed and modeled from colored clay to be a facsimile of a temple orange, and thus it would be a mistake for anyone to take it for a miniature pumpkin, or, say, a Clementine.
Now I’ve never pretended to be a skilled ventriloquist, and I always try hard to stay on point verbally and on the sincere side of things. I remained forthright in my words with the cop as she continued to slouch on my vehicle, but understanding wasn’t really happening that nice fall day, it just wasn’t occurring. However, rather than give up and commit to silence, I thought of something that might get the juices of communication flowing. So I laid aside my orange puppet, and I reached again into the glove compartment. This time my hand came out sporting a lime head. (Now I should mention that I’ve seldom activated or energized this particular puppet, for I’ve always had the premonition that this mother’s a tad on the scary and menacing side. Naturally, the lime puppet’s voice is way different from the orange guy, but, bottom line, I was hoping the highway patrol cop might now achieve some sort of clarity with my green-headed hand.) However, I remained disappointed with her continuing (even if slightly different) non sequitur conversation. She kept leaning forward; she kept adjusting her cap; she kind of took and held gulps of breath, and she told me how many a jar of strawberry preserves can be found that contain throughout the jam’s viscous consistency tiny slivers of shoe leather such as one would likely come across scattered on the floor around a cobbler’s bench.
Well, short tale made shorter, we did eventually and somehow come to a gestured agreement that we simply weren’t getting anywhere, that our understanding one another was scanty and scattershot at best, and it was time to call things a day. She snapped her ticket book shut, she pocketed the bastard, and she respectfully salute-touched the tip of her hat visor goodbye. I nodded, smiled, and waved both hands in the air as I left, in much the same gesture as folks once saw from Eisenhower and Nixon in response to applause and cheering on the campaign trail. The officer and I then parted, as each of us carefully pulled out onto the roadway and drove away in the same direction.
Not to Any Avail
He shoved her hard, yes, he did, but nothing like the wallop she affected to draw attention, and there had been no push nearly strong enough to send her halfway down the row of putters on display and for sale against the pro shop wall. He felt she deserved whatever he had meted out, because when she had been outside and had chosen the moment she did to strip down to black panties and bra, that was all it had taken to distract his attention from his patient scouting and tracking of signs and clues he believed would surely lead to an Orange Honduran caterpillar. Before the girl’s interruption, he thought he had been zeroing in on one along a lower branch of a tree that borders the country club parking lot, but now, as his attention re-coalesced and he resumed the goal of getting a photograph of his quest—as his concentration came back to where it never should have wavered in the first place—the rare, rare bug was nowhere in sight, and nor were there any new indicators. Oh, he continued looking hither and yon a good twenty minutes or so, and he stayed true to his upbringing by adhering to that “never-be-a-quitter” bullshit he had been drenched in by his father (except for the second occasion just a moment or two ago when he let his temper overflow and his mission divert once more as he charged back into the pro shop and got just a tad physical again with the worthless girl (who was still there taking shelter and trying to win some sympathy from a clerk or two)), but, really, none of this was to any avail: when he went back outside and resumed his scouting, he quickly had to conclude the Orange Honduran was gone for good.
These community meetings can so very easily get out of hand once the oldsters finally understand they have to go in person to one (and only one) building in Charleston to enroll their ass for health benefits. We make it clear at the outset that no one gives a shit what they wear as long as some kind of basic decorum is maintained (on the bus going, in Charleston itself, and then on the bus coming back), but often you can hear murmurs of anger begin around this point. And because we feel obliged to relate to them that successful enrollment may require more than just a single visit, I personally have observed the old folks start to be engulfed in a shroud-like mesh of hornet-style disgust as they mull the prospect of multiple trips—multiple disruptions to their daily routine—though perhaps I’d be dishonest unto wickedness if I failed to disclose that competent communication on our part has to include the persuasive balm that no matter what the tally of trips might come to in order to achieve successful enrollment, our elderly folks are always permitted—always encouraged—to have accompaniment on the trip by caring, touching, and scantily-clad staff (both female and male attendants of the oldsters’ own choosing). Staff in turn may elect to be decked out in sapphire, turquoise, or fuchsia undergarments, and, very importantly, all of this is regardless of whatever size bus is selected for any-and-all group journeying to and from our state capital.
I don’t think for a second I failed to give the pintsized clown ample opportunity for learning utterances in a foreign language. I made it plain at the outset that he had to pick up speaking a foreign language, that there were no options. I said, “I could care less if it’s Tamil or Rumanian or a shit-kickin’ Gaelic. Or for that matter, it could be Malay or goddamned Cornish. And the swell news is you won’t have to go through any of those silly and formal instructional classes. No, none of that crap for you, shrimp, none of that for you. No, lucky stiff, you’re going to learn an alien tongue by completely natural means. You’ll develop the skill by subconsciously and gradually extending everyday sounds into foreign words, and in no time, you’ll have you an alien tongue, because I know you’re nothing if not capable. That’s the kind of confidence I have in you.” (To be factual here, I had witnessed some opposition from the outset when the little fella succinctly told me, “I want nothing to do with a non-native tongue; mine is English,” but I reckoned that attitude would easily change.)
Yet, from toting him down to the rail yards and holding him up securely on the closed end of a rain barrel so he could fully experience a Santa Fe Chief thunderously pulling boxcars of freight nonstop through this station (that I knew wasn’t on the Chief’s manifest as a normal port-of-call), to escorting his clown ass through the exotic bird house at the city zoo so he might imbibe hours of various calls, hoots, and whistles, I’ll assert to anyone that I did more than my fair share in trying to give the clown’s greasepaint head and costumed body every chance there could possibly be under the North American sun to one day begin to whisper, grunt, and/or shout a single strange word; or assemble a short string of spoken strange words; or spit out one of those goddamned pithy word clusters; or even promulgate a mighty and cascading river of wordstock that was first spoken centuries ago in a different and distant land. But, fat to skinny here, I simply never succeeded in prying even one weird phoneme out of him, and thus one grim day, I flat out stopped trying to enable any imitative or mimicry sound to burst forth from this worthless clown.
But I proudly confess to all that I never shouted at him, I never struck his peewee person, I never roughed him up. But I surely did give up on him (many, many weeks after we had started), and on that day of capitulation, I was damned if I felt obliged in any way known to man to sponsor his transportation back to the place where we had shared our first moments together. And truthfully, I’ve never felt I was in error to capitulate. However, I realize I have to doubt our association was simply a casual affair, for in addition to the trace of natural pity I felt for him on that final day, the little clown kept saying again and again, “Can you maybe at least cough up some wherewithal so’s I can brave all this shit without you?”
William C. Blome is a crotchety socialist who wedges between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. He still clutches fast to a master’s degree he swiped eons ago from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. His work has appeared in fine mags like PRISM International, In Between Hangovers, Fiction Southeast, Roanoke Review, and The California Quarterly.