Thursday, May 13, 2004

Abbie Hoffman Died (1989)

"Abbie Hoffman died last week, did you see that?" Dogger asked.

"Yeah, I did. Sorta sad, I guess." Sallye snickered slightly and passed him the joint. So softly that he almost couldn't hear her, Sallye began to sing:

"Oh, he used to be a Yippie,
and now he's dead, dippy, daid,
dippy, dead, yippie, daaaid!"

"Hey-sus! Are you making fun of a poor dead hippie?" he grinned at her.

"No more so than he made of anyone else. He wasn't exactly Tame, you know. Irreverence was his Game, wasn't it?"

"Is that what it was? Well, I'd wondered."

Dogger took a deep drag off the joint and held his breath a while, finally remembering to pass it back to her.

"Don't Bogart that joint, dopey," she said, taking it from him.

"You're too late," he grinned.

"Delayed reflexes," she muttered.

"Remember when we used to be hippies?" he asked her.

"Just barely," Sallye replied. "Guess I lost too many brain cells along the way!" She sucked in her breath and held it for a long while, apparently not minding if she lost a few more. "You know, I haven't smoked any pot in a couple of years," she said as she began to breathe again. "It's kinda strange."

He nodded at her, finally releasing his hold on his breath. "Gonna get blotto if I'm not careful," he told her.


"It's the first pot I've smoked in almost a decade," he said. He wasn't really sure he was feeling it yet. He figured it would sneak up on him yet, though.

"That day won't come around again soon, I don't guess," he said aloud.

"What days?"

"Hippie days."

"Hippie daze?" Sallye asked. She squinted at him for a moment before his meaning fell into place. She made a sort of giggling noise: "Phtt! No, I suppose not."

"It's kind of disgusting, really," he said. Sallye nodded knowingly, then looked confused.

"What is, though?" she asked, passing the joint back to him. "That we used to be hippies?"

"No, not that. That it won't come around again."

"Well, it might; you never can tell. Besides, it isn't all gone, you know," she giggled, pointing to the number they'd been smoking.

He looked down at the joint thoughtfully, puckered his lips, and said, "Hmmm. Okay, yeah. Still-most of the rednecks I meet these days smoke dope, and it doesn't do 'em a lick of good."

"Cosmic cowboys for real, at last, huh? Good grief!"

She giggled and shook her head. She seemed to think that one or both of them was pretty funny. Dogger grinned at her as if he understood perfectly, and even though he didn't, he sort of did. There was something between them, there always had been.

"You've got me thinking now," Sallye said a few minutes later.

"Thinking what?"

"That we're still hipsters of that same generation, you know, no matter what. We always will be, we're stuck. You don't escape the past just because it's past."

"What?" he asked in a tone of mock panic.

"What do you mean, what?" she frowned.

"You mean, the only thing we can escape is the future?"

She looked at him with an amused squint, but otherwise ignored his question. "I figure we can't really be that much different from the generations that went before us. Every generation that's come along has thought itself smarter and more liberal and-."

"And all that jazz?" he giggled, remembering Phil's line a couple of nights before.

"Yeah. Every generation thinks itself better than the preceding generation. Everybody's parents are dull, including the members of our generation who are now parents."

"Fortunately, not you and me," he interjected.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"We're not parents; ergo, not dull yet," he smirked.

"Oh. Well, more or less. You forget I had that baby years ago and put it up for adoption. You know me, lapsed catholic."

Yes, he knew her. Her liberalism didn't save her from her abhorrence of abortions any more than the contraceptives saved her from getting knocked up.

"If that child's alive, she's about 18 now, I guess, and I wonder sometimes-well, I wonder what she must think of me. And I wonder what she'd think about me if we met, too, but that's almost too much to think about. I'm kind of afraid of that. She might just think I was a terrific fool, and I don't guess she'd be that far wrong. I feel as evil when I think of that grown child thinking about me as I would have felt if I'd have had the abortion-isn't that strange?"

"I guess so," Dogger said. He hadn't expected her to talk about this. He felt utterly out of his depth, especially since he was stoned. "Oh, God, I remember this!" he thought. "Being on dope was always such a wonderful excuse for putting life off, for not thinking about things!"

"But, back to the subject," she said. "I think we've all become the same. Perhaps we've always been the same. Okay, we were "hippies"-but so what? Those other generations just called themselves different things, or else were lucky enough that no one managed to glue a name to them at all."

"What is this," he laughed, "some sort of middle-aged One?Worldism you've caught like a disease or that you've adopted like a stray cat? Or is just the power of positive thinking? I'm not at all sure what you mean, but it sounds like pretty universal stuff. Who knows, maybe it's even true."

"It's true whether we think so or not," she said.

"Or maybe true if we wonder about it enough?" he grinned. "If you'll tell me who the 'we' is, then maybe I'll know what you mean," he told her. "I've completely lost track of what you're saying. I haven't smoked dope in a long time, you know. I'm befuddled, dazed, and bemused, I think."

"Oh, you're always 'befuddled!" she said, hitting him on the knee with a folded section of newspaper she'd been holding. "I can't remember the last time you admitted to being 'clear'! Anyway, I mean the 'we' who started out together."

"You mean muh, muh, muh ge-ge-generation, huh?"

"Who?" she frowned, glancing up at him like she thought he was crazy.


"Oh, Christ," she said, smacking herself lightly on the forehead with her newspaper. "Yeah, The Who. Webster's definition: antique musicians, circa the dear departed sixties Drug Cul?chur."

"Yeah, but they're not dead yet."

"Some are," she said softly.

"Not all."

"Well, that's neither here nor there," she said with a shrug. "McCartney is alive too, but half the Beatles are dead."

"Yeah. What are we arguing about, by the way?" he said, lighting a cigarette. They'd only that minute finished the joint. He had a terrible smoking habit.

"I don't know. I wish you wouldn't do that."

"What? Smoke? Does it bother you?"

"Not exactly; it makes me want one. You know it hasn't been that long since I quit. Somehow it's always seemed to me that drugs and cigarettes go together."

"I've heard people say that about cigarettes and beer," he laughed. "But I hadn't heard this before. Do you want me to put it out?"

"No, that's okay. Just see if you can smoke fewer of them. If they really bothered me, I guess nowadays I'd have the societal upper hand and could be just as goddamn snotty as I wanted to be about it. Smokers are like dinosaurs these days. Hippies, too, for that matter."

"Dinosaurs didn't know they were doomed, though. And they didn't have to spend the last years of their lives being pissed off all the time because people kept coming around hollering, "You big dumb bastard, you're gonna die if you don't stop being a dinosaur!"

"Well," she laughed, "since it's just that you make me want one, too, I'll try to be stoic, Mr. Dinosaur! I need to learn to cope with this sometime, anyway."

"I guess it's not easy, is it?"

"Not for somebody that's nervous," she sighed.

"What do you have to be so nervous about, anyway, for God's sake?" he teased her. He was blowing smoke rings now, and starting to feel incredibly relaxed. "You're doing all right. You're a big deal real estate agent now. You just bought a nice house, even if it is an old one. You're as stable as anyone I know."

"And as unstable, too! And I'm just a 'little deal' real estate agent, thank you very much! Anyway, I'm nervous about making money. I'm nervous about paying for the damn house. I'm nervous if the cats aren't here when I get home!"

"What?!" he laughed explosively, nearly choking on the cigarette smoke.

"Well, hell!" she grinned. "I guess I just mean that I'm nervous about whatever it is that I'm doing at the time, okay?!" she laughed.

"Yeah, sure," he said, wiping tears from his eyes and grinning. "I believe you! It's just that you're the only one I know who's so provokingly honest that you'll say so. I feel that way too a lot of the time. You and I do have things in common, don't we?" he teased.

"Yup! Always did," she said sheepishly. "Hipsters of the same generation, coming from 'there', sittin' here-as Joni Mitchell used to sing-going 'no place special'."

"Is that really true?" he asked. She'd touched a nerve in him. She frequently did, of course.

"That Joni Mitchell sang a song about it?"

"No, fool. That we are-that way."

"Well, I think it is," she answered.

"She doesn't sound like she doubts it much," he thought. He wanted to sigh. He thought he did hear her sigh. They sat together quietly, looking serious and tired.

"It's the dope," Sallye said suddenly a long while later, lifting her head and grinning at him. "It'll do that sometimes."

"Do what?" he asked.

"Make you think too much, dopey. And leave you sitting around with the listless blues."

"Oh. Yeah. I knew that."


4th draft: 05/13/03
©1989 Ronald C. Southern


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Coon's Age

“Hey, Sylvester,” Harold Jenkins hollered, glancing into the drugstore as he passed.

Old man Callie looked around, frowning slightly. He put on his glasses and stared hard through the screen door. Hardly anyone these days called him by his first name like that. He was used to being addressed as either “Mr.”, in deference to his age or, by men close enough to his age to be that familiar, as “Sly”, which was not in fact considered his name any more, but tribute to his long political history in the county.

“Yeah, sure, Harold!” Sylvester Callie yelled back after a moment. “How ya doin', boy? Hey, come on back here! Hell, I ain't seen you in a coon's age. Come on in a minute.”

“I been around,” Jenkins drawled, opening the screen door slowly.

He paused to scrape his boots on the welcome mat, nodding vaguely at the small group of men sitting at the tables near the soda fountain. The men nodded back just as ambiguously. Jenkins wasn't anybody's best friend, but he wasn't a stranger, either; most of the men in the drugstore had known one another for half their lives. Mr. Callie, being older than everyone except Jenkins, had known some of them all their lives. “I know 'em like the back of my hand!” had been his political catchphrase for years.

“Listen, Sylvester, I heared they was a rumor 'bout that Connie Rae of yours bein' messed up with ole Roger 'fore he killed himself. They anything to it?”

Everybody except Sylvester looked up with interest. All of them except Jenkins and Sylvester looked uncomfortable. Nobody but that old fart Jenkins would have had the nerve to bring up his granddaughter to Mr. Callie's face. Since the question had been asked, though, they listened.

“Good lord, Harold,” the old man said casually, taking his cigar out of his mouth, “just 'cause we grew up together don't give you the right to say any goddamn thing that occurs to you, you know?”

“Well, Sylvester, you know you don't learn nothin' if you don't ask,” Jenkins said stubbornly, drawling almost as slowly as Sly had done. He took off his hat and ran his hand through his gray hair for a moment, then put his hat back on.

“Shit, look at the old bastard's hand tremble,” Ed Maldy, the young druggist, thought, hiding his grin behind his milkshake. “Guess he finally remembered who he was talkin' to!”

“No harm meant,” Jenkins said, surprising Ed by looking Callie straight in the eye. “You don't wanna talk, don't talk; it's your bizness. I thought you liked to talk.”

“I ain't above talkin', Harold,” Callie said amiably, glancing around the room casually now, checking the other men's expressions. They were, as expected, watching him carefully. Sylvester smiled and went on.

“I got this old by out-talking a whole lot of men that's quiet in their graves now, poor bastards. You know, I'll be 78 next November and I don't recall as how I've ever been shy about talkin'! But you know that. I don't know much 'bout all this with Connie Rae, now. I have thought about it some, though, I reckon.”

“Yeah?” Jenkins nodded.

“Oh, yeah. I figure it like this about ole Roger. There ain't no way o' telling what women are apt to like or admire in a man—hell, some of 'em have even loved me! And not so long ago that I can't remember it, neither. 'Course, I got a memory like a elephant!”

Several of the men laughed appreciatively at the old man's joke. They generally figured it was best to stay on his good side. They weren't wrong, either; now as always, just as they imagined, without even looking at them Sylvester Callie was uncannily aware of who smiled and who didn't.

“Oh, hell, Sylvester,” Jenkins grinned, “you and me used to chase the girls together once upon a time and we caught some, too, I reckon. But that was a long time ago. What's your damn point now?”

“Yeah, well, that kinda thing just sticks in your mind, I reckon. Women! Yeah, buddy. But that Connie Rae now,” he continued, “she don't confide much in me, she never did. I suspect as how she's a pretty hot tomato under all them thick dark winter clothes she's always wearin', an' if she met a man she liked, who knows what would happen. All hell might break loose. She might burn 'im up! Ole Roger was pretty likeable, we all knew that. Maybe all hell finally did break loose, huh? But whether she burnt him up or he burnt to the ground all by hisself ain't nothin' for a grandpa to speculate about, now, is it?”

“I reckon it ain't,” Jenkins said, looking at him hard. “Not usually, nohow. You still ain't said nothin', you know.”

“Well, I guess I know that,” the old man nodded, speaking smoothly. “I ain't finished yet, you see.”

Everyone waited while the old man paused to light his cigar, almost holding their breath. The old man had a sense of timing; he made them wait just a little bit longer than breath could be held before he spoke again.

“In short, you dipshit idiot,” he grinned, “I ain't got no way at all of knowing who or if she dallied—excuse my euphemism, boys! I don't know if it was seven kinds of fun for her or what. I don't know if the boy was a rootin' tootin' dead-eyed shooter or a pansy hidin' back there behind all these women's lifted skirts. Him being dead an' all, I guess it don't matter. I kinda wonder, though, if this whole damn thing wasn't some kinda perfidious revenge cooked up by ole Roger's wife, but I don't know. No, sir, no, I don't know nothin' 'bout that. If it was revenge, though, she musta put some damn hard work in on it 'cause the poor bastard sure is dead! Went down to the creek myself that day and took a quick look before they moved him. Never seen anybody'd who'd killed himself so efficiently!”

“Yeah. That's what I heard,” Jenkins muttered.

“Yeah,” Sylvester nodded. “Sure enough a ugly business. Well, no matter. I just wish it hadn't happened, whatever the hell it was! It didn't do the community no good.”

“You right about that, Mr. Callie,” Ed Maldy said. The other men nodded their heads in agreement. Jenkins snorted rudely and walked toward the door.

“I ain't never had the pleasure of talkin' a whole roomful of men to death like you have, Sylvester, but I reckon I been listening to you buzz like this for half a century, and it ain't killed me yet. You can call it gossip if you want to, but I know what I know. An' all that dern talk of yours ain't gonna make it otherwise!”

“I agree a hunnerd per cent, Harold!” Sylvester Callie grinned as Jenkins opened the door and paused to look back. “Come on back anytime you need to get your facts straight! I'll be glad to help you out!”

The other men slapped the tables and laughed like schoolboys. Jenkins slammed the door behind him, but not before he heard Callie say, “Hey, Ed, lemme have one of them cherry Cokes, if you'll be so kind.”


At Callie's funeral the next year, some were surprised to see old Jenkins turn up. Some said he came for spite, to show he'd outlived Sylvester.

“He was a crooked bastard,” Jenkins explained to someone, “but he was our crooked bastard, so I showed up for his funeral. Is that against the law now?”

Nobody allowed as it was, and Mr. Jenkins walked home alone. It wasn't evident in his stride, but he was feeling a lot feebler than he'd felt in a long time.

“Damn it,” he muttered to himself, “just 'cause another ole man's dead don't mean I got to feel so beat up!”


4th draft: 03/04/03
©1990 Ronald C. Southern


Adam's Drool

Evelyn's husband had developed the disturbing habit of drooling in his sleep. He didn't talk about it and his wife didn't like it. His wet pillow in the mornings thoroughly revolted her.

"Surely that's unsanitary," she shuddered. It gave her the creeps! She changed the sheets every day now, something she'd always been too lazy to do before. "Surely, surely," she thought miserably as she hurriedly threw the soiled sheets in the washing machine, "surely he knows he's doing that!"

Either he didn't notice, or else he pretended not to. Yet how could he not know it? She was afraid to ask, and, anyway, it would be a horrible thing to have to talk about. Especially to Adam. Yet every time she handled the sheets, she got sicker and madder about it. Every night she lived in terror that he'd roll over against her and she'd wake up with drool all over her! She knew men didn't like being bothered with such things; she was supposed to take care of it. Clean the babyshit, sop up the drool! Well, she did try to keep busy taking care of the children, to distract herself with honest household tasks, but it wouldn't always work. It was becoming clearer and clearer to her that her relationship with her husband was worsening. Dealing with this slobbering problem of his was too much akin to cleaning up after one of the children, and that was wrong, she felt. Her husband shouldn't be one of her children! But she didn't know what to do about it. She wasn't sure she wanted to do anything about it, for she knew his temper. He liked to threaten her when things got bad, and she knew she didn't know what she'd do without him.

"Starve, probably," she thought miserably. "The children, too, I guess. And then they'd blame that on me and take them away from me. I couldn't stand that!"

They were on a sort of equal footing now, she thought. He didn't like talking about her being crazy and she had a horror of this new thing that was wrong with him. Yet being equal didn't make her any more comfortable than before. She had liked the sense of somebody having the upper hand in their marriage, even though it hadn't been her; it had made her feel secure, even when she'd been the most crazy.

"Now what do I do?" she worried. "This can't go on."

But it did go on.