Monday, July 30, 2012

The Turkish Terror

Part Nine. Introducing Layla, the Turkish Terror -- she lives out in Fishtown. Keith Brown is still up on the roof of the Lighthouse Inn in LaConner, threatening to blow up the bomb in his backpack, but the standoff is coming to a head.

The Turkish Terror

Jimmy pulled himself up through the hatch. “Hey Keith, I saw you on the roof, thought I’d come up and enjoy the view with you. You got your boat tied up here someplace?”

“No, it’s back in Fishtown. I walked into town.”

“Say what’s up? It looks like you got this thing goin’ on. All these people looking at you.”

“I need to find Lisa.”

“She isn’t here. Nobody seen her.”

“Jimmy, don’t go against me. Are you one of them now?”

“No way. I’m with you, that’s why I came up here. Ernie Benson is downstairs behind the bar, he isn’t against you. And you see all these people watching you – there’s Cindy and Tom, and there’s Barb and Amy. We’re all your friends. You’re one of us. Nobody is going against you, but they’re getting worried. You want a smoke? I’ll roll you one.”


Jimmy sat down, not too close, and pulled a bag of rolling tobacco from his jeans. He began to roll a smoke for Keith and one for himself. Keith was sitting down, clutching his backpack with the bomb inside, veins pulsing on the sides of this face, all tensed up, smelling un-bathed much worse than usual. But living by himself in a cabin by the river in Fishtown, he had not much need for soap and hot water.

The Turkish Terror lived with her husband in a stout cabin just downstream of Keith. She said, “If Keith Brown ever took a bath, I would show him a good time,” but she was a bold woman, given to experiment. All the way from Turkey she came to live in Fishtown. “I know the wonders of tulips and roses,” she said. “The tulip was first cultivated in my country. It is Turkish. My name is Layla, which means tulip in Turkish. I am very fond of the fragrances of different flowers and different men. Some men have an intriguing musky odor or a manly sweat about them. However Keith Brown is merely disgusting. I like him anyway. I watch his grimaces and twitches. He would come to our cabin at sundown hoping for a meal, and I would make him a bowl of beans. Back then he heard the voices of angels and demons. But the angels have left him and now he is just mad. I wish he would take a bath.”

It was the freedom of Fishtown that attracted her. “My husband has money, so I can afford to go to Nordstrom’s and buy shoes. I am extremely fond of expensive high-heeled shoes. You might wonder why this is such a contradiction – to live in a cabin by the river in Fishtown, to chop wood and carry water and cook over a primitive stove and sit by kerosene light reading books, listening to the wind, hearing the call of birds and the murmur of the river flowing at our feet. The river is so wonderful to me.

“And yet I sometimes make a trip to downtown Seattle to shop for shoes at Nordstroms. It’s a way to abuse my husband who gets mad at me for spending his money. You see I despise this man. I also love him. I am not the least bit crazy like Keith Brown however. I see the world with total clarity. I have no ideals. I only see the reality and the reality of human life is a complete contradiction. So I am not faithful to my husband, instead I spend his money and laugh at him. He is such a good man.

“I am come here from Istanbul in Turkey, where the East meets the West. My father was an influential man in commercial banking. He sent me away because I am a free spirit. He is an understanding man, but the way I live, he could not have me in his home to be an embarrassment, to lose his social standing and his money. It was better for everyone for me to come to America. And you wonder how a young Turkish woman found this place. Because it was bashert – that is not a Turkish word, but we use it to mean the fate of your life. Bashert means what is meant to be, and I was meant to be in Fishtown – that is how I found it, me sitting by the fire, and dreaming of alligator pumps with high heels.

“And jewelry, expensive jewelry,” she added. “So we are a community of hermits in Fishtown, out of the world, in nature. Keith Brown is our brother. It is the fault of your culture that you need everything to make sense, to fit together in a neat pattern, to make progress and good legislation. That is not the Turkish way. We are a cruel and violent people with a passionate love for roses and tulips. I am a Muslim which means to have complete submission and surrender to Allah, but I laugh at God and defy him. I do not try to resolve these contradictions, because that is the way of reality.

“But you drove Keith Brown crazy here in America. You make him fit where he cannot fit. He is an electronic genius with a pornographic mind. He has no ability to seduce a woman, yet his heart aches with tenderness for all living things. Little birds nest in the eaves of his cabin -- he would die for those little birds, yet he built a bomb, truly he did, because you drove him crazy.

“But this is not my fault. I love him as a man and as a brother, for the way he is -- like me.

“My nipples are large and beautiful. I will remove my blouse and become more comfortable. Good. I can breathe more easily. I will tell you about the fishing. We have the five kinds of salmon that come by our cabin in Fishtown and making their way up the river into the mountains to lay their eggs on gravel beds in cold ice water, and they die. It is so tragic. They make love and they die. Of the five kinds, we have pineapple salmon in the spring which are large and fat, we have burnt-sugar salmon in the summer which have the reddest meat, we have the pink carnation salmon which come every two years – no, I get confused – the humpies and the dogs are coming. But the very best of the salmon are the silver bullets. These fish are not found in my native country, but I am not particular. To me a fish is a fish. I am like one of these birds – the heron stalking in the shallow water. I eat fish because I live on the river. My husband writes poetry and I catch fish. I carry this knife with a 5-inch blade. I use it to filet and clean the salmon. It is not a weapon despite what people say.”

She said this and one more thing. “I live in town now, in this apartment. Fishtown is empty. It’s only Keith and Art Jorgenson. Crazy Peter lives over by Barge Island. Black Dog Allen lives downstream a ways. It’s lonely out there now.”

Keith Brown smelled of old socks, wood smoke and cans of Prince Albert tobacco which he bought because it lasted longer. Art Jorgensen would give him the leaf from his marijuana plants and he grew a few plants himself, back in the woods, someplace where the ground was not too soggy, with enough sunlight, not conspicuous, you could walk right by his plants and not see them. The cabin had a wood cook stove, used for heat or making meals. Keith had a float outside his cabin, and an old rowboat tied up to the float, half-sunk, because Keith just let it rain and didn’t bail out the boat. It could have been a fine vessel for river jaunts.

Crazy Peter came by offering strong drink for Keith, which he accepted, but then Crazy Peter said let’s bail out your boat and take her out. Let me have it for a week or so, I could sand it down really good inside and out, make it clean and pretty with fresh linseed oil, keep that wood shining, make it glide through the water, just touch the oars and let them breath strong strokes, and you could row up the river in a storm like it was a Sunday picnic.

Crazy Peter made this offer while they sipped his home-made rice wine, which was a grade or two superior to prison hooch, a pale green color made with white rice and white sugar fermented and mixed with Mountain Dew. Most people said Crazy Peter was crazy before he started drinking, so it didn’t matter what he drank, but he was one of Keith’s friends on the river.

The point is, everybody liked Keith. He never hurt anybody, until that summer when he started hearing the voices.

Fishtown was at a bend on the North Fork of the Skagit River. They called it Fishtown because it was a good place to catch fish. The river made a nice bend and the water was deep. It was all fresh water, but only a couple of miles to the mouth at Skagit Bay. The tide came in twice a day. The water rose and the river stopped moving. It became as still as the time before the world began, and if there was no wind the surface was as smooth as glass.

The Swinomish always had a camp there. The pioneers came and used drift nets in their time and set their nets on the drift, and built small cabins on pilings to get out of the weather, cabins built outside the dike, you couldn’t get there except by boat, or a slim boardwalk with loose boards which ran underneath low willow bushes, going over the mudflat near to the river itself – a no man’s land, because the Chamberlains owned the land inside the dike, but the wetland, some fifty-feet wide between the dike and the river, had no owner. Out there you were off the map and off the money too. No deeds, no mortgage, no taxes and no rent. If that isn’t freedom, what is?

Jimmy knew all this. He wanted to talk Keith out of it, get him to let go, come down, take his medicine, do his time.

“Keith, this is upsetting. People could get hurt.”

“They’re torturing Lisa,” Keith said.

“Look, if you come down off the roof, you could head over to the Frog Hospital with me and Hitch. We could get some beer, some fried chicken, some Fritos, head out to the Sand Spit, hook up with Joy and Jellybean, bring out the drums and have us an old-time U-Bang-Em. C’mon. There’s nothing but trouble for you here. Leave that package alone – we can come back later for that.

“Okay, I’m lying. Cops are going to be asking you a lot of questions. You’re going to jail when you come down, but it will be easy for you if you just don’t hurt anybody now. Leave that package and come down. But forget the cops, don’t you see Barbara Cram down there. She will chew your ass out in a big hurry if you don’t come down. You don’t want to get on her wrong side, it will be hell for all of us. “

“It’s only four o’clock,” Keith said. “What about dinner? I’m hungry. Have Ernie send up one of those roast beef au jus sandwiches with French fries. I’m really tired.”

“Whatever you want, Keith.”

Don Coyote stirred in the bushes in back of the Garden Club. It was a good perch, being on the edge of the hill, higher up than the roof of the Lighthouse, where he could look down on Jimmy and Keith talking. He could see the others – Larry Yonally and Fred Martin standing in the middle of the street, Aurora Jellybean twirling her skirt, Barbara Cram having another smoke with Amy Hahn, Tom Robbins and Cindy Sibanda noodling on the bench on the landing of the Benton Street stairs, Roger Cayou and Chico Narkowitz telling lies in front of the LaConner Tavern, and Brian Healey pacing back and forth in front of the Pier Seven building when Lane Dexter showed up from Marblemount bearing arms.

“He’s up there,” Brian said.

Lane said nothing, looking around, then, “What about the hill?”

“If you were a hawk…”

“I see a perch up there. You stay here.”

Lane Dexter drove up Second Street, parked in front of the Garden Club, and walked around to the back, quietly, as he knew how to do that, came up to Don Coyote crouching in the bushes, tapped him on the shoulder and said nothing, bearing arms as he was. Don Coyote knew he was bested but saw Lane to be his ally not his foe. “This is just in case,” Lane said, patting his rifle.


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Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Skagit Valley Sky -- Part Eight in the Saga of Jimmy & Hitch

The Skagit Valley sky was clear and blue,

This sunny day in July, 1982.

The Skagit Valley sky was clear and blue this sunny day in July, 1982. Buildings on pilings lined the water side of First Street in LaConner and the high tide ran underneath them and the rats dodged here and there past the mussels and barnacles on the pilings, living off scraps raining down from greasy restaurants.

The Swinomish Reservation lay across the channel, maybe 100 feet to the other shore. The “Res” had a more felicitous location, being a shallow sloping beach leading down to the water. In times of flood tide, they simply hiked the canoes further up the beach. The first people, being the Swinomish, coming upon this brackish arm of the Skagit River, and looking for a place to live, and having the choice of which side to inhabit, chose the sandy sloping shore and left the steep rock across the way as a place for dumping garbage. The Swinomish in ancient days told babies. “Behave yourself or we’ll ship you over to that rock where there’s no food and no one to play with.” The Swinomish had an ancient name for that rocky hill, but it was not a kind name, so they never spoke it.

That rock and the surrounding wetlands became LaConner. It was claimed by the pioneers, the steep hillside was drilled and leveled, the wetlands were diked and drained, and the channel was dredged for bigger vessels. The town was built by human hands.

In the late 1950’s, the town’s principle business was Dunlap Towing, moving logs in huge rafts to sawmills in Everett, but they took on small jobs, like the time they picked up a nice building in Bellingham, 50 miles away, The building was the headquarters of the Bellingham Yacht Club with a faux-lighthouse on the top of it.

The building was raised from its harbor-side foundation, inched on to a barge and towed down to LaConner, where it was erected to become the Lighthouse Inn, the prime dining spot in town, and the location of an underground CIA prison, where Lisa was being held captive, according to Keith Brown, who was only crazy because of his premises, not his conclusions, because if the Lighthouse was a secret CIA prison, then Keith was doing the right thing, to make his threats.

Old timers, Roger Cayou and Chico Narkowitz, sitting on the bench in front of the LaConner Tavern, they knew all these stories, “used to be a shoe repair shop here….had a small movie theater over there before they tore it down,“ pointing to the apple tree that grew in the vacant lot next to the post office, small branches growing over the sidewalk for people taking fruit.

“We’re too old,”Chico said, “talking about all this used to be. Kids get bored around here, want to leave town, kick it up in Seattle, too boring around here, nothing to do but dig clams in the moonlight out by Lone Tree Point.”

“Used to be you could catch a 100-pound king at Hope Island anytime in August,” Roger said. “It was Ernest Hemingway or Burt Lancaster, some guys like that, came out to rent boats when the kings were running. They’re gone now.”

“The movies stars or the king salmon?” Chico asked.

“Still plenty of clams,” Roger said.

“I got three trees in my front yard, Italian plums, come and pick a bucket, firm and sweet now, going to waste,” Chico said.

Roger leaned forward, “Chico, I gotta a serious question. Who is smarter, you or Sam Cram?”

“What I think is Keith Brown might blow up the whole town. I hope nobody gets hurt,” Chico said.

Nearby, Aurora Jellybean swirled her skirt and looked at the sky. Jimmy and Hitch left her twirling and walked past the old brick Puget Sound Mail building. It was about ten years since Pat O’Leary sold that newspaper to Dick Fallis and the building still stank of cigars.

Jimmy and Hitch walked past the Volunteer Fireman Museum, to the edge of the Rainier Bank parking lot, not 75 feet from where Police Chief Larry Yonally and pharmacist Fred Martin stood in the middle of First Street, where traffic was stopped (although in LaConner in 1982 there was hardly any traffic to stop). Keith Brown was sitting down on the flat roof of the Lighthouse Inn, tightly clutching the strap of his back pack with an explosive device inside.

“If we ask Larry, maybe we can help,” Jimmy said. “I was thinking we could climb up on the roof and talk with Keith, get him to calm down and give us the bomb.”

“Or we could go to the tavern and have Sylvia fix us a crab-burger, and just let nature take its course,” Hitch said.

“Great idea, Hitch, only there’s no money for a crab burger, so here we stand on the sidewalk,” Jimmy said and he got excited. He took two large steps forward and then twirled around. “This is cosmic. We’re going to the Frog Hospital to get some beer and fried chicken, and we can’t get there from here because Keith has a bomb. So we gotta fix the bomb or else we don’t get any beer.” He took two more steps away from Hitch, and twirled around and came back to him, “No, no, not for beer, not for nothing, we’ll just do it.”

“Okay, buddy, but there’s no way out, it’s death or taxes. It’s all for one and one for all, let’s shake.”

“But we need Aurora. Look, she twirls like the moon.”

The three came together in spirit, joining hands as one, for the taste of it, for the life of it. Hitch became more expansive, “This is like Gary Cooper. You could be him, all alone in High Noon, deserted by the townsfolk, and left to fight the outlaws on his own. I seen all these old movies, you know. Like the baseball movie with the Yankees or the love movie with Audrey Hepburn. You could be like Gary Cooper if you weren’t so skinny.”

“Audrey Hepburn was so lovely. I have a long neck, somewhat like hers,” Aurora agreed. “If you were a vegetable ….”

“… I would be an onion. If you chop me up, then I make you cry,” Hitch said.

“Perfect, and Jimmy would be a rutabaga, long simmering in a pot of soup, born from generations of lowland farmers, all the way back to Holland. He’s a polder man with wooden shoes, clack-clack,” Aurora laughed.

“Okay, now I’m going to talk to Larry and Fred Martin, you coming?” Jimmy asked.

Aurora hung back. Hitch started going ahead. Jimmy caught up. No stopping now. Up to Fred, in his open collar, short-sleeved dress shirt, pressed pants, shined shoes, soft hands, trim figure, past fifty years of age now, steady on his feet, Fred Martin was the man who brought LaConner into the modern age. It was nine years ago, 1973, they voted in the new sewer system, gaveled into existence by Fred’s strong right hand as mayor, passed by the town council, proper sewage treatment to make growth possible – more businesses, more homes and more stores, Fred gave it that Rotarian push, to build something that would last, and that success made him calm and tolerant.

He did not despise Jimmy or Hitch but just took them as they were, in front of him now, wanting to be useful, as if they always had been useful.

“Jimmy, what do you think?” Fred asked.

“We could go up there and talk with him, get him to come down.”

“That might be a good idea.”

“It might take a while. We’ll sit down and talk with him like it was just another day.”

“If it’s okay with Larry….Larry?”

“You put yourself at risk if you go up there. You know that. If things get bad, Keith will get hurt. You don’t want to be near him. Cop first, friend later – it has to be that way now,” Larry said.

Time was slowing down. The drama became a still life tableau. It was barely three p.m. Barbara Cram joined Amy Hahn on the bench in front of the library. Barb lit a smoke and Amy crossed her legs. “Toenail polish is too much trouble,” Amy said. “I’m done with it. No man. No woman. Life is short. Keith Brown is the gospel of Buddhist truth, so we can thank him for making all the clocks stop. No tick-tock today.”

“You never make any sense,” Barb said to Amy and squeezed her knee.

Brian Healey, a bitter and vengeful man, went back inside the Pier Seven building to make a phone call, long distance, up river, 70 miles up the Skagit River, up into the mountains where the river ran cold in a narrow valley, just big enough for a wide spot in the road, a gas station, the Log Cabin Inn restaurant, and a post office called Marblemount. “Calling Mountain Man, calling Mountain Man, “he said. “We got a situation. Are you armed and dangerous?”

Lane Dexter, on the Marblemount end of this phone call, replied, “You embarrass me with this militia talk. I hunt. I own several rifles. I’m a long way from town, so I keep extra supplies, but I am no survivalist – I support the continued existence of civilization. And Brian? You need to get a life. Now, how can I help?…Uh huh …. Okay … I’ll come down. Give me an hour.”

On the bench by the landing, halfway up the Benton Street stairs, across the street from the Lighthouse Inn, at eye level with mad anarchist Keith Brown, who was striking out against corporate America, the Pope, and all the women who had ever spurned him, sat Cindy Sibanda with her arms wrapped around the friendly body of Tom Robbins.

“Larry’s a good cop, he can handle it,” Tom was saying.

But Cindy said, “In America, people shoot each other. Does Keith hate us? He’s mad. In Zimbabwe we have the nyanga. He makes herbs and bone rattles to drive away the demons. This American demon is too hard. I don’t have the herbs now, except for the dried bark of the apple tree which I carry in my shoe – just a piece of dried bark, but these little things bring protection, so we are safe, he won’t kill us. But I don’t have the bone rattles. I never had that kind of training, except my Aunt Margie, she knows many kinds of enchantment. All I know is this kind of singing, which sounds like the scream of a woman in labor, but it will frighten Keith’s demon.”

“Yes, my gap-toothed beauty,” Tom smiled, pulling his Detroit Tigers baseball cap down low over his eyes, humming softly, snuggling with sweet Cindy while she nattered.

“If I begin to sing this way, your ears will burn. Please to cover them.”

“Hold a minute,” Tom said. “Let me tell you something. I want to live forever. I never want to die. Even if I died in my sleep with no pain or memory, I wouldn’t like it. I would like to get out of my body if it rots, but where could I go? That’s why I came to Zimbabwe, to find you, because the souls of African people are eternal, you don’t fear death. I don’t fear death either, but the idea of it really pisses me off. It’s such a waste. Don’t do the singing. Let the devil have his due. Now, look at Keith and tell me how the devil got into his body. Why did he become the messenger?”

With the question posed, Tom began to dream of a grilled-cheese sandwich and having hot sex with Cindy in his patio, behind the high ivied fence, her beautiful black lips on him, his hands reaching the velvet dawn.

Keith, as if by psychic connection to this erotic image, began to stir. He hadn’t been laid in years, “Anti-Christ, whore of Babylon,” he yelled out, stumbling wildly, swinging his backpack. Larry tensed and put his hand on his pistol. Fred Martin took a deep breath. Jimmy was dry-mouthed.

“Jimmy, you go in now. Go inside and climb up the ladder to the roof and talk to him,” Larry said.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Jesus Wept -- John 11:35

“I’m so tired,” Keith said, peering over the edge of the roof. He sat down. No one heard him yell about the bomb.

Ernie Benson, the Lighthouse Inn bartender, was a jovial even-tempered man, voted “LaConner’s Best Bartender” year after year for fixing you a good drink and steering you out the door in a nice way when you had enough.

Ernie was also a big man, tall and round and he had a problem, seeing Keith take the ladder up to the roof. “This is really screwy,” he said. But he had to climb the ladder and lift up the hatch to peek out and find out what Keith was doing up there.

“Keith, what’s going on? You can’t be up here.”

“I’m so tired,” Keith said. “I need to find Lisa. I need to find out if she’s alive. Did you kill her? Are you an agent?”

“It’s me, Ernie. You need to come down.”

Police Chief Larry Yonally was driving down First Street when he saw Keith on the roof of the Lighthouse, thinking he was a worker or something. Taking a closer look, he recognized Keith’s balding head and his scruffy beard in profile, and his signature dark brown combat jacket covered with magic marker quotations from the Old Testament.

“Oh shit,” he said. “We gotta get him down.”

Larry began thinking, “If I blow the cop whistle on him he might just get worse. I have to parse this thing out. He’s up on the roof, and we have to get him down easy and no one gets hurt.”

But Keith saw Larry and his adrenalin surged. “It is the curse of Babylon,” he raged. “I will tear it all down. The CIA has a secret prison under this building and they’re keeping Lisa in a cell. I have to know if she’s alive.”

Keith was talking loud enough now, people on the sidewalk heard him and looked up. Larry was thinking, “Geez, now we got a situation.”

He pulled the police car in front of the library across the street. He got out of the car and stood in the street, “Keith, it’s me. You know who I am, right?”

“Larry, yeah, I see you. Well, see this knapsack. I have a bomb. I have the power now. It is time for the truth. Jesus guides us all. And I will smite thee and free the minions.”

Larry had to counter the threat, “Nobody’s gonna smite nobody. Smiting is against the law and we just don’t do that kind of thing around here. Put down the backpack and come down right now.”

“If I come down, the CIA will torture me just like they are torturing Lisa.”

A crowd gathered. In LaConner a crowd is six or more people, but it had all the dimensions of a crowd, milling about, hesitant, seeing the cop, seeing the man on the roof, and wondering who it was.

Amy Hahn the librarian looked out the window from her desk, confirming her hunch – it was going to be a weird day, but weird in a good way? Maybe, because it was time for the truth – the Man with the Explosive Device gets to set the agenda, at least for a while. “Reality is a beautiful thing,” Amy said. There was a bench on the sidewalk outside the door where she could watch. “I’ll take a look-see,” she said, “first shoo the children home.” But none were present.

It’s like if you had the money, you could hire an aeroplane to do your message in skywriting. Keith didn’t have the money, but he could tinker with electronics, and he knew that he could build a bomb, and further, people like Larry knew he could build a bomb, and now he only had to convince them of the righteousness of his cause. They would join him in his battle with the anti-Christ.

“Written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond, saith Jeremiah, chapter twenty-two, verse one. See, I have it written on the back of my jacket, and the people will now the truth,” Keith cried.

Larry was looking steady, projecting calmness with his posture, not reactive, not tense, breathing easy.

Fred Martin, most sublime Methodist, genteel Rotarian, compassionate, conservative, pharmacist and former mayor, came from behind the counter at the drugstore and went out to the street. He looked up and saw Keith. He saw Larry and he walked over to confer.

“There’s time, I’m going to move slowly,” Larry said to Fred. “If I tell the people to move back, they’ll become alarmed. If I call the sheriff for back up, he’s just going to barge in and take over and shoot the man. People could get hurt.”

Fred responded with papal dignity, “Don’t call the sheriff. Keith is a sick man. This is our show in LaConner. We can get him down easy.”

Larry nodded, staying focused, gauging the crowd.

“We need to get everybody out of the Lighthouse,” Larry said.

“I can do that,” Fred said. He walked slowly over to the restaurant door, walked in, and came out a few minutes later. “No one is in there but Ernie and he won’t leave. The cooks and waitresses are out in the parking lot.”

Keith was mumbling quietly, swinging his backpack, watching birds fly overhead.

Barbara Cram, with her hoarse and hacked voice and her indifferent haircut, was the loudest woman and the best meat-and-potatoes cook in LaConner. An un-paid and un-appointed social worker, she was once awarded the Girl Scouts Medal for First Degree Meddling in the Affairs of Other People. She got a phone call at her home on Fourth Street up on the hill. She usually found out the LaConner gossip minutes before it even happened, so she was on this one like right now. Into the phone she said, “Keith Brown? That crazy bastard. I’m coming down.”

She grabbed her cigarettes and lighter, came down the hill, right down the Benton Street stairs and took it all in. “I’m gonna help.”

She strode up to Larry and Fred. “This is going to be a long day. You fellas could use a cup of coffee, I’ll bet.”

“Yeah, sure, Barbara.”

With that she left the major domos and walked right into the Lighthouse Inn despite Larry’s cry, “Hey, don’t go in there.”

She came out five minutes later with a tray of coffees, looked up at Keith, said “How’s the weather up there, handsome?” and started to pass around the cups.
Stern now, Larry demanded, “Unauthorized bystanders need to stay at least one hundred feet back from the incident.”

“Don’t be a jerk, Larry. He isn’t going to hurt anyone,” Barbara said.

“But he might.”

Brian Healey closed his shop for the nonce. Located in the Pier Seven building, which a lot of people considered bad luck in the first place, he seemed to think it was funny to name his business “Cheap Trinkets for Tourists” explaining, “well, that’s what people say anyway.” But business was awful, and people suspected the cause was actually his personality.

Brian walked over to the scene, looked up at Keith and said, “Shoot him.”

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.
Jeremiah, 17. 9

Tom Robbins and Cynthia Sibanda were skipping down the Benton Street stairs whistling the theme from the Pink Panther. Cynthia was a black-skinned beauty and Tom Robbins was a Virginian by birth, so gallantry came to him naturally. Together they would make romantic history. They stopped at a landing half-way down the stairs, being at eye-level with the Lighthouse Inn roof across the street.

Keith spotted Tom and Cynthia, saw their happy smiles, and began to shout. “Beelzebub, meet thy doom. “

“You horse’s ass,” Tom called back and considered that a kind of praise, for his love of horses going away and that’s what you see when they go away, like a mare with glistening, chestnut-brown firmly muscled hips, like two Brazil nuts in a creamy nougat. Tom coulda wrote a book about a horse’s ass and you would learn things you never knew were there.

And somehow, like the other bystanders, he did not sense approaching death. Keith did have a bomb. And he might detonate the device, and people might be killed and injured, and yet no one took it seriously, let alone Tom Robbins, who was a serious man for all that.

“Cindy, we can sit here on this bench on the stairway landing, being halfway up and halfway down,” Tom said. He knew about the hidden plum tree next to the landing, behind the rampant blackberry vines. There, under the plum tree, was a shrine to Saint Bridget, just a small statue amid a tiny clearing, a place for votive candles. No one knew it was there except Tom, and he only suspected it. “Saint Bridget was a holy woman and the patron saint of folks like you and me,” he told Cindy. “She will protect us, although I believe more in circus monkeys.”

“Monkeys are like gods in my home in Zimbabwe,” Cynthia said, “ but we also love Princess Diana as well as Michael Jackson. Is that man going to blow up his bomb?”
“No, my African beauty, although he has the madness and power of Shaka Zulu. Fate has done Keith cruelly and people have made him small. This is his revenge, his day in the sun. Let us repose and hear his words,” Tom said.

Keith almost winked, “Beelzebub, you will fear me. I call you out. We will both be destroyed this day.”

Tom cried back, “Monkey’s uncle!”

Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends.
Jeremiah, 20: 4

Big Janet kept playing Pac-Man on her stool at the LaConner Tavern. She had to pee really bad, but she was approaching the All-Skagit-Valley Points record and she determined to stick it out.

Roger Cayou and Chico Narkowitz came out of the LaConner Tavern to watch. “This is going to be good,” Roger said. “I could really use a slice of watermelon right about now.”

Chico took a broader view. He pushed back his hat, tilted his head skyward and held forth, “It kind of reminds me of World War II. After Pearl Harbor, we got afraid that the Japanese Navy might send submarines up through Deception Pass to invade Skagit Bay and conquer LaConner. I mean, it could have happened. So the Coast Guard had us build a concrete artillery defense camp out on Goat Island to repel the invaders and that’s what I did during the war – keep those guns ready.”

“A waste of time,” Roger said. “Those Japanese never came near.”

“Darn right, they stayed away. We had those big guns on Goat Island and scared ‘em off. So I would call us a winner.”


“So we’re going to sit on this bench, and you eat your slice of watermelon and we’ll scare off the demon that’s driving Keith Brown to madness. That’s how we keep our town in a good way – just hold on fast and keep a good spirit.”

Keith Brown, on the roof of the Lighthouse Inn, with a credible explosive device in his backpack, knowing this was his last day as a free man, had the strength of ten men. The air had a burning clarity. His skin glowed with violent bliss. He spread his arms wide like Christ crucified. “I have never been so alive,” he said.

Down on the street, at ground zero, Larry looked around at the gathering, “I guess everybody is here. Maybe we can talk him down.”

But everyone was not there. What about Don Coyote? Don Coyote was not on the scene. He was watching from behind a hedge in back of the Garden Club. Don Coyote, it should be explained, was a real person. He watched and saw many things, but, like a leopard in Africa, he was rarely seen.

That left Jimmy and Hitch and Aurora Jellybean some ways off, a bit south of the drama, not yet sucked in. “Larry don’t want us around,” Jimmy said.

“Will anyone get hurt?” Aurora asked.

“It’s only a hoot,” Hitch said
“I don’t like watching, we should head back,” Jimmy said. “Keith is my friend and he’s a bum. He should get a job mowing lawns. Like in the spring when we go picking daffodils at Lefeber’s, you can make $50 a day doing that. Zappa does even better because he’s all cranked up. I’ve seen Zappa pick 8,000 daffodils in a day. That’s $80 and you’re rich. The point is you work every day in March, all muddy and wet and cold, and the wind is blowing and you get too tired to think. That’s why I like it. You just walk and pick, walk and pick, it’s like total Zen. Your mind is empty. No worries and no fear. But Keith won’t go, he just sits out there at Fishtown looking at old porno magazines. Crazy enough, I guess. Now he’s going to get on the news. I hate it. KIRO-TV will get here, and then it all goes ballistic. We gotta keep this in town, act like nothing much is going on. This is our show. If everybody stays cool we can talk him down.”

“So you need to do something, Jimmy,” Hitch said.

“Yeah, Jimmy, you’re the man,” Aurora said.

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Note. For people who don’t live in the Skagit Valley, several commercial farms in the valley grow hundreds of acres of tulips and daffodils for the fresh market. Daffodils are harvested in March, tulips in April. Big crews of farm workers pick all these flowers, one at a time. In 1982, this labor was still performed by local residents. Zappa was a champion picker, although the legendary “Kathy” surpassed even him, going over 10,000 flowers a day more than once.

Don Coyote. Don Coyote is a real person, but that is not his real name.

Disclaimer. The resemblance of any characters in this story to actual persons is a coincidence and not intentional. No offense is intended either. If this story can rise to the level of good beach reading, the author will be very satisfied.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Insanity is Contagious

Insanity is contagious.

― Joseph Heller, Catch-22

On that summer afternoon in 1982, Joy Helen Sykafoos made potato latkes for Marc Zappa in her float house on the Sand Spit. It was a one-room curtained cabin, the bed was in sight and at hand and the swallows were twittering on Dunlap Bay.

“You have everything I need,” Zappa said. His drug-addled brain said go, and Joy said stop but with the smallest of doubts. Her refusal had a quavering note. “I have very little,” she answered. “My heart is empty.” She gripped the table tightly as Zappa swiped up the last potato crumb from his plate.

An unusual glimmer of clarity came to Zappa’s mind, “I think maybe I’m coming on a little too strong. Well, I’m very stupid. I mean we could go for a walk or something.” Devious again and sheepishly he said “I guess, I’m begging.”

“Don’t be a beggar, just leave. Look, you can come back some time, okay? Get out of here.”

Now she gripped him on his wrist, and not quavering, nor hostile she said “Go.”

He stepped out on to the dock. She followed. He paused, “Remember that time this spring. Didn’t I get this feeling that you....”


“Have you seen Jimmy?"

“Jimmy and Hitch were on their way into town.”

“I gotta find Jimmy and tell him about this dream. I was hearing voices.”

“Go,” she said.

Then she reached up and kissed him.

I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair,

Floating like a zephyr on the summer air.

Aurora Jellybean looked in the mirror. “Aurora Jellybean is not my real name because I am not a real person,” said. She smeared the bright cherry-red lipstick across her mouth and puckered up her lips and gave the mirror a wet, smacking kiss. “I used to be a girl from Ballard and I had a real name. I was Elizabeth Holtzman and I grew up playing hop scotch on the sidewalk with my friends. I was a real person, but then Tom Robbins put me in his book and I became one of his characters. I like living in his book because you meet giant lizards and walking jelly rolls and fairy-tale queens and talking mules. Francis, the Talking Mule, I always liked that movie, but he isn’t in the book. I will go to Tom Robbin’s house right now today and tell him I want Francis the Talking Mule to go into his next book, otherwise I will get mad. And I want a heron that lays golden eggs in the book, and holly trees that grow rubies, and a lemonade fountain.”

Aurora Jellybean put down her lipstick. “I think I will have a glass of wine,” she said.

Aurora went to the frig and found her chilled Chardonnay. Ah, rosy-cheeked Aurora! Not in the beauty and bloom of youth, her brown eyes glistened with sorrow, her cherry-red lipstick could not quite conceal the lack-luster droop of her mouth, when long-back she pouted like a Shirley Temple doll, now she was alone more and more often, drinking wine by the window, drawing valentines on colored paper with cut outs and she mailed them to Charlie Krafft, and maybe Charlie Krafft would come to see her, but he never came. Brian Healey used to come and knock on her door, if he was drunk enough, and she would let him in. Brian was practically a Republican and not the nice kind either. His self-loathing balanced her despair. They flopped like beached fish on her maroon brocade bedspread. He was gone before she woke up in the morning and she only felt the headache.

“I’ll never let Brian Healey in the book. He’s a real person and I hate him,” she said.

She looked out the big picture window facing Swinomish Channel. She had a cozy apartment in the back half of the building where the Waterfront Café used to be.

“I am an artist. I create wonderful paintings of beautiful children playing in a garden of flowers. My life is imagination. I am a pillow for the comfort of humanity. I am a friend to seals and snails and silver bells. I lie under the cedar trees and spiders spin webs in my hair. I am the pink oyster shells of a dream island in Skagit Bay.”

This reverie banished the headache caused by her dalliance with a stupid man. She got up and dressed, selecting baubles and various velvets from her many-drawered dresser. “I will take a stroll,” she said to her imaginary cat. Out the door she walked to the front of the building on First Street in downtown LaConner.

And as Aurora Jellybean put on her baubles and velvets, preparing to step out, Jimmy and Hitch rounded the corner of Douglas Street, leaving behind them the sanctified odor of the Moore-Clark fish food factory, and facing the beckoning welcome of tired old downtown LaConner, once famous for dogs sleeping in the street, famous for gentle Swinomish men who got their beer in town, famous for the fifty-year sleep of a Brigadoon village, now wakened by artists and poets, now blossoming, at least in the view of some people, into what they hoped to be a major tourist attraction.

Jimmy and Hitch paused at the south end of First Street.

They faced a street that echoed with ominous possibilities, two facing rows of western-front buildings, going four long blocks -- the Nordic Café, where farmers smoked Camels and drank coffee at the round table in the early morning , the Barbershop Exchange where Roberta Nelson sold gifts and made skeptical comments, the One Moore Store where Bud “Foghorn” Moore served ice cream while he plotted promotions for the LaConner Chamber of Commerce, the North Fork Books where Ben Munsey placed a used copy of Finnegan’s Wake as a doorstop, and claimed to have read every word of Doris Lessing, and the LaConner tavern, where Roger Cayou, from the Swinomish tribe, was explaining to Chico Narkowitz, grandmaster of the Wagon Wheel Lodge, just exactly why the tribe had placed a carved image of a white man on the stop of the Swinomish totem pole – above the bear and the wolf and eagle and the killer whale.

“You shouldn’t have a white man up there, Larry,” Chico said. He called Roger Larry because Chico had this habit of calling everybody by the first name that popped in his head. He said it was easier than remembering.

Roger, with a merry twinkle in his good black-hued eye, and the submarine vision of a sea lion in his smoky-blue damaged eye, smiled through a few missing teeth and still managed to look like the smartest guy in the room. (He was Hitch’s uncle, by the way.) “We carved a figure of Franklin Roosevelt on the top of the totem pole because he built us some houses in the Depression. These were the first regular white houses we ever had.”

“So, why don’t you put me on the totem pole?” Chico asked. “I let some of your relatives stay at the Wagon Wheel Inn, didn’t charge ‘em hardly anything. “

“I could paint your face on the side of my truck, how’s that?” Roger said.

In the tavern, near the door, Big Janet ignored everybody, her 225-pound lesbian hulk of a football body hunched over the Pac Man video game and she yelled, “I’m getting past 225,000 points, which will be the all-time LaConner record – anybody comes near me, I’ll rip their head off.”

Down the street Cecil Bruner dusted crystal glasses in the Den of Antiquity and found a piece of sheet music with an old tune, Cattails a Plenty, “such a sweet song,” she said and she began humming.

Red Reynolds adjusted his wig and went back to sleep in his lawn chair in front of the Flying Barn pottery studio.

Fred Martin, the sublime Methodist, the most perfect Rotarian, with soft-pink cheeks and wispy thinning hair, adjusted heart remedies on his shelf of pharmaceuticals at the LaConner Drugstore. He had been the druggist since 1955. He was a kind and understanding man, if a bit stern at times, and he wore his pants a little too high.

Amy Hahn was the librarian at the LaConner library. Getting that job made her so happy she began to grow freckles, but on this day in July she knew something was up. “I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was different, some kind of hum in the air. I swear – I don’t like to admit this – but it seemed extraterrestrial.”

Then there was the Rainier bank, the Lighthouse Inn restaurant, the Black Swan café, the Post Office, the Pier Seven building, Pearl’s operatic restaurant, and finally the Frog Hospital itself, the Quonset Hut, LaConner’s anchor store, selling rib-eye steaks to prosperous fishermen, selling socks and sweaters, beer, ice, and a few good vegetables, potato chips and Fritos, Sophie’s special fried chicken, D batteries, shoe laces, Campbell’s soup, Snickers bars and much more. But Mr. Grobschmidt, the proprietor, did not serve on that day. He was gone fishing someplace. Instead, Roger Byrn manned the produce aisle, polishing the tomatoes, “such lovely girls” he said as he patted them into place.

Above this all, going up the Benton Street stairs to Second Street on the hill, just two doors down from the Methodist Church dwelt author Tom Robbins, who was not the Magic Christian, but who sponsored the Fighting Vegetables volleyball team.

Tom looked up from his writing desk and said to Cynthia, his cupcake of the month, “Something funny is going on down there on First Street. I can’t write anymore. The characters want to quit the book and go downtown. If my characters quit I have no book. I may as well follow them. Maybe we’re all going to end up in somebody else’s book."

“Tom, it’s all love,” Cynthia smiled, “put your notebook in the refrigerator. Let’s go see the circus.”

Jimmy and Hitch could see the Quonset Hut, past the ominous stretch of shops. They had to run the gauntlet to get to the beer. They girded their loins. “You see, we’re like warriors of old, like Achilles in the Iliad, facing the foe,” Hitch said, “We’re going after the great whale himself, that was Moby Dick.”

“How do you know that shit?” Jimmy said.

“You think I’m a Indian I don’t read. But I read everything, Hemingway, Faulkner, Mark Twain, Moby Dick, all the American stories. I quit high school so I could read books.”

“Why you telling me this now?”

“You think I’m a dumb Indian.”

“You are dumb, and you all look like each other and you don’t even have last names – Bob Joe Paul Jim Billy Frank.”

“Y tu mama.”


“Y tu hermana….You don’t even know Spanish. You’re a dumb Dutch monkey.”

Jimmy and Hitch just stood there and smiled at each other.

“But it’s a little different today, like it won’t be the way it used to be,” Jimmy said. “We gotta watch out.”

“We could stop at the tavern and talk to Roger,” Hitch said.

“No, Roger knows what’s going on, but we’re going to see it ourselves,“ Jimmy said with a surprising confidence.

Destiny. It’s the kind of word that came in your head when you’re more than halfway through a 12-pack, peaking with alcoholic pleasure, about to hit the sand dunes on the Sand Spit, about to howl in the surge beyond language, yet today of all these summer afternoons, Jimmy felt destined, and he would feel it sober in a small lifting of his chest, that he could rise up and face it square, and that he was a man for all that and not some concoction of what other people said about him.

That’s when it happened. At 2:20 p.m. Keith Brown strode into the Lighthouse Inn carrying his backpack over one shoulder and found Ernie Benson wiping off cocktail glasses, getting ready for the evening trade.

“Isn’t there a trap door up to the roof in there?” Keith asked, pointing toward the storage room behind the brown.

“Yeah, sure.” Ernie said, not thinking.

Keith walked right past him strongly, into the storage room and quickly to the ladder and quickly up the ladder, throwing off the trap floor and clambering on to the roof with his back pack. Keith looked around, put the trap door back on the roof, and then stretched to the sun quietly, breathing deeply, in the last five minutes of what remained of his sanity.

Then he walked to the edge of the roof and called out to the street below, “I need you to bring Lisa. You bring her to me now, I’ve got a bomb in this bag. I will blow this place to kingdom come unless you find Lisa and bring her to me.”


Notes. This is a story. Any resemblance to real people is a coincidence. Here are the seven segments so far written. You can find all of this on the Frog Hospital blog. Or I will send you the whole story via e-mail attachment.

1.The Ponderous River. The Ponderous River is the title of the opening segment of this story. It comes from a poem by Clyde Sandborn. Clyde had quit drinking and gone to live in Big Lake, but I have a feeling he will be showing up in LaConner as the plot thickens.

2. Skunk Cabbage Blues. Robert Sund probably sang this tune on his autoharp. Can you hear it?

3. Joy Helen Sykafoos goes to a Wedding. Joy comes back from Oklahoma.

4. Under the Volcano. Also called the Wisdom of Charlie Berg.

5. He’s Out at Fishtown. He is.

6. Insanity is Contagious, which you have just read and I hope you liked it.

7. Jesus Wept. The title of next week’s installment is “Jesus Wept,” which is a verse from John’s gospel, 11:35. This is the chapter where Jesus comforts Martha and Mary on the death of their brother Lazarus, and then he raises Lazarus from the grave.

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