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.

Subscriptions. We need your help to continue this story. Please go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button with your $25 donation. Or write a check for $25 made out to Fred Owens and mail it to 35 West Main St., Suite B #391, Ventura CA 93001.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

No comments: