It’s been hot and humid here for the past week or so, and that — along with the itchy spot just out of reach on my left shoulder blade — has me thinking about mosquitoes.
It’s Día de Muertos, and I’ve been thinking about ways to honor my ancestors. For my grandfather Gaston Means, I offer this calavera literaria which, unfortunately, in not in verse.
As I am sure you are aware, greatness of mind comes from a knowledge of the facts, and that knowledge can only be gained through correct thought processes. That old faggot will never get what he wants because his thoughts are always mingled with his emotions. He’s a bureaucrat by nature and has to live his life in a filing cabinet because he fears a man who can transcend the rules with his knowledge.
The thing that gets under my skin, that really bothers me, is the small-mindedness of Mr. J. Edgar Fucking Hoover. Here I sit in a ten-foot-by-ten-foot cell in Leavenworth, Kansas, and I can’t even have a fountain pen. Or paper. Fortunately, I have an exceptional memory. I will list for you a few of the anecdotes I plan to publish as installments under the headline, “Man of Mystery Tells His Secrets.”
- How the Germans Almost Took Texas, because the US government wouldn’t listen to my warnings about General Huerta.
- C.B. Ambrose, Consummate Liar, about how he single-handedly created a case for murder against me, and how I triumphed.
- The Real Story of Harding’s White House – but maybe not; I’ve already published a book about this.
- Hunting Communists in the Rockies, and how I managed to stay one step behind them on another man’s nickel.
- How to Smuggle Gold from Mexico, and the story of it weighing down my pants in the Carlsbad Caverns. That time made my boy laugh!
- How J. Edgar Hoover took the world’s greatest detective agency and turned it into a damned bunch of rat catchers and filing clerks.
He’s coming here tomorrow. He won’t be happy after that letter I wrote to the wife about the place in Maryland where we used to picnic. I know he reads all my mail. I made it sound like that old farm was some kind of secret, and since he has no imagination, he thought I was telling her where the money is. His divers spent a week pawing through the mud at the bottom of the Potomac
But I want to discuss my boy. I told Mr. God-damned J. Edgar that I wanted to see a Catholic priest, and he sent in a special agent in a dog collar, but it didn’t fool me. If I ask to see Billy, he’s sure to bring him out here. He’ll think I’ll tell my son where the money is. You can see who really is in control here.
What I want you to know is that when a man has a superior education and a superior mind, his task is to gather all the facts and to arrange them properly to reveal the truth. There are two great advantages to a term in prison. First, only in a penitentiary can one come into intimate contact with men of all kinds and degrees – day laborers, steel workers, farmers, bridge builders, gamblers, gunmen, soldiers and sailors, tradesmen, bell hops, doctors, lawyers, preachers, politicians, and sexual perverts – with the leisure to learn their true philosophy of life. Secondly, the quiet of a penitentiary cell enables one to escape the distraction of petty conversations and pursue the truth. So, you see, I really have nothing to complain about. Except the God-damned fountain pen. And paper.
Like what you’ve read?
- Want to comment, share a thought or a critique? Please do! I value your input and promise to read and respond.
- Want to support my work? Here are a few ways to do that:
Today’s Cautionary Tale addresses a problem that affects adults as well as children. Hoffman writes of it in the mid-nineteenth century, and anyone who has recently tried to navigate a city sidewalk will relate.
Here’s to everyone of us whose mother ever said, “Watch where you’re going!”
Today’s Cautionary Tale concerns a problem that all loving parents will face sooner than later. Hoffman writes of it in the mid-nineteenth century, and young mothers of my acquaintance tell me nothing much has changed.
I offer my best wishes to Celia the Cry-Baby and anyone who can relate.
Thump. Thump. Thump thump thump!
Rose lay in her bed and stared at the ceiling. It was only her third night in her new bedroom with its yellow walls and the rectangle of light that slipped through her curtains from the street lamp outside and fell across her blanket. The little house was only a block from the hump at Potomac Yards, and now that her parents were asleep, she could hear the yardmaster calling to his switchmen as he sorted freight cars into new strings that would head on south in the morning. It was a ghostly, friendly sort of sound.
But this was louder, and closer. It sounded like footsteps, erratic footsteps in the attic over her head. She opened her mouth to call her mother, but paused. She was eight years old now, not a baby. Next week was Hallowe’en, and she had asked to go trick-or-treating on her own for the first time. How would it look if she was frightened now, in her own house?
She listened again – nothing. Had she really heard them? She turned onto her side and threw her arm around Mr. Bear, her constant, stolid companion. Nestling down, she closed her eyes. Then thump. Thump rattle ssshhht! Eyes wide, she rolled onto her back and held her breath. Something was being slowly dragged across the attic toward the trap door in her closet. Ruby bit her lip and pulled the covers over her head.
At breakfast the next morning, her parents watched her stare into her oatmeal as she moved her spoon in slow circles. Her mother caught her father’s attention and raised an eyebrow. He shrugged.
“Okay, Rosie, what’s on your mind?” her mother asked.
“Something wrong with your oatmeal?”
“No. It’s just…. Well, I heard something in the attic last night. Footsteps.”
Her father nodded.
“That’s just the leg,“ he said, “looking for its owner.”
He went on to tell the story of a boy, the son of the previous owner of the house, who had lost his leg jumping freight trains coming out of Potomac Yards and passing through their neighborhood.
“Nothing to worry about – as long as you have both of your legs.”
Ruby didn’t hear the leg every night, but it returned often enough to keep it in her mind. On a sunny afternoon months later, she gathered her courage and pulled a dining chair into her closet. She climbed up and pushed open the trap door into the attic, and there in the loose insulation between the rafters was a footprint. One footprint.
She pulled the trap door shut, put the chair back at the table and never went up there again.
Today I am submitting for inspection a little piece called Conrad and the Tailor, the first in a collection of “Cautionary Tales.” I was inspired by my memories of a slender volume of poems given me by my grandmother when I was three years old. Slovenly Peter first appeared in Germany as Der Struwwelpeter, an 1845 children’s book by Heinrich Hoffman.
Hoffman was, among other things, the doctor at a lunatic asylum in Frankfurt, where he considered himself to be “the sunshine in the life of his miserable patients.” I will let my readers judge the level of his success.
Have I mentioned that my family specialized in dark humor?