Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Blind Date

The Blind Date
Loren Logsdon

            It was on a Saturday in  late September when the farmers around Weeder's Clump began thinking about harvesting their crops. Cletes Greenfield and his son Clay were having a quick lunch at Mom's Family Restaurant. Both were having the cheese pudding special when young Clay asked his father, “How did you and Mom meet?”
            “Why do you ask?” Cletes replied. He was always delighted when his children asked him about his life. Cletes considered himself a good storyteller even though he had not majored in English at Heliotrope University.
            “Mrs. Penn, my AP English teacher, thought it would be a good writing assignment to find out how our parents met. She has a special interest in trying to understand how human beings connect with each other, and her class has got me thinking about several important matters. I think she is the best teacher I have had so far,” Clay explained. “Do we have time for me to order another cheese pudding?
            “I believe we do; in fact, I was thinking of doing the same thing.”
            Cletes Greenfield looked admiringly at his oldest son. He was very pleased with the lad, who was of late showing some real signs of leadership. “Your mother and I actually met on a blind date. I had noticed her since early in September. To be honest, it was more than that. I was captivated by her dancing eyes and bright smile, but I didn't know her name. I thought that surely a wonderful girl like that would have a steady main squeeze or had set her expectations so high that I couldn't possibly measure up. To put it succinctly, I convinced myself that she was too far above me, and I could only worship her from afar and dream about her.
            “Then the Saturday after our big game with New Madrid Fault State University, Max Doubt was taking his girl to the movies and asked me if I would go along on a double date. I agreed and, wonders amazed, my date was the very girl I had admired so much, the girl who would later become your mother. We went to see a John Wayne movie about World War II.

            In the movie, The Colonel Has to Know, John Wayne was an officer on the front lines in Germany during the last days of the war. The German soldiers were making a last ditch effort to turn the tide in their favor, but they knew it was almost over.
            John Wayne told his men to be alert because German soldiers would try to infiltrate the American lines. He called his sentries to the command post and told them the password was 'Thermopylae.' “If they say 'The Chicago Cubs,' you had better shoot first and ask questions later.”
            Then John Wayne retreated to his own tent and began to clean his six-guns, drink Wild Turkey liquor, and sing 'I'm a Poor Lonesome Cowboy.' That song made his think of his girl back home, who was played by Jane Fonda. He thought of Jane's brilliant intellect, her ability to spot logical fallacies in political agruments, and her delicious cheese pudding.
            The soldier who had drawn the midnight to three sentry duty was played by Walter Brennan. Walter was a bit too old for an ordinary infantry soldier, and he walked with a pronounced limp. He had lied about his age, claiming he was actually afflicted with premature aging. How Walter managed to pass the physical is a mystery that defies explanation. Be that as it may, Walter was on sentry duty about to doze off when he heard a noise in the forest and shouted, “Halt! Who goes there?”
            A voice called out from the shadows, “Ve are just some happy-go-lucky Yanks from Vyoming. Ve hert zat Bob Hope vas coming to entertain ze troops, and ve didn't vant to miss ze pulchritudinous nubile beauties zat he alvays bring viz him.”
            Walter Brennan knew about Bob Hope's visit and was looking forward to it, so it would only seem logical that happy-go-lucky Yanks from Vyoming would want to attend the event. But something made Walter a bit suspicious, and he yelled. “Okay, sounds good to me, but what's the password?”
            “Hals-und Beinbruch, Yank!” was the answer, and a grenade sailed over Walter's head and exploded just the other side of John Wayne's tent.
            John Wayne had been drinking all night, fantasizing about Jane Fonda's cheese pudding, and singing cowboy songs at the top of his voice. He emerged from the tattered remains of his tent, waving both six-guns in the air and firing at the new moon, shouting, “We're gonna take that hill!” Then he passed out drunk but uninjured on the ground.
            The German sergeant, played by Gustav Diesel, rushed up, looked down at the fallen John Wayne, called to his men, and said, “Vell, ve finally got zat obnoxious John Vayne.”
            Although Walter Brennan had forgotten his rifle and left it in his tent, he knew the situation called for heroic action. Bravely, with no thought for his own safety, he hopped and skipped and limped up to the Gustav Diesel, pointed a finger at him, and said, “Surrender! Your position is hopeless.”
            “Do you mean zat Bob Hope didn't come?” Gustav Diesel said, not to be tricked and fall for such a dumb cliché.
            “No, I mean if you don't surrender immediately, I will summon Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Dougas, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Richard Widmark, Ronald Reagan, Henry Fonda, and Glen Ford, not to mention Clint Eastwood..”
            “Clint Eastwood?” Gustav Diesel asked incredulously.
            “I told you not to mention Clint Eastwood. Now cut out the tomfoolery and throw down your weapons.”
            Gustav Diesel was crestfallen. He said to his men, “Zere are too many of zem. Do as he says. Maybe ve can still see Bob Hope if he comes.”

            “That movie date was the beginning of our love,” Cletes said to his son.
            “Did Mom have a good time?” Clay asked.
            Cletes smiled broadly and replied, “Yes, she certainly did. She slept through the entire movie.”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Sunshine the Pharmacist: Famous People of Illinois

Sunshine the Pharmacist:
Famous People of Illinois
Loren Logsdon

            “Why do they call Bartholomew Drogg, the pharmacist at Walgreens, ‘Sunshine?’” Paige
Turner asked Boone Fowler as they were having coffee and apple fritters at Mom’s Family Restaurant.Boone smiled, took a bite of his apple fritter, and said, “That’s an interesting story. When he first camehere to Weeder’s Clump from New York, he wasn’t so cheerful. He is an example of how a person canchange. I’m surprised you are not familiar with his story. I heard it some years ago from Angel Bigfield. Here’s what she told me.

It was around 4:30 in the afternoon when Reverend Cyril Goddard, pastor of the First
Malthusian Universal Church, pulled into the Walgreen’s parking lot to run an errand for his wife. She wanted him to pick up a prescription for her.
The good reverend ran into the store and almost collided with Earl Ogden, who was standing
by the magazine rack looking at the nude pictures in The Ugly Mother Magazine. Since Earl was a deacon in Rev. Goddard’s church, he hastily put the magazine back and picked up a copy of An Illustrated Lives of the Saints.  Earl’s deception was unnecessary because the good reverend’s attention had been drawn to a scandal magazine with a full page cover photo of an old geezer sitting in a rowboat with a pipe in his mouth. The caption read: SKIPPER OF TITANIC FOUND! PIPE STILL LIGHTED!
            Reverend Goddard greeted Earl Ogden cheerfully and then walked briskly to the pharmacy.
 He had heard numerous complaints about this pharmacist from his parishioners; in fact, Professor
Markem at the college called Drogg “Fafnir.” And the good reverend’s own wife had suggested that he should be prepared for a nasty reception. As always, the good pastor decided he would see for himself and make up his own mind.
            Drogg was standing at the counter muttering under his breath and scribbling on a notepad. He
had a fierce scowl on his face, and his body language suggested that he might explode at any time.
            Rev. Goddard stepped to the counter and said, “Excuse me, Sir, I have come to pick up a
prescription for my wife.”
            Bartholomew Drogg looked up from his scribbling and shouted, “Jesus H. Christ!”
            Pastor Goddard said, “No, but I am one of his faithful servants. I shepherd the flock at the
church on Main Street. If you are looking for a church home, please feel welcome to attend our
            “That’ll be the day. Now what do you want? Can’t you see I’m busy?” Drogg barked gruffly,
and went back to his scribbling.
“I need medicine for my wife. Her name is Rosemary Goddard and her birthday is May 25,
            “I don’t care about her birthday. What’s the matter with you? Do you think I am going to send
her a present or a card?”
            A gentle and mild-mannered man, Rev. Goddard was determined not to lose his temper and
respond in kind, so he replied, “It is customary for people who pick up a prescription for someone else
to give the date of birth of that person so the exchange can be verified as authentic.”
            “Are you trying to tell me my job?  Drogg snarled.
            Still not daunted, the good reverend said, “Have you been having a bad day, one of those days
when everything goes wrong. I sense that you are troubled.”
            “You have a firm grasp of the obvious,” Drogg snapped.

            “My son, you mistake my words. My concern for you is genuine. How can I help you?”
            “That’s easy! Take your business to CVS across the street. They take care of losers like you.”
            “My good man, I can’t do that because Dr. Slaughter faxed the prescription to Walgreens. I have
 to get the medicine here.”
            “Then get Dr. Slaughter to fax the prescription to CVS. I don’t mind.” 
            “I will next time, but surely you have the prescription filled and ready. Would you please check and see? I am sorry that I have disturbed you,” Reverend Goddard said in a tone of genuine sincerity.
            Drogg glared at the pastor and answered, “I don’t have time to do that right now. Why don’t you
come back in a day or two and I’ll see if it’s here.”
            At this moment Homer Bigfield stepped out of the aisle where the birthday cards were
displayed. His wife Angel had sent him to Walgreens to get a birthday card for their twin grandsons.
Homer had heard the entire exchange between his pastor and the pharmacist, and he approached the
counter at the pharmacy barely able to control his righteous anger. Ever since his school days, Homer
had deplored bullying, and he had on several occasions come to the aid of a person being bullied. He
was like the Lone Ranger in going after bullies.
            Homer addressed the pharmacist, “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation
between you and the good pastor. I even recorded it on my iPhone. I’m wondering if you are aware of
how rude you were to him.”
            Drogg glared at Homer and said, “Mind your own business, Pinocchio.”
            Still trying to make his point in a peaceful manner, Homer said, “A pharmacy is a dispensary for
healing. We are all wounded in some way by life. Pain and suffering are universal experiences of our
common humanity. Your profession affords you the real opportunity to help people. Don’t you think
your attitude should be one of kindness and sympathy rather than arrogance and nastiness?”
            “Now I get it. You are some bleeding heart Goodie Two-Shoes. You people make me sick.”
            Homer still didn’t give up. “I’m not people! I’m one man. But can’t you see that you can be a
force for good in a world in need of healing? You can actually help people, yet you dispense hate and
            “Leave me alone, you wimp! You can’t do anything so just shut up and go away.”
            His patience at an end, Homer said, “Can’t do anything? How would you like it if I posted your
exchange with Reverend Goddard on the web and asked people to join a protest rally in the parking
            “You can go to Hell!” the pharmacist said and flipped the bird at Homer.
            Now Homer Bigfield could overlook someone calling him bad names or most gestures of an
 insulting nature—practically everything except the flipping of the bird. That gesture was like waving a
red flag in front of a bull. Homer suddenly became transformed into a creature worse than anything
Dante’s Pilgrim encountered in The Inferno, worse than any monster Odysseus came across in Homer’s
 Odyssey, worse than those flashbacks Bruce Dern had in The Trip.
Speaking in anger at the top of his voice, Homer thundered, “Listen to me, you Mickey Mouse
de Sade! I’m going to tell you something in language so plain even a child can understand. I am sick
and tired of petty tyrants like you throwing their weight around and being nasty to those who seek their
assistance. Just who do you think you are that gives you the right to be so rude to decent people? Does
it give you pleasure to use your authority like a blunt instrument? Well, I have had enough of your ugly,
trashy behavior.
            “Know this:  If I ever hear of you being nasty to Reverend Goddard, his wife, any of his
children, his relatives, any of his flock, or any person in this community, I’m coming in here and
amputate your middle fingers and spread you across this floor like a coat of wax. Then I’m going to pin
your ears behind your head and slap you silly. You’re going to be begging your daddy to let you move
back home under the safety and protection of his roof.  Otherwise, you’re going to be meat on the

street. Do you get my message? Is it clear?
            Terrified, Bartholomew Drogg nodded, too speechless to answer in words.
            “Now then, get the good reverend his wife’s prescription.”
            “Yes, Sir, right away. Will there be anything else?” Drogg asked.
            “Yes, there is,” replied Homer Bigfield, pointing to Reverend Goddard.
            Drogg nodded and said, “Of course. Reverend, will you please forgive me for my egregious,
 mean-spirited behavior?” Then extending the hand of friendship to Homer, the born again pharmacist
said, “I think you and I are going to be the best of friends.”
            “From that day onward, Bartholomew Drogg was the nicest pharmacist anyone could ask for,
and he became known as ”Sunshine” because his disposition was always cheerful. Last year he was
named Man of the Year by the Illinois Bean Growers Association at their annual convention in the Windy City.,” Boone said as he reached over to claim a morsel of apple fritter that
Paige had left on her plate. 

            Then Boone said to Paige in case she missed it, “The moral of this cautionary tale is that
violence is a bad thing, but sometimes the mere threat of violence can produce amazing pro-social

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Who Has Seen the Wind?

Who Has Seen the Wind?
Loren Logsdon

            It was the middle of a windy Wednesday morning at Poindexter's Garage and Auto Sales. Tug Armstrong, the expert mechanic who was fondly known in the community as “Bad News,” was replacing the fuel pump on Darlene Maxwell's ancient 1979 Mercury Monarch, when Earl Ogden stopped by to invite Tug to play on his slow pitch softball team. Earl's team was currently in first place in the Geezer’s Summer League and scheduled to play the second place team, a group of loud, obnoxious fellows who were sponsored by Menards and wore mufti uniforms and caps displaying the emblem of the Swiss Army Knife.
            “I need you to play first base tonight/” Earl said, getting right to the point. Usually Earl would wander around and around the point, circling like some huge bird of prey, going off on all kinds of interesting and informative tangents, and then, when the listener had let his guard down, Earl would zoom in for the kill. But on this morning Earl was desperate to find a substitute for his injured player..
            Slowly Tug Armstrong wiped the grease from his hands and poured a cup of coffee. Then he looked at Earl and said, “I had better call Jane and see if she has any plans for this evening. I am in the doghouse with her because she learned that I went to Peoria over the weekend and checked out Patti Melt and the High Five Gentleman's Club. The problem was that I didn't tell her where I was going.  She was waiting up for me when I came home. It seems that Gladys Ikenbee had called and told her that a group of fellows had gone to see what the club was like.”
            When Jane answered the call, Tug said, “Dear Heart, Mother of my children, Woman of Incomparable Beauty, Problem Solver par excellence, Delicious Cheese Pudding of My Life, Bud of Spring in the Bone-chilling Days of Winter, do we have plans for this evening? Earl Ogden is here to ask me to play on his slow pitch softball team for his game tonight. I told him I would have to check with you first.”
            A look of consternation spread across Tug’s visage, and he exclaimed, “What?  You say you had some chores lined up for me? You want me to insulate the doghouse and weed the garden? Look, can I do that tomorrow night? Earl desperately needs someone to play first base. He doesn't want to lose to the Menards team, and I am his only hope.”
Tug turned to Earl and said, “I’m sorry, but Jane has some chores for me to do tonight. Can’t you find anyone else?”
Earl shook his head and replied, “I have tried everyone I know. Look, why don’t you ask Jane if you can do the chores tomorrow night? Here, let me talk to her.”
Earl took the phone and said, “Earl here, Jane. I need Tug to play tonight. We don’t want to lose to that obnoxious Menards team. I’ll tell you what,. if you let Tug play, I will help him with the chores. You can even think of more tasks for Tug to do. Now how’s that for a bargain? Yes, I’ll put Tug back on the phone.”
            Tug Armstrong spoke to his wife, “Jane, what do you say to Earl’s proposal?”
Then he hung up, grinned at Earl, and said, “Jane agreed to postpone the chores until tomorrow evening if you can help me with them. She always attaches some new conditions when she lets me get out of something she wants me to do. Now she wants us to ditch the meadow. Will you help me with the chores?”
            “I promised I would, but I didn’t think Jane would take advantage of me. You were the last person on my list,” Earl answered. “I couldn’t think of anything else to say, but I don’t like it one bit.”
            “Speaking of not liking something,” Tug said, “I don't like this wind. I hope it calms down for tonight's game. For some reason, I don't play my best in the wind.”
            Earl Ogden thought a moment, looked Tug squarely in the eyes and said, “Plato was right when he claimed that we can't see the most important things in our world. He believed they were invisible and that's was why they were most important. He was referring to such abstractions as love, justice, honor, goodness, and truth. But he could also mean the wind. After all, we don't actually see the wind. We see the force of the wind and how it affects the things in its path, but we don't see the wind itself. That reminds me of a story my Uncle Biff used to tell.”
            Then, inspired, Earl told the following story:

            “There was this good woman who had a houseful of children, eight of them to be precise. Usually they were good kids and she loved them dearly, but occasionally they would have a bad day all at the same time. At such times they would drive her up the wall.
            “One very windy day they all went ballistic and ran around the house yelling and screaming.. The reason?  Who knows for sure? Maybe it was the wind that caused the problems. Blame it on the Bossa Nova if you can’t think of anything else, but the children were unusually wild and noisy, fighting, throwing things, tormenting the dog, and arguing with each other. They were impossible. The noise was deafening, and the poor woman couldn't calm them down or get a moment's peace. She was beside herself, a nervous wreck.  Her husband wouldn't be home for three hours, and she knew she couldn't last that long if the racket continued.
            “Finally she had an idea. She got a balloon and blew it up and painted it with bright colors, orange, blue, purple, yellow, red, and green. She gave it to the kids to play with. Her plan worked like a charm. The kids loved it and had a good time batting the balloon around and chasing it. The good woman was able to enjoy some peace and quiet. She even got some work done.
            “Well, the kids began to lose interest in the balloon. It was slowly deflating as balloons tend to do, so the kids tired of it and threw it in the bathroom stool. The kids had used all of their energy in playing with the balloon and lay down on the floor to rest.
The woman had to use the bathroom, and she came in and sat down without looking into the stool.
            “When she got up, she looked down and saw this strange object. It was orange, blue, purple, red, and green. She panicked and thought she had lost something important from her insides, so she called her doctor, but she couldn’t describe the problem sufficiently so he could offer a diagnosis, and he told her he would rush over right away.
            “Now the doctor was a kindly man, but he was slow and elderly. In fact people in the community thought he might be two days older than God. But he was a good man and a good doctor. He always did his best, which is all we can expect of ourselves or anyone else.
            “When the doctor arrived, the worried woman quickly ushered him into the bathroom and pointed at the stool, which contained a strange object that was orange, blue, purple, yellow, red, and green.
            “Even with his thick glasses, the doctor's eyesight was very weak, so be knelt down to get a close look at the object. He had never seen such a thing in his medical career. Bewildered, he took out his Swiss Army Knife and gently poked the object, but couldn't tell what it was. Finally he gave the object a vigorous poke which punctured the balloon. It exploded, spraying the contents of the stool in his face.
            “Calmly and deliberately, the elderly doctor stood up, wiped his face, and then his glasses. He shook his head and said, 'Lady, in 50 years of medical practice that's the first time I have ever seen a fart.'” 
            That evening Earl Ogden’s team, with Tug playing first base, defeated the Menards team by a score of 18-15. Tug had two home runs, a triple, and a double. He made two sparkling defensive plays to rob Menards’ players of sure hits. Clearly, Tug was the difference in the game, in spite of the strong wind and the trash talking of the Menards players. They were so discouraged they didn’t have the heart to sing “Save big money at Menards.”
            Earl and Tug walked off the field in triumph and decided to celebrate the win with a libation or two at Suds Guzzle’s Lounge and Billiard Parlor.
            As they parted, Tug reminded Earl of his promise to help him with chores the next evening.
            A worried look suddenly appeared on Earl’s face. He shook his head sadly, and said, “I just remembered that tomorrow night I promised Gladys Ikenbee I would take her to Peoria to see Mama Mia.  I don’t have the heart to disappoint her. I’m afraid you’ll just have to go ahead without me. Under the circumstances, I believe Jane would understand.”
            Tug replied, “She would understand all right. She would sweep you up like a mighty wind,  tie you to a chair, and force you to watch Mama Mia for 48 straight hours; then she would do the Fat City Tango on your skull. After that you would be going around singing the Menards song and spend your evenings waiting for Godot .”

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Fishing Trip

The Fishing Trip
Loren Logsdon

            It all started one  rainy spring morning at the Tally Ho. The members of the Big Sleazy River Fishing Club were having apple fritters and coffee when Tug Armstrong, apropos of nothing, said, “I think we should plan a trip this summer to Wisconsin to see what fishing is like up there. Coach Bear Bombast and his friends spend a week or two there every summer, and they always come back with enough fish for the Sportsman's Club's annual fish fry and back-to-school hoopla in September.”
            “I like the idea of trying new things, but don't you think a deep sea fishing expedition would be more exciting because you could hook a big fish. I don't think you would catch any large fish in Wisconsin,” Dr. Wanton Slaughter offered.
            Lancaster Markem disagreed with the good doctor. “No, there is one big problem with deep sea fishing, I, for one, would become sea sick and spend the whole trip heaving my cookies. I vote for Wisconsin.”
            “Good point,” Tug Armstrong said. “The main idea is to have fun, and sea sickness is no fun, believe me. I even got seasick crossing the Irish Sea. I can't imagine spending a day on the Atlantic, Pacific, or even the Sargasso Sea.”
            The three men looked at Boone Fowler, who had not yet expressed his opinion. He took the last bite of his apple fritter, chewed slowly, and said, “I've never been to Wisconsin, so I'm in favor of going there. Tug, why don't you take charge and  make the arrangements?”

            Two months later, on a fine morning in the middle of June, the four friends stepped from their cabin in Wisconsin to fish the Lonely Loon Lake. They had decided not to hire a guide, but rather to rely on their own skills to catch the bold Northern Pike, the ferocious Muskee, and the crafty Walleye. The friends decided to split up for the fishing; Tug and Lancaster Markem  would go in one boat and Wanton Slaughter and Boone Fowler in the other.
            The morning being fine and the moment bordering on the sublime, Boone Fowler felt that some kind of ceremony was needed to commemorate the experience. He offered a brief prayer of gratitude and asked  for God's blessings in the attempt to catch the finny tribe. Then the four sang their theme song

            By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea
            You and I, you and I, oh how happy we'll be.
            When the fish come bite our bait
            How joyfully we will set the hook
            By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea.

            Boone Fowler and  Wanton Slaughter decided they would find a spot in the shade, anchor the boat, and fish in  that one place. Feeling adventurous and enjoying a boat ride as much as fishing, Tug and Lancaster chose to move from place to place and try different areas of the lake. They agreed to meet at five o'clock for the evening meal, fully expecting to catch enough fish to have  a big fish fry.
            Tug and Lancaster were thus exposed to the sun and the wind, and by three in the afternoon they were very tired. Despite their sincere efforts, they had not had a single strike. They had traveled rather far in the course of the day and had reached the southern part of the lake when Tug suggested  they pull the boat in and seek a place where they could enjoy a cold libation.
            “Let's call it quits for today,” Tug suggested.
            “I was ready to quit two hours ago. I wonder if there are any fish in this lake,” Lancaster Markem opined.
            Tug scoffed, “Of course there are fish in this lake. This is Wisconsin, where people from Illinois come every summer and catch boatloads of fish.” Then he burst forth singing “Once There Were Three Fishermen.”
            “I think there's a little place a bit farther down the lake. Let's head there and relax. It's no fun when the fish aren't biting,” Lancaster said,
            About five minutes later, the two weary fishermen turned their boat into a little cove, believing they would find a tavern or place where they could get a cold beer.
            “Have you ever seen “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part II?” Lancaster asked Tug.
            “I was just going to ask you if this place reminded you of Deliverance.. Do you think we should forget about the libation and go back to the boat? Tug replied.
            “No, it's broad daylight and we can be careful. We can stick together and nothing will happen.
            So the two friends opened the door of the tavern and went in. They were met with the sight of a huge man dancing with a rustic charmer to Ernest Tubb's  song “I'm Walking the Floor Over You.” The big fellow was wearing low slung faded and patched jeans which revealed the tops of his buttocks, a sleeveless vest, and a shabby DeKalb Seed cap. On one massive arm the word “Mother” was etched, and on the other was a vivid sketch of a rattlesnake, venom dripping from its exposed fangs. The rustic fellow looked mean enough to kill a bear with his  bare hands, and the woman looked like Daisy Mae in the Lil' Abner comic strip. These two dancers were the only patrons in the place.
            Very carefully, Tug and Lancaster made their way to the bar and ordered a beer.  Behind the bar was a sign that read:


            Then, next to the sign was a large painting of a nude young woman, long hair streaming in the wind, riding a dolphin and flashing a bright come-hither smile for the viewer. Someone had scrawled in large letters “GRAB FOR THE GUSTO.”
            The bartender reached into a battered cooler, pulled out two cans of Blotto Beer, and set them on the counter. “You fellers from the fishin' camp up the lake?”
            Tug nodded and said,  “We have fished all day and haven't even had a single bite.”
            The bartender tried to affect a sympathy he didn't really feel.”No one's caught any fish all summer. We had a big fish kill in the lake this winter.”
            Tug and Lancaster looked at each other in dismay, then, almost tiptoeing so as not to call attention to themselves, took chairs by the window, and began to enjoy their beer. They tried as best they could to make themselves invisible because they felt like intruders in a dangerous place.
            Then the Ernest Tubb song ended, and the burly fellow, who reminded Tug of a dancing bear, came over to where the two were sitting. He glared at Tug and snarled, “You got my chair.”
            Tug replied with a calculated nonchalance, “Well, I'm sorry, Biff. You can have it back when I finish my beer”
            “How did you know my name is Biff?  You're a complete stranger. I don't know you from Adam's off ox.”
            “Well, given your appearance, with that  evil Jack Palance look in your eyes and that Ernest Borgnine smile, your name could only be Biff, but thank you for the compliment. I like to think of myself as being complete, and I will gladly accept all of the other accolades you want to give me.”
            A puzzled looked appeared on Biff's visage and he said, “All of the other what?”
            Still trying to be convivial, Tug replied, “Compliments, praise, panegyrics, encomiums, puff, warm fuzzies.”
            Tug's words went right over Biff's head, and the big fellow could only think to repeat himself. “I said, 'You got my chair.'”
            “ Now I heard you the first time. I'm sorry I've got your chair, You can have it back when I've finished my beer.” Tug looked over at Lancaster for support, but Lancaster seemed to be interested in something in the parking lot. put an arm gently around Tug, and said, “Today's my wedding anniversary.”
            Tug managed to remove Biff's arm and said, “Well, I'm happy for you, and I would buy you a drink, but I'm  all out of money.”
            Biff rose up with alacrity and said, “You cheap piker! You miserable freeloader! You low down skinflint! You pinko Commie.  I'm  thinking about throwing you out of here.”
            Once again Tug looked at Lancaster for support, but Lancaster appeared even more interested in something in the parking lot.
            Tug could only say, “Abstracting again, Professor Markem.” Then the brave Tug turned to Biff and said, “Are you thinking about throwing me out of here,  or are you going to do it? Let me know when you make up your mind.”
            Biff started to make good his threat when suddenly Lancaster took interest in the situation. He addressed Biff in a low, calm voice, “Before doing anything you will surely regret, I must tell you that my friend here—pointing at Tug—knows  ju jitsu, karate, judo, and five other Japanese words. I know he doesn't look like much, but don't let appearances fool you. He's a killing machine. He's going to spread you across this room so Ernest Tubb will literally be walking the floor over you. He's gonna tear you limb from limb so you will understand how Humpty-Dumpty felt when he fell off the wall, how Leo Gordon felt when he tangled with the bear in Night of the Grizzly.. My friend, you will curse the day you were born and beg for your daddy to come and take you home to your mommy. Do you understand what I have said? Think about it. Then he added, “My friend has just finished his drink. Now you can have your chair.”
            As Biff was trying to visualize all that Lancaster had just said, Lancaster repeated “My friend has just finished his drink. Now you can have your chair back.”
            Then Markem grabbed Tug's arm and said, “Come on! Let's go or you will get us both killed.
            Just before he walked out the door, Tug turned, pointed at Biff, and said, “And don't you ever come back!” 


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Philosopher

The Philosopher
Loren Logsdon

            People are fortunate if they have a friend who is a philosopher, even if the person has not stepped foot on a college campus and debated the difference between the presence of absence or the absence of presence. People in Weeder's Clump are proud of Boone Fowler , who proclaims himself to be a follower of the great  and wise Plato. Boone’s friends enjoy hearing him expound on the big questions of life as well as trivial issues. One morning at the Tally Ho, Boone's friends decided they would challenge him with questions.
            Dr. Wanton Slaughter, the famous crusader against post-nasal drip, began the questioning by asking, “Boone, you call yourself a philosopher. Now how would you define the word “philosopher?” Or, what are the attributes of a person who professes to be a philosopher?”
            Boone smiled and looked at Wanton Slaughter as if he was addressing a small child. Then he said, “A philosopher is someone who seeks the truth. As Aristotle observed, 'He knows all things in general and understands causes.'”
            Lancaster Markem asked, “Doesn't that describe a scientist? A scientist seeks truth and understands causes. Your definition does not enable me to see the difference between a philosopher and a scientist.”
            Boone nodded and replied, “You are right, Lancaster, but I was just getting started. Please allow me to give you a full explanation before we begin the dialectics. Then I will be happy to answer any questions you have. Will you do that? It's only fair.”
            Tug Armstrong, always wanting to play the Devil's Advocate, said, “It is what it is.”
            “Oh, no you don't. That statement is pure nonsense. That's like saying “pulchritude is pulchritude.' That isn't philosophy; it's nonsense. People who use that cliché have a firm grasp of the obvious. That statement sounds profound, but it is pure balderdash, bullshit if you want the blunt truth. I had better announce loud and clear that I am in all respects a neo-Platonist. I find postmodern philosophy to be goofy and empty of substance.”
            Professor James Canada, outstanding teacher in the Heliotrope University Health Science Department, simply asked, “What do you mean by that? What’s you point?””
            Finally, Boone got a question he wanted. “It means that my philosophy is based on the writings of Plato. Plato's philosophy begins with the belief in universals, and it goes this way. There are two worlds. First, a world above this world where perfect manifestations of forms, ideas, and abstractions exist. Plato called this above world the real world. Then there is the world humans live in, which to him was a world of shadows and imperfect reflections of the ideal world. What we humans think is reality is, in Plato's philosophy, unreality; in other words, we are living in an unreal world. By the way, that is one of life’s delicious ironies.
            “Let me give an example that should convince you. Let’s take the abstraction Beauty. Do you actually see Beauty?  No, what you see are examples of beauty. You would never say, 'I was at the IGA, and I saw Beauty.' No, what you saw was a beautiful child, a beautiful woman, or a beautiful gesture; a specific example of Beauty, but you did not see Beauty itself.”
            Tug could not restrain himself even though he had promised Boone he would not interrupt. “What if the child's name was Beauty?  Or maybe one of the checkout women was named Beauty? . Then you would be telling the truth when you said you saw Beauty at the IGA.”
            “For crying out loud, Tug, can't you see that even if the child was named Beauty, she would still be a specific example of Beauty and not Beauty Itself. Now please stop being a bugbear and let me explain.”
            Suddenly, Dr. Wanton Slaughter’s eyes lighted up because he had just been visited by a divine inspiration. “Hey fellows, can’t you see what we have in our midst? Boone is Plato and Tug is Socrates.”
            Tug guffawed and replied, “Yes, up to a point. But don’t expect me to drink the hemlock.”
            Lancaster Markem quickly followed Tug’s remark. “Why do you suppose Socrates accepted the sentence to drink the hemlock? He could have asked for exile, and he was only under house arrest and not in jail. His friends were willing to help him escape.”
            As if to intensify the question, Jim Canada added, “Yes, although Socrates was in his 70s, he had a young wife and a child. Apparently he didn’t need Viagra, Cialis, or Enzyte.. He could look forward to a few more years of life.”
            Finally, Boone thundered, “I am trying to talk to you about Plato, not Socrates. If you will notice, no matter what issue is being discussed, Tug tries to get you off the subject and on a tangent by playing Socrates. All right, I will answer the question about Socrates and the hemlock. Since my answer is based on a close reading of Plato’s “Apology,” I am relying on Plato’s description of the trial of Socrates. And by the way, “apology” doesn’t mean an admission that one is wrong; “apology” means a defense of one’s actions.”
            “Let me remind you that the question at hand is why did Socrates willingly drink the hemlock when he had a young wife and child to live for and he could have escaped into exile? Why did he die when he didn’t have to drink that poison/”
            Boone continued, “Well, Plato understood Socrates, and the answer is right there in “The Apology.” If you read that work carefully, you can understand why Socrates accepted the hemlock.”
            Boone’s friends shrugged their shoulders, rolled their eyes, and held out their hands palms up to indicate that either they had not read Plato’s “Apology” or couldn’t remember what they had read.          
        “All right, I will explain it to you so clearly that even a small child could understand. Near the end of his trial Socrates proclaims that he doesn’t fear death; then he engages in a lengthy explanation of why people should fear death when they don’t know what it is. It might even be a blessing. He tells the story of his days as a soldier when he was ordered to stand his ground even though the order might mean his death. He states that he didn’t fear death then, and he doesn’t fear it now. He will stand his ground as he did as a young soldier.”
            “Eureka!” Tug Armstrong exclaimed. “Boone, you are truly a genius. Yes, you have answered my question. In modern terms, Socrates had painted himself into a corner and had no alternative. He had to drink the hemlock to show the world that he did not fear death.”
            For once Boone appreciated Tug’s support, and so he said, “Tug, my friend, sometimes you show real signs of leadership. You are exactly right, even though Plato would not have used the “painting himself in a corner” metaphor. At the beginning of his trial, Socrates could not have predicted what sentence the court would pronounce. It appears that he did everything possible to make sure the verdict would be guilty, but he didn’t know what the sentence would be. When the sentence was death by the cup of hemlock, Socrates had no choice but to drink it. No, that’s not fair to Socrates. He did have a choice, and he chose to drink it, thus making himself a martyr for truth and courage.”
            “Now how about my question?” Dr. Canada asked. Why is Plato a philosopher and not a scientist since you admit that both the scientist and the philosopher are concerned with truth?”
            Boone smiled at Jim Canada and said, “They are concerned with different kinds of truth. The scientist is concerned with the truth of this world, truth that can be observed, measured and understood in terms of mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry. The scientist discovers that there are laws at work in our universe. The scientist discovers truth that is important to our physical well being. Plato and Aristotle respected this truth and, of the two, Aristotle was the man of science.
            “Plato was after what we may call spiritual truth, believing that certain abstractions are important for human well being. Indeed, Plato believed that we do not see the most important things in life because they are invisible: important abstractions such as Goodness, Truth, Justice, Mercy, Love, Beauty, Honor, Courage, and others. These abstractions exist in perfect forms and Ideas in the Upper world, and they come to us here as imperfect reflections of those perfect forms. But these abstractions are every bit as important as the scientific truth—Plato thought they were more important.
            “Thus, Plato is an Idealist who believed that the search to understand abstractions was the philosopher’s task: to examine the imperfect reflections that we see around us and try to understand the abstractions in their perfect forms. The philosopher reaches upward and attempts to transcend the imperfections of this world to understand the Ideals that give life meaning and significance. Plato believed that the highest and most difficult abstraction to understand was The Good, which Plato identified with the Sun, The Sun was the source of ALL THAT WAS GOOD. The light of the sun thus contrasts with the shadows of this world.”
            Tug nodded and said, “The philosopher seeks transcendence, to understand the Good that exists in the Ideal realm which is somewhere above us. That explains the reaching upward for the philosopher, but what about the ordinary people? What should we do if we are not philosophers?
What is the purpose of life?  Why are we alive? What should we do?”
            Boone smiled and answered Tug’s question, “The purpose of life for all people is to improve our character. That’s why we are alive. That is the purpose for all humans and not just the realm of the philosopher..”
            Wanton Slaughter then asked, “Could you be more specific?”
            Boone replied, “Yes, we should seek after lasting things.”
            Lancaster Markem then repeated Wanton Slaughter’s question, “Could you be even more specific?”
            Boone quickly replied, Yes, we should seek Love and Goodness.”
            Tug couldn’t resist the opportunity to rattle Boone’s cage, so he said, “That’s easy for you to say.”
            Not to be outdone, Boone said, “Of course it is easy to say, but difficult to do. Nothing of real value in life comes easy, and the proof is in the pudding, cheese pudding, to be specific.”



Monday, October 29, 2018

Teaching the Old Maestro a New Tune: A Murder Mystery with More Twists and Turns than the Snake River

Teaching the Old Maestro a New Tune:
A Murder Mystery with More Twists and Turns than the Snake River  
Loren Logsdon

            My name is Mal Cutter. For several years I was Weeder's Clump's only barber, and I have lived in our town all of my life, except for the two years I served in the Army. Over the years I have told my customers many interesting stories about local events, and I enjoy telling them when I am cutting hair. It helps to pass the time. There is one story I like to tell because it is a complicated mystery that has never lost its fascination. Actually, I was involved in the beginning of the story, but I didn’t know it at the time. The truth was disclosed some 45 years later. But I need to begin at the beginning. .
            It was the middle of October in 1958, Homecoming weekend at Heliotrope High School, and I was a senior. I was with a few friends in the school gymnasium, watching the dancers and wishing I had a girl to bring to the big dance. We were the typical high school no-date-nerds, and we were seated on the bleachers telling jokes and clowning around, when Vern Heimach's big brother Lester came rushing up to Vern and said, “Dixie's pregnant.”
            “Vern leaped to his feet and said, “I have to find Dixie.” Then he ran out of the gym and no one ever saw him again. We all thought he ran away to escape a shotgun wedding. At least that was the general consensus of those who knew him. We thought we would eventually learn of his whereabouts, but we never did. It was like Vern had vanished from the face of the earth.
            Then near the end of October, Dixie O'Grady went away to live with her ailing aunt. The elderly woman was diagnosed with terminal cancer and had no one to care for her. Some of us wondered if the main reason for Dixie's leaving was something other than to play Florence Nightingale, and the gossip spread throughout the community. But Liam O'Grady, Dixie's father,  walked among us with his head held high, and his son Buster knocked many a guy's block off  if they made any remarks about Dixie's being a dandy housekeeper. After a time, things cooled off and Dixie was no longer the main subject of the talk in beauty parlors, the town library, the post office, and the IGA. Instead, people were worried that Russia was going to bomb us.
            At the end of a year, Dixie returned to live among us again. Either the aunt had recovered or died. Apparently she didn't need Dixie's loving care any longer.  Dixie enrolled in the big state university to study to be a teacher. There was still no word about Vern. Maybe he joined the Army or the circus.  When he was a kid, he was always threatening to run away and join the circus. Dixie graduated with honors and married a wealthy banker from Rushville, causing Boone Fowler to proclaim that the aristocracy in America live in Rushville.
            Time marches on in its inexorable, relentless pace, and it was October 2004. I was trimming the hair on the ears of Bear Bombast, Heliotrope University's legendary football coach, when Homer Bigfield came in and, despite being out of breath, managed to ask me if I had heard the news. I finally got Homer calmed down so he wouldn't have a heart attack; then I asked him to fill me in what was so exciting.
            Homer said that a deer hunter had discovered human remains in a shallow grave on the north forty of Buster O'Grady's farm. The hunter, a man named Hancock Chase, a wealthy businessman from Upperville, had been hunting on my Uncle Bub's farm, and he had shot and wounded a large buck. The buck had managed to run to the corner of Buster's O'Grady's farm, where it collapsed in a wooded thicket and died. In tracking the buck, Chase tripped and fell on his face and was amazed at something white sticking up out of the ground about three inches from his eyes. Upon further inquiry, Chase realized that it was what looked like a human bone. He scratched around a bit and unearthed a skull that was definitely human.
Hancock Chase forgot about the deer and used his cellphone to call the county sheriff  Hamlet Steele, who responded immediately with siren screaming even though one could scarcely regard the discovery as an emergency. The bones of whoever it was had been there a long time. Forensic science would have to discover just how long.
            The location of the grave explained why it had not been discovered until Hancock Chase had  literally stumbled and fallen upon it. The body had been buried in a patch of woods on rough terrain that was useless for farming purposes. It was an area of land that wasn’t worth anything to anybody, a. place where cattle or people would not go for any reason; not even Boone Fowler would hunt for morel mushrooms there. The wounded deer had gone there out of necessity, only to lead the hunter to another death. If Hancock Chase had not tripped and fallen on his face, the skeleton might not have been discovered.
            Now Sheriff Steele had a huge problem: Who did those bones belong to?  No DNA was available so Hamlet Steele knew that the task to identify the victim would not be easy, and so he and his deputy Bumpus Badger searched the ground carefully, using a Mintner-Giggins metal detector. They found two important items of evidence which enabled them to identify the remains and focus on a suspect. The first item was a Minneapolis-Moline bronze belt buckle, which Vern Heimach always wore. His family was well known for their loyalty to M & M.
It was no wonder that Vern’s whereabouts were unknown. Ever since that night in 1958, he had been lying in a shallow grave on Buster O’Grady’s north forty, and he could not have committed suicide because no weapon was found. Thus Vern had to have been killed elsewhere because no one would willingly have come to this place, even to commit suicide.  
            The other item located by the metal detector was a Weeder’s Clump High School class ring for 1958, and the name inscribed on the ring was Danny O’Grady, known by the nickname Buster.  In checking the records, Steele found that Buster, although two years older than his sister Dixie, had failed two grades in school, thus graduating in the same class with her.
            Danny “Buster” O’Grady had inherited the farm from his father Liam, who died in 1972. Over the years Buster had developed the reputation of being a bad hat. He was notorious for posting no trespassing signs and having people arrested who failed to obey them. It was widely known that he would shoot stray dogs and cats that wandered onto his territory. He had actually shot at Chub Baltho’s bull, but fortunately he had been too far away to injure the bull. The pattern of violence in Buster’s behavior was well known. Possum Gwathmy said that Buster was as mean as nine miles of bad road.
            Here is the scenario that Hamlet Steele and Bumpus Badger developed. Buster became enraged at Vern for taking advantage of Dixie because he knew that Vern was not the marrying kind. Thus Buster lured Vern to the O’Grady farm where he either shot him, stabbed him, or beat him to death. Buster then hid Vern’s body until the next night when Liam and his wife Wanda went to Beardstown to check about a hay bailer. While they were gone, Buster transported Vern’s body to the one place on the farm where no one would ever find it.
            In the process of digging the grave, Buster developed a blister on his ring finger and removed the ring, thinking he had put it in his pocket. Instead it fell into some leaves. The ground was so hard that Buster could dig a grave only three feet deep.
            When Buster had returned from his evil enterprise, he discovered that his ring was missing, but he didn’t return to search around the grave for it because he was confident it would be lost among the brush and leaves.
            Sheriff Hamlet Steele paid a visit to Buster O’Grady, and he had a plan to see if he could trick Buster. First he asked Buster if he had any idea of the identity of the human remains that were found on his property.
            Buster was not without imagination, and he replied, “They are probably the remains of an Indian. Lots of artifacts have been found in that area.”
            Then Steel replied, “Why, yes, they have. Can you identify this artifact?” and he held the WCHS class ring up for Buster to see.
            The significance of Steel’s question had not dawned on Buster, and he said, “It’s our high school class ring.”
            “Yes, it is, but would you look carefully and see whose name is inscribed on the ring?” Steele said. “No, on second thought I would rather you didn’t handle the ring, so I will tell you. The name on the ring is Danny O’Grady—your name”
            “Where did you find it? I lost it shortly after I bought it, and I searched everywhere for it. I think someone stole it,” Buster said.
            “You know where I found it, and I am arresting you for the murder of Vern Heimach. The jig’s up. You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say may be used against you.”
            “You can’t prove I killed Vern. You’re going to end up with egg on your face. You’ll find yourself up the creek without a paddle, you pathetic Deputy Dog,” Buster snarled
            The case against Buster O’Grady was prosecuted by a young district attorney named Laverne Clugston, who had come to Weeder’s Clump from Quincy. He was brilliant, and he had to be because Buster hired the famous defense  trial lawyer Clarence Darrow Webster, who began by using every logical fallacy in the book and then some he invented on the spot. But Laverne Clugston argued the case with a passion, identifying and refuting every logical fallacy to the jury.
            It looked as if  Clarence Darrow Webster had met his match, but then he made a brilliant move; he changed his strategy. He called three witnesses for the defense to prove that Buster had lost his class ring long before Vern Heimach disappeared. He called Dixie and her brother Ignatius, who testified that Buster had lost his ring almost immediately after he had bought it. They said that Buster couldn’t stop talking about his ring and wondering how he could have lost it.
            Next he called Vern Heimach’s brother Lester, who testified that Vern had not bought a class ring because their father had ordered them not to spend their money on such frivolous and useless things. Lester said that Vern always felt bad that he didn’t have a class ring to give to Dixie to wear because in those days a guy always gave his class ring to his steady main squeeze to wear, even though it was several sizes too big for her finger. It was a macho status symbol to have your girl walking around wearing your class ring.
            Finally, Clarence Darrow Webster offered this scenario. Vern Heimach stole Buster O’Grady’s class ring, but he couldn’t wear it or give it to Dixie to wear because she would discover its rightful owner, so Vern kept the ring and carried it in his pocket as a good luck charm. When Dixie informed her parents she was pregnant, Liam became furious when Vern told him he wasn’t going to marry her.  Liam killed him in a fit of rage and buried his body in the lonely grave, not knowing Buster’s class ring was in Vern’s pocket. Thus Vern was killed not by Buster O’Grady but rather by Buster’s father Liam.
            Well, the jury had two scenarios to consider, and the silver tongued Clarence Darrow Webster hit the key issue and hit it hard: reasonable doubt. He insisted that the jury could not convict Buster O’Grady because there was reasonable doubt, and thus they should find him not guilty.
            After the jury found Buster not guilty, and he was returned to the bosom of his family, the people of Weeder’s Clump were treated to a delicious irony. It seems when Dixie O’Grady was away for a year she had a baby boy whose eyes were as blue as Henry Fonda’s in Welcome to Hard Times. Dixie gave the baby up for adoption but named him Laverne after his father. When the rules governing adoption were relaxed and adopted children could locate their birth parents, Laverne discovered  that his mother was living in Rushville. On the birth certificate she had listed Vern Heimach as the father, and Laverne had decided to live in Weeder’s Clump to find out about his father’s people, not realizing that one day he would be called upon to prosecute the man accused of murdering his father.  
            When it dawned on Buster that Laverne Clugston was his nephew, the mean-spirited farmer underwent the most remarkable transformation ever seen in our community. He removed every no trespassing sign on his property, he began to donate generously to several charities, he stopped carrying a razor sharp Swiss Army Knife, and he would actually feed stray cats and dogs instead of shooting them. On calm summer evenings he could be heard singing the old hymns such as “Love Lifted Me,” “Be Thou My Vision,” “Blessed Assurance,” and “Farther Along.” Buster became so friendly and convivial that he was chosen “Man of the Year” by the Illinois Bean Growers Association at their annual convention in the Windy City.
            The happy moral of this tale can be expressed cogently: Sometimes you can teach the old maestro a new tune.