Monday, September 7, 2020

The Mysterious Disappearance of Vern Heimach

The Mysterious Disappearance of Vern Heimach
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 that is my favorite 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 when the mystery was solved. But I need to begin at the beginning.

It was the middle of October in 1958, Homecoming weekend at Weeders Clump 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, not 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 Native American 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, but it isn’t easy.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Complications at CVS

Complications at CVS
Loren Logsdon

Scott Free, a young college student in search of the address of Sally Forth, the beatific vision he had seen at the IGA, was on his way to campus when he saw the sign that CVS was now giving free flu shots. “I'd better get one,” he said to himself. “I can't afford to get sick when I'm so close to finding the perfect girl.”

To understand Scott Free and his quest, you must have some knowledge of romantic love, a world view which holds that there is only one person for you to love, and until you find that person you will be doomed to unhappiness and untold misery. This view goes back to the ancient Greeks, who believed that each human is incomplete and we must find the Significant Other that completes us. Thus, each human life is a search to complete itself by finding the one and only other person who will make the individual a whole person.

Scott believed he had met that person at the IGA but had been so awe-struck and speechless that he had neglected to ask her name, address, and phone number. The previous night, as if by magic, the beatific vision appeared at his door. She had announced her name, but, again, in the presence of the perfect girl, he had fainted and failed to get her address or phone number. But at least he had a name: Sally Forth was the name she gave.

He entered the CVS and asked, “Where do I get the flu shot?”

The gentleman behind the counter smiled and said, “Go back to the pharmacy, and Sandra will administer the shot.”

At the pharmacy, Scott asked, “Could I please have the free flu shot? Are you sure it's fee because I am a little short of coin of the realm, if you catch my drift.”

“Don't worry, the shot is free and relatively painless, and it is good protection against the flu,” the slender, dark-haired woman replied.

Scott had an idea. Maybe Sandra knew Sally Forth. Inspired by the possibility of gaining information, he said, “By the way, do you happen to know a young woman named Sally Forth? She stopped by my house last night selling Balm of Alacrity, a new and improved miracle product that acts fast to help solve the problem of irregularity.”

Sandra answered immediately, “Yes, I do know Sally Forth, but I hope you didn't fall for that so-called miracle product. It's nothing but a snake-oil elixir that is ineffective in helping men who are not the most regular of fellows. We have legitimate products here that you can use to solve the problems of irregularity.”

“No, you misunderstand me. I'm after the girl, not the product, I saw her at the IGA the other day, and she was such a beatific vision that I knew she was the one for me—the perfect woman to make my life complete. Then I learned last night that her name was Sally Forth. Could you tell me where she lives or, better yet, give me her phone number?”

A puzzled look appeared on Sandra's face, and she said, “Are you sure that Sally was the girl you saw at the IGA?”

It was Scott's turn to look puzzled. “Why do you ask? I would never forget a face like that, never in a million years. You have to believe me.”

Trying to calm Scott, Sandra said, “I believe you, but there is something you need to know. Sally is one of four identical quadruplet sisters. The three other sisters are named Dally, Rally, and Tally. They are the daughters of Dan Forth, a wealthy banker who lives in Rushville. Since you don't know the name of the one you saw at the IGA, how can you be sure she was Sally and not Dally, Tally, or Rally? Or does it make any difference since they are identical in their physical beauty?”

“Oh, it makes a big difference, all the difference in the world. There is only one significant other for me, and not four. Furthermore, the legend goes that I will know it when I encounter that other. Believe me, when I saw that girl at the IGA, I knew she was the one for me.”

Then a light bulb came on in the recesses of Scott's brain and he said, “But there is no problem. I will simply ask the girls which one went to the IGA to buy garbanzo beans for her father. The one who answers yes will be the girl who will complete my life and make me happy. The agonizing search will be over, and I can live happily ever after.”

Trying her best to help even though the problem was a spiritual rather than a medical one, Sandra shook her head and said, “I'm afraid you don't know much about women. What if all four claim to be the one you encountered at the IGA? What do you do then?”

Scott grimaced and answered, “Why would they do that?”

“Well, for one thing maybe they might want to test you. Then they might be motivated by competition, the idea of the mirror on the wall scenario or the story in Greek mythology where Paris is asked to choose the most beautiful of the three goddesses. Paris is rewarded by being given the most beautiful woman in the world of mortals whose name is Helen, and the result is a ten-year war and the destruction of Troy. Young man, you must realize that women are complicated beings, and there could be so many reasons that you would never be able to understand. In addition ….”

The conversation was interrupted when Than, the young worker behind the counter, called, “Hey, Sandra, there's someone on the phone who wants to know what you recommend for post-nasal drip.”

Sandra excused herself to take the call, and Scott, totally confused at the prospect of deciding which of the Forth girls was his one and only beatific vision, headed for the door to go to campus. He realized he needed help, but he did not know where to turn.

About four blocks from campus Scott saw a sign on a lawn which read


Scott Free had never given much credence to the occult, but he decided that Madame Patsy might offer some help. So, he stopped and approached the house. He hesitated when he reached the door because he felt an eldritch ambience about the place, but he had come this far so he rang the doorbell.

Several minutes passed, and the door was opened by an old woman who might be Judge Judy’s grandmother. She looked at Scott and asked in a creepy voice, “What is wanted?”

Scott stepped back and said, “I need assistance in a very important matter, and I thought you might be able to help me.”

Madame Patsy noticed his nervousness and she tried to make him feel comfortable. “Come in and tell me all about your problem.” Then she ushered Scott into a room whose weird furnishings gave him the fantods. The room was dark with very dim light that was focused on a table which contained a large statue of an owl, a crystal ball, a raven perched on a statue of Pallas, and what appeared to be a card file. A skull with glowing red eyes completed the décor. The song “One Way or Another I’m Gonna Getcha, Getcha, Getcha, Getha, Getcha” was booming from a radio.

Madame Patsy invited Scott to sit down and spill the beans.

“Please turn down the music. It’s so loud I can’t think,” Scott pleaded.

After the elderly clairvoyant had complied with his wishes, Scott quickly told Madame Patsy the entire story; then he asked the big question: “How do I know which one of the girls is the one for me?”

Madame Patsy looked at Scott and said, “I can do that, but my fee is fifty dollars.”

Scott looked at the raven and thought of Poe, shook his head, and said, “I don’t have any money. I’m a poor college student. Can’t you give me a break and forget the fee/”

Scott’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Madame Patsy said, “You college kids are all alike. You claim to have no money, but you party on the weekends and at the slightest excuse. Then you claim to have no money for the important matters in life.”

Defending himself and college students everywhere, Scott said, “Don’t you realize that we only go around once in life and we should grab for all the gusto we can?”

“Now cut that out. That beer commercial won’t work with me the way it works on gullible young people. Do you think I was born yesterday? Now cut the Madison Avenue flim-flam and be serious. I will tell you what I will do for free; I will give you some general advice which you will find useful.”

Scott didn’t think Madame Patsy was born yesterday; in fact, he would say that she was two days older than God, but he wisely kept that thought to himself. “Very well, your free advice may be useful.”

The elderly clairvoyant began, “I have gained some wisdom from experience with birds. A bird in the hand is a lot safer than a bird overhead. A bird in the bush is a lot more exciting than a bird in a cage. And, finally, never flip the bird at a hunter who is carrying a loaded shot gun.”

“I have to admit that I see the wisdom of that advice, but please tell me something I don’t already know.”

“Well, here’s one for you: Absence makes the heart look around and try to find another Main Squeeze,” the elderly lady said smugly.

“I already know that. Again, please tell me something I don’t know.

“Well, here’s one I’ll bet you don’t know: Never eat at a place called Mom’s, play cards with a man named Doc, or believe a young woman who says she will respect you in the morning,” Madame Patsy offered.

“Wrong, that is exactly the advice my Uncle Biff offered me when I left home for my freshman year in college,” Scott replied.

Madame Patsy began to look at Scott Free as if he had some degree of wisdom, so she realized she would have to come up with something more than “It is better to live with disappointment than to die of a broken heart,” so she put on her thinking cap and said, “It is better to have loved and lost than to have saved big money at Menards.”

Scott guffawed and said, “Now that is something new. Thank you. That is advice that many people need to hear.”

Believing she was on a roll, the elderly clairvoyant said, “Men come from Kappa, women from Bloomington-Normal.”

“I think you have hit the nail on the head with that one. I had never thought of men and women in that way before, so you have given me the key to all of the misunderstandings that occur between men and women. While men and women are human beings and need to show each other mutual respect, there are differences in our ways of thinking, our values, and our personalities. I am going to recommend you to my friends.”

A look of horror appeared on Madame Patsy’s visage and she begged, “Please don’t do that if they don’t have any money. I have to make a living just like everyone else. I can’t give my services away.”

“Then why the free advice for me?” Scott asked.

“Because you need all the assistance you can get. I have never had to help someone who had to choose which one of identical quadruplet sisters was his Main Squeeze. In fact, I’m glad you don’t have the money to pay me. I’m not sure it can be done/”

Scott thanked Madame Patsy and left. He wondered where he could go for help. Then a light bulb came on in his brain and he became inspired. “I’ll go see Father Anthony at the Newman Center. Why didn’t I think of him before?”

Saturday, August 29, 2020

What Is This Thing Called, Love?

What Is This Thing Called, Love?
Loren Logsdon

The hour was late on a beautiful night in early May, and the town of Weeder’s Clump lay dreaming beneath a romantic lover’s moon. Only a few people were awake. Over at Doc’s Billiard Parlor and Card Emporium, the card game was just breaking up. As usual, Boone Fowler had been the big loser and Mal Cutter the big winner. At Mom’s Family Restaurant, Molly Turgent, the Goddess of the Electric Griddle, was turning off the lights to go home. In his office at Heliotrope University, Dr. James Canada of the Health Science Department had just finished grading a set of quizzes and was beginning to start his advice column for Oops! The Journal of Medical Malpractice.

Dr. Canada was singing “Whoever Turned You On, Gal, Forgot to Turn You Off,” when the telephone rang. The caller was Dr. Wanton Slaughter, and he was obviously quite agitated.

“Jim, I have an emergency on my hands, and I need your help right away. This is a matter of life and death. Can you come to my office immediately? I don’t even have the time to give you details over the phone. If you can’t come, I’m afraid I will lose this patient to that cruel, relentless old foe of ours, the Grim Reaper,” Dr. Slaughter said
Jim Canada knew that Wanton Slaughter never exaggerated. If he said it was a matter of life and death, then that was exactly what it was. Dr. Slaughter’s reputation for precision was widely known throughout a three-state area. “I’ll be right there,” Jim Canada said, and he hung up the phone and raced out to his car.

Jim Canada had no idea what to expect. There were no particular health problems in Weeder’s Clump lately, just the usual complaints about stubborn nail fungus and post-nasal drip. Indeed, the people were so healthy that work had become somewhat boring for the Weeder’s Clump’s health care professionals.

Minutes later, when Jim arrived at Dr. Slaughter’s office, he realized that the crusading physician had been telling the truth, judging from the crowd of people gathered outside the office at this hour of the night. Although the moonlight was ambient, Jim could recognize most of the people in the crowd. Mayor Oinky Poindexter and Chief of Police Willis Badger were there, along with Twinky Bumpass, Bryce Nimbus, Mooker G. Tondouri, August Provender, Darlene Maxwell, Bulgy Hypotenuse, Professor Lancaster Markem, and his handsome dog Bosco.

Jim Canada rushed into the office, looked around quickly, and saw the problem. Dr. Slaughter and his nurse Mercy Gentles were hovering over the sickest human being Jim had seen in a long time.

Dr. Slaughter breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Dr. Canada, this is Troy Hart, the son of Mrs. and Mrs. Arthur Hart. He is a senior at Weeder’s Clump High School, and he plans to attend San Andreas Fault State University in the fall.”

Mercy Gentles, Dr. Slaughter’s capable nurse, added, “He first came to our office in April complaining of mysterious ailments and strange symptoms.”

Dr. Slaughter said, “I checked him for post-nasal drip, but that was not the problem. Then I thought he might be suffering from the Fort Lauderdale Syndrome, but Mercy informed me that he was not a college student yet and that he would have to wait until next year to suffer from that health problem.”

“Mercy is right,” Dr. Canada replied. “The Fort Lauderdale Syndrome affects only college students and a few professors. Along about the end of February, when people have had their fill of winter and Mother Nature is beginning to hint at the arrival of spring, college people get crispy with each other, want to skip all of their classes, and kiss off their assignments and committee meetings. Then they have this irresistible desire to engage in wild Dionysian partying, followed by an intense urge to frolic in the sun and kick sand in someone’s face. Troy will have those symptoms next year.”

“I have never heard such an excellent explanation of the meaning of spring break,” Wanton Slaughter responded; then a solemn look flashed across his visage and he asked, “Do you think I should have checked the lad for existential angst and fin de siècle hysteria?”

Jim guffawed and said, “No, those are diseases only found in the community of higher educated people; they are diseases of the Postmodern intellectual elite.”

This discussion, interesting though it was, was interrupted by a groan from Troy Hart, who lay sprawled on the examining table, his eyes staring vacantly at the ceiling, his arms dangling uselessly at his side, and his breath coming in labored gasps.

Jim Canada leaned over and spoke to the lad, “Troy, can you describe all of your symptoms? Be sure to leave nothing out because even the smallest detail might be of great significance.” Jim was worried because it was obvious that Troy was suffering from something life-threatening.

With an almost superhuman effort, Troy Hart pulled himself together. He shook the cobwebs from his brain and began to speak. “I distinctly remember that it all started in early April. I was walking down the hall at school, humming ‘Another One Bites the Dust,’ when suddenly I felt as though I had been seized by some powerful force. I had the feeling that someone or something was tormenting me and that I was at the mercy of some relentless, unseen stalker.

“But then I had a mystical experience that was exhilarating; I felt like a hero marching off to war in some distant land. My heart surged with a powerful emotion, and I felt capable of great feats of strength, such as defeating The World’s Strongest Drug-free Man in an arm-wrestling match. That feeling passed, and the rest of the day my mood fluctuated between extreme pleasure and unbearable pain.

“That night my parents told me that I had grown very pale. I looked in the mirror and was shocked to see myself. I began to tremble violently. When Dad asked me what grade I got on my geometry exam, I fainted and fell on top of Minky, our family cat. I was not injured in the fall except for the claw marks on my face, neck, and ears. The rest of the evening was a blur, but I do recall experiencing a series of sharp pains in my chest.

“The next day a new mood came over me. Fear began to gnaw at me like some hideous reptile. Gripped in the saurian teeth of fear, I lost my appetite, and I could not concentrate. I also felt light-headed. Furthermore, I was given to fits of weeping, sighing, groaning, and yelling. Without thinking, I hyperphenated in Mrs. Penn’s English class. She kicked me out of class, claiming that I made more noises than a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western. That night I couldn’t sleep. There were more sharp pain in my chest.

“Yesterday there were new developments. I thought I was losing my mind. I seemed to be living on the cusp of madness. Oh, Dr. Canada, I am so miserable that I am ready to call Dr. Terminus, the assisted suicide doctor. I can’t go on like this, and I need his assistance to put an end to my suffering. It is clear to me that medical science, even with all its advances and wonders, can do nothing to help me. I am doomed to perish before I can sail the seven seas, travel to the four corners of the earth, and do battle with formidable adversaries.”

When Troy said that, Dr. Slaughter reached for the phone to call Dr. Terminus.
“Hold that call, Wanton!” Jim 0exclaimed “I know what ails this lad. He is in love. Cupid has been firing his little darts at him.”

“What a brilliant diagnosis,” Mercy Gentles said as she breathed a sigh of relief.

Then Jim patted Troy on the arm and told him to go straight home, eat a dish of ice cream, and take a cold shower—as cold as he could stand it. “Then tomorrow you must find the formidable adversary and engage her in pleasant conversation. Finding her should not be difficult. Just follow the vibes, hints, and signs,” Jim explained.

Troy climbed off the examining table, thanked Dr. Canada, and prepared to leave the office to go home and follow the instructions he had been given. But at first Troy, weakened by the crisis he had just endured, staggered and started to fall, but Jim Canada caught him and supported him until he was able to stand on his own.

The crowd outside cheered when they saw Troy, Mercy Gentles, Dr. Wanton Slaughter, and Dr Jim Canada emerge from the office. Professor Markem’s dog Bosco even ran up and licked Jim’s hand. Dr. Canada had saved Troy’s life. Now the town of Weeder’s Clump could go back to sleep.

Well, everyone went back to sleep except for two people. One was a young woman named Floral Gardens, the daughter of Marvin Gardens, who lived at 1014 Park Place. Floral was too excited to sleep. She had a strong feeling that tomorrow was going to turn up rainbows and seashells for her. For several months she had been directing vibes, hints, signs, and body language at Troy Hart, but to no avail. Then, in early April, she began to use a magic ritual she had been given by a witch who lived in Rushville. Floral had an intuition that tomorrow would be the happiest day in her young life.

The other person still awake was Mercy Gentles, who could not sleep because she had just been inspired by an idea. For months she had been trying to get Wanton Slaughter’s attention, to let him know that she would welcome a romantic relationship, but he had been impervious to her best efforts. Now, inspired by what she had learned an hour ago, Mercy began to stick pins in a little wooden doll that resembled Wanton Slaughter.

Over in his bachelor apartment above Provender’s Market, Dr. Wanton Slaughter awakened from a deep sleep and clutched his side. He had experienced a sharp, needle-like pain just below his rib cage, but he thought it was only a case of indigestion from the delicious cheese pudding he had devoured at Mom’s Family Restaurant.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Don’t Be Taken in by Logical Fallacies in the Coming Election: A Modest Attempt to Empower All the Voters of America

Don’t Be Taken in by Logical Fallacies in the Coming Election:
A Modest Attempt to Empower All the Voters of America
Loren Logsdon

In this election year of 2020, we will be subject to many political speeches in which candidates of both parties, desperate for our support at the ballot box or via the mail-in ballot, will use their eloquence and persuasive skills to win our support. Unfortunately, both presidential candidates will perhaps resort to logical fallacies to woo us to their side. Logical fallacies are serious errors in thinking because they cause us to avoid clear and logical thinking; indeed they are obstacles to such thinking. To prepare the voting public not to be taken in by logical fallacies, my friend Professor Lancaster Markem has prepared an exercise that you may use to empower you to evaluate the speeches you will hear in the next two months.

It is imperative that we voters should use our intelligence and not be persuaded by balderdash, hocus-pocus, flim-flam, voodoo economics, and flapdoodle but by reason and logical argument. Therefore, Professor Markem has given me permission to offer the following exercise as a way of
preparing voters to be wary of logical fallacies and not be tricked by them.

This exercise is not intended to influence you to vote for either party’s candidate but rather to urge you to use your intelligence and make up your own mind. Remember that the best decision is made on the basis of sound reasons.

Joris Prudence's closing argument to the jury in the case of Illinois versus Charles “Chub” Belcher is full of logical fallacies. Each fallacy is enclosed in brackets with a number at the end of the fallacy. Correct answers are listed at the end of the exercise.

Members of the jury, [I know that you are intelligent people who will not fall for the clever tricks of my learned colleague, Mr. Lawless, the district attorney, has used in this trial ].1 [He has not spoken one word of truth in the entire proceedings].2 [He has stumbled around like some blind Samson in the temple, trying to find the right pillar to bring destruction down upon my client].3 [From the outset he has been determined to crucify Mr. Belcher, leaving him broken and bleeding in misery].4

Mr. Charles Belcher sits here before you, a man whose hair has turned gray with honor in service to his country, his community, and his church]. 5 Yet this honorable man, this loving husband, has been dragged into this court and charged with murder]. 6 Unfortunate circumstances have conspired to bring him here].7 [This could happen to anyone].8 [As Orville Korkoff once said, “There but for the grace of God go I”].9

Mr. Belcher has consistently told authorities that his wife was shot by a one-armed, red-bearded intruder who was probably high on PCP or meth. Neighbors reported seeing strangers in the area and a suspicious car parked in front of the Belcher home on the day of the murder. [The authorities have not proved Mr. Belcher wrong; therefore we should believe his account of the crime].10 [This trial is a waste of time, and the real killer is roaming the streets looking for victims to kill. Our community is not safe as long as this killer is in our midst]. 11

[Mr. Lawless has claimed that Mr. Belcher shot his wife six times and that his fingerprints are on the gun. Of course, Mr. Belcher's prints are on the gun. It's his gun; therefore his prints would be on the gun].12 [That's just common sense, but it doesn't mean that he killed his wife].13 [The famous critic and film maker Michael Moore says that citizens in a democracy should have a healthy skepticism. We need to exercise that skepticism in this situation].14

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Belcher did not murder his wife. On the contrary, he loved her so much that he had just taken out a substantial life insurance policy on her. [That act of love shows us how much he valued his wife. Are we to believe that he would kill her if she meant that much to him ]?15 [Common sense should enable us to resolve this matter. We don't have to be a rocket scientist to do so].16

The honorable Mr. Lawless has produced one eyewitness for the prosecution, a neighbor named Ms. Win Peeper, who places Mr. Belcher at the scene of the crime when Mrs. Belcher was killed. That would indeed be convincing proof if we could believe her. [But Ms. Peeper has been divorced four times. Is her word any good? Can we believe a woman who has been divorced four times? I think not].17 [Your choice is clear: either you believe Ms. Peeper, who has been proven unable to keep her word, or Mr. Belcher, who has kept his word and remained faithful to one wife]. 18

Furthermore, [everyone in the neighborhood knows that for years Ms. Peeper has had the hots for Mr. Belcher, but he has rejected her lascivious advances, a convincing reason to dismiss Ms. Peeper as a spurned woman who is not on friendly terms with the truth].19

It pains me to say this, but my learned colleague, Mr. Lawless, has little credibility either. [He was not born and raised in this community. Instead, he grew up in California and was once connected with the Heavens Gate people and God knows what other cuckoos].20 [He is as out of place here as Miley Cyrus at a convention of nuns]. 21

Is Mr. Lawless qualified to prosecute Mr. Belcher? [I checked on Mr. Lawless’ academic record and discovered that he graduated in the bottom 25 percent of his class. That’s right, the bottom 25 percent]. 22 [Would you want a surgeon in the bottom 25 percent of his class to do heart surgery on you]? 23 That’s like asking the wolfman to operate on a full moon].24

Furthermore, [Mr. Lawless is dangerous] 25 [He is ruthless in his ambition and will do anything to advance his political career]. 26 He wants to be governor of Illinois. [He has been as heartless as Simon Legree and as irresponsible as the Clown Prince of the Prepubescent Libido in his determination to convict Mr. Belcher].27 [And to think this trial has taken place during the Easter season]. 28

[In the words of that great American philosopher Clint Eastwood, “We all owe God one death”].29 That is a succinct way of saying that we are mortal and will one day die. {In the words of Aphra Behn, “Here today, gone tomorrow”]. 30 Mrs. Belcher is dead. That is a sad truth of life. [There is nothing we can do to bring her back. Therefore let us concern ourselves with the living.].31 [Millions of children in our world are starving. We see their sad faces on TV every day, and our hearts are moved to compassion by their suffering. We ask ourselves what we can do to help].32 [Our time would be much better spent trying to relieve suffering and starvation in our world]. 33

Finally, I ask you to give careful consideration to this matter. A man’s life is at stake here. [I ask you to ignore all of the emotional arguments of my opponent and use common sense in reaching a verdict. If you apply reason and logic to this case, you will find my client innocent].34 Thank you for your attention, [and may God and a sense of justice guide you in your deliberations]. 35

Joris Prudence used 35 logical fallacies in his closing argument. Here are those fallacies:
  1. Argument ad populum (appeal to the people).
  2. Hasty generalization.
  3. Faulty analogy.
  4. Appeal to pity
  5. Appeal to pity.
  6. Appeal to pity.
  7. Hasty generalization.
  8. Hasty generalization
  9. Appeal to authority
  10. Appeal to ignorance (ignoring the burden of proof).
  11. Appeal to force (threat or fear)
  12. Circular reasoning.
  13. Appeal to people (common sense)
  14. Appeal to authority.
  15. Red herring
  16. Appeal to people.
  17. Argument ad hominem (name calling/attacking the person).
  18. Either/Or Fallacy.
  19. Argument ad hominem.
  20. Genetic Fallacy (condemning something because of its origin).
  21. Faulty analogy
  22. Argument ad hominem.
  23. Faulty analogy
  24. Non sequitur.
  25. Appeal to force.
  26. Hasty generalization.
  27. Faulty analogy.
  28. Non sequitur.
  29. Appeal to authority.
  30. Appeal to authority.
  31. Red herring.
  32. Appeal to pity.
  33. Red herring.
  34. Appeal to people.
  35. Appeal to authority.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Save Illinois!

Save Illinois!
Loren Logsdon

Lancaster Markem had just finished making out the brutal exam for his American Literature class, and he was looking for some way to put a top on the evening. He considered listening to his Woody Gutherie tape or maybe a medley of Harry Belafonte's songs, but instead he decided to go to the Tally Ho for a cup of coffee and chat with Paige Turner, an English major who was working her way through college by serving as the late night waitress at the famous eatery. Paige knew all of the gossip and political intrigue in the English Department, and she had saved Markem's life on several occasions by alerting him to dangerous situations in the department's turf and ego wars.

When Markem entered the Tally Ho, he was surprised to see a group of citizens engaged in animated discussion. The center of the group was Boone Fowler, who seemed to be the loudest of the highly agitated group, which featured Phil McKavity, the Singing Dentist; Dr. Wanton Slaughter, Crusader against Post-Nasal Drip: Tug Armstrong, the expert mechanic at Poindexter's Garage known as “Bad News”; Granville “Possum” Gwathmy, retiired farmer and storyteller; Grant Clements, Editor of Oops! The Journal of Medical Malpractice; Molly Turgent, Goddess of the Electric Griddle at Mom's Family Restaurant; Dr. James Canada, Chair of the Health Science Department at Heliotrope University; Sylvia Penn, AP English Teacher at Weeder's Clump High School; and August Provender, Manager of the local IGA. Markem wondered what had brought this impressive group of worthies together, and he didn't have long to wait for an answer.

Boone Fowler struck the table a mighty blow and exclaimed, “I don't understand why the voters of Illinois do not march to Springfield, invite our legislators outside, and then gently escort them to the state line and thank them for the deplorable financial condition of our state and tell them not to come back, NOT EVER!”

Sylvia Penn was aghast, “That’s not fair! There are some legislators who want to do the right thing and act for the common good. They are unselfish legislators who do not deserve to be included in a ‘throw the bums out’ approach.”

Boone was quick to respond, “As a former patriot once said, ‘These are the times that try men’s
souls.’ I would add ‘women and children’ to that remark because their souls are being tried as well. I appreciate your concern for fairness, but everyone has to go. We need a tabula rasa, a blank slate, as John Locke would put it. Have you seen any legislator suggesting a solution to the crisis in Illinois? No, I am not aware of a single voice crying out for change; it appears that everyone thinks we can keep doing the same things. We are at the mercy of a tyranny unwilling to take action to change the disastrous course our state government has taken. and Thomas Jefferson would no doubt say that we need a revolution. Check The Declaration of Independence if you don’t believe me.”

August Provender asked, “Would you do away with our democratic system? If so, what would you put in its place?”

“Good heavens, no. The fault is not in our democratic system; in fact, neither major political party can be portrayed as virtuous or evil because they share the blame for giving Illinois such a bad name. I would endorse democracy and the multi-party system and our state constitution. Indeed, I think a strong third party would make our democracy even better by giving voters more than an either-or choice. The more real choices we have, the better our democratic system.”

Dr. James Canada asked, “What would you do to address the failure of the democratic system in Illinois—and we must admit that it has failed us. Just look at all the people who are leaving our state. For Rousseau, who had some good ideas about government, that would be evidence enough that our state was not healthy.”

“Yes, Boone, how do you propose to advocate a democracy and, at the same time, restore health to Illinois?” Molly Turgent asked pointedly.

“Thank you for asking, Molly! That question indicates you are showing some real signs of leadership. I would begin by changing some features of our Illinois Constitution, especially addressing the issue of power and thus limiting its abuses. Please listen carefully and interrupt me if you have questions.

“First, I would establish term limits for our legislators; they could be elected for two terms. That would limit the opportunities for greedy people to take advantage of their position. It would prevent legislators from becoming so entrenched that only their death would end their tyranny. I realize that some voters believe that lengthy experience will make legislators more capable, but the opposite is true in Illinois today. We have legislators who refuse to change to meet the problems of a changing world. Term limits give us the advantage of fresh eyes and the ability to meet new challenges.

Second, we need to limit the power of present legislators who have arranged to have automatic pay raises every year. That would never happen in a business like Caterpillar where individual performance counts. I would establish certain conditions for the annual pay raise. In short, I would establish a merit system for all legislators.”

Grant Clements shook his head in protest. “A merit system? My God man, that’s insanity to even think of a merit system for elected politicians. Do you realize we would have a plethora of stupid, silly, and useless new laws every year. It would be like having a perpetual full moon for the wolf man and the vampire.”

“Grant Clements, you are guilty of a hasty generalization and a false analogy in the same breath,” Boone laughed. “In my system, the passing of new laws would have nothing to do with the merit system.”

“Then why don’t you explain your merit system?” Sylvia Penn asked.

Yes, let’s have it, you postmodern Machiavelli,” Lancaster Markem urged.

It was the moment Boone Fowler was waiting for, a moment he had dreamed of for years. He savored it for a few seconds before speaking. “My merit system is based on three levels: Basic Merit
Modal Merit, and Extra Merit.

Here’s how that works. If the legislators agree on a balanced budget and forward it to the governor, then every legislator would qualify for Basic Merit, regardless of the governor’s action. No balanced budget, no merit at all and no pay increase. Thus, we establish the basic importance of the balanced budget.”

Tug Armstrong could not keep from guffawing; then he said, “That would get the attention of our legislators. I like what you are proposing.”

Boone was always pleased when Tug agreed with him, and he continued, “Second is Modal merit, which is based exclusively on attendance at legislative sessions. Perfect or near-perfect attendance qualifies one for Modal Merit. Excused absences for illness or emergencies will be accepted. Frequent and numerous absences will disqualify the legislator from receiving Modal Merit.

“The highest merit is what I call Extra Merit. To earn Extra Merit the legislator must be known for working with the crucial problems facing our state today, among which are the financial debt, the opioid crisis, education, the natural environment, homelessness, the abuses of power, the treatment of children, the elderly, and military veterans. Again, though, I emphasize that sponsoring new laws does not quality one for Extra Merit. One’s time and leadership in addressing one of the above problems in the legislature and in the public arena will qualify one for Extra Merit.

“Thus, to summarize, the annual pay increase for our legislators will come about if there is a balanced budget, nearly-perfect attendance, and leadership in working for a major cause or problem. The reward for Extra Merit will be so lucrative that our legislators will be eager to devote their time to give the citizens of Illinois the very best government possible. They will take pride in being public servants and, in turn, be rewarded for their efforts in earned pay increases and the acclaim of the ordinary citizen.”

“Impetuous! Homeric!” exclaimed Possum Gwathmy, as he rose to his feet and saluted Boone.
Then the Possum spoke his mind. “I think what Boone proposes will work because it addresses a central problem that has surfaced in our country: the abuses of power. This was the very problem the American revolutionaries faced in 1776. They had witnessed the severe, extensive abuses of power by the tyrant King George III. They had seen what those abuses had done to them, and they wanted to set up checks and balances to limit the possible tyranny of power.

“Over the years since the American Revolution, we have forgotten how power can be abused. All of the instances in the news today are about how power has been abused by people who have power and insist on using it for their own selfish ends. The response seems to be to empower people who are marginalized or have no power, but what good does that do if people have forgotten what Lord Acton said years ago, ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’. What good does it do to empower people if they don’t understand the very nature of power and its temptations and dangers? That merely perpetuates the problem we seek to solve. The best answer seems to be to limit power and prevent abuses. Another way to put it—and this is a delicious irony—is that our most important task today is to de-empower the people who are abusing it and hope the people who are being empowered will not abuse their newly acquired power. I must admit, however, a note of pessimism because I do not see any contemporary discussion of the responsibilities of power.”

Tug Armstrong, who had been closely attentive throughout the discussion, removed his DeKalb seed cap, and said, “I have to admit that I like Boone’s solution because we do not have to have a bloody revolution to solve our problems in Illinois. Through a few revisions in our Constitution we can make democracy work in Illinois. We can reverse the shameful image of Illinois and enable our elected legislators to have pride in serving our state. But we have to save them from themselves by reminding them of Plato’s idea that the best government is one in which the guardians have the common good, rather than themselves or their political party, as their highest priority.”

Sylvia Penn rose to her feet and expressed the sentiments of everyone in the room when she said, “Let us work for the day when people will want to come to Illinois, not leave it; when our state is “the city on the hill” and we will not have to hang our heads in shame at the history of political corruption that has prevailed for so long and prevented the benefits of democracy from, being enjoyed by all of the people.”

“Yes, in addition to that, we can be an example for the entire world,” opined Phil McKavity, who always had to have the last word.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Unreturned Jacket

The Unreturned Jacket
by Loren Logsdon

Late Night Encounter on Route 24

Shortly before midnight on October 31, 2010, Mick Sigafoos was driving back to Heliotrope University on U.S. 24. Since he was feeling especially good, he was singing “It Ain't No Sin if You Take Off Your Skin and Dance Around in Your Bones” as he drove along on the empty highway. About five miles east of Rushville, his headlights illuminated a person standing at the edge of the road frantically waving for him to stop.

Due to the lateness of the hour and the empty highway, Mick concluded that the person was probably in some distress, so he stopped his car, lowered the window, and asked, “Do you need help?”

The person was a frightened young woman who was shivering violently in the chilly night air. Mick was immediately struck with how beautiful she was even in an obviously stressful situation. Mick often dreamed of rescuing a damsel in distress. Now he had the chance.

The damsel told him her name was Cordelia Carpenter, that she had swerved her car to avoid a deer, lost control of the car, which left the highway and plunged into a ravine. “I've been waiting for hours for someone to come along. Could you please take me home?” Cordelia asked.

Mick only halfway listened to Cordelia's story. He was so impressed with her beauty that he failed to notice that she was wearing a thin sweater and in obvious discomfort. Indeed, she was so cold that she could speak only with great difficulty.

Finally, Mick noticed her shivering and said, “You must think me a total dullard and an insensitive clod to allow you to stand here freezing when my warm car awaits us.” Then in a gallant and benevolent manner, Mick took off his jacket, handed it to Cordelia, and raced around to the driver's side humming “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

As they sped along the deserted highway, Mick tried to engage Cordelia in conversation, but she seemed content to huddle in his jacket in silence. Mick thought to himself, “This chick reminds me of Twiggy, the British model who inspired an epidemic of anorexia in America several years ago.”

In truth, Cordelia's silence puzzled Mick because he regarded himself as a person of considerable wit and charm and certainly a favorite of the women of the Delta Zeta sorority. But as time passed like a clever thief that takes from us our most important possession, Mick began to lose faith in himself. The only words Cordelia had spoken were to ask Mick to turn up the heat. “I'm cold, so cold,” she whispered.

When they arrived at the address Cordelia had given him, Mick was all set with that old strategy of “Will I ever see you again?” Before he could get the first word out, Cordelia had opened the car door, thanked him hurriedly, and raced up the sidewalk like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight. Sensing that he had missed the chance of a lifetime, Mick drove to his dormitory singing “Someday I’ll Find You.”

That night Mick had several vivid dreams about Cordelia. In each dream, she would beckon to him enchantingly, but when he was about to embrace her, she would slip away as if she was teasing him or playing some game he didn’t understand. In one particular haunting dream they were on a beach on a moonlit night, and Cordelia was walking several paces ahead of him. He ran to catch her, but the faster he ran the farther she receded in the distance. Finally, she disappeared into a mist and he lost her. It seemed to Mick that she wanted him to catch her, but he just couldn’t do it. He wasn’t fast enough.

Toward morning Mick dreamed that Cordelia was standing at the foot of his bed, unclothed except for his jacket, which was draped around her shoulders. She was smiling and importuning wordlessly, with suggestive body language, to be invited into his bed. When Mick threw back the covers to welcome her, he awoke to find no one there. Nothing but moonlight and shadows and a chilly autumn wind that rattled the windows of his room.

When Mick’s alarm awakened him for breakfast, he was suddenly overcome with an unaccustomed feeling of deep sadness which he could not understand until he recalled the events and his dreams of the previous evening. Then he realized that that he had missed a golden opportunity to connect with this frail beauty who seemed to have materialized out of the night air.

To restore his old confidence, Mick sang “Macho Man” at the top of his voice as he went down to breakfast. As he was standing in line at the cafeteria, he suddenly remembered that Cordelia had neglected to give back his jacket when she left the car last night. Thus, he had the perfect excuse to call on her. Mick decided to kiss off breakfast and visit Cordelia.

Singing “One Way or Another I’m Gonna Getcha, Getcha, Getcha, Getcha” Mick drove to Cordelia’s house. He rang the bell, eagerly expecting to be greeted by the girl of his dreams. But it wasn’t Cordelia who answered; it was a gray-haired elderly woman who looked at Mick and said, “What is wanted?”

Mick replied, “I have come to call on Cordelia. She forgot to give back my jacket last night.”

A shocked look appeared on the woman’s face, and she said, “You must be mistaken. My daughter Cordelia died several years ago.”

The preferences of the heart cannot be denied

When Mrs. Carpenter informed Mick that her daughter Cordelia had died in an automobile accident several years ago, Mick didn’t believe her, so she went into the house and returned with a framed photograph of Cordelia and a faded newspaper clipping and handed the items to him. Mick looked carefully at the photograph and swore it was the same girl he had picked up the previous night. The newspaper clipping, dated 20 years ago, reported that Cordelia Carpenter had died in an accident near Rushville. She had been returning home from visiting a friend at the University of Illinois when her car left the road and crashed into a tree at the bottom of a ravine. The article said she had probably died instantly.

For one of the few times in his life, Mick was speechless. He thought he might be in an episode of The Twilight Zone.”

Suddenly a light came on in the recesses of Mick’s brain, and he thought of something to prove he wasn’t crazy.” What about my jacket? It is special to me because it was a gift from the women of Delta Zeta. Cordelia was wearing it last night when she got out of my car. She didn’t give it back. Now where is it?” he asked Mrs. Carpenter.

Tears came to Mrs. Carpenter’s eyes, and she said to Mick, “You college kids love your pranks, don’t you? Well, I don’t think it’s funny. Cordelia was my only child, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Please leave this instant and don’t come back. I never want to see you again.”

“But the jacket? Where is the jacket?” Mick muttered to himself as he returned to his car. He started back to campus when he had an idea. If Cordelia had been born and raised here, she would be buried in the local cemetery. Thinking to solve part of the mystery, Mick drove to the Bide A Wee Memory Gardens and parked at the north entrance. The sign announced that the cemetery was closed from sunset to sunrise.

Before Mick could even enter the Bide A Wee to begin his search for Cordelia’s grave, he was approached by a little girl who was crying. “My dog is lost. Please, Mister, would you help me find him? He’s such a little dog, and he needs protection from the lions and tigers and bears.”

“I don’t have time to look for a dog. Why don’t you go home, Dorothy. He will probably find his way back. He might even be there now, waiting for you,” Mick answered, impatient to begin searching for Cordelia’s grave.

Mick soon discovered that he was in the older part of the Bide A Wee. He had just started for the newer part when he heard singing coming from behind a large tombstone.

Rich girls drive a Chevy
Poor girls drive a Ford.
My girl rides a donkey
And hits it with a board.

Then an aristocratic, white-haired, distinguished elderly gentleman stepped out from behind the tombstone. The impressive gentleman bore an uncanny resemblance to Bill Clinton, and he introduced himself with a sweeping gesture of largesse.” My name is Farnsworth DuPont, III, and I wonder if you can help me. I can’t think of a wedding present for my granddaughter, who in a fortnight is engaged to marry a wealthy Brazilian coffee planter named Juan Valdez. For the life of me I can’t think of an appropriate gift. My mind is a total blank.”

Upset at encountering another delay and not caring in the least about the grandfather’s problem, Mick said, “Why not get your granddaughter a little donkey?”

“That’s a perfect suggestion. Why didn’t I think of that? You know, these young people today deserve all of the assistance we can render them when they decide to embark upon a life of connubial bliss.” Then the dignified old fellow strolled off whistling the climax to “The Grand March to Aida.”

When Mick reached the newer part of the cemetery, he saw a woman in mourning clothes kneeling beside a fresh grave. She was totally out of control, sobbing and moaning and pointing at the grave in such a dramatic fashion that Mick thought she might die of grief right there on the spot. He went over to try to calm her. She looked up at Mick, stopped crying, pointed at the grave, and said, “My husband didn’t save any money at Menards.” Then she flung herself on the grave and pounded the dirt with her fists.

Mick knelt beside the frantic woman and tried to comfort her. “There are other fish in the sea,” he said. “Perhaps you can find another to replace your loved one.”

“Thank you, kind sir, but Herschel wasn’t a fish,” she replied. Then she resumed beating on the dirt and sobbing.

Mick was truly moved by the woman’s frantic behavior and wanted to help her, but he could not think of anything else to say to her, and so he patted her gently on the back and said, “There, there. There, there.” Then he shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and decided to move on.

He hadn’t gone far until he spotted a note that had been wedged in a crack at the base of a tombstone. Mick unfolded the note and read it:

Dear Dick
I will meet you here when the grass is green.
Meanwhile eat your heart out.

Frustrated beyond measure, Mick shouted, “What is this, open house for dysfunctional people?”

Then, looking off in the distance, Mick caught a glimpse of a familiar object. It was his jacket, which had been neatly draped around a tombstone. He raced over and removed the jacket. Then he read the inscription on the tombstone:

Born: April 26, 1970
Died: October 31, 1990

Contessa Navigato
Implora Eterne Quiet

Mick fainted and fell across Cordelia’s grave. Two hours later, when the moon was rising over the Bide A Wee, he awakened. He was clutching his jacket and shivering in the early evening gloom, and a little dog was sitting by his side and staring intently at him.

Now here is the strange part: When Mick came back to campus, no one recognized him because he had aged 20 years, his hair had turned completely white, and he could not stop singing “Save big money at Menards.”

Friday, August 21, 2020

A Fast Trip to the IGA But it’s Better to Take a Shopping List with You

A Fast Trip to the IGA
But it’s Better to Take a Shopping List with You
Loren Logsdon

Although Professor Lancaster Markem had a huge stack of papers to grade, his wife sent him to the IGA store to buy some shredded cheddar cheese. She wanted to make a cheese pudding for the church social.

Professor Markem was worried. His students at Heliotrope University had threatened to keel-haul him in the Little Sleazy River if he didn't return their papers. Markem could easily withstand the glares and the snide remarks from his twenty-year-old students, but when the non-traditional students started getting crispy with him, he decided it was high time to get to work.

When Markem arrived at the IGA, he had forgotten what he was supposed to purchase. Since he refused to have a cellphone, he could not give his wife a quick call, and he didn't want to bother the people in the store's office to ask to use their phone. He decided to wander around the store and he might remember if he saw the item. Markem's experience as a literature teacher had taught him that life sometimes offers clues to the solution to our problems if one is observant enough to see them. He had been conditioned to think that way by his students, who kept asking him to explain the hidden meaning in a story. Despite his best intentions, Markem was forced to be a Deconstructionist by the constant importuning of his students. In fact, one day in a much-heated faculty meeting, Makem tried to introduce a little levity by declaring in his best Marlon Brando voice, “I coulda been a Deconstructionist.”

Professor Orville Korkoff, who was proud to be a Deconstructionist and never let anyone forget it, flipped Markem the bird when the dean wasn't looking. Korkoff had once given a dean's lecture which consisted of an hour explaining the difference between the presence of absence and the absence of presence, giving everyone in the audience a severe case of existential angst that kept the college chaplain busy for six months.

Usually Markem enjoyed shopping because he encountered so many products that were advertised as new and improved, a mysterious accomplishment of modern technology which even the experts could not explain. He also enjoyed watching the fruit flies fight over the bananas, believing that if Henry David Thoreau and E. O. Wilson could find significance in observing ants, then, surely, he could find meaning in watching fruit flies.

Markem was also fascinated by the mystery of whom he might encounter at the IGA. Thus far no one had reported seeing Elvis, but one could always hope. Markem wanted to ask Elvis how he managed to maintain that sullen, underprivileged look when he was incredibly wealthy and everyone in the world called him The King.

One day at the store Markem rounded an aisle and almost collided with one of his students who had not attended class for three weeks. The student informed Markem that he had been captured by pirates and held in chains so that he could not attend class, but he assured Markem that he didn't plan to miss any class from here on. “Watch my dust,” the lad exclaimed. Despite the lad’s declaration that he would miss no more class, he disappeared completely until the final exam, when he spent the full two hours cheerfully writing in an examination blue book about how Markem was an outstanding teacher with a big heart, about how Markem’s class was his favorite one of the semester, and about how he was looking forward to taking Markem’s class next semester.

And Markem enjoyed looking at the headlines in the scandal magazines near the checkout counter. Markem's all-time favorite was a full-page photo of a geezer sitting in a dinghy wearing a captain's cap and a pipe in his mouth. The caption read: “Captain of Titanic Found! Pipe Still Lighted.”

Markem also liked to flirt with one of the women in the store who reminded him of Helen of Troy, or at least Poe's poem about Helen's beauty.

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently o’er a perfumed sea
The weary, way-worn wanders bore
To their own native shore.

Markem wracked his brain but he just could not remember what his wife wanted him to purchase. He decided that he would ask August Provender, the IGA's manager, for help. August was a master at using the Socratic Method in getting customers to remember what they had come to purchase. That hope was quickly dashed when the carryout boy, a college student named Gort Rumson, told him that August had taken his grandson skiing and would be gone for the day.

“I'll just have to make an intelligent guess,” Markem muttered to himself. “But I will select two items—one is bound to be right.” He picked up a gallon of bleach and, singing “Come on to My House,” he raced to the magazine rack where he chose the latest issue of The Nubile Maiden Magazine, whose cover featured a young woman wearing a see-through dress with no undergarments. Markem was pleasantly surprised because the young woman looked familiar.

Markem was at that stage in life where he frequently talked to himself, and he blurted out, “I recognize that face. I think she sat in the front row in one of my classes,” he muttered. At least he thought he was speaking to himself, but he turned around and saw three customers laughing and pointing at him. “Fortunately, they don't know me from Adam's off ox,” he thought, waving politely to indicate he was not a snob.

Markem was wrong. One of the customers said, “That’s Professor Markem from the college. He has problem dandruff. I wish he’d ask me about it. “

Sheepishly, Markem backed crab-like toward the checkout counter to pay for his purchases. He needed to get back home and grade those papers. Speed was of the essence.

Of course, there was a long line of customers waiting to be checked out. And, of course, there was only one checkout station open. And, of course, there was a customer at the head of the line with a shopping cart loaded with enough food items to feed the Chinese Army for a month. Of course, the checkout girl was inexperienced and as slow as the passing of time in the last period of a high school class on a beautiful spring afternoon. Of course, she had to answer her cellphone and tell her main squeeze what time her break was, and of course she was having a bad-hair day.

Markem sighed heavily and took his place at the end of the long line behind a dignified, white-haired, grandfatherly looking gentleman, who nodded solemnly at Markem and said, “There were no survivors at Thermopylae.”

Markem wanted to ask the elderly gentleman to tell him something he didn’t already know, but thought the better of it and remained silent.

The gentleman, however, took umbrage at Markem’s silence, and he added, “There is no need to hurry, Phidippides, they have all been killed down to the last man. They did their best, but there was a traitor who showed the Persians a secret mountain pass, and then it was only a matter of time.”

Markem knew it would be futile to try to tell the man that he was not Phidippides, so he played along with the old fellow and said, “What about King Leonidas?”

“He died with his men, and when Xerxes saw that his huge army had been stopped by 300 Greeks, he went ballistic and ordered his men to find Leonidas’ body so he cut off the head and affix it to a pole, but they couldn’t find Leonidas’ body because it had been disguised so that Xerxes could not inflict such an egregious ignominy on it. But even if Xerxes had been able to desecrate Leonidas’ body, it would not have diminished the heroic glory of the brave 300,” the elderly gentleman said with tears in his eyes.

Marlem rolled his eyes heavenward and went “Tch, tch, tch.”

“Is that all you can say?” the gentleman asked.

When Markem failed to respond appropriately to the death of King Leonidas and his Spartan soldiers, the old bugbear became indignant and was about to denounce him. He looked fiercely at Markem and started to say something, but Markem stopped him in his tracks by asking, “Did you see Elvis back there in the fruits and vegetables?”

Most of the time Markem got his beans burned on his impromptu strategies, but this time wasn’t one of them. The old fellow’s demeanor changed immediately; he looked at Markem, and said, “My goodness, is he here?”

Markem put his finger to his lips and nodded.

The geezer whispered, “I need to converse with the King. I wanted to praise him for shooting his TV set. Thank you for telling me about Elvis. I need to catch him before he leaves the building,” and he dug his elbow into Markem’s ribs to make sure he got the pun.

Markem slipped into the old saphead’s place in line. He said to a little kid who was accompanying his mother, who was next ahead of him in line and had a shopping cart piled full of groceries, “Did you see they are giving away Pokemon cards over by the check-cashing station?”

The kid then grabbed his mother and dragged her, cart and all, toward the check cashing station. Markem smiled and took the woman’s place in line. He was beginning to feel empowered.

After what seemed longer than the two-minute warning at the conclusion of a professional football game, Markem was finally able to pay for his purchases and leave the store. He raced to his car, puzzled by the encounter with the elderly gentleman, afraid of what his wife would say about the delay, and anxious to begin grading his students’ papers.

Markem flung himself into his car and started it, and he heard a noise coming from the back seat. He was obviously not alone. He turned and looked into the eyes of a woman who seemed familiar. She was dressed all in white and her excessively applied red lipstick told him that his uninvited guest was none other than Flo of the Progressive Insurance commercials. She was holding a Frank Buck Animal Tranquilizer rifle that was pointed directly at Marlkem’s head. “Do what I say, Buster, or you will be fried to a crisp.”

Until this moment Markem always had a strange affection for Flo and her efforts to save the world with her protection. She was truly “The Mother of the World. “What do you want?” Markem asked.

“I want you to take me away from here as fast as you can. Mr. Good Wrench is after me. He has the hots for me and wants to marry me and take me away from all this.”

"What’s wrong with that, Flo? Everyone needs love. It’s really time for you to think about settling down,” Markem replied.

“What’s wrong with that is I’m already secretly married to Colonel Sanders.”

“So, tell Mr. Good Wrench that your heart belongs to Colonel Sanders.”

“I did and he won’t believe me. He thinks I am just playing hard to get.”

“All right, Flo, where do you want to go?”

“I want to go to the General Wayne A. Downing Airport in Peoria. I can catch a plane there that will take me to the welcoming arms of my connubial partner.”

“But, Flo, that’s 25 miles away. My wife sent me to the store, and, besides, I need to start grading papers.”

Flo brought the Frank Buck gun closer to Markem’s head, and said, “Get going.”

A light snow was beginning to fall as Markem pulled up at the airport in Peoria. Just before Flo got out, she reached forward and planted a messy kiss on Markem’s forehead. “Tell your wife you have been kissed by an angel,” she said. Then she opened the car door and raced into the airport as fast as Cinderella leaving the ball at midnight.

As Markem was about to leave for home, he saw Mr. Good Wrench suddenly appear, looking as if he meant business. Always quick to think on his feet, Markem decided to buy some time for Flo. “Thank goodness you are here, Mr. Good Wrench. I need your help. I have a piston that needs some lubrication, a couple of nuts that need tightening, and a fan belt that needs adjustment. In addition, I believe I have a few leaky hoses. I might even be low on engine coolant.”

Like all authentic super heroes, Mr. Good Wrench paid as much attention to the little people as he did to the big wealthy people such as Shaquille and the Kardashians. Thus, he gave Markem’s car a thorough examination and attended to the problems that Markem had mentioned. By that time Flo’s plane was taking off, and she was safely on her way to the loving arms of Colonel Chicken. Once again, Markem had saved the day.

When Markem crossed the McCluggage Bridge, he noticed that the snowfall had increased. Then it turned into a howling blizzard. He was almost halfway home when the car stopped and Markem noticed that Mr. Good Wrench had failed to tell him he was almost out of gas. There was nothing to do but walk the rest of the way. So Markem buttoned his parka tightly around him and trudged off into the storm.

The wind was so fierce that Markem was blown off his feet several times, but still he forced himself to keep going. Finally, though he collapsed and resigned himself to that long slumber in the icy arms of death. Before he said goodbye, he heard a dog barking off in the distance. Summoning every bit of energy he had left, he staggered off in the direction of the dog’s barking.

Markem slammed against the door before he saw it. He opened it and found himself in his own kitchen. Mrs. Markem looked at her nearly-frozen husband and said, “What took you so long, dear?”

“Well, it’s a long story. You see there was this crowd at the store and ….”

“Did you get the cheese, dear?”

Sheepishly, Markem reached into his pocket, withdrew The Nubile Maiden Magazine and handed it to his wife.

“I don’t want this filthy thing. Did you get the cheese, dear?”

Markem shrugged his shoulders and stared at the floor and rubbed his shoe at a puddle of snow he had tracked in. “I’m sorry, dear, I guess with all of the excitement, I just forgot it.”

Mary Markem glared at Markem, and said, “What do you think this is, a John Wayne movie or a war?”

“War, dear,” as he ducked behind the door just in time to avoid a skillet the good woman had hurled at him.