Friday, November 20, 2009

"It's the place where they adjust mother nature's spine..."

He mixed the Manhattans, licked the swizzle stick and nodded approvingly at his work, handed me mine
and took a seat in his swivel chair at the desk.

Leaning forward, leering down the top of my boat neck blouse and staring at my cleavage, putting his
elbows on his knees, he said, "What I'm telling you must be kept confidential - or else. I have it on the
highest authority that this year, on the island, they will be doing some experimental tuning at the gear
wrench site."

I looked at him with a blank expression. "The what kind of site?"

"Oh, that's right," he said, snapping his fingers and throwing up his other hand in mock surprise. "We've
been together so long I had forgtten you're a girl and you don't know these things - simply because of
discrimination against your gender!"

I sipped my drink, crossed my legs and smoothed my skirt. I knew we were in the deep shit this time.

He gets like this, usually in November when the air turns crisp and tangy, the harvest moon is gone and the
moon of the time when the animals rut returns.

Okay, you know about the island, don't you?

"Of course," I said, "it's the one thing around here that females who know they don't know know all about
and wish they didn't."

I shrugged, mindful that my tits were swaying back and forth in the lacy little French push-up bra I bought
when my muscle tone started to really go into high gear after the martial arts program began to take hold on
my body.

Yes, working for Smitty Mulholland had its perks. He'd turned me back into a clawing, scratching
FEMALE. What he called a "pure dee bitch," in that Okie accent he sometimes affected. "Bee-yitch."

I was ready for a fight, the kind where the combatants lead with their genitals and don't fear the
consequences. Somewhere, somehow, I dimly perceived that I was becoming - ah - dampened - and
relished the fact. My body shivered, starting at the base of my spine and going all the way to my skull. I
put a hand to my throat, breathed deeply.

He grinned. Then he gave himself a quick "where was I" shake and leaned forward again to talk to me
some more.

"Okay, the island is up in the New Hebrides. It was a distant early warning radar tracking site back during
the ICBM ugliness of the space race, back in the fifties and sixties. Top secret. That's when they found it."

"Found what?"

"The seam. It's a place where you can pull back a very delicate skin on the earth's crust and there are - uh -
well - this set of gears under there. There is a special wrench and you turn those gears and it makes the
planet - well - you know - it adjusts the axis of the planet - just enough. They steer the orbit of the earth
from there. They can control the climate, bring on or stave off ice ages..."

I looked at him dead pan. You never knew with this prick when he was being serious or just having you on.
All I knew at that point was that I wanted to get drunk with him - again. I wanted him to fuck me long and
hard and fast. I wanted his baby, simply because I could look at his face and see precisely the kind of boy
he was when he was...oh, you know, before his voice changed, when he was one of the troops in their little
tribe, their little hunting party. You know the phase of human male development I'm talking about if you
have sons or you ever had a little brother, or if you're, if you're, you know - in lust with some dude.

Because that's what he was at moments like this. He was a dude!

He grinned at me. The bastard. The bastard! He knew he was broadcasting it at me, that mojo, that all-boy
magic, that little old cave man look they all get when they know they will score. Oh, I had been there

I decided to play along. I like to play.

"What do the gears look like? Are they very big? What are they made out of?" I batted my eyelashes at

"I'll show you if you are willing to dress up like a man and come on our next trip up there. It'll be our little
secret, just you and me."

I looked at the cluttered desk, the old portable typewriter, the grimy old fedora, the anachronistic 35 mm
Leica, stacks of manuscripts, dusty old racing forms. It was his office, the place where he went to work
nights, days, weekends, holidays - any time the mood struck him.

"It's the place where they adjust mother nature's spine," he said, grinning, saluting me with his drink before
he took a sip and shuddered from the pleasure it gave him. He shrugged, said it again, "Top secret."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Man, Bird

By Jim Parks

Mashing bullets into cartridge cases filled with just the
right amount of powder, checking the overall length of the
finished cartridge - precise work, repetitive, a comfort on
a rainy day. The solid reality of gleaming brass and dull
gray lead, the shussing sound of powder spilling out of the
measure and down the spout as it rushed into the cartridges.
The mechanical feel of the press easing the bullet into the
case as it overcame the friction and tight fit. It all
added up to something famliar, elemental, a skill of the
prairies, the ships, the back alleys and saloons. The
revolver, the rifle, they must be fed. Firing the infernal
machines was only a small part of the battle.

When the kids came home from school, he heard the
refrigerator door open and close several times before the
little boy came into the back room with its windows open on
the world to check on him. It was their ritual, something,
a moment - that they both cherished.

The man hugged the little boy, said, "Me love Billy. Yes,
me do." The kid had held himself close by his side,
expecting to be hugged. He was still a little boy, only
five, in his first year of school. You could still talk
baby talk to him without making him self conscious.

All this gave the man something to look forward to, a little
something to occupy his life of bullets, pistols, bad
dreams, trying to outscheme and outwit enemies both real and
imagined, to mitigate his life of hyperawareness and cool
his overactive imagination.

The boy and his sister were not his children. They were
another man's, but he loved their mother and he raised them
as his own.

There had been friction between he and boy the week before.
The kid was not learning to read as he should. The teacher
was concerned. She had complained to the mother because the
boy would get out of his chair and lay on the floor under
the table when it came time to read, his eyes closed.

The man bought an audiotape with the phonetic drills
recorded on it and a little book with illustrations that
showed how vowels and consonants sound as written. A
picture of a stick sufficed to show how s-t sounds. A
picture of a rooster showed how o-o sounds. Rooster,
cooler, goose, loose - but not good, wood or even should.

The kid didn't like it. He resisted every attempt to play
the game. He doubled his tiny fists and hit at the man as
he tried to hug him, saying "I hate this! I hate you!"

It was an extreme action for him to take. He loved the man
and the man loved him. They both loved to play little boy
games and tell each other tall tales. This was new, a
disturbing, painful development. There were neither one
happy with it. The boy was acting out his stress. He
needed help and he showed him because he trusted him to

What to do?

The people at the school recommended a transfer to the
"magnet" school - a polite term for a special needs class of
kids bussed to a town ten miles distant, a class for
retarded kids. Maybe even medication should be used to
correct certain problems in the kid's perceptions and

He recoiled in horror. The little fellow could do much,
much better. He just knew it.

He resisted the notion, told the mother not to accept that.
He had found out how - for a thousand dollars - he could
arrange for the kid to be trained to read at a rudimentary
level at a special literacy project sponsored by a
professional school at a nearby university, a place 35 miles
distant. He had found a decent car for the woman to drive,
arranged for the lessons, the price, the budget. It would
become their project five days a week.

All this had been the subject of several mornings working
the phone, looking up facts and figures on-line. How he
loved to function this way.

Now, the two of them regarded one another at eye level, the
boy standing by his side, he seated at his grandfather's old
mahogany desk with the leather top, his arm around the boy's

"Let's play a game," the man said. He made all his
decisions - the major ones - this way.

"Let's flip a coin."

"What means that." The boy was in the habit of asking
questions by making statements out of syntax. It was his
idea of how to ask a question.

He also liked to simulate telling a joke by telling him
certain things that didn't make much sense. Then saying,
"You know what?"


"You know what?"


"Nothin', that's what!" Then he would die laughing, doing a
zombie dance around the sides of the man's desk and chair.

"It means," the man continued, his voice taking on a
pedantic tone at which the boy waved his hand around, making
it appear to be quacking like a duck, "that I will make the
coin flip through the air -like this. You call it - heads
or tails - while it's still in the air. Then I will catch
it and we will see which it is.

"This is heads," he said, showing the kid George
Washington's bas relief profile.

"This is tails," he said, displaying the spread eagle with
olive branches in one claw, arrows in the other.

He drew out his pronouncements, broadening the vowels,
making the final sounds of the words trail away into fadeout
and dropping his head as he bit off the words as if they
were hanging suspended in the air before his face.

"Oh-kay," the little boy said, grinning at this strange
thing, this funny little proposal.


The coin flashed up, catching the pale afternoon light
streaming through the windows, and while it spun in the air,
the kid stayed silent. The man caught it and showed it to

"Man," said the kid. He was starting to grin broadly. He
was catching on, having fun now. Washington's portrait in
nickel plated copper shone up from the palm of his hand.

The man flipped the quarter again.

This time the spread eagle came up when he uncovered the
coin with his hand. The kid looked at it; he said, "Bird."

"Let's try it again," the man said, smiling easily at the
kid. He didn't always catch on to things the first time.
It took a lot of patience dealing with Billy.

"Except, Billy, you know, you guess if it's man or bird
while the coin is still spinning in the air, okay?"


He flipped the coin.

"Man," the kid said.

He snatched it out of the air, covered it with his hand. The
coin came up heads.

"One more time," he told him.


He grabbed the coin from in front of the kid's face, slapped
it down on the back of his other hand, peeked at it, then
showily displayed it under the kid's nose. The coin came up

"Guess what, Billy. You win."

The kid looked puzzled. He grinned at him as he handed him
the quarter. The kid put it in the pocket of his tiny
jeans, his dirty, tanned little hand disappearing in the
denim folds as he swiped his lengthening hair out of his
eyes with the other. Then he picked up his can of soda from
the desktop and took a deep drink, two-handing it and
throwing back his head.

He belched manfully.

He grinned slowly.

"What did I win?"

"You won the future. That's what you won."

The kid shrugged. He grinned again as he turned to go, the
afternoon sun shining in his eyes and in his hair. He
looked like a little elf standing there grinning at him.

"Tell your mommie I need to talk to her as soon as she gets
home from work, okay?"


Monday, November 9, 2009

Ted - And Showbiz

Oh, I've seen some real pros working some hard rooms in my time. But the story about W.C. Fields working that beach - pretending to drown - that takes the cake.

I heard Phil Harris talk about growing up in a circus that played throughout the tank towns of the Midwest. He said back in the day, they paraded from the railroad to the fairgrounds, attracting a crowd as they went, then they played their first show that night. At the end of the show, they would tear it all down and load it up in the middle of the night - gone again. What a life.

One of my old buddies was Ted. He was a Polish Jew who grew up in a steamer trunk all over Europe. His mother and father were actors in Yiddish theater.

When Hitler invaded Poland, they happened to be in London. So, Ted spent his war there. Soon, he was recruited by the OSS because of his extensive knowledge of Slavic languages. He'd been, literally, everywhere during his childhood. Knew the customs, the dialects, the locations - a lot of the people.

So, he parachuted into various locations during his wartime service, emerging alive and very experienced at fighting.

Now, Ted liked to drink and drink he did. All day long and all night long.

He also loved women. Oh, how he loved women.

He had two of them - one on either side of U.S. 1 in Pt. St. Lucie, Florida. He had a Cadillac. He had problems. He was spending his time between women, liquor stores and jails, as it were.

I can just hear it now.

"Go! Schmuck! Go - run - to your whore, your yenta! You can never be happy with an honest woman, a righetous woman. Run away like a little boy! I'm going to call the cops, you asshole!" Then woman number one would make a run at him with the butcher knife.

Don't look at me. I have no idea.

One night he was apprehended by two of the local gendarmes as he mopped the ditches on both sides of the road with his Coupe de Ville.

While they were questioning him, one stood in front, the other behind him.

Now the one cop would push his chest with his finger and the other would shove him forward with his night stick from behind.

Ted flashed, then he went postal.

He whirled, put a karate punch right in cop two's larynx, and kicked cop one in the balls. Then he ran, screaming "Murder! Is there no peace for an old man? Murder!"

That's when he ran into a house through the screened-in porch beside the pool, through the den, and out the back door, through a hedge, across a drainage canal, then through another house.

It's all standard practice in the spycraft game.

Make a lot of noise. Attract a lot of attention. Then run to either a public building with multiple exits, or a private property with more than one exit. But keep moving.

They found him at the yenta's house, sleeping it off, the next morning.

He had been charged with assaulting two police officers. The one with the crushed larynx was in bad condition, hospitalized. The one with the crushed balls was wounded in his pride.

Ted was in trouble. Deep trouble.

If it hadn't been for his sense of humor, his gravitas, his theatrical airs, I don't think I would have survived. I think circumstances would have crushed me.

But Ted taught me a few things before he died. He taught me show biz! He taught me the things they taught him at a secret base in England. He taught me that he who survives the war is truly the victor.

I rejoice each time I think of the old ham!

The Legend