Topic: Florida

January 26th, 2012

A Booming Business

“We’re here in Port Valencia, Florida where this small town, ravaged by the collapse of the house market,” CNN reporter Melba Valourez said, pausing to stare directly into the camera, a single eyebrow raise.  “Is finally seeing a little sunshine.”

The camera slowly panned out to reveal a woman standing to Melba’s left.  The woman was perhaps fifty, or maybe seventy.  Or possibly she was only forty.  Years of sun had given the woman’s face the color and texture of a well oiled catcher’s mitt.  Her bright red hair, the original color long since forgotten, was piled atop her head, loose ends dancing wildly in the breeze, split and frayed by years of perms and coloring.  Her pink tank top hung loosely on her wiry frame.  And in her hands she held a tiny, green alligator, no more than four inches from snout to tail.

“I’m joined here by Delores Fitzel, resident of Port Valencia.  Delores,” Melba said, tilting her microphone towards the Florida native.  “Tell me a little bit about how you came to be in possession of this alligator.”

“Well,” she said, her words extended in a southern drawl.  Originally from Tallahassee, she still held onto her panhandle accent. “This here alligator came up out of my toilet.”

“Your toilet,” Melba said with a start, glancing briefly off camera before recovering and training her eyes back on Delores’s face. “I hope you weren’t on it.”  Melba laughed good-naturedly.

“Oh no,” she said with a cackle. “I’d just dropped my drawers to do my business, but luckily I looked in first.  That’s when I saw this little critter just paddling around in there.  Just circlin’ around.”

Melba frowned, nodding along with the story. “That must have been quite a shock.”

The redhead shrugged.  “Eh.  I’d seen worse in there.  Nah, I recognized it right away as being one of them special alligators.  The ones from the news.  You know, the ones men use for their whatnot.”

“You’re referring to what’s being described as “Nature’s Viagra,” Melba said.

“Heh heh. Yep, that’s the one.”

.  .  .

When the government first learned of the new alligator species roaming through the sewers of the greater Sarasota area, they ignored it as simply the science headline du jour.  It wasn’t until word spread that this particular reptile served as a potent male enhancement supplement that top government officials finally took notice.  Their first response, naturally, was to declare it illegal.

It’s a tricky thing, regulating something that distributes itself autonomously.  Port Valencia residents literally had contraband coming up through their drains and in under their doors.  And given that the vast majority of those residents were saddled with underwater mortgages and diminishing economic opportunity, few were inclined to turn their illicit visitors into the authorities.

.  .  .

“Try a little,” James Cranston, age seventy, said to Marla Frownblat, sixty-eight.  They were standing around a table in Marla’s kitchen.  On the table were seventeen alligators, all between three and five inches in length.  They all lay on their backs, dead.

“You know damn well it won’t do me any good, Jimmy,” Marla said, hands on her hips. “What do I need with male enhancement.”

“Then have your husband try some.”

“Oh no, the last thing I need right now is him chasin’ me around with that big ol‘ gorilla pecker of his.  You should see him on The Reptile.”

“Well, then how am I supposed to know it’s real?” Jimmy said, picking up one of the lizards and turning it over in his hands.

“Of course it’s real.  You ever see any other alligator that size? “ she said, shaking the smallest of the bunch in his face.  “Tell you what.  Take it home; throw it in a blender.  You don’t get rock hard, come get your money back.”

.  .  .

“Oh Ra-ay,” Barbara Jensen called out to her husband from the bedroom where she was laying on the bed, naked.  She had struck her most suggestive pose: on her side, hand propping up her head, rear end slightly upturned.  Only, time had robbed the pose of some of its allure as both of her seventy-eight year old breasts hung down far enough to rest on the mattress.

Raymond Jensen, no young buck himself at eighty-two years of age, stared at the three miniature alligators piled into the blender he and Barb had bought forty years ago.  It was avocado green and powerful as hell; he had no doubt that they would blend.  What he wasn’t sure about was if he could handle the result.  It’d been over a year since he’d taken Little Ray (“my little ray of sunshine,” Barb would call it) out for a spin.  Between multiple heart surgeries and the general depletion of testosterone that came with age, he’d been on the bench for a long time.  And now?  Ray wasn’t sure he even remembered how to do it.

He took a deep breath.  “Come on, Ray,” he said to himself.  “Suck it up.”  He turned the dial on the blender to frappe and flipped it on.  For a moment, he could see a blur of green as the miniature reptiles spun about, but that was quickly obscured by a splash of dark red.  The lid to the blender began to rattle; quickly Ray threw his hands over the top to keep it from erupting and painting his kitchen walls with alligator insides.

After about thirty seconds, he stopped the blender.  Carefully he removed the lid and peeked over the top.  Inside was a frothy concoction the color of a bloody mary.  Assorted debris floated on the surface of the liquid.  It occurred to Ray that this was probably what a river of blood flowing through a forest would look like.

Ray took a deep breath.  “Bottoms up,” he said, pulling the pitcher from the base of the blender and giving it a little swirl.  He took a deep breath and tipped the pitcher back against his lips.    Where the pitcher was too wide for his slack lips, the thick red fluid spilled out and dripped down his chin, small pearls of red forming on the tips of his chin hair.  When he’d drained it all, he slammed the pitcher down on the counter and, with a great, exaggerated flair, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Alright Barb,” he said under his breath.  “Here comes Little Jim.”  And as he marched resolutely towards the bedroom, he felt a tightening in his pants that he had not experienced in years.

.  .  .

Melba Valourez faced her camera man once again, waiting for her on-the-air signal.  Today her backdrop was a small, pastel pink house.  Bright yellow police tape formed a perimeter around the small ranch-style residence.

“We’re back in Port Valencia where government officials have begun cracking down on the local alligator trade,” she said upon hearing a voice in her ear indicate that she was live.  “The home you see behind me was once the quiet residence of Anita Sanders.  Anita Sanders,” pause for effect. “is now in jail.”

A voice signaled in Melba’s ear that they were cutting to taped material. Melba dropped her mike, dabbing sweat from her brow.  She turned to watch a small monitor, footage playing on it that she and her cameraman had captured earlier that day:  a full police station, loaded with blue-hair ladies screaming for their lawyers and septuagenerian men with tented pants, foolish smiles spread across their faces.

“Pre-liquified, cooked alligator is being sold on the streets, often cut with either frog’s blood or V-8,” Melba said when she was again live on the air. “This street-ready product has been dubbed ‘Crocodile Rock’.  The name is acknowledged to be technically inaccurate; but as the natives like to point out, Elton John didn’t write a song,” pause, arched eyebrow, mischievous smile, “about alligators.”

.  .  .

“Christ, Edna, I don’t want to do this.”

“What do you want to do Frank?  Declare bankruptcy? Lose our home?  Our livelihood?  Because you know as well as I do that, without this money, we’re going under.”

“There’s got to be another way.”

“Stop your fucking whining, Frank. Are you going back to get a regular job? At your age? With your heart condition?  No chance.”

“I just don’t know, Edna.”

“Well, I do.  If you can’t do it, I will.  Give me that.” And with that, Edna McDonald, mother of three, grandmother of seven, grabbed the Revolver from her husband’s shaking hand and pointed it at the head of Ira Schoenfeld.  Ira live down the street on Palm Meadow Drive and had been a part of Edna and Frank’s bridge club for the last seven years.  Unfortunately for Ira, he and the other residents of Palm Meadow had decided to try selling their Croc Rock in Sunrise Villas (Phase II).

“I warned you about dealing in our neighborhood, Ira.  This is our turf.”

Ira moaned, pleading with his eyes for mercy.  Edna looked in Ira’s watery, bloodshot eyes, cocked her head slightly to the left, and pulled the trigger.

.  .  .

Melba faced the camera for what would be her final visit to Port Valencia.  Residents of the cul-de-sac they had chosen for their final segment gathered behind Melba, some simply standing behind with their thumbs hooked in their waistbands, others waving frantically at the camera.  Melba cleared her throat and assumed a somber expression.

“As quickly as it began, the Crocodile Rock craze has ended,” she said.  “Florida residents have found that the improved erections found in the ingestion of alligator blood was not without consequence.”

The camera pulled back, showing in the background a medical staff wheeling a gurney out of a pale, yellow house.  On the gurney was a man covered in a bright, white sheet.  The sheet was stained red at the midpoint of the man’s body.

“After a few weeks of use, users of the illegal supplement began experiencing erections of ever-increasing duration.  Within two weeks, their penises,” pause for effect; maintain sober expression. “Began to explode.”

“With the current clientele left penis-less and new costumers looking towards safer products, the Crocodile Rock trade that briefly was booming is all but defunct.”

“Reporting from Port Valencia, this is Melba Valourez.”

Topic: The Man Who Blinked

January 16th, 2012

Matt stood at the corner of Wacker and Wells, waiting for the light to turn so he could continue on his way to the Merchandise Mart El stop.  He pulled his wool cap off and scratched his head, looking around.  It was December and the Earth’s tilt had left Chicago cold and dark for his evening commute.

Matt wasn’t a fan of the cold, but the view at this hour was spectacular.  The Chicago River shone bright with the reflections of the massive buildings that lined its shores.  The avant-garde design of Marina City to the East mocked the squat, utilitarian building that housed the Chicago Sun-Times to the West.  The newest addition, the Trump Tower, filled in the sky line silver and shining.  And straight ahead was the massive commercial center of Chicago, the Merchandise Mart.

Thousands of windows, lit up as the workers within pressed on towards quitting time, were reflected in the black of the river like stars on a clear night.  Matt could have picked up the train at the Washington and Wells stop right outside his work, but instead he chose to walk the extra half mile to pick up the train at the river.  He did this every night in the winter and had yet to regret his choice.

Matt blinked against the icy northern breeze, the dry air causing his eyes to water. With each blink, a light went out in the Merchandise Mart.

Matt chuckled to himself.  “That was awesome,” he said to no one in particular.  The light turned and he crossed the street onto the Wells Bridge, the passing cars causing it to rumble under his feet.  As he crossed over to the North bank, he noticed a twinkling out of the corner of his eye, like fireflies dancing just out of sight.  He paused briefly and stood at the rail, gazing out over the water, trying to figure out what had been tickling his peripheral.  He blinked and – wait.  Had another light gone out when he blinked?

He stared at the Sun-Times building, deliberately forcing himself not to blink.  There were definitely plenty of lights out in the building, but that’s hardly anything unusual.  Given the state the Sun-Times was in – and the newspaper industry in general – Matt was surprised there weren’t more empty offices.  Still, he resisted blinking.  After almost a minute, though, his eyes began to water and then sting.  His lids fluttered against his efforts to force them open.  After a few more seconds, evolution’s effort to protect one of man’s most valuable assets took over and he blinked.  And when his eyes reopened, the window he’d been staring at was dark.

Matt’s stomach tightened and he grabbed the railing of the bridge to steady himself.  He looked at the Merchandise Mart and blinked several times in rapid succession.  And when he had finished, a block of eight windows in the center of the building was now unlit.


Matt haled a cab and gave his address, not up for standing on a crowded train after his adventure on the bridge.  He kept his eyes closed for the whole ride home, afraid of what might happen if he peeked.

That night Matt fell asleep in darkness, his one bedroom apartment emptied of light by an evening of blinking.

. . .

The next morning Matt went to a doctor.  Examination was tricky.  Each light the doctor pulled out to examine his retina was rendered useless with an accidental blink of the eyes.  But even had it gone off without a hitch, nothing would have been found.  There was nothing wrong with Matt’s retinas.  Out of his depth and out of ideas, the doctor called Northwestern Hospital for an MRI and a consultation.

It’s a tricky business, entering a hospital when your eyes serve as a light switch.  The last thing Matt wanted to do was leave a building full of sick in the dark.  The doctor had them send an ambulance (he may not have been a hundred percent forthright with the reason the ambulance was needed; explaining a light-extinguishing blink is not something to attempt over the phone).

Matt’s eyes were carefully taped open with white medical tape.  They were a film strip away from re-enacting A Clockwork Orange when Matt was strapped to a gurney and rolled into the ambulance, his eyes peeled open, an attendant feeding a steady diet of saline into Matt’s eyes. The man’s hand lurched with every bump, dribbling water on Matt’s cheek with each movement.  The man didn’t notice, though.  He just stared into Matt’s dark, brown eyes.

 . . .

The MRI was clean; the doctors baffled.  It took less than a week for the scientific community to gather at Matt’s bedside.  Who could resist seeing “The Man Who Blinked”?  Matt stared up at them as they hovered over his bed, their faces illuminated by the flickering light of the candles that lined his room.  Each wore the same expression: eyes intent, lips pursed, brow furrowed.

Taking turns, the doctors produced a light source of their choosing.  My eyes now free to close as my room had been cleared of all potential blinking victims, I snuffed out each source as it was presented.  Fluorescent or incandescent, sodium or argon; they all went out.  But, and this revelation came as no surprise to Matt but set his gaggle of doctors all a twitter, only one light would go out at a time. And interestingly enough, a wink wouldn’t do the trick.  The closing of a single eye had no effect other than to lend Matt a rakish charm.

But the brightest minds in the medical and scientific community had nothing to offer but hypotheses – certainly not solutions.  And after months in his solitary hospital chambers, his only companion the dancing shadows on the wall, the doctors all surrendered.  And exactly thirty days after that, the Northwestern attending in change of his case entered Matt’s room, clipboard clutched to his chest.

“Matt,” he said with a sigh. They had long ago established a first name basis. “I’m afraid we haven’t gotten any closer to figuring out what’s wrong with you.  We’re getting to the point where the best we can hope for is to control the situation.”

“Alright Dr. Brinkley, that’ll be enough,” said a man in a dark blue suit as he bustled into Matt’s room, brushing aside Dr. Brinkley. The man had a long, thin face and delicate features that matched his slight frame. “Matt, I’m Dr. James Hoffman with the Department of Health and Human Services.  How are you doing?”

“Um,” Matt said.  “Okay, I guess.”

“That’s great.  Matt, I’m afraid we’re in a bit of a pickle here.  You see, you have a very unique condition.”

“Yeah.”

“A unique and potentially dangerous condition, wouldn’t you agree?”

Well,” Matt said, twisting in his hospital bed as he struggled to sit up. “I wouldn’t say – “

“Yes, well, we would say.  It’s our responsibility to the American people to ensure that we do what’s best for all of our citizens.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the plague?”

“Well, yeah.”

“There are over thirty cases of the plague in America right now.  Did you know that?”

“No.”

The man smirked. “Oh course you didn’t.  It’s our job to make sure that you don’t know it and that you don’t get the plague.  Containment is the key.  Do you see where I’m going with this, Matt?”

“I think I do.  I don’t have the plague,” Matt said, his voice rising slightly.

“No, you don’t.  If you did, we’d know what to do.  In fact, we have no idea what you have.  And we don’t know if you represent a hazard to the public health.”

“Now wait a minute,” Matt said, his response now a full shout.  “What’s your fucking point.”

“My fucking point, as you put it, is this: men,” he said, calling over his shoulder.  At his summons, two fully armed soldiers entered the room and stood at either side of the door.  “These men will be escorting you out of here to a place where you’ll be safe.  And where we’ll all be safe.”

Matt slumped back into his bed and closed his eyes.  “Jesus Christ,” he groaned.

 

Three months later, the door to Matt’s “recovery suite” opened and a man walked in wearing military fatigues decorated with an array of stars and bars.  In three months, Matt’s life had ceased to be what he once knew.  The rumors had propagated back to him that he’d been declared dead, whereabouts unknown.  Actual news was lost to him, though, as he had been confined to a small apartment since the Department of Health and Human Services had declared him a hazard to mankind.

Hanging in each corner of every room of his apartment was a kerosene lap and Matt spent most hours of the day reading by their dim glow.  He was doing just that when the military man entered.

“Matthew,” he said, walking into Matt’s apartment without waiting for an invitation and taking a seat in a tall, wooden chair across from the leather reading chair in which Matt sat.  “I’m General Casey of the United States Armed Forces.  It’s nice to finally meet you after all this time.”

“I’m sorry?” Matt said, closing his book and setting it in his lap

“You’ve been the talk of the military since we heard about your little condition.  I would have been here sooner if it wasn’t for that pencil-dick doctor of yours.” The general nodded back towards the doorway where Doctor Hoffman, the man responsible for Matt’s confinement, stood half-in-half-out of the room, hugging the door jam.  Matt smiled in spite of himself.

“Do you know how valuable you could be to an operation like ours?” the general continued, leaning in towards Matt who instinctively eased back away from his gaze.  The general had a weathered, leathery face that was in sharp contrast to the bright, blue eyes that now held Matt’s; a look of casual command that caused both Matt’s mouth and sphincter to tighten.  Matt just stared back at him, waiting for the general to continue.  “You can steal the light, Matt.  That’s something we can’t do. The military can’t just throw the enemy into darkness, Matt.  Not yet.  Not without you.”

“Me?”

“You.  Have you ever read a comic book, Matt?”

“Sure.”

“Do you want to become a real-life super hero Matt?  Do you want to become ‘The Blinking Man’? Or do you want to be considered some sort of disease-ridden freak by this government-run asshole factory?”

“‘The Blinking Man’,” Matt said, staring over the general’s shoulder at the glow of the kerosene lantern, rolling the name over in his mind.  Suddenly his eyes snapped back to the generals. “Would I get to wear a costume?”

Topic: Housing

January 9th, 2012

The House Hunt

Our realtor was a lovely lady of about seventy.  In heels she might have been 4’ 9” and she was just as wide as she was tall.  A bulbous nose protruded out from two bakery-bun cheeks, her eyes disappearing in a spiderweb of wrinkles.  As she took us around the neighborhoods of Chicago, we had to slow our pace and take one step for her every three to avoid overtaking her waddle.

The first place she showed us was in lovely Lakeview.  A bit more than we were looking to spend, but it fell in that grey area where we thought maybe we could talk them down.  It is a weak market, after all.  And with stainless steel appliances, a whirlpool tub, and expansive sky lights, we couldn’t not see it.

“Oh baby,” my wife said as she burst through the door and pranced towards the kitchen, her legs kicking out behind her.  “Just look at these appliances.  They’re gorgeous.” She drew the word gorgeous out for a full ten seconds, a manner of speech usually reserved for babies or leather couches.

“These are nice, hon,” I said, following her into the kitchen and stroking the ice-maker component of a stainless steel side-by-side refrigerator.  I turned to the realtor. “And you said there are skylights?”

“Oh yes,” she said, eyebrows suddenly appearing out of nowhere as she raised them with excitement.  “Expansive skylights.”

We all headed up the stairs to the master bedroom.  I took my wife’s hand in mine and we shared an excited glance before entering the room.  The previous owners had excellent taste in furniture: two night stands flanked a four-poster bed, with a massive cherry amoire along the opposite wall.  I was impressed until I saw the ceiling.  It seemed that, in the construction of the condo, the builders had taken a very liberal interpretation of the whole skylight concept.  Instead of building windows into the ceiling, they had simply left the roof off entirely.  The bedroom was completely exposed to the heavens.

“How about that,” the realtor said, a smile barely visible through her pastry-puff cheeks. “You won’t find the like anywhere else in the city.”

“No, I’d imagine not,” I said, frowning.  “But what happens when it rains?”

The realtor held up one finger and began dashing from one piece of furniture to the next.  Umbrellas began sprouting from the furniture, huge rainbow canopies covering each piece of furniture, one from each post of the four poster bed.  When she finished, I felt like I was at under the big top.  The only thing missing was a car full of clowns.

“And the umbrellas come with”, she said proudly.

 

The next house she showed us was an actual house, not a condo.  A whole house with a yard and everything just for us.  It was a grand Victorian-style residence with delightfully high ceiling and hardwood throughout.  At over 2500 square feet, it was more than double the size of our current apartment.  Of course, the yard wasn’t huge, but it was not bad for Chicago.  And best of all, it was within our price range.

My wife and I strolled through the house, hand in hand, decorating with our minds. We pointed to the arched entrance to the kitchen where our children’s height would be tracked and the breakfast nook where our kids would finish their homework in the morning before school.

“But,” our squat realtor said, craning her head up to meet our eyes.

The wife and I smiled at each other and shared an eye roll.  “There’s always a ‘but’,” I said.

“I’m afraid there is, yes.” She paused, looking down at her hands. “The thing is, the house is infested with bunnies.”

“Bunnies?”

“Yes, bunnies.  Rabbits.  They got in the walls and multiplied – “

“- Like rabbits?” I said, finishing the thought. “I didn’t even realize it was possible to get infested with rabbits.  Are you sure you don’t mean rats?”

“Oh no,” she said.  “It is a very real bunny infestation.  And I’m afraid they’ve acquired a taste for meat.”

“Infested with carnivorous bunnies?  How bad is this and can we just gas the whole lot of them?”

“Well, actually, the last two owners were devoured in their sleep.  And attempts have been made to gas the rabbits for sure.  In fact, the last couple who owned this place had the whole house tented.  Piles of bunny bodies were carted out in wheelbarrows.  And still, the owners ended up gnawed to death.  The best guess is that these bunnies are coming up from underground.”

“I see.”

“And,” she continued with a deep sigh. “I’m afraid it’s been very tough on the property value.”

My wife gasped, biting her knuckles.  “Oh honey!” she said. “But I just love this place.  There’s so much room for kids.  And the floors are in such nice shape.”

“But the man-eating bunnies,” I said.  But she just looked up at me, eyes filling with water.  I’d seen that look before.  I turned to the realtor. “I think we’ll call it a definite maybe.”

 

When the realtor pulled up to the final house, we almost didn’t leave the car.

“Ugh,” I said.  “Just look at that siding.”  The siding was, in fact, powder blue.  Our colors were orange and green which, in no uncertain terms, would cash horribly.

“Just bear with me,” the realtor said.  We paused a moment but, figuring we’d already come this far, opened the car doors to follow her into the house.

My wife wrinkled her nose as we walked in and saw the floors.  “Really,” she said. “Carpet? I hope to God we’ll pull this up and find some hardwood below.”

“Seriously,” I said.  “Who puts carpet in a Chicago bungalow?”

Reluctantly, we continued forward into the kitchen and when we entered, I heard a small laugh escape from my wife.  I turned to look at her, hands spread.  “I know, right?” I said.

She just shook her head.  “What are we supposed to do with this kitchen? White cupboards, white appliances?  That’s just perfect.  Is this a kitchen or an operating room?”

“It’s okay, honey,” I said, rubbing her back.  “We can just gut it before we move in. Although it will cost a bit.”  My wife just sighed.

I turned to the realtor, looking for some indication that she had showed us the house for a reason.  She raised an index finger and gestured for us to follow her upstairs, telling us that the master bedroom was the key.

The master bedroom was okay – although maybe a bit undersized.  She led us in and stopped in front of the closet.  Smiling back at us, she threw open the closet door and swept her arm out like a Barker’s Beauty revealing a new car.

“Yeah,” I said.  “It’s a closet. Is this what you wanted to show us?”  The realtor’s arm remained outstretched, the extra flesh from her upper arm gently swaying as she followed our gaze into the closet, brow furrowed.

“Ah,” she said, now understanding our confusion. “Just wait.”  And as we watched, the back wall of the closet began to dissolve, revealing a path lined with trees extending miles out to the horizon.  At the edge of the path was a dead lion and four kids huddled around it looking disconsolate.

“Oh honey,” my wife said, clasping her hands together. “Narnia!”

“Wow, would you look at that,” I said.  “Our very own portal to another universe.  Now isn’t that fun.”

“Baby, I love this closet.  And the kids would get such a hoot out of a battle between good and evil.  But,” she said pursing her lips. “I’m still really worried about the kitchen.”

“And the carpet,” I said, nodding.  “Plus, you know you’d get pulled into the White Witch’s web of evil.  You can be a little gullible sometimes.”

She put her hands on her hips and stamped her foot at me.  She had opened her mouth to bark her rebuke at me, but I cut her off with two words: “Pastor John.”

“Oh fine,” she said, pouting.

I turned to the realtor who had been watching our conversation ping back and worth like a spectator at Wimbledon.  “We do like the closet,” I said.  “Personally, I adore both talking animals and Christian Allegory.  But I just don’t think we can get past the kitchen.”

Inside the closet, the youngest boy looked up from behind the lion and waved once before returning to his grieving.

 

In the end we settled on what we rather whimsically have named “The Bunny House.” To avoid dying in our sleep, we’ve put chicken wire around our bed and blanketed our covers with marigolds – we’ve heard rabbits don’t like them.  We also got a dog for protection.  Actually, we’ve gotten two dogs.  The first was eaten a little bit and had to be put down.

But we’re already in love with the place.  I’ve grilled out almost every night in our yard and the wife has done a fantastic job decorating the interior.  I’d say we’ve really made this place our own and have no regrets.

Well, the first dead dog was a shame.  But the hardwood floors really are in very nice shape.

Topic: New Year

January 2nd, 2012

The Rebirth of Tiny Town

New Year’s eve in Tiny Town was a grim affair.  It symbolized the completion of another bleak, dismal year and the start of a new, and what was sure to be even more dismal, year. The citizens of Tiny Town slogged through streets lined with tin-can homes, dragging their feet through the dirt and grime.

It wasn’t always this way.  Centuries ago, the town of Tiny Town wasn’t a town at all.  The People’s Republic of Tiny didn’t legislate; there was no need.  The needs of the Tiny were met by the wildflowers and grass, river water and nectar.  They would hunt the butterfly in The Great Field, a single kill filling a family for a week with the sweetest meat of all.
And then the Bigs rolled in and the changes began.  At first it was minimal, or as minimal as something on the scale of a Big can be.  Homes made from fallen trees dotted the outskirts of The Great Field.  What had once been an open skyline from East to West was now interrupted by the brown and grey of wood and stucco.

But then as time rolled on, the Tinys were crowded and pushed aside by brick buildings and wheeled vehicles.  The grass vanished; The Great Field paved to make way for the massive buildings that poured their soot and smoke into the skies.  Those that survived were pushed to the alleys, taking residence with the cast-offs of the Bigs amongst the rats and refuse.  Where once they had feasted on butterfly and honey-suckle now they were forced to scavenge for pill bugs and fast food scraps.

And so the people of Tiny Town did not celebrate the new dawn or the afternoon sun; the purple glow of sunset or the transitioning moon.  And the certainly did not celebrate the new year.

.  .  .

Little Tim Treacher was little more than three centimeters high and a wisp of a man.  With a shock of bright, red hair topping his toothpick of a body, he was often mistaken for a strike-anywhere match by the Bigs’ castoffs that populated his alley.  In a drunken stupor, they would reach for him with gloved hands, cigarettes ready for a light, only to see him scurry off to safety.  This would cause them to curse the paper-bagged bottle in their hands and swear off drink forever.

And oh the drink!  The stench of stale beer mingled with sour wine hung over Tiny Town like smog.  Discarded beer bottles fell short of the garbage, littering the alley floor.  The last dregs of beer, wine, and malt liquor dripping from the upturned tops, pooling to form lakes of backwash and liquor.  A brave few had attempted to drink this foul concoction, seeking the same break from reality afforded to the Bigs, only to find themselves retching in disgust.

The night of New Years Eve, Tim couldn’t sleep.  While the rest of the town hunkered down against the cool night air, fast asleep and dreaming of better days, he stared up at the moon through a crack in his curved tin roof.

As the night drew on, the moon began to blur and his eyes grew heavy.  Just as his eyes were finally giving in to sleep’s inexorable pull, Tim was wrenched from the brink by the sound of laughter off in the distance.  The deep voices betrayed it as the sounds of a pack of Bigs, maybe a couple of men and definitely at least one woman.  The sound of laughter was a rarity in this neighborhood – around here even the Bigs rarely had a reason to celebrate.  They passed and Tim listened as their giggles and guffaws began to fade.  He  sighed and settled in, reading himself for a return to sleep, when he heard several loud cracks in the succession.  He bolted upright in bed, the sound still echoing within the alley walls as he climbed out from his tin can home and out into the streets of Tiny Town, spinning, searching for someone to confirm what he had just heard.  He looked about, but nothing,  No one emerged from their home.  No one came to investigate the ruckus.

It was up to Tim alone to pursue the mystery.  He’d never been beyond the alley.  The world beyond was filled with fast-moving Bigs and barking dogs, cars and cacophony.  But the streets were quiet at this hour, and besides, Tim’s curiosity was piqued.  And so Tim grabbed his coat and, pulling it close about him, set out on his journey to the sidewalk.

.  .  .

Tim peaked around the edge of the alley wall, breathing hard after half-jogging half-walking to the corner.  He looked down the endless straightaway, illuminated by the sodium-yellow glow of a streetlight.  And there he saw it.  Three Bigs, sprawled out on the ground, limbs splayed at unnatural angles.

Tim took a deep breath and rushed over towards the threesome.  When he arrived, two were still.  The female of the group was still living.  Her blonde hair was matted with blood and her mascara was smeared by her tears.  She struggled to rise, her painted nails scraping against the white concrete of the sidewalk.  A thin rivulet of blood streamed from each of the Bigs, joining to form a small pool that expanded and spread towards Tim.  He stepped away from the growing red tide, not wanting to ruin his shoes.  He looked about, fascinated by the end effects of a violent confrontation.

He was just starting to circle around the victims when he saw a shiny piece of glass reflecting in the streetlamp light.  It was a broken bottle, the top snapped off.  But what really caught Tim’s eye was the label.  Unlike the plain labels found on the bottles of cheap beer and pints of liquor found in the alley that housed Tiny Town, this one was made of gold and silver.  Tim was drawn to it, mesmerized by its sparkle.

He craned his neck to peak over the jagged lip of the broken bottle.  A reservoir of bubbling liquid was inside, sparking and popping.  Tim carefully hoisted himself up with one hand, then other dipping into the liquid, bringing a handful to his lips.  It tickled his nose as he drank it in.  The golden liquid was sweet, but with a little bite.  He felt warmth cascade from his head down to his toes and suddenly he felt a bit lightheaded.  He smiled despite himself.  “So this is what it’s all about,” he said aloud.

He sucked down another handful, swirling it in his mouth before swallowing.

He burped.  He giggle.  When was the last time he had giggled?  Tim turned to run back to town and bring the others to see what he had found, but stopped abruptly, tripping over his own feet.  He levered himself up on one elbow to get a better look at what had caught his attention.  Was it?  It was!  An intact bottle of the same sweet nectar, laying on its side and ready to roll.  Tim smiled.  This was going to be a merry New Year indeed.

.  .  .

The people of Tiny Town peeked their heads out of their tin can homes to see what all the hubbub was about.  What they saw was a very tiny man running in place atop a bottle of fine champagne, rolling it through the alley with his feet, screaming at the top of his lungs for everyone to wake up.

Tim leapt from the bottle as he reached the edge of Tiny Town; the bottle continuing on and bumping into a grey metal trash can.  “Everybody, everybody, look what I found!” Tim exclaimed, gesticulating wildly.  “It’s – I – It’s…it’s incredible.”

“What the hell are you hollering about, Tim,” said a sour-face woman wrapped in a blanket.

“Yeah, do you know what time it is?” said another equally put-out citizen.

“It’s almost midnight,” Tim said smiling broadly.  “It’s perfect!  This year we’re going to celebrate the new year.”

“What’s to celebrate?  That you finally went off your rocker?” said the woman.

“Listen,” Tim said, palms out, pleading for patience.  “I promise that if you just try what’s in this bottle, you’ll have a very happen new year.”

“We’ve tasted what those Bigs drink,” the woman said, wrinkling her nose.  “Revolting bile.”

“But this is different.  Wait, I’ll show you.”  And with that, Tim braced his feet against the lip of the bottle and dug his fingers under the cork.  Knees bent he heaved, sweat beading on his forehead in the cold, winter air as he strained against the stopper.  But try as he might, the cork would not budge.  He heaved again, and again.  Nothing.  He stopped to catch his breath, slumping against the bottle’s neck.  He was getting ready to admit defeat and offer an apology when three burly men of Tiny Town climbed up on the bottle with Tim.  Without a word, they all dug their fingers under the cork and heaved.  Tim joined them and, with a resounding pop, the cork rocketed away from the bottle and ricocheted against the alley wall.  Pressure relieved, the champagne came rushing out of the bottle.  Phinneus Philbert, the oldest man in Tiny Town, was standing under the mouth of the bottle when the cork was released, and was drenched by the champagne fountain.

Phinneus, soaked through and through, was smiling broadly when the flow of champagne stopped.  “I haven’t tasted anything this sweet since I was a child, before the butterflies went away.

With an endorsement from the old man, people rushed to the bottle and started scooping out the sweet nectar and drinking as fast as they could.  Soon everyone was smiling, stumbling about, eyes slightly unfocused.  Men and women hugged deeply and old men danced in the streets.  A group of families gathered together and sang the songs of their childhood, songs they hadn’t been able to summon the will to sing in ages.  In the distance, the church bells chimed, announcing the beginning of a new year.  And for the first time in Tim’s life, he watched as people rang in the new year with a sense of hope.

That year would always be remembered as the year Little Tim Treacher brought champagne to Tiny Town.  While that bottle did not last forever, they learned to hunt down new bottles, always ensuring a fresh supply of the sparkling wine.  The called those who sought out the champagne The Butterfly Hunters in honor of the old ways.

The grime and the grit of Tiny Town never went away – such is life in the city – but the malaise that had become the norm would never return again as long as the champagne flowed freely.