This Month’s Special Guest:

6 Dec

Photobucket
~Reverend Leroy Eenk’s ‘Beer Belly Blues’ | Illustration: Bob Gnarly~

This month’s special guest — The Reverend Leroy Eenk — adds a little bit of literary sophistication to the second printed edition of the Kitsap Smokestack Smut Rag, with a couple thousand words on the dangers of growing old and selling your soul to the devil in ‘Beer Belly Blues’ . . .

When Jack arrived home from the tavern, he discovered a small man in a blue suit had stowed away in his coat pocket.

Jack asked the traveler his name.

“Rutherford,” the tiny man replied. “But everybody calls me Smelly … Smelly Jackson.”

“I’m Jack,” said Jack.

“Sorry to hop a ride in your pocket, friend, but as you can tell, it’s hard for a fellow my size to get around these days.”

Having tended pet hamsters as a kid, Jack considered himself an expert at handling small, fragile creatures. He carefully plucked Smelly from his pocket and placed him on a couch cushion. . .

“Got a cat, Jack?” Smelly asked, sniffing the air.

“No,” Jack said.

“Dog?”

“Nope.”

They sat on the couch next to each other and didn’t say anything at first.

Then Smelly said, “Lookey here, Jack, I don’t want to waste your time, and you’ve been gentle handling me, so let me just tell you, I’m looking for the Thing.”

“The what?” Jack asked.

“The Thing,” Smelly repeated.

“The what?” Jack asked again.

“The Thing, man. You haven’t heard of the Thing?”

“No.” Jack said.

“Well, I’ll be,” Smelly said. “It’s not everyday.”

“You mean the comic book ‘The Thing’?”

“If you don’t already know, I probably don’t have the right to tell you.”

“You have to tell me now,” Jack said, lifting his eyebrows and holding out his hands.

So Smelly told Jack about the Thing.

“Oh yeah,” Jack said after hearing out the tiny man. “I’ve heard of that.”

“I was going to say… So you know where I can find it at?”

“No,” Jack said, shrugging. “But you can hang out if you want.”

Jack offered Smelly a drink. Both of them were already drunk. Throughout the night, Jack kept repeating, “That’s so cool that you’re pocket-hopping, man.”

Smelly was 87, but he didn’t look it, mostly because he was so small. He had a scratchy voice and was a famous bluesman from the greater Shreveport area some 70 years earlier. Within minutes the two musicians realized all they had in common and stayed up, talking and drinking all night. Smelly talked mostly.

The next morning, Jill woke up to start her day and found Jack sitting on the couch. She asked why he hadn’t gone to bed. He lied and said he got wrapped up in writing songs. He hated lying to her, but Jack didn’t want to introduce Smelly until he could prove he wasn’t a hallucination.

Jack was 30 years old and felt like he always had a hangover — an especially obnoxious one the morning after he met Smelly. He held down a job as a shipping clerk and didn’t plan on being a rich and famous rock star anymore, so every morning he pulled himself out of bed when the alarm rang and struggled to button his jeans.

Jack’s mom rousted him Sunday mornings, that’s how he learned to fight through the a.m. pain. At age 15 he started playing clubs on Saturday nights, every Saturday night. Jack and his underage friends hid in toilet stalls, drinking Schmidt beer until they went on stage. He slept in his clothes, reeking of beer puke and cigarettes.

“C’mon, John,” his mom would say from the doorway, in her Downstate accent. “It’s the Lord’s Day.”

If she ever noticed the smell, she never said a thing.

Jack had a big brother named Paul. And because of his big brother, Jack started smoking weed and listening to Led Zeppelin, and everything changed at age 10. He was going to be a rock star, everybody agreed, and guilt dragged his headache to church to pray for big brothers everywhere.

He played almost every venue in the city, toured the states once or twice, toured the Northwest numerous times, opened for some big names. All when he was a kid, when he worked a job simply to smoke weed every day.

He married Jill a few years ago, his high school sweetheart. They’d known each other ever since they could remember, from around the same time Jack had started playing guitar.

On the drive to work he caught a whiff of the alcohol venting from his pores and threw up.

This was a morning like all the others, only Smelly tagged along to keep him company. And that made it a good day.

Jack couldn’t hide the conversation he was having with his pocket friend for long — he was still drunk. His coworkers noticed right away, exchanging glances with tacit implications of… “It’s happening.”

They kept their distance and stopped asking why he wouldn’t take off his coat. Jack spent his lunch hour walking in the park, in the rain.

The rest of the day flew by with Smelly chatting up a storm.

“Did I already tell you about the time in ‘47 when Blind Gimpy Garrison and me shared a box car with Jesus Christ Himself?” Smelly gabbed from Jack’s coat pocket. “Now there’s a story I’ve told too many times.”

“No, Smelly,” Jack glanced down the long shipping desk, pretending to read an invoice.

“Sure enough,” Smelly started, retelling a story he hardly had the energy to retell. “Memphis to Chicago. At least that’s who he said he was, and I was inclined to believe him, he was one square dude. He done up and turned our wine into water, man, made us play ‘He Walks With Me’ until I jumped somewhere in Arkansas. The train went into the hole and I, I had enough. I didn’t feel bad about splitting up the act with Gimp. I took my chances in the cotton fields.”

“Wow, Smelly.” Jack said.

“Turning a man’s wine into water?” Smelly shook his head. “That’s just extreme.”

The company Jack worked for sold ribbon. The good stuff, made by professionals in Japan, China, and the Philippines: organdy, satin, silk, taffeta, plus a few novelty ribbons like abaca. Jack’s job, which he took less seriously than his employers would have preferred, consisted of collecting little spools of ribbon off the shelves, putting them in boxes, and taping the box shut. Man work.

“Did I already tell you about Maimed Pigeon Jefferson?”

“Is that the guy who stole your dentures during the Decatur Folk Festival of ‘63?” Jack asked.

“You’re thinking of Lame Pigeon Jefferson,” Smelly said. “But you mention dentures. That reminds me. Not to pry into your business, but I noticed you didn’t brush your teeth this morning.”

“I know,” Jack said.

“If I could do it all over again, I would have taken better care of my teeth, they don’t make dentures for people my size,” the tiny man waved off his digression. “Anyway, Maimed Pigeon Jefferson, harmonica player. We used to work together, a bar band in Gulfport, before the war. Nice fellow. Never figured out what about him was maimed. He seemed healthy enough to me. One afternoon I was hanging out at the bar, minding my own business. I was about your age, maybe a little younger, in the prime of playing. All of a sudden, these cops come rushing into the bar, looking like they hadn’t slept. Kind of like you, Jack.”

“I know,” Jack said.

“Since I was the only man in the room, they all stomped on up in my face. They wanted to know where Pigeon was. I told the man I didn’t know. Turns out that Pigeon, according to this deputy, had stolen his Thing. Maimed Pigeon, I couldn’t believe it. He asked if I was a musician. Yeah, I’m a guitar player, I told him. So he told his men to break my fingers with a hammer, and they did.”

Jack stood back from the shipping desk. “He broke all your fingers?”

“What?” said the guy next to him on the ribbon line.

“Broke both my hands,” Smelly shook his head. “I had to learn how to play all over again.”

“What a dick,” Jack said.

“Who?” His coworker asked.

“The cops,” Jack said, turning to Lou. “They broke Smelly’s hand so he couldn’t play anymore.”

“They were going to get their Thing back,” Smelly butted back in. “Rumor was Maimed Pigeon tried to skip town but those men caught him in the freight yard.”

“Wow, Smelly,” Jack said.

The guy next to Jack was Lou. He was a lot older than Jack. They had worked next to each other for the better part of a year but rarely said a word to one another.

The shipping desk phone rang, It was for Jack.

“How you doin’, Jack?”

The voice on the other end belonged to Bob, a minor rock star. They’d known each other many years, since the days of hiding in the mensroom, drinking cheap beer, waiting to go on stage. Jack played guitar on his last solo record.

“Hey, Bob,” Jack said.

Bob apologized for calling at work, then asked if Jack would be his guitarist for a five-week tour of Paris, Italy and Greece.

Jack was speechless. He’d never been overseas before. He paused. “I’ll need to get back to you on that, Bob,” he said.

“The best tracks on the album are the ones when you sing and play,” Bob said. “You’ll get three thousand dollars, plus expenses.”

“Good,” Jack said, then got back to work.

Jack let Smelly out of his pocket to stretch his legs and watch the news. Jill never noticed him. She worked as a nanny. After dinner Jack started the dishes and Jill went to visit with the neighbors. He put Smelly onto the counter to keep him company.

“You’re married and still got to wash the dishes?” Smelly couldn’t believe his minuscule eyes.

“We take turns,” Jack said. “Hey Smelly, can I ask you a question?”

Jack stopped washing plates, letting the water run.

“How come you’re so small?”

“I’m surprised it took you this long to ask, Jack,” Smelly said.

“I didn’t want to be rude.”

“I’ll say this … you ever hear the stories about guitar players meeting the devil on the corner and trading their souls for some drop tuning?”

“Like Robert Johnson?”

“All those corny stories, well, they’re true.”

“No they’re not, Smelly, those guys made those up. They wanted to get an edge on other knife-fighting bluesmen. I read all about it in a book.”

“If it isn’t true, Jack, how would you explain my present circumstances?

“Are you saying it was the devil that shrunk you?”

Smelly nodded, “Only, in my case, I didn’t want to play better, or get some woman, or revenge, or a color television set. I had all that stuff. I just wanted the Thing. If I’d of asked for something selfish, like all them, I’d been dead a long time ago. But the devil doesn’t like it when you try to trick him. Every year on my birthday I’ll shrink a little more. It’s been twenty-two years since I had a guitar small enough for me to play. I can’t never play again, but I’ll live forever. Shrinking every year until I become a piece of dust floating in the air.”

“So what happened to the Thing?” Jack asked.

“Don’t remind me.” Smelly waved him off. “It’s gone.”

“What happened to it?” Jack turned off the water.

“It’s just gone,” Smelly said firmly.

Jack shook his head, “Sell your soul to the devil to get the Thing, and then lose it. Wow, that sucks, Smelly.”

“Story of my life. I’ve been looking for it a long time. I can trade back on the devil if I find it and die with my soul intact. It works like that, I don’t know why. A man in New York City told me so. He said it might be here. So here I am.”

“It’s here?”

The front door opened.

Jack grabbed his coat and shoved Smelly in the pocket.

“Jack!” Smelly squeaked. “Watch the ribs! I’m bound to meet your lady at some point.”

“No,” Jack said. “It would just be awkward.”

“Jill?” Jack called.

“Yeah?” She said from the other room.

She turned on the television set and made her way to the kitchen.

“Are you cold?” she asked.

Jack said no and put his coat in the closet. He hated lying to her. Just having Smelly there felt like a lie, even though he had technically only lied to her once. They made popcorn and watched television, but Jill noticed he was distracted, he didn’t laugh once.

It wasn’t the lie he couldn’t stop thinking about, but the call at work. He imagined playing rock and roll on the Mediterranean, getting drunk on strange liquors. But he didn’t picture himself, he pictured somebody else.

He probably should have told Jill. That’s what they mean on talk shows when they say married couples need to “communicate.”

Jill went to bed after a couple hours. Taking care of someone else’s kids can take the fight out of a person. Jack fetched Smelly from the closet and sat up with him. Usually Jack had questions, like where Smelly found such a proportionally tailored blue suit, but neither wanted to talk, so they sat in silence, irritated for some reason.

Jack worried it meant alcohol was the only thing they had in common.

Waking up hurt. Jack had sweated through the night. He should have felt great for not drinking. Smelly tagged along to work, not speaking until lunch while they shared Jack’s sandwich.

“I’d give anything to play a guitar one last time,” Smelly said. “Maybe just tune a guitar. An old piece of garbage. One that won’t stay in tune no matter how you bend it.”

“I haven’t touched a guitar in days,” Jack said.

“That’s a shame.”

Jack was a good guitar player. He used to be great. He used to have speed and accuracy, enough to complicate an unremarkable punk cover until it sounded like high art. All he did was practice. He didn’t write as much then, that came as he got older, when he stopped practicing. Some evenings after dinner he would sit down and write three or four songs, record them on a modest 4-track, all before brushing his teeth to kiss Jill goodnight.

But often enough he’d get an idea for a song he just wasn’t good enough to play anymore, and instead of writing it down, or recording what he could do and worry about the rest later, he just let it go.

It bothered him to think up a song, work out the verses, a chorus, a bridge, make it up in his mind, and then not know how to bring it into the world. And it bothered him that it didn’t bother him to give up on a song.

He used to be able to play that way.

Lunch hour ended and Jack walked upstairs to the business office and knocked on his boss’ door. Mr. Ludwig sat at his desk, eating a sandwich and reading the newspaper. Jack took a seat in front of him and they had a conversation. Mr. Ludwig said if Jack left to go on tour, his shipping clerk job would not wait for him.

Jack walked back downstairs to the warehouse and called Bob, the rock star. He thanked him for the offer, but said he couldn’t do the tour.

After he hung up Smelly asked Jack, “Why?”

Jack didn’t respond. He started working again, taping cardboard boxes together. Jack hadn’t even known about the Thing until Smelly told him. Thirty years old and he never heard of the Thing.

“You did the responsible thing, Jack,” Smelly said.

“I’m old and fat,” Jack snapped back.

“You want to end up like me?”

“Small?”

Smelly glared up at Jack. “You know what I mean.”

After dinner, Jill started on the dishes and Jack went to the corner bar to meet friends. Smelly wanted to tag along. Not ten minutes later, Jack noticed Smelly wasn’t in his pocket. He hopped into someone else’s coat and Jack never saw him again.

At the end of the night, as the bartender rousted all the drunks onto the sidewalk, Jack stood on the curb outside the front door, hanging onto a parking meter for balance, waving at everybody’s crotch, saying, “Bye, Smelly.”

. . . Send your Short Stories, Poems and Prose to kitsapsmokestack@gmail.com for possible inclusion in upcoming editions. . .

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: