September 2005

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Mort Castle


I Y PASSION IS THE killing of Homo sapiens, sub-genus, female: the chirpy, the flirty, the pouty and the perky; the tarnished dove with the heart of brass who masquerades as the good pal, the desperate dame desiring what hapless hubby cannot provide, that comely cupcake at the midnight clambake, etc. etc. If in order to be true to your essential nature, you must skirt, flout, ignore, and abhor the laws of Man, why, then it's a matter of reason that you must be extraordinarily clever so that your dastardly doings, your evil enterprises, your many, many, many murders are not detected.

No joke, Jake. They find you out, you get a fried fundament, a bullet in the brisket, or hemp-enhanced height. You do not have to be Nietzsche to comprehend this Philosophical Principle: If you would murder with impunity and joy, you must assume suitable disguises so that you seemingly become Callow Calvin or Monsieur Mundane or Andy A. Nonymous. You must adopt camouflage that makes non-entity Seymour Citizen and Clint Common Clay declare you Guiltless Guy, Norman Normal, Ordinary Orville. their peer and pal and compadre.

By chance and Mendelian genealogy, I have a countenance neither ugly nor handsome: the proper number of features in a fairly symmetric arrangement; mine is a generic faceless face of the Man of the Crowd, the visage of the ice-man virtually indistinguishable from that block on his shoulder, or the mug of the elementary school janitor the principal wouldn't remark were that custodian sweeping the halls with a large cat tied on a mop handle. Your Everyday Egg, Just Plain Bill/Joe/Uriah, I Yam What I Yam and 'at's All What I Yam--with one exception.

I am big.

Oh, by no means sideshow sized, no competition to Cardiff, nor to the latest Packhard to roll off the assembly line, but heavy boned and heavy bodied, with weight ranging between 230 and 250 and height at six four. My feet are only elevens but my hands, if not quite hams, are assuredly not slender strips of bacon. And yes, I am strong, bucking barley or shoveling cow flop on the farm, toting sofas and sideboards as a furniture mover in the city, hooking and hustling crates on the long shore, why, I tender an honest day's work for your Depression day dime.

Of course, my strength has other uses. That little lady in Misanthrope, Maine, ah, she would not put an end to her peep-peep-peeping prattle, so I put a single, cautionary punch to her vocal cords, and her throat swelled shut and she was gasping for breath, so I held her nose and she died.

Metaphysical Meditation: Women are not strong; is it because they are both the representation and reality of weakness that it is so pleasing to kill them? Once there was a woman--Road Apple, Rhode Island? Ignorance, Indiana?-who dared to slap me three times. I allowed it, novel sensation that it was, and, in truth, I felt the last slap, felt the line of her fingers below my ear and on the hinge of my jaw, felt a burning and anger and a thrumming energy that made me hurt and hurt and hurt her for a quite some time before she died.

But I digress. The point you are no doubt pondering is how can I veil my vastness, minimize my massiveness, tone down my tonnage? An irony: You notice big people because they attempt not to look big. Conversely, you notice little people because they seek not to look little: Napoleon, oh, he was that short guy who conquered the world. "Ah, he eeze one eensy-weenise Emperor, mais non! Sacre bleu le shrimp, le minuscule megalomaniac, what he lacks in height, he makes up in lack of height!"

Sizable though I am I do not slump, I do not slouch, I do not thrust my mitts majorus in my pockets, do not plaster my enormous elbows tight to my floating ribs as though apologizing for intruding on more planetary space than I should be allotted.

Big I am so big I allow myself to be-but with a difference. I give you a diversion, a distraction, a sleight of self so that you take no note of my stature.

"Call me Railroad Red." Was it in the town of Despond, Delaware or perhaps North Jesus, New Jersey that I took on that identity? Surely you radio and record connoisseurs of hillbilly music, that three chord slough of whining sentiment and stupidity, remember old Railroad Red?

A pause. . . Why, you remember Jimmie Rodgers, the consummate consumptive, the Yodelin' Brakeman, jug ears on a jug head and the weary adenoidal voice? Jimmie's the Pappy of Country Music and Railroad Red was none other than Jimmie-Bub's best bindlestiff buddy, a railrider, freight car commuter sans ticket du passage... Sho', I played GIH-tah on "Blue Yodel #7, #12, and # 17. . ." #17, the one he recorded jes' three nights 'fore he coughed out his left (or was it the right) lung and died. . .

"'Course, I wouldn't be playin' for a while, you know, 'cause. . . " My left arm was a'hangin' in a cast in a sling, you see, 'cause I took a fall when that train come on to a curve and I tried to grab my Gibson Tennessee flat-top 'fore it flew out the... (I did indeed have a Gibson flat-top; the original owner currently played harp in the Celestial Enesemble.)

No, little girl, I'm not used to askin' for he'p. Jes' not comfortable or suited for it. Well, thank you. Well, I don' know what to say. I've not had that much kindness come to me, no, and so I don't. . .

Oh, you do sing pretty, girl. I wisht I could set to strummin' my GIH-tah; I'd play a G minus chord and then sorta ease on in and. . .

Why, yes, I surely do understand why you want to be a'singin' on the radio, little lady.

Dense Dora, Dim Dora, Double dose of Dumb Dora. I couldn't play guitar if you gave me a graft of Eddie goddamned Lang's hands, but I sure as hell can bash your pretty head with my busted arm so that pink and gray brainless brain comes oozing and dribbling out of your eyes, nose, and ears.

Wa'l shucks, honey britches, yuh gone and got yerse'f all kilt to death, my li'l cornpone possum pie. . .

What it is, you see, is that Americanus Moronus tends to take a man at his word, so my word has made me a river-leapin' stump preacher (during which tenure I brought several young ladies right to the Lord!), a Pennsylvania organizer for the UMW ("Call me Big Biff Beidermann!"), a carnival patch on the Riggaby and Tells circuit, a salesman for Regal motion picture projectors, a doctor whose kindness toward those in need of getting out of the family way cost him his license to practice (you can do quite interesting things with a doctor's kit), and once a negro journalist from 126th Street in Harlem ("Why sho' 'nuff, Mistah Kingfish, I'se de highest high-high-high yaller you ever done seed!), traveling the country to report on race relations (I am without prejudice in matters of skin pigmentation; I killed two dusky darlings, sisters they were, in Pie Crust, Tennessee--or was it Offal, Alabama?

Hither, yon, and over there, I became for others what I chose to appear as and no one ever discerned the duplicitous, murderous ME!

Yet there is more to earning a PhD of Disguise than limping on alternating legs or belching "God Bless America" when people expect you to play "Making Whoopee" on the kazoo or calling yourself Jack Dempsey when someone asks if you are Wallace Beery.

The best disguise is other people.

It was little... Little Sarah from Flat Tire, Florida or Susan from Misery, Michigan or. . .

She was an "S," I am positive. I have a mental link between her "S" name and spine, which is what I planned to break. I recollect that precisely, see her / hear that thick, satisfyingly spread out thump as I slam her bloody face into the wall and swing and then make myself miss so that I hit the wall and not her sacrum and. . .

Epiphany! Revelation! I have a use for Miss S!

Do I terrify you, baby cakes? Do I bring on fear like you've never known fear, a coldness vibrating from your core? Do you doubt in the slightest that on whim or worry or want I will cut your pit-a-patting heart out of your chest and stuff it down your still screaming mouth?

Why, of course you'll cooperate with me. Thank you. Appreciated. Your assistance will aid me and will keep you alive.

Call me Blind Otto Kuhlberg, and wasn't he fortunate that his doting sister treated him all right, you bet, 'cause you don't have family, you don't have no one is what that talkative cuss Blind Otto says, because, why, blood is thicker than water (there's an insightful observation), and after all, in unity there is strength, and it's Sissy helps big brother get around and sees that he gets on in the world and there's an old uncle in California who's got a ranch (a farm but all those Pacific Ocean Paupers call their patch of dirt a ranch!) and that's why they're hitching cross country 'cause they'll have a place with him. . .

One day, alas, after "S" had played her not inconsequential rôle in providing prey as well as serving as attentive, if not exactly enthusiastic witness, she simply collapsed, flew all to flinders: could not stop crying, could not stand up, just sobbed and sobbed, "I can't anymore..."

Certainement that was the end of her.

But the concept is viable, and thus do I take to disguising myself with other people.

Up to Alaska (Mush you huskies and hush you muskies!) and down to Florida (An alligator in every pot!), in the company of a 19 year old named Annie-I remember the name because, like comic strip Annie, there was a blankness to her eyes)-I killed with invisible impudence, Annie aiding my finding killables, luring them in, watching as I did what I did.

One day, it came to me that Annie was boring.

Au revoir, auf Wiedersehen, and 'at's all she wrote, Annie.

An irony: Womankind is born to dissemble, to be Dame Deception, but somehow cannot withstand the pressure of maintaining the lie created for her by another--or at least a lie created by your most obedient servant, mine own self, toot sweet and notary sojac.

A man, then, I decided. A young man, youth providing malleability, a child of 15 tender years. . .

It felt wrong from the first. My intuition goes fried radio tube, all hiss and spark and black smoke smell. You could see him working at it, trying to find a fit for the skin I'd commanded him to assume.

Call me Silent Sylvester, supposedly deaf and mute and he was my nephew; we communicated with flamboyant hand signs, manic gestures, groans, grunts, and sighs. It would have been quite a show had the wee laddie been up to it.

"There's somethin' real queer about you two birds"-everyone's a critic!-this review from a shopgirl who otherwise possessed bread pudding in place of brain cells. She commences to ki-ki-yodel, crummy kismet summons off duty flatfoot with on duty revolver drawn and the boy and I amscray, abscond, and head for the hills, post haste.

Farewell, budding boyo and down you go tender youth (really quite tender I observed when I ripped him to pieces).

George Tidwell, however, is working out ever so much better.

George Tidwell: grinning when something's funny, eyebrows knitting together when reflective, etc., etc. Just one of the fellers, you know, hey, "no stupid sluggo but nothing special, either," nose clean, shoulder to the wheel, and visit to the church every other Sunday and the cathouse maybe every six weeks. Uh-huh. Definitely. Takes one to know blah-blah, and Tidwell, discerns I, is the kind of guy who sees himself one step and maybe two toes ahead of everyone else, the kind of comrade who knows when to lead and when to follow--and when to steal a car and light out, leaving you sucking up the spoiled buttermilk.

Ah, Monsieur George Tidwell, prior to our initiating a mutually beneficial partnership (for me!), I must disabuse you of the notion of your innate cleverness. I do so by employing the pedagogical technique of intense pain, which begins with my pinching an ear lobe until George loses consciousness (and can't tell where to find it). When he rouses, he's naked and I hurt him in places afforded me by his nakedness and in so doing I humiliate him, I would venture, to no small degree.

Since then, all has gone well with my unequal partnership with Toady Tidwell. There are nine or ten femmes from Itch, Idaho to Crumb Bum, Connecticut who might so testify were the dead capable of voice.

Still, every relationship has its rocky patches. Two months back, I had to provide Georgie Porgie a measure of pain pudding and anguish pie, a refresher that made him cry, and he lay there sobbing, somehow still daring to say, "If I get my hands on a gun," which prompted my doing some things to his hands and then to other areas of his corpus until all that came out of his yap was bubbly drool.

Now, California, here we come.

One of my more endearing traits is an endless ability to create for myself a persona who truly fascinates me even as it bamboozles the baboons. This time I've taken to speaking ever so slowly as though I'm painfully searching my vocabulary of perhaps 100 or so primarily single syllable words. I let my jaw hang often, particularly when chewing food. If I look at something, I turn my entire head rather than merely shifting my eyes. If I manage to stumble on an idea, I stay on it until it's squashed near to death.

Voila! Here I am: Your All American Idiot!

Tidwell, I tell him, why, you are the bright boy, the brains of the outfit, the top-kick, the kingpin, and the Major Domo Muckity-Muck! While you'll keep your first name, so that you'll always be sure to respond naturally, I'll arrive at a new last name for you that subtly hints at poetic insight and understanding: Blake? Wordsworth? Ah, let us dare grandiosity: Milton.

And I?


Big old dumbbell ME?

Call me Lennie Small.


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