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Glad someone had the answers, my spirits began to lift when the mid-morning sun finally emerged from behind billowy Illinois clouds. Rolling down the electric windows, I opened the sunroof and let the wind play with my thinning hair, while the Beach Boys still harmonized with "I GET AROUND."
At high noon I made a pitstop in Cairo and bought a box of fried chicken nuggets, a can of 10% apple drink, and a simulated corncob pipe. Belching and coughing my way through Kentucky and into Tennessee, I behaved like the huckleberry kid I wasn't. Each time I passed a friendly looking lady, I waved and dreamt of love.
While whistling at a group of coeds, I spotted the approaching placard. Passing the bullet-riddled NASHVILLE, Next Exit sign, my yearning for companionship segued to truly sour memories of these hellish parts; over between Clark City and Dickson. I'd forgotten most of the individual faces of the collectively grim reaper I'd barely cheated back then, the tri-county lynch mob.
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Many years had fallen by the wayside since that hateful day, but Menachem advised me to fine-focus my memory of the event, so I did.
The coloring of the little riverbank was already baked, somewhat subdued that late spring. On the car radio, Walter Winchel was discussing the ramifications of conflict in the Middleast. The Six Day War had already started. I'd just witnessed black-and-white sketches of the early carnage, on the Tennessee Welcome Center's courtesy set.
It was late spring '67, May to be precise, and Mr. Winchell began ranting about other timely topics. He felt only a miracle would save the US from losing the space race to the Soviets - God forbid. Indeed, the only image I saw out my earthbound window was that of the Red River foaming and bubbling the yellow muck of a reckless American industry.
I was on my way to visit Clark City in a nifty little '61 Bel Air I'd just repainted. I only saw Uncle Izzy and Aunt Pearl about three times a year. Even so, on those occasions, they showed more interest in me than my parents did the entire balance of the year.
The purpose of this 1967 visit was not purely social. My cousin Sherman had barely earned his bachelor's degree from Memphis State some weeks before and wanted me to take his entrance exam for graduate school.
My Chevy lurched on its heavy duty springs and jumped on its jacked-up shocks as we slammed onto the riverbank. You still had to contract a carferry to cross the Red River to get to C.C. (as the locals lovingly called their small town of Clark City); so I paid my toll and headed toward a comfortable pink ranch house in the nearby suburbs.
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I parked on an incline behind Cousin Sherman's jeep and made my way into the open-doored house and past the veranda. I said hello to my aunt's maid, Tokyo Rose, who was busy at work in her live-in laundry closet, then headed down the wide gallery of family portraits to the old-fashioned kitchen (the largest room in the house).
Uncle Izzy welcomed me. "Hey David, how the heck you doin', guy? What the hell you doin' down here in East Jesus?"
The cozy kitchen smelled of a confederate Seder every time I'd ever been there. Aunt Pearl wiped her hands on a fluffy chiffon apron and waved me in.
She smiled ear to southern ear. "Hon, it's great to see you. You look real healthy and arrived just in the nick of time to sit down to dinner with us all."
While my cousin Sherm napped on the veranda we got ready to eat Cajun-fried chicken and New York bagels.
Aunt Pearl wiped a grease smudge off the flower-laden wallpaper and brought over two giant jugs of gravy. "Now Izzy, hon, don't you dare take too much of Rose's cream gravy, 'cause Doc Capol told Ray and Kay it's no good for the ol' ticker."
Iz responded in no uncertain terms. "Well screw their dear Doctor Dollop and the two-legged pork chop he rode in on. The no-good goniff's too ignorant to realize that the quality of life counts for us Jews, not just the duration."
I wasn't sure how much gravy enhanced life, but I nodded anyway. And we chowed down.
Countless bagel-dunkings and drumstick-soakings later, my cousin Sherman came marching in, complaining. "I messed up! Gosh, I messed up bad!"
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Uncle Izzy dunked his drumstick into the jug of bagel gravy by mistake and asked Sherm what he'd done. Sherman said a loud crash woke him up on the veranda and when he looked out he saw his jeep had rolled into my Chevy.
He habitually jabbed his fist into his palm. "I must have left the emergency brake off. I messed up bad."
I told Sherman not to worry about it, that we could probably fix it ourselves, that I had a complete set of body tools in the trunk.
Sherm smiled painfully and joined us at the table. Uncle Izzy took a deep breath and told me to make a run over to Dickson the next morning. It seemed Aswan Auto Salvage, near Nashville, was the only place in the tri-county area that could help me.
Iz had it all figured out. "Arnold Hussein, Martin Pyre's cousin, owns the joint. You tell him to give you whatever parts you need to fix up your Chevy like brand new. Tell him I'll take the money off Hannah's account up at the store."
Sherm hiccupped and his father reached over to wipe gravy from his chin. "Sherm, after you finish eating, you take David to your B'nai B'rith meeting over at the Pyre Place."
Sherm grimaced. "Whatever you say. But usually we meet on Friday. And why would we be meeting at the Pyre Place? They aren't even Jewish."
Iz explained that Martin Pyre's wife, Xandria, had waltzed into his shop that very afternoon and invited the entire Tri-County B'nai B'rith to her son Stanley's second birthday party.
Aunt Pearl threw her two cents in from the other room. "Sounds like Martin wants little Stanley to learn early that Jews are just like everyone else."
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Iz grumbled. "Oh bullwash, Pearl. Don't be so blamed gullible." Then he winked at me. "But what the heck, David, it's a free clambake and Xandria told me to make sure you're there."
When I asked how the Pyres knew me and how they knew I was in Tennessee, Iz explained that Martin played golf with the Mockingbird Boys whenever he choppered up north to check his investment institutions.
Wasn't it a small world, I innocently thought.
Checking to make sure his wife was still in the other room, Iz resurrected a half-smoked Havana and gulped down both goblets of Tokyo's cream gravy, straight.
When Iz offered Sherm five dollars not to tell Pearl, their only offspring balked. "You don't need to bribe me, dad. I love you."
Izzy sighed. "Well ain't that sweet." His eyes watered, from love or greasy cigar smoke. I wasn't sure which.
Ceremoniously loosening his belt, Uncle Iz wiped his eyes, tugged thrice on his left earlobe, then broke wind exhuberantly, futzing loudly.
Standing, I explaimed in Yankee Yinglish: "That's a real schmeltzer!"
Iz claimed that the rotten expulsion only made so much noise and smelled so bad because no women were in the room. Sherm punched his palm one more time and we all chortled together, half-gagging on the confusing pollutosphere.
My palm-punching cousin followed me out front for some fresh air. When I saw the damage to my front end, I felt like jabbing Sherm myself, right across the face with a left hook. Until I completed my inspection of the alleged accident scene, that is. Telling Sherm his jeep couldn't have slipped out of gear on its own, I was naive enough to say some neighborhood kids must have been playing with it.
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Following a cold shower, I pulled on a pair of clean corduroys and studied for Sherm's test. He went back to napping on the veranda while Tokyo Rose pressed his best bellbottoms and Hawaiian shirt ensemble, in her live-in laundry closet.
That evening, as we approached the Pyre place in the family's unscathed jeep, I noticed a sickly green water tower, floodlit with big brown initials.
When I asked my cousin what PP stood for, he finger-pleated his bellbottoms and snickered. "Pyre Pharmaceutical, I think. The Pyres are millionaires. Wait 'til you see Martin's hot wife, Xandria. X isn't much older than you, David." Then he went on to tell me how the pervert Martin made dirty movies of X for his financial associates.
At THE PYRE PLACE, as it was labeled in big brown letters on a chartreus placard suspended between two of the mansion's pillars, a tranquilized attendant in a jewelled turbin greeted us. Sherm introduced the pot-bellied Arab as Arnold Hussein, part-owner of Aswan Auto Salvage.
While the obedient servant parked our jeep beside a granite silo in back, we were waved through the rear entrance, toward a giant antebellum ballroom which belonged down on Tara.
Only a handful of Sherm's fellow B'nai B'rithians had gathered in the auspicious chamber. Our gracious host introduced himself as Herr Martin Pyre. Adorned with long, stringy red hair, the fat slob resembled a stuffed pepper in his chartreuse tuxedo, apparently an unmarked military uniform. The lecher's curvateous platinum-blonde wife wore a supersnug rhinestone dress, á la Marilyn Monroe. As she sang Happy Birthday to her toddler son, Stanley, thrice, her X-rated hips gyrated nastily.
While the others settled down to fruit-flavored schnapps and smalltalk, Sherm and I discussed the reasons for anti-Semitic aggression with a rubbery-faced pacifist called Paul Polk VII. A pudgey bi-focaled girl, named Theresa Gaines, joined us just as X slithered back up to the alabaster podium.
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Her thighs moved more than her mouth. "My French masseuse Fanny requests the honor of your presence at her sister Seeka's chocolate bar. And while you all satisfy your palates, I'll play a collection of Shelly Berman albums I found in Martin's Nashville pawn shop. My hubby says this party is for fun, though, not for the nonsense of defending Israeli existence."
Her fat spouse bobbed his head and Shelly Berman began talking on his one-way telephone while we consumed kosher eclairs and lemon schnapps.
Two eclairs, three goblets of punch, and two and a half Shelly Berman albums later, I found myself on a second-story balcony with Ms. Gaines, discussing tradition. She stuck an 'Israel Must Live!!' pin on my jacket while we waltzed across the open-air terrace, under cool Tennessee starlight.
Following an hour of poorly recorded Lawrence Welk, the evening wound down and we lined up to file from the Pyre Place. Mort, his bombshell of a wife, and little spoiled son were on hand for the farewell. Stanley pulled giant, gold Stars of David from his father's basket and handed one to each departing B'naiphyte.
Xandria instructed each of us to attach the embroidered patches to our sleeves and wear them proudly, for at least six days, to confirm our faith. As her gray-eyed offspring handed me a star, the teutonic bimbo told her orange-haired brat my name was David .
Stanley baby-talked. "Shue, shue."
As I slipped the gaudy offering in my back pocket, Herr Martin fondled his red epaulets and smoothed down his greasy red hair. Clearing his flaccid throat, he spoke caustically. "Wear your shield proudly, David Daniels. Unless you aren't proud of your humble heritage any longer."
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I flashed the smaller IML pin, already on my jacket, right in his gutless face.
He chuckled. "That should do. Auf Wienershnitzel, King David."
Unamused and certainly unimpressed, I drove the Jeep back to Izzy and Pearl's more humble abode. After a rough night of fighting mosquitoes on the veranda, I asked Sherm to help me pry the dented front fenders off my tires.
It was barely still morning by the time I embarked for Dickson. Arnold had given me vague directions the night before. Way in the backwoods, I was driving slowly to safely navigate the winding gravel roads when a large barn finally came into view. Misspelled on its steepled green roof, in big brown letters, was: ASSWAN AUTO SAVAGE.
A crisp new roadsign suddenly lifted the speedlimit from 15 to 70, and I accelerated hard, right into an unmarked hairpin. I spun the wheel fiercely, but the tires hit the fenders and my Chevy locked up, careened into a dry creek, flipping end over end.
My would-be casket came to rest upside down; I'd rolled into a ball and was thrown out the passenger window. Blood covered me, but no serious somatic damage was done.
Sirens and horns approached as a dark cloud rose above the ravine. Car doors slammed and people cussed as a sheriff with a bovine farmer on each side emerged from the dust. They spat on the ground beside me, one after the other, then showed their yellow teeth.
The fattest farmer pointed at my bloodied IML pin. "Hey boss! This here intruder's got some kind of commie or atheist button a'stuck to his jacket." Shaking his tiny bud of a head, he added that I didn't look like a hippie though.
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I explained my pin said 'Israel Must Live,' that I'd been to a party at the Pyre Place outside Clark City the night before. "A nice southern girl gave me the pin."
The sheriff posed the obvious. "Since when's the Pyres taken up with Hebes? You don't look like no damn Israelite."
The least bloated farmer leaned against his sheriff and issued a warning. "Boss, you cain't always tail a book by its cover." Staring at me, he shook his scabby finger. "You know boy, we shoots at Negres on Sundays for fun and we nick 'em sometimes. It ain't no big deal, though. But we ain't never even seen a Semite in this corner o' Tri-County before."
As a shiney chartreus bus slid into the turn, the sheriff told me to pay heed to what Jasper was saying. Squinting in the fresh dust, the sheriff asked the fattest farmer about the bus. "Jethro, what's the Tri-County Historical Society doin' cruisin' around in a brand new motorcoach on a work day?"
Jasper answered for Jethro. "Gosh, Sheriff Gurnsey, Mort Pyre just donated that Mercedes bus to the society this mornin'. They're givin' it a test drive, more than likely."
Jethro babbled loudly. "Come one, come all, we got's a genuine Hebrew to hang this fine Friday!"
The dust cloud only half hid the new bus's misspelled namesake: Tri-County HISTArical Society.
After being accused of killing Jesus and declining to kiss Sheriff Gurnsey's chromed crucifix, I found myself on the tailgate of a chicken truck. In the shade of a crooked elderberry tree, I stood with my hands tied behind my back, a mildewed noose around my neck.
Semi-calmly, I told them I didn't kill Jesus and I wasn't a communist or atheist. I was ready to try anything. "Sheriff Gurnsey, I was even in the Marine Corps. Look in my wallet. I have an old dog tag to prove it."
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Gurnsey slapped me and pulled out my wallet. Dumping its contents into the dust below, he picked a dead fly from his teeth. "I don't give a good goddam whether you was a Marine or not."
Jasper's scrawny wife scrambled to examine my credentials and voiced her patronage. "Tas right, Bozz. Tes a bad apple in evey bunch. De Bible sez so, I dink. But lookie here now, a brite yella star like hitler's boys uze ta make 'em wear in de good ole days."
Jethro smiled devilishly. "Here's the title to his Chivy."
I half-hoped the Marines would come to my rescue, but assumed they were still tied up in Southeast Asia. I explained that my car wasn't ruined, that it had an expensive racing engine. Taking a deep breath, I told the sheriff I'd sign the title over if he'd release me. "You can have all the tools in the trunk, too."
Stomping his boot on a poultry maggot, the sheriff almost slipped off the wooden tailgate. When he regained his composure, he told me they were going to flip my hotrod back on her wheels. "If she starts, you spit on your star or kiss my cross and we got us a deal. If she don't, and you don't, you hang and I get the damn racin' motor anywho."
A flamboyant farmboy wheeled up in a shiny chartreuse hearse, just in time to help the mob right my car.
The sheriff shouted at the farmboy. "Hey Pip, what the hell you doin' with Arnie Hussein's favorite hearse?"
Pip said Martin Pyre phoned Aswan, claiming he heard on his police monitor that Gurnsey might need the hearse.
The sheriff guffawed. "You're plum loco, Pip. Gomer's been tryin' to fix the radio at police headquarters since it burnt out durin' the Easter parade."
I was about to tell the sheriff I thought someone set me up when Pip fired up my car on the first crank. Wildly, he raced it. "Sheriff, she sure sounds awful damn good!" Poking his pompadoured head out the window, Pip scrutinized the exhaust and said it didn't burn any oil either.
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The sheriff ordered him to shut it off. "Til I have Gomer tune her up proper like."
Nodding, the muscular farmboy said that was cool, killed the motor and climbed out. He swaggering forward and lifted the hood. Peering into my motor compartment, his peppered complexion paled with fear as he yanked off his chrome sunglasses and jerked around. "Hey Boss, best go ahead and hang the Heb anywho. He's some kind of witch or magician. His fuckin' battery's blusted in two pieces and she still started."
The sheriff snatched a squirrel gun from Jasper's wife and shot Pip in the arm. To show me that Jasper wasn't kidding when he said they shoot Negres for fun, so he said.
Pip complained in pain. "But I ain't no fuckin' Nigger!"
The sheriff barked back. "But ya' sure like to dress and act like one. Don't ya', Pip Perez? And I also done plugged ya' to teach ya' not to be spoutin' no goshdarn f-words in front of white women, son!"
Polishing chicken droppings from his boot tip onto his pant cuff, the local law officer told me what he was going to do. He'd haul me to the Dickson jailhouse where I could sign my title over and give me an hour to vacate his corner of the Tri-County.
Sheriff Gurnsey gave free advice. "Now, son, if you know what's good for you, you'll spit on this here star."
I told him that I couldn't. "Jesus himself was Jewish."
"Oh crap!" the sheriff snapped - and slapped me again.
Before he could enforce his demand, a state trooper in a polished Roadrunner showed up. Clearing his throat, the sheriff ordered his ragtag deputy, Gomer, to untie me, before the trooper got wind of what was going on.
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Gomer chauffeured Sheriff Gurnsey's old Plymouth back to town while the sheriff and I slid into the lemon-scented highway cruiser. The state trooper remained perfectly pressed and silent as Gurnsey rode beside me in the immaculate backseat.
The Dickson Jailhouse showed itself to be an ancient, ash-gray facility, with a barbed wire porch divided in sections too small to do anything but stand up in. Jethro, who turned out to be the city treasurer, gave me two nickels for a quarter and I phoned Sherm on the pay station in the privy.
Sheriff Gurnsey cooked a frozen chicken dinner for me on a rusty Franklin stove, but consumed it himself while I waited for deliverance. Gomer busied himself patching a section of the porch's white-washed barbed wire and I signed over my title. Just as Jethro notarized it, Gurnsey passed noxious gas and dashed for the outdoor shitter.
My cousin arrived in his navy blue jeep and Gomer unhooked a section of whitened wire.
As I hurried across the fragmented walk, Gurnsey swaddled from the toilet booth with toilet paper in one hand and the phone in the other. "Hold on, you yankee Kike. Since you won't spit on your own star, Mr. Pyre wants a Poloroid of you spittin' on a cross, you Jewish sonofabitch!"
I motioned for Sherman to scoot over so I could drive and climbed in. Not a second too soon. From nowhere, Jasper appeared on his John Deere, howling something about my motor not starting anymore, that it had a bent crankshaft. "He's a fuckin' witch or Beelzebub hisself." The fatso stumbled from his tractor, brandishing a grizzly ginzu about. "Come here, you goddam Israelite. I bet your damn neck's no harder to cut than one o' Gomer's radiator hoses."
As he hobbled toward our jeep, the HISTArical bus came barreling down Dickson Avenue, fifty arms flailing out its windows. Skidding sideways, the brand new bus smashed broadside into a tree. As its riders screamed bloody murder, Jasper's runaway tractor careened off the lemon-colored highway cruiser, then right into Gurnsey's battered Plymouth.
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Satisfied some semblance of justice had been served, I floored the jeep and sprayed gravel in Jasper's flaccid face, leaving them all in a cloud of loneliness.
Steering toward C.C., I told Sherm only the bare essentials of how I'd lost my car and nearly my life. When I asked how his parents came to be friends with the Pyres, Sherm proudly told me that his father Iz, a decorated GI, met Martin on the train coming home from World War II. Herr Pyre was a Swiss financier en route to St. Louis. When their express train mysteriously caught fire near C.C., Izzy met Pearl at Edgar's Drugstore and stayed. Sherm had no idea why Martin decided to stay. Izzy hadn't talked to Martin in years, but Xandria still came in the dress shop to order lingerie for her maids.
Sherm grinned. "X was in our shop just this afternoon, and she told me to bring you over tomorrow night for poker with Fanny and Seeka, if you're up to it."
I didn't answer; my mind was on more important matters. For, as I rolled slowly into the hairpin which almost spelled my doom from the other direction, I could see the speedlimit had now been changed back to 15. As we left the tight turn I saw a chartreus VW, idling on the shoulder, with a 70 mph sign barely visible in its backseat.
Sherm pointed at the nasty green Bug. "It belongs to Arnold Hussein, Martin's quasi-Shiite cousin. He's the camel jockey we met last night, the one who runs Aswan."
After telling Sherm to stay away from all the Pyres, I shut up for awhile. As we made our way toward C.C., I dared to wonder why Martin wanted Gurnsey to get a picture of me spitting on a cross. I didn't tell Sherm, or my uncle, that I expected Martin had set the whole thing up, for God only knows what reason.
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Following artsy stitches from Edgar and hours of sleepless study, I took my cousin's entrance exam, the next day, on the Sabbath.
Sunday, riding the Greyhound back to Missouri, I wondered. Would Jesus, as Messiah, really want His followers to wear and worship a miniature replica of His death machine? Wouldn't He want us to worship His teachings and learn His lessons, rather than deify His suffering? If a symbol would be helpful, an outreached Hand would seem fitting.
Maybe I was out of line, because not many moons later, after Lump sent me to Formington, I quit catechizing altogether. When my aunt and uncle came to visit me in The Form, they bragged about Sherm passing his test with flying colors. The subject of my mishap, along the edge of what I much later learned was St. David's Field, never came up. I was too consumed simply enduring the state establishment to even speculate why some teutonic tycoon wanted me dead, and in such an elaborately aberrant fashion.
Neither of my parents visited me in rural Missouri, except to try persuading Killebrew and Company to keep me, I discovered only recently.
Back to the journey at hand, two decades closer to the end of the millenium, the Six Day War and others were history and I was way past both Dickson and Formington, in more ways than two, headed for some days in the sun; how much fun still to be determined. Naively hoping I'd paid all my shekels, I drew a shallow breath of fresh air and watched Tennessee slide off the side view mirror of mother's Seville. Relatively relaxed, I took in the mountainous scenery, magnificent and pastoral.
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I speculated whether Pyre Pharmaceutical was indeed the neo-Nazi conglomerate Menachem had warned me of. Had my aborted necktie party been carefully orchestrated by this devilish man whom Menachem called Hista? If so, why didn't M. Pyre/Hista simply instruct his croonies to kill me and get it over with?
Opening the sunroof, I tried to ignore the programming of my parents' physicians. They'd conditioned me to think anything which couldn't be conveniently explained away was happenchance or overactive imagination. My pressure on the accelerator increased.
I was flying by the time I penetrated the deep southern terrain, but eased off to read the billboardage. Pretendedly playful advertisements for light beer, slender cigarettes, and low-cost lodging comprised the bulk of the billboards' left-brain persuasion by right-brain deception, the balance divided between DOLLYWOOD and factory fireworks. I didn't take their collective advice to turn around and drive back to Ms. Parton's amusement park, but I did slide off the interstate into a Georgian rest stop, to blow a few z's.
On waking from my cramped nap, I discovered a gold coupon wedged under the wiper:
You win $1000!!!
Come to Moammar's Birthday Party
at Moammar's Factory Outlet on I-75
(precisely one kilometer south of Dalton)
It had to be a ruse. Not even an oil-rich Arab gave away a thousand bucks, no questions asked. Nevertheless, since none of the other resting cars had a coupon, I kept mine.
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As I rolled out of the rest area and back onto the highway, the fireworks coupon in the ash tray reminded me of how long it had been since I'd seen my Clark City relatives. Summer never seemed the same after they had a mysterious argument with my parents and quit coming to St. Louis for the Fourth.
Independence Day was a special occasion for our family. My older sister Victoria was born on the Fourth of July, as was my paternal Grandfather, Sam L. Daniels, now deceased.
My parents were at Pearl Harbor on their honeymoon in 1941. Ray, my father, was working as a well-paid civilian machinist for the Merchant Marines. He quit assembling radar equipment on the Battleship Arizona at midnight, just hours before Hirohito's boys sent her to the bottom at dawn, December 7.
Kay, my mother, was cuddled with Ray in their civilian suite far from the harbor when the RISING SUN struck that infamous Sunday, so dad said. Their first offspring was born July 4th, the first year of the war; Ray and Kay named her Victoria and she brought good luck. Not-so-young Ray Daniels found convenient employment stateside, in a defense plant.
He kept himself exempt from the draft, until early in '45. Finally inducted into the Navy, dad was crossing the Pacific for the portended invasion of Japan...when the Enola Gay gave premature birth to Little Boy and the atomic age.
Two days after the war unofficially ended, August 16, I was born. At one time, I mused whether that was why my immediate family ignored me, because I was two days late for such an historic date. What a tale to tell at cocktail functions if I had arrived exactly on VJ Day.
Uncle Izzy called Victoria "our silly little Firecracker" and Aunt Pearl nicknamed me "young Dave Edison." Needless to say, Victoria never spontaneously exploded and I failed to fruitfully invent.
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After some more reminiscing to Dolly Parton's spunky music, traffic suddenly backed up to a halt. There appeared to be an accident. I examined a map for an alternate route and discovered I was precisely a mile south of Dalton. Sure enough, a conspicuous red sign nailed to a nearby tree announced: Moammar's Birthday Blast!
Assuming my gold coupon worthless, but needing diversion, I followed a gravel sideroad through a dense thicket of high grass and tall trees choked with undergrowth. Bouncing well over a mile into the rainforest, several shoebox-sized signs led me toward the Feuerwerks establishment. An elevated billboard finally came into view. High above the green treetops, it read in bold chartreus letters on a sandy-brown background: Moammar's Giant Factory Outlet. Curiously, the stilted sign was tilted skyward at a 45° angle, perched atop a humongous warehouse of a building which didn't show itself until I entered an asphalt clearing.
Wheeling across the oil-slicked parking lot, I tapped the brakes lightly and slid sideways, out of control. Stepping on the brakes hard to lock up the wheels, I jammed it into reverse, took my foot off the brakes and floored it. The fuel injectors shrieked and the rear tires sang a sickening song, but the gas guzzler straightened out. Barely, the Caddie slid to a stop before impacting the front facade of the place.
I'd come to rest directly in front of a steel entranceway. The only other vehicles visible were the tailend of a suspicious bus parked on the side of the building and a jet-black BMW just inches to my left. Rather than risk putting a ding in its polished Bavarian door, I crawled out my passenger side.
Nonchalantly as possible, I moved around the side of the building, to inspect the dirty bus. The Georgian oasis was muggy, the air acrid with the odor of melting plastic, and I smelled something fishy. Not much of a crowd for a big birthday blast; how convenient it was that an accident backed the highway up to precisely this place.
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Barely visible in the bug-splattered marquee above the bus's windshield, I could read: Empire Express. Head and taillights still shattered, it was unmistakably the bus from Kingdom City. Using a tattered tissue, I wiped sludge from the coach's battered body. Sure enough, it was still chartreuse underneath. The original Tri-County namesake, not to mention the more recent EMPIRE EXPRESS markings on the side, had been covered over with black tar, quite sloppily. But it took no genuis to guess the heap belonged to the Tri-County Histarical Society of yesteryear. Ignoring a dirty brown Bug (early Volkswagen ragtop) parked crookedly in front of it, I took careful note of the bus's personalized Missouri tag: SOS.
Before arousing anyone's suspicions, I returned to the front lot. No doubt, I was being set-up again, but I didn't want to force anyone's hand until I was ready. If they'd gone to all this trouble, they surely weren't going to let me simply drive away. Deciding to act like just another dumb tourist/shopper until I could find the right way out, I looked around, gawk-eyed. Moammar's building was large, totally utilitarian, no windows or trim, other than a gold-leaf extravaganza on the front entrance.
Unpainted cinder blocks rose thirty feet into the hot afternoon sky. A singular red pipe shot up the southeast edge of the structure and terminated in what appeared to be a gas pump on the far side of Moammar's sign. Six of the seven floodlights on top the sign were aimed rearward, away from the billage, onto the roof. Probably for a helicopter pad, I figured, as I surveyed the perimeter. The splotch-shaped parking lot overlapped what had certainly been thriving greenery. Numerous hardy trees still pushed skyward, through a craggy asphalt turf.
Crossing the narrow sidewalk of oily pebbles, I couldn't help but notice a small sign in gold-leaf Arabic, beside the steel doorjamb. Translated beneath the Arabic, into English, was: Handycaped Park in Back?
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Not knowing whether to cry or laugh, I stepped on a brown rubber mat and the heavy front door motored open to the side. I could feel the tension as I entered the austere establishment and passed beneath a prominent bronze plaque which proclaimed: Another PyreTechnical Institution.
Knowing Martin Pyre to be the knave, I continued to play the fool.
end chap 6
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