Tuesday, May 31, 2011

De profundis

“Say, Scully?” ventured Murphy, as they lay on their backs beneath the winking stars.  “You ever wonder wonder what it might be like  to have two teeth?”
A pause;  then, softly:  “Sometimes I do.  It must be … beautiful.”
Deep ponderous pauses on both sides for a while;  then Scully asked in turn:
“You ever wonder what it would be like to be Forgiven?”
Something between a moan and a sigh.  “All the time, Scully, all the time.”

[Pronunciation note:  day-pro-FOON-diss.
It's from the Latin translation of one of the penitential Psalms:
"De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine".]

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Secret Truth Revealed at Last

So for a time they rode the rails together, followed their feet and the setting sun.  There was that time in Denver (someday tell y’all about that), that business with Chicago (less said the better), and as for Frisco -- well, that much has passed into legend.
So after a time, Murphy felt they’d knocked around enough that he could pop the question.
“Temme, Scully.  How’s it come y’only got the one tooth?”
Now Scully bridled at bit at that.  “How’s it come you got only the one head.”
Taken aback.  “Never needed but the one.”
“Well me neither.  Damme, I never lost a tooth in my life.  This’ the only one that growed.”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Pub-Crawl

Beneath the pavement of Broadway, a bit above Bleeker, lay Pfaff’s saloon.
Taking Murphy by the arm, Scully steered him  down some narrow steps and into the beer cellar, already loud with drinkers densely wreathed in smoke.  Sand strewn on the deal floor; patrons' drawings  tacked to the walls.  Mostly all male, the exceptions being what are known variously as grisettes or demimondaines. The lighting was dim, such illumination as existed  proceeding largely from the ends of cigars.
“B-but” Murphy  objected.  “This place is sixty eighty years before my time!”
“Don’t you worry,” said Scully.  “Old Pfaff won’t mind.”

They made their way slowly through the crowd, Scully nodding to acquaintances as they passed.  Scully seemed to know almost everybody there.  Murphy’s glance was arrested by the sight of a well-bearded fellow of some three score years, his collar open over a broad chest, a brimmed hat raked down to the right.  He nudged Scully with an enquiring look.
“That’s Walt Whitman, the People’s Poet.”
“Whoa!  I am out of my element here.”
“Here, no sweat, I’ll introduce you.”

Whitman nodded slowly, sizing him up.
Murphy felt uncomfortable, amid the ring of stares.  Finally he threw a punch, just to show he had one.
The poet looked thoughtful as he picked himself up, fished out a loosened tooth and wrapped it carefully in a blue handkerchief, which he then placed in a flapped pocket of his overcoat.
“Quite a punch you got there; shades of Fitz-James O’Brien.  Drink?”   And without waiting for an answer, the bard signalled to the barkeep, who, without waiting for an order, slid swiftly-silently over  with a tray of three tall ones, a trio of frosty schooners  bright with beer.  Then with a toast to the left, and a toast to the right,  the three comrades drank one another’s very good health.

“So what’s your grift?”  said Murphy when he had drained the best part of the glass.
“Bard.  Yourself?”
“Private Eye.”
The poet nodded.  “A fair number of gents would bear watching, in this place.”
Murphy surveyed with a professional eye.  “Thieves?”
“Mostly more like fences.  Though they do steal one another’s epigrams and that quite shamelessly.”
Murphy shrugged.  “Any mug what steals my purse, steals trash; but some guy swipes my one-liners...”
Whitman pursed his lips, and hastily wrote something down on the back of a napkin.

And so the talk went round, as the earth whirled, and the hourhand crawled the clock, and the stars pursued their distant stately orbits.  Friends passed through and sat awhile, till he could scarce collect their names -- Bill Howells, Hank Clapp,  Sam Clemens, Ed Poe, Steve Crane,  trailing a train of Eastern Jews and  Irishmen, some but recently arrived from Castle Garden, and calling each other “comrade” and “Brother Brush”:  all hosted and toasted in bumpers of beer and ponies of brandy.

Yet when, at length, dawn lifted sleepy eyelids in the east, Murphy found himself alone, back on his own three-slat bed, his soul aswarm with fleeing memories, his mind as clear as a crystal bell.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Blood Brothers

“You know, Murphy,” said Scully,  “If you’n me are to be friends, we prob’ly hafta fight.”
Murphy, sick at heart, could not but acknowledge the wisdom of this.

And so they squared off, beneath the unwinking all-knowing  noon-high sun;  bare-fisted, hide-breeches, with not a spoken word.

Long, long  did the fists fly, whirling, round and round:  patient and graceful as the planets in their appointed rounds.  Till at length and at last, they lay each full-length in the dust, their blood-specks spattered like stars.

“We are brothers forever,” they said.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Saga of One Tooth Scully (Part II)

“Murphy,” I said.
“Scully,” he said.
We locked eyes.
“Truman Democrat,” I ventured.
“Wobbly,” he replied.
I nodded appreciatively.   “Welcome, brother.  You’ve come a long way.” 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Scully: the Saga (Part I)

So the Doc here, he plied me -- plied me and plied me -- till I said some things I maybe shouldn’t have.  (By the “Doc”, I don’t mean the sawbones, I mean the slybones, Doctor J.)  Got me reminiscing about my old stablemate and companion in sin, One Tooth Scully.  --  Mind you, that’s what other folks called him, but I never called him that.  True, he didn’t have but the one tooth.  But how does that define the man?  No more than Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson.  (Funny, though, him having two sheds…)

Now right away you’re saying to yourself:  How did you, a city boy, come to know a wand’rin’ ramblin’ wastrel country-boy like old One-Tooth ?  Well the answer is plain as day, if you’ll all just hold your horses for a sec.   The guy spent his time riding the rails, like the planets rounding round about the sun; and stands to reason, time to time, he’d step off and check out the local soup kitchen, or Salvation Army, or that house where any man not made of wood must (for so we’re made) periodically refresh himself.  And one day he stopped off by my city -- think of it as Newark, just to have an image in your head.

Chance would have it, I was down by the rail-yards myself that day, when I see this geezer roll tumbling out the side of a freight-car -- train slowed but it didn’t stop, and him just rolling and rolling like a tumbleweed.   But then  bright as a bronco  he stands right up and dusts himself off, and he flashes me his signature one-tooth grin…

[Continued here.]

Friday, May 13, 2011

Burning Issues of the Day

            Joey still engrossed in the tabloids.  “Y’know Murphy, says here, Truman ain’t a worthy successor to Roosevelt!”
            Murphy:  “Now which Roosevelt might that be:  FDR or Teddy?”
            “Hey -- enough with your TR fixation, Murph.  You know which one I mean.”
            Murphy, taking in the title of the tabloid:  “Yeh I do.  And I also know that that rag was for Hoover, and that it could hardly say the name of Roosevelt without spitting, long’s he was alive.  So when did they get religion?”
            Joey, genuinely hurt.  “Aw, c’mon, there, Murphy.  It’s me -- Joey, here.  I’m no Einstein but I’m trying to learn a thing or two, okay?”
            “Okay, so.  Just like I don’t diss your moose-head…”
            “You lay off of my--!  -- yeh, right, you don’t diss the moose-head.”
            “…and I don’t diss your pile of tires...”
            (Murphy gets a dreamy look:  the pile of tires…)
            “… so you don’t diss my tabloid, ‘kay?  Talkin’ Joey here.  They got short words and not too many of ‘em;  just right for Joey.”
            So Murphy considered the matter seriously.  “Well… Hard to say how well he’s doing -- best he can, I reckon, for what that’s worth -- and this ‘worthy successor’ stuff, I mean, what does that even mean?  No mama brings her son up to be a ‘worthy successor’.
            “But I can say this.   While Harry was the Veep -- that old bucket-of-warm-spit office -- FDR didn’t do a darn thing to groom him.  How you gonna be a worthy successor if the guy you gotta follow doesn’t even want you to succeed?   Guy dies and the generals and the scientists gotta say, Oh by the way Mr. Truman, Mr. newboy greenhorn tenderfoot cluelessassmister President, sir, there’s this thing you probably oughta know about now, thing called The Bomb.   -- So the way I see it -- worthy successor, couldn’t say;  but in that respect, old FDR -- though I voted for him four times -- was not a worthy predecessor.”
            Murphy fell silent;  and Joey was sad.
            “Yeh but” (Murphy said) “what’re we sittin’aroun’ judging Presidents here, for, you’n me… You’n me… too drunk to get up before noon… What’re we up to… sittina-roun…”
            “Yeh well, anyway” (Joey this time, and speaking from his deep pure heart)  “: God be with our President, anyhow;  needs all the help he can get.”

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Murphy on Dual Citizenship

So, Mr. Murphy, the nation is curious.  What is your position on the issue of dual citizenship?

“Say what?”

Dual citizenship.  When a person is simultaneously a citizen of two different countries.

“I don’t get it.  How can that be.”

Well like for instance the al-Qaeda gentleman, Mr. Anwar al-`Awlaqi:  he holds full U.S. citizenship, with all the rights and privileges that accrue thereto, and simultaneously is a citizen of his country of actual residence, Yemen, where he has greater leisure to plan his terrorist attacks.  Or more recently, these gentlemen, whose nationality swings both ways.

“Dual…but... Isn’t that bigamy?”