Real Hard Fun
"Here, let me rub my scales over you!" pursued the old lady with the candied eyes, propped up by three layers of fat, soft cushions. Wendell recoiled. "Wait, no, what?" It was Old Spencer's special delight to exhibit each new physiological mishap for all the visitors to her sitting room. They sickened Wendell and made him want to cough up scraps. All the same, he felt privileged and entitled in a way, as her ward, to learn from her terrible stories.
This old woman had a nervous tic of fluttering her fingers while telling her jokes, and punctuating her caustic commentary with eruptive blasts of falsetto laughter and a merry bustling in her undergarments. Old Nanny's dry wit was the toast of six counties. All through the dry country, her re-fried hillbilly flapjack corn-stack humor wore the tallest boots, drove the biggest truck (in the backstreet TX truck driver lingo, so often imitated by pedestrians and drivers of the regular car or truck but seldom, if ever, replicated). Her latest yarn was all about a special skin condition she believed she had contracted from an hibiscus plant of the 1946 vintage recently imported from the African Isles. "No, no, Mrs. Spencer, that's alright, we'll just have a nice tea."
"Ah, but yes, I must tell you. My knee has given out most recently!"
Before Wendell was able to defend himself, Mrs. Spencer flipped up the corner of her bedspread and before he knew it he was staring into the hollowed out chamber of what must once have been her knee. Something terrible must have happened. She became very excited describing its cavernous hollowness, the empty feeling it left inside her belly. "Hmm, I see, yes, thank you."
And she was not the only strange character in this strange, self-swallowed boarding house, Wendell realized, starting away down the stairs. Far from it! The whole joint was full of blind faithers of one kind or another, extreme in their actions and satisfied only by the most extreme reactions. Just going round and round in circles, destroying themselves. They all felt God was watching them, and wanted to give him a good show. Wendell decided to go for a walk, and just as he was taking his leave, the tenant Old Brockmeister came down the stairs of the boarding house where Wendell and Old Spencer lived, with a heart shaped dessert stain just over the left lapel. "Evening, Wendell," he offered.
It was no great surprise to see the younger Brockmeister trailing a few steps behind his dad with an identical heart-shaped stain over his own much smaller lapel, the little bird-brain!
Wendell went outside and closed the door behind him and started walking down the street. It was the middle of the afternoon on a very nice day. Such a strange family, the Brockmeisters! Always eating ice cream and sucking down licorice snaps, their special favor for working in the factory being a packet of snaps coupons from the manufacturers. The eldest child, a girl named Clothilde, was often seen rummaging through the sewing room drawers, flinging clothes about. "Oh, clothes!" she cried. "I must have clothes for my imaginary friend, Susan!" But nothing in the house fit Susan, evidently a rather large girl.
And it wasn't confined to the boarding house, either.
The civic-minded Wendell shook his head, thinking of all the stupid humans in this town. The brothers Personal and Paranormal Smith were the town heels. Apparently members of some fraternity, they were always playing jokes with beer glasses and trick playing cards and trying to pick up girls. Personal Smith's approach was to play on the girls' insecurities by admitting his own until they admitted all of theirs, and he would sympathize, but only as long as it took him to get what he wanted, then he'd smile and stand up. "Where are you going, Personal Smith!" He would walk away laughing, every time. Paranormal Smith had a different approach. He would appeal to the young ladies' fear of the unknown and various other phobias. He had all the alien abductees eating out of the palm of his hand. But he was also one of the two town jokesters along with his brother.
Wendell had recently joined an order called the Maker and the Marvins. "We are all Marvins," they told him. "Serving the Maker." When he'd joined, they'd given him a special hat with buttons on the sides that rattled slightly unless supplicant Marvins walked with the optimum quotient of grace and balance in the Maker's sight. The elders told him that once he learned to walk inaudibly while wearing the hat, he would be "graduated" to the next level. It really gave him a kick, playing along with all the order's mumbo jumbo to make it in this town, infiltrated by them for decades. It was fun. But deep down, he knew better. You couldn't fool him. Still, if being a member meant fewer parking tickets, better seats at all the public diners, he was in. And who was it hurting? He only hoped he could pass for a truly dedicated member of the order. He kept drifting off during the speeches.
These were his thoughts as he shuffled through the afternoon, stepping over puddles and piles of snow to another meeting of the order being held in the basement of the strange old town high school. He made a secret sign to another of the members just after he entered and took his seat among the congregated brothers in the greater hall. What would happen after he was "graduated", Wendell didn't know. Each step was "need to know" only. That was part of the way they kept everything secret. He withdrew the green hat with the grace measuring buttons from his inner pocket, unfolded it and placed it on his head.
Lodge Minister P. Cradworth Dobwell mounted the snittering, chittering podium gingerly, gripping its gnarled stand with withered, clenched fingers, assuming the role of Maker for that evening, that old wild-haired white old lunatic. One of the earliest founders, P. C. Dobwell was a real madman. Always grinding his grudge against the gears like a broken record, always going too far. You could see it in the way he tried to carve the goose using a fork. He kept going too far and it gave all the Marvins a breathless delight just to watch this fool going too far, but you wondered how far he would go. Where are his manners?! they marveled. Was he raised in a barn?? Just sitting there watching TV years ago, not even raised by real parents?!!! No doubt it was something like that. The podium snittered and chittered beneath his weight, so old and rickety now after several years of thunderous speeches by wild eyed white haired old men like old Cradworth, and people slamming down gavels and beer steins and so forth.
Wendell drifted away from the speech back to thoughts of Clothilde Brockmeister. He'd snuck a peek in the strange girl's diary one morning when the family of birdbrains went out to church service. The act gave him a strange thrill. The book held many references to the aforementioned Susan and her doings, particularly her taste for a bite of "Sunday sandwich". This phrase was repeated several times, each with an uncertain context, suggesting it was a cover for something else the imaginary Big Susan was doing, every Sunday, to the house and its inhabitants. Often things went wrong on Sunday, the postkeeper's boots were filled with water one Sunday, another time a young boy fell and broke his elbow while towing his rowboat back up from the lake.
Dobwell hammered the podium's top with his fist, emphasizing his point, and it made a loud crack as the wood hit the steel of his cuff links. Wendell came back to reality again, first blinking his eyes, then focusing in on the podium, scapegoat of all these years' passion and zest underground. Indeed the old podium's surface itself was scarred like the hearts of all the high school kids upstairs with hundreds of scratches and nicks and scrawls from years of lodge members' doodling in pen or pencil during their rants, perhaps even one of those pencil compass things you now remember vaguely from your youth. Oh yes, they existed! Being used to draw circles or something like that. The protractors!
A strange silence crackled in the room, the sound of spit hitting the carpet, and Wendell snapped out of his daydream again, noticing that P.C. Dobwell seemed to have become affixed to the podium, his jaws working slowly and long strings of spittle descending from both corners of his mouth as if paralyzed by an unquestioned love for the Maker's mission. It took three members to wrench old Cradworth loose, one of whom carried the podium down one level into the lower chambers of the strange old high school basement.
On the way home from his meeting that afternoon, Wendell caught sight of Brenda, an unsuspecting young UFO abductee with silky brown hair curled behind her ears walking down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. Just then, Paranormal Smith came along playing one of his jokes atop a passing fire engine. He was waving an oversized foam pointing finger embossed with a big football logo. This was supposed to be funny. He was always getting up to something nervy like that, and the truth was it turned Brenda on. But before she could make her move, young Personal Smith sidled up. "I hear your old man drinks. My old man's a drinker too, useta beat me up. Since then I've had this fear of crowds, strangers," as was his way. Paranormal Smith gave the fire engine's steering wheel a mighty swing in the hopes of regaining his rightful prey from evil twin brother Personal Smith, but it was far too late. Brenda was already batting her eyes in surrender. "I have fear of heights," she offered.
Wendell smiled watching the whole diorama unfold across the street and shook his head about the poor old human race, always falling in love with themselves or destroying themselves one by one like clockwork. It was real hard fun, being the ward to Old Spencer, but Wendell enjoyed all the people he kept meeting, fans of hers in from the road. Many eighteen wheelers paid regular calls to the Gristle Stop Cafe, a soup kitchen Granny operated in exchange for her room at the rooming house, taking breaks from tugging their ponderous loads through the blackened U.S., just to sit at the old crone's feet and listen to her spin a yarn. For the most part, she would talk about her shingles or her piles, she had a special love for that, but Wendell's fave of all the yarns she spun was about the time three banks were robbed, six or seven trains shot down, all this by Blackout Bob, the shortest wild outlaw ever. Bob would rather shoot a gun than shave. He never looked at himself in the mirror. All these and other details made him the "thinking man's outlaw", which, of course, contributed to the hunters and truckers' enjoyment, always slow to work their jaws around a mouthful. But these weren't jokes, this was just her natural commentary. Wendell felt like a slave, but he couldn't stop loving her.
That evening he prepared some beef broth for the old woman's dinner and put some cinnamon into the sauce as an experiment in exotic cooking. it came out tasting pretty good, and after eating a bowlful then taking one upstairs for old Spencer, Wendell drank another bowl while sitting downstairs in the kitchen, spooning it down with the big moon shining in from all the windows. It was Sunday today, almost summertime. Wendell crawled under the stairway and resolved to keep watch on Clothilde once she came back downstairs from her ablutions. It was time for a reckoning. This was his special cause and nothing would divert him from fulfilling it. The Maker was sure to be proud.
At first, he was honestly shocked to discover that she, too, was the same kind of warm, beating vessel as he, having always considered Clothilde somehow better than her body (though no less prone himself to a hearty esteem of that wonderful resource, her body, his enjoyment of which was unparalleled). But to realize she, too, was dependent on food and water to survive, one more organic being full of pulses and thrums and hot water and blood and electrical impulses, too, magnetism, just like everyone else, man, it really threw him. She was so easy to take care of. There was a big mess. It took him hours to finish the cleanup service and when the postkeeper showed up, boy was he asteam. "What are you doing! Hey! What's going on here!"
Wendell tried to explain it. "Well, I have just discovered that angels—even angels like this one, are flesh and blood containing spirit, just like us, we have the same corporeality despite our seeming—"
Such a beautiful girl just lying there, her long black hair from the top of her head all the way to her ten polished toenails which shone so brightly like the moons surrounding her feet.
"What on earth are you talking about! Hey, et out of here, you!"
The postkeep chased him out of the boarding house and Wendell ran off down the hill into a neighboring village where he had some cupcakes stored, hoping either to sell all the cups to more beautiful strangers and claw his way back to the top cake by cake, or just give them away. He wanted to claim his stake in this beautiful world. And nothing came free. Ah well, no matter!
is founding editor of a webzine called Doggerel
) specializing in short fiction, verse, art, photography and commentary from the anti-famous (from V. Vale to Rennie Sparks to Paul Krassner to Jenny Abel and beyond), before which he spent years co-editing an irregular journal of quantum thought called The Gut
with Preismatics discover Andrew Wible. Kopp's creative vision is a vital blend of social and political themes with raw, wild soul from the bottom of the can. He received an MFA in Writing (fiction) from Vermont College of Fine Arts in January of 2008, that magic year. Says he's not sure what form it's gonna take, this big shift we're undergoing now, but there are fools who would deny it. Sorehead
, the latest episode in Kopp's fantastic biography, has just been put out by Magic Trash Press
and can be found here