Recently by Fred Reed: A Fatal Self-Absorption
Saturday morning I walked down the holler, along the old rail line, with a fresh jug of Beam to see what Hant was up to. I wanted to ask him about dodge ball and jumping jacks and violence and all. Hant knows everything. Well, nearly about.
Summer was just starting to get up a good head of steam and the sun was pouring down the holler like it had something in mind and bugs was shrieking and buzzing the way they do, trying to get laid. If I was a bug, it’s what I’d do. Considering what bugs looks like, I don’t see how they ever do it. Anyways the mountains was green and peaceful like. The tracks was mostly weeds since the coal mines went bust. Pretty much most of West Virginia is that way.
Hant works a moonshine still that’s hid off in the woods. He sells to yuppies out of Washington, the Yankee Capital, that wants a Authentic Mountain Experience. Most of them survive it. I won’t drink that panther sweat he makes. It ain’t much worse than battery acid and don’t really kill more than a few yups every year, but I always carry me some Beam.
Hant was standing over by his pile of authentic mountain stone jugs he gets bulk lot from Taiwan and pouring a bottle into the mash. He’s getting on in years now and kinda stiff, and when he sits down it looks like a buck knife folding. He’s got a jaw like someone in the family went into the bushes with a front-end loader, and this flat slouch hat that made you think he found it behind a cow.
“What you putting in that mash this time?” I said.
He’s always putting some new devilment into that bust-head he makes. It’s to give the yups a little extra kick. He tried stove polish and bug spray and I don’t know what all. LSD did the trick but the yups ran into so many electric poles that we didn’t have light for a week.
“This here’s Joe’s Cuervo. It’s Tea-kwiller that them Meskins drink. I reckon Joe is who makes it. Tastes like floor-wax remover. It’s most likely why Meskins don’t have teeth. ”
Hant don’t actually exist. He’s a Literary Apparition. You find them in West Virginia, mostly around damp spots in the woods.
He was eyeing the Beam. He may make rat-killer for the yup trade, but he’s got better sense than to drink it himself.
“Gimme that,” I said, taking the bottle back while there was still time. “I saw Willy Bill McNutter down by Lou’s Rib Pit and he said he heard on the radio out of Wheeling that some kid stepped on a jumping jack and poked a hole in his foot. Now the Feddle Gummint says jacks gonna be illegal and if they catch you with one you go to jail. How much damn sense does that make?”
He looked puzzled. Hant knows everything, but sometimes a few things kinda slip his mind.
“Hell,” he said, “a jumpin’ jack ain’t nothin’ but a set of orthogonal identity vectors with little tiny balls on the ends.”
“Now don’t you don’t go talking like that, Hant. You’re gettin’ out of character.”
He looked unhappy. “I know. I’m a low-down sinner and no good to nobody. I wanted to go to CalTech to learn me some math, but they told me I couldn’t because I don’t exist. It ain’t easy being a Literary Apparition. Gimme nuther hit of that Beam.”
He sucked down about three gurgles and looked powerful content. He may be a apparition but he can sure put away other folk’s whiskey.
“Well, jacks is agin the law now. So’s dodge ball. Gummint says it’s violent and dangerous. And you can’t shoot cats outa car windows any more either.”
“What’s dodge ball?” he said, kind of edgy. He don’t like to admit he doesn’t know a particular thing.
“It’s when one kid stands in front of a wall and the others try to smack the bejesus out of him with a big rubber ball.”
He got this poleaxed look on his face. “What’s wrong with that? We used to do it with rocks. Country’s going to the devil, I guess.”
I knew what he was thinking. There’s only two things to do in a car at night, and if you can´t shoot cats, you’re down to one. Them gummint varmints is always meddling where they got no business. I’d put a bounty on ‘em.
I could see I wasn’t gonna find out much about jumping jacks.
Hant went over to a big stump and got a can of rust-cutter and poured it into the mash. Like I say, he’s always trying to pep up his shine for the yups. He can tell how well it worked by reading the obituaries the next day.
“I figger this’ll balance out the Tea-kwiller,” he said, looking satisfied. “Jiffy Lube still hiding?”
Jiffy Lube is my girlfriend when she’s not trying to kill me with a pool stick or run me over with her car. Her real name is Jennifer Imidazole Fergweiler, but we call her Jif. She’s a good girl, just kind of excitable.
“Yeah. Sheriff says she can come back soon’s that last guy she smacked comes out of the coma. She says she might start a revolution. What’s the world coming to when you can’t smack a rascal with a hunk of rebar, she wants to know.”
I sat on a log and nursed pretty hard at the Beam before Hant killed it. Hant’s old three-legged coon hound, Birdshot, came over so I’d scratch his ears. He used to be four-legged until he put his paw under a lawnmower to see what was making all the noise. It don’t pay to wonder too much.
Hant got this solemn look on his face like he does when he thinks he’s about to say something important.
“We got too much gummint,” he said. “They tell me I can’t shoot revenooers no more. If I don’t do it, who’s going to? I’ll bet they didn’t think of that in Washington. How’s a body going to make a living if he can’t shoot revenooers?” He looked tragic.
I said I had to go and he asked me to bring him another jug of Joe’s Cuervo next time I came. I went off to look for Jiffy Lube. If a feller can’t step on jumping jacks, or play dodge ball, or shoot cats or revenooers, there ain´t much else left to do.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest book is Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit his blog.