Barry, our Dos Equis Male and author of The Flight of the Sorceress, is joining us for a second installment of his unique brand of humor. He brought us funny, but poignant, post. This one is takes us back to a simpler time: childhood. Ah... Childhood! The stupid things we do... (grin)
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They were on a scientific quest in the heart of the Amazon and discovered a webbed, hand-like claw. They returned to the States to get more funding, victims, and a girl-friend for the hero. They came back to find that everyone they left in their camp got killed by an amphibious "gill-man" from the Black Lagoon, a paradise from which, inexplicably, no one had ever returned.
With a bunch of fresh scientific meat on the scene, the gill-man, who looks a lot like a humanoid amphibian dunked in used motor oil, gets a chance to kill some more. Conveniently, the girlfriend attracts the attention of the randy gill-man, so that the hero can rescue her, which he does by shooting up the place. It’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
I was among the hundreds of rowdy and sugar-dosed kids stampeding from the summer matinee as if it were the last day of school. Some got rides from waiting parents but the rest of us were simply loosed on the downtown. Pretending to be that creature, or the hero or the damsel in distress, we bumped into pedestrians, relishing our delinquency, the rebukes, the eye-rolls and disgust of the Saturday shoppers as we careened our way toward the bus stop. Little did I know that in just a few weeks, I would be cast into a more realistic version of the Creature, to the utter destruction of a dining experience.
I happened in late August. Hurricane Carol decimated the east coast of the United States, battering the North Shore of Massachusetts, where I grew up, with winds up to 110 mph and extremely strong storm surges. The spire of the Old North Church (Remember Paul Revere’s Ride?) was blown down. Most of the coast was left without power.
My parents decided it might be fun to check out all the destruction. So with my friend Donny, we hopped into our car and drove up the shoreline from Revere to Gloucester, dodging all manner of windswept detritus from broken tree limbs, parts of roofs and shattered glass, to dislodged power lines.
The ocean was luminescent. Roguish waves pounded the shores. The smell of sea salt permeated the air. Clouds swirled in the stormy gray sky. Boats of all kinds, broken free from their moorings, were awash, aground or drifting aimlessly. We stopped at a beach strewn with seaweed and flotsam where I scavenged a heavy brass porthole attached to a piece of superstructure from a sailboat that had been dashed against a cliff and smashed to bits. (As I write this that porthole is barely an arms length away.)
We became hungry. We searched in vain for an open restaurant, but with the blackout most were closed. Finally, we came upon The Big Wheel, a Formica and Naugahyde joint where the food and décor were in sync. Its red neon sign was blinking on and off. Its lot was full. The Big Wheel was open because it had its own generator.
The kids’ meals came quickly. The adult meals took longer. Relishing the opportunity to dine in peace, my parents released Donnie and me to our own devices. We were both nine— wild, troublesome and unruly. Odds were better than even that we’d be up to no good within minutes, but nevertheless, they took the chance. As we saw it they’d just given us a green light to make mischief.
We soon began pushing and shoving. I got the better of a shove and Donnie came after me. Both of us laughing, I began to run down the slope behind The Big Wheel, through tall un-mowed weeds. It was nearing dusk. Ahead, there looked to be a black paved path amidst the weeds about three feet wide and forty or fifty feet long. Why it began at weeds and ended at weeds, I never considered. I wasn’t processing improbabilities. I was intent on outrunning Donnie. A few strides along this clear path, I thought, and I’d get enough acceleration to blast up the slope on the other side of the restaurant. I’d be way ahead of him by then. He’d never catch me.
I raced onto the path. Plop. Oh! Oh! Plop. Plop. Ker-plop. In three steps, I was up to my neck in black slop. It wasn’t a path at all but some sort of un-fenced grease pit, or maybe, and I don’t like to dwell on this, a cesspool. So let’s call it a “grease pit.” But it was as black as the Black Lagoon and as thick as roofing tar —or a latrine full of shit. I was barely able to keep my mouth shut as the goo sloshed up around my face.
I don’t recall how I managed to extricate myself from this muck, but, according to memory, it was instantaneous. On moment I was nearly submerged, the next I was back in the weeds, covered, head to toe in dripping black gunk. When I held out my arms, foul black stalactites drooped all along their length. Others formed under my chin. Still others hung from my ears. My sneakers squeaked with the suction from this foul brew.
Donnie fell on his side, rolling in laughter. “Wow, you really stink,” he reported, lest I couldn’t smell it for myself. “You look just like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
“So what do I do now?”
“Well, I guess we ought to tell your parents.”
I trudged up the embankment, trailing ooze, Donnie behind me at a safe breathing distance, providing a Greek chorus audio of snickering. When we got to the front of the restaurant and I saw my reflection in a window, backlit by the flashing red neon Big Wheel sign, I couldn’t help but agree. I might just as well have been the star of that movie.
I now had two choices. I could wait outside in disgrace and embarrassment, totally humiliated, or I could play it up big-time. I chose the latter. What the hell.
I entered the restaurant dripping muck. Inside, the smell was quickly overpowering. The waitresses blanched. Customers’ eyes popped. Some held their napkins over their noses. Kids stopped jabbering and stared with disbelief. Babies cried. “I am the creature from the black lagoon,” I roared, gesturing with my goopy black limbs.
My parents’ faces melted to the floor.
“What the hell happened to you?” my father growled.
When I explained, my father turned on the proprietor. “What kind of place are you running here?” he yelled. “You have some kind of un-fenced cesspool right behind your restaurant, where a kid could get killed! What are we supposed to do now? There’s no power. No hot water at home. My son could come down with meningitis or something.”
The dispute went on for a while as I stood near the cash register foul of odor, dripping of muck. People began to vacate the restaurant in large numbers. At last, my parents found a beach blanket in the trunk and bundled me into it for a long and smelly ride home, windows all open. Fortunately, we were a bit behind the times. We still had a back-up water heater that used coal and once the thing got cranking could do about five gallons at a time, every twenty minutes or so. They poured bucket after bucket onto me for what seemed an eternity until the smell was gone. Incredibly, I never got sick.
Donnie did his utmost to make sure the story lingered on. For years kids in the neighborhood would jump out of hiding playing Creature From the Black Lagoon to remind me of my greatest cameo role.
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More about Barry Willdorf:
The Flight of the Sorceress blurb:
As the Roman Empire crumbles, the Catholic Church fills the power vacuum by launching attacks on classical culture. Books are burned. Women are restricted from traditional occupations. The lives of pagans and Jews are imperiled. The Dark Ages loom.
But two women, Glenys, a Celtic herbalist and healer, and Hypatia, teacher, philosopher, mathematician and the last librarian of the great library at Alexandria, resist. Though one is branded a sorceress and the other an idolator, they refuse to submit to the demands of the state-sanctioned religious leaders. Their struggle culminates in the cataclysmic events of Lenten week in 415 A.D.
Can anything be preserved?
Aquae Sulis (Bath), Britannia: Spring 410 A.D.
Glenys was roused from sleep by pounding at the door. It was well past midnight. Concerned that the tumult would awaken the old woman in her care, she gathered her bedclothes about her and stumbled barefoot across the drafty hut with only the light of stars and a waning crescent moon through an open window to guide her. Reaching the door, she pushed aside the hide that covered its peephole to spy the face of a man who had always viewed her with contempt. His ruddy nose glowed by the flickering light of the torch he held. Dank hair matted his forehead. Great beads of sweat clung to his eyebrows and moustache, like raindrops on the eaves of a hut.
His sour odor seeped through the cracks in the door, making her gasp. “What do you want?” she hissed. “It’s late and you’re waking the whole town.”
He was panting heavily and obviously had been running. “Are you Glenys? Glenys, who is the healer?”
“What if I am?”
“I hoped to find you at the baths but Ceallaigh told me to try here.”
“You’re breaching the peace, you know. What is it you want?”
“It’s me, the thatcher. My w…wife,” he sputtered. “Come quickly. She cannot…the baby…is stuck… Please, Lady Glenys, come. We need you.”
Glenys cautiously pulled back the bolt.
The thatcher pushed aside the door and clamped a powerful hand around her wrist. Instinctively, Glenys pulled back but was unable to free herself.
“We do not live far from here,” he blurted before she could protest. “We need your help right away.” Without awaiting her reply, he pulled Glenys down the alley and then through a maze of passages until the shrieks of the mother became audible. Women were standing in doorways, their hands over their mouths, shaking their heads and choking back tears. Men, bleary-eyed, peered over their wives’ shoulders looking worried.
“It’s just right over…here,” the thatcher stuttered, pointing with his torch to a cottage that boasted a door of polished planking and matching shutters, in distinction from those around it—signs of his prosperity. He set the torch in an iron cradle, pulled clumsily at the latch and burst in, Glenys still tightly within his grasp.
A circle of flaming torches illuminated a young girl lying naked on a bed of soiled sheepskins. Shading her eyes from the glare with her free hand, Glenys gazed into terrified blue eyes desperately pleading for succor. She gulped a breath, gagging on the acrid black smoke that hung in the low rafters like a prescient storm cloud and sniffed the sobering odors of urine and of broken water.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, Glenys observed that the girl’s tongue had become swollen, likely from dehydration, and now drooped to the side of her contorted mouth as if she were a shipwrecked sailor expiring of thirst.
Her thin child’s legs were splayed wide, knees fully bent, soles flat on the sheepskin. She shivered frightfully.
The image of her mother, who had lovingly taught her the contraceptive secrets of Queen Anne’s Lace and pennyroyal danced before Glenys’ eyes. Glenys unconsciously ran a hand over her mature hip. She’s no more than fourteen years of age. Hardly five years separates us, but it is all the difference.
A gray-haired crone with a misshapen skull and a face as deeply crevassed as the bark on an ancient oak ceased daubing the girl with a wet cloth and squinted at the newcomer. Licking her barren gums with a colorless tongue, she cocked her head and with a gnarled finger gestured at the girl’s vulva. “She’s a small one, she is.”
The girl shrieked.
A second woman, younger than the crone, the girl’s mother, Glenys guessed, put her hands to her temples and began to cry out, “Dear God, dear God.”
Glenys bit hard into her lip to keep from chuckling. The woman’s face appeared to her as an exaggerated pair of pendulous cheeks like sacks of the flour hung from the rump of the miller’s ass. Glenys felt a hot blush of guilt. I am a healer, and this is a matter of life and death. She regained her composure and plucked a torch from the circle.
Holding the fire as close as she dared, she knelt down to examine the girl closely, running educated fingers first along the cervix and then probing further inside. To no one in particular, she reported, “She is ready to deliver but the head’s not engaged. I’m feeling the baby’s rear. It’s breached, and the feet are caught. I’ll try to push the baby back and free its feet.”
The girl screamed again and the muscles of her abdomen tensed.
Glenys pushed away from the child and stretched to relieve her own cramping. She accepted a damp cloth from the old woman, wiped her hands and turned to the thatcher. “Your wife is very young and very small,” she explained. “Unless I’m able to relax her sufficiently so I can free the baby’s feet, they both will surely die.” Failing to make eye contact, she shook her head and addressed the mother. “Even then, I can’t promise success. The baby’s head will come out last. It may be too large for her. If that’s the case, the only thing to do is to cut the baby free.” Again she turned to the husband. “Your wife will certainly die if cutting must be done, but I cannot do it. Just three weeks ago, the vortigern prohibited all women from performing surgery. Perhaps you saw the edict nailed to the door of the old temple? You must summon the physician at once.”
The thatcher’s mouth opened and shut like a netted salmon. Balling his fleshy hands into ham hock fists, he pounded his temples. “The physician . . . cannot . . . be found,” he sputtered. “We looked for him before I came to you.” He fell to his knees and, looking up at the woman towering above, clasped his hands at his chest. “She is only fourteen, Lady Glenys. Only fourteen. Please help her, I beg of you.” The mother too was praying now, her hands pressed together, mouthing the words of a psalm.
Glenys had little hope. She wiped the perspiration from her brow with the sleeve of her nightgown and attended once more to the screaming girl, whose feeble attempts to writhe were being foiled by exhaustion. Absent a miracle, the young girl and her baby were both going to die. Taking an iron key that hung from a cord around her neck, she dangled it and addressed the thatcher, hardly sparing him another look. “How well do you know the baths?”
The thatcher glanced briefly at his mother-in-law before averting his gaze toward the rafters. “Not…”
“…well.” Glenys ventured. “But I am certain you will find it without difficulty. Be quick. This key will open the gate. Go to the great pool. At the far end there’s a hall. The first door you come to will be my treatment chamber. Inside you’ll see shelves. Upon the top shelf, in a blue basket, there you’ll find herbs. The one you are looking for has leaves of dark blue-green and the smell will remind you of a skunk. Bring me that basket in all haste!”
The thatcher snatched the key and rushed from the cottage.
“What herb is that?” asked the old crone.
“A rare herb,” said Glenys. “I obtained it from a Jew in Clausentium who trades with Palestinia. It should relax the girl so that I can manipulate her baby.”
The old woman fussed with the wattle beneath her chin. “From Palestinia, you say? I’ve heard of this herb. You will burn it, yes? The girl will breathe the smoke and lose her senses? Is this the herb?”
Glenys scrutinized the woman before responding. “Perhaps, I’ve not used it before. But this is an emergency and I’ve been told that in Egypt they use this herb for difficult childbirths.”
I hope it’s still there, Glenys prayed silently. With luck, Ceallaigh’s not gotten round to dismantling my chamber yet. But he’s become so erratic... Could it have been just three weeks? So much has changed since that night.