Mitchell Phillip’s PATH to HELL reviewed

Mitchell Phillip’s Path to Hell is short and simple. However, consider Rob Reiner’s comment about his revisionist fairy tale, Princess Bride: “A fine line separates just simple from great satire.” Mitch’s story is not a satire, but his tongue in cheek approach to an old and well-worn genre creates irony. Some literary critics might see any turd on a dusty road as an allegory; however, some turds are allegorical.
Mitch’s simple characters, twenty discounting the dead and unnamed ones, interact in a series of vignettes, not always sequential. Interaction between characters supersedes their actions in furthering the plot, often with trite, near child like, dialogue.
Mitch’s elegant prose contrasting that of his characters—some even speak in dialect—challenges the reader to find depth and the reward is irony built into each character’s self exposure and/or comeuppance from the good-cop-bad-cop to a naive psychiatrist, to racial themes, legal justice versus street justice, and deadly sins contrasted with altruism. The hero reigns in the end—I might have preferred an ironic twist—leaving behind a cast of characters appropriately shunned or rewarded. Intimate sexual scenes are blocked to the reader’s irritation. It is a tale to be experienced on various levels.

PART TWO: CHAPTER FOUR (Latest chapter posted. Scroll down to chapter one and following chapters.)


Groceries unpacked, I had rewarded myself with a Coke when the doorbell rang. Can in hand, I came face-to-face with my younger sister who had no reason not to be back in Illinois that I’d been aware of. Had she left Leroy? On-and-off-again relationships were common with my family but hopefully not dependable Mary Ann. She being nearest my age and my level of shared trust of all my siblings, any decision about sharing my stash of legal documents with family suddenly became more immediate.
“Come on in to my messy house. You’ve got some explaining to do.” My usual short and to-the-point sister greeting. “I’ll put some coffee on.”
“Guess what.” Allowing no time for any response, “We’re moving to North Dakota.” My reaction cut off in mid gasp, “Leroy bought a farm next to his Dad’s. One hundred and eighty acres.”
“That’s nice.” Since neither of us city girls had a clue of what an acre was, I assume she merely echoed Leroy’s enthusiasm.
“It’s a dairy farm.”
With an image from Dad’s nostalgic recounts about farm life in Wisconsin, I blurted, “Cows? Pigs? Chickens?” Replacing Dad with my sister in that picture didn’t fit.
“Just cows. And a bull. Leroy don’t believe in artificial whatever it’s called.” Spoken like a not quite yet farmer.
“With your kids?” A silly question, but I had trouble squeezing them into that developing scenario.
“Of course. They’re excited about being with their other grandparents.”
Our sons, born within days of each other, had strengthened our bond, but moving to Illinois soon after put some distance between us. North Dakota didn’t feel that much closer.
Details of their decision exhausted by a second cup of coffee—and Coke, I approached my subject of interest. “Do you ever look back on those years when Dad had all his problems with the court?”
“Not without getting mad at Hachey all over again.”
The importance of the research I eagerly pursued had suddenly dimmed, and might disappear entirely as far as family is concerned. It will have dead-ended with me; any of my siblings ever digging into the matter is unlikely. However, discussing the little our family knows, or think it knows, is still fair game.
“Dad’s starting to drink quite heavy.” Continuing to drink, but I needed a starting point for our conversation.
“He’s welcome to join us in North Dakota. It’s a big farm house and getting him away from St. Paul might be a good idea.” Touching a nerve, she added, “Leroy would be a good influence on Dad.”
My husband, Tim, until joining Alcoholics Anonymous, had an overwhelming influence over Dad, quite the opposite what Mary Ann suggested from her husband. I discouraged the idea. “Dad would never give up his job at Third Street Bar.”
“Ma said that’s temporary, just until he finds an automotive job.”
“You know Dad’s employment history. Always claimed to know more about the business than any of his bosses. He’d either walk away or get fired. After completing that course at Dunwoody Institute, he did have more knowledge about automatic transmissions than most.” I shook my head in frustration. “Still that superior attitude.”
“He did well with his beer and snacks route, until he stepped on some hoodlum’s toes.”
I left that false impression ride. The hoodlum was a local mafia boss who actually protected Dad’s venturing into Wisconsin. They were old buddies. He even wanted to hire Dad as a body guard after the war. Dad refused, probably his best decision ever, and they often played cribbage until Dad met Mother. “He quit that delivery job after an attempted robbery. Some colored fellow picked on the wrong guy for drug money. When cornered, Dad will protect himself.”
Mary Ann asked, “Is that when the NAACP got involved? I thought that was just one of Dad’s stories.”
“They defended Dad, even though one of their people got hurt pretty bad. Dad quit driving because he injured his back unloading beer barrels.”
“So, he takes a job at a bar and gets involved with a motorcycle gang.”
Away from St. Paul these past four years, my sister seemed well informed of family matters. My expression must have given away my surprise.
She explained, “Ma told me about some guy named Tiny and his motorcycle gang.”
“Gossip hardly worth the cost of a long-distance call.”
“No, not over the phone. Just yesterday, at home.”
“In St. Paul? At Conway?” Home should refer to husband and family, not back with Mommy and Daddy. Or, maybe I’m just envious of Mary Ann’s nostalgia for the place where we grew up.
“Yeah. Been back a week. I took Ma shopping and out to get her hair cut.”
“Back a week already?” Trying to make light of her slight, I chuckled. “Catering to Mother’s vanity.”
As a child, I longed to run my fingers through her hair. She wouldn’t allow me to get that close.
“What’s with the gun? Ma mentioned a revolver, but didn’t elaborate.”
“Belongs to the bar’s owner, keeps it hidden in a drawer near the cash register. A few weeks ago, Dad refused to serve one of Tiny’s buddies because he was drunk and obnoxious. The guy must have stewed a couple of days before rousing the gang to rough up Dad a bit.” A tidbit of information that should and did get my sister’s attention. “Tiny warned Dad ahead of time, and they hatched a plan. When a bunch of motorcycles pulled up in front of the bar and the gang tromped in, Dad greeted them holding the revolver like he was John Wayne. In a calm voice he said, ‘I’ll serve you, but I don’t want any trouble.’”
“Faking surprise, Tiny stepped forward and said, ‘Oh Hell, let’s just have a drink and let bygones be bygones.’ They all proceeded to get drunk.”
“Dad shouldn’t be messing with guns, especially at a bar.”
“I got on his case, too. He just sloughed me off. Claimed it wasn’t even loaded.”
“I’m surprised that Ma puts up with him anywhere near a gun, even if it’s not loaded. She sold his shotgun while he was…” Mary Ann paused as if trying to find the right word. “Gone.”
“Nearly gave it away, according to Dad. The guy took advantage of Mother because she didn’t understand its real value.” I accidently touched on Dad’s superior attitude toward his wife and most other women. With Mother, I agree he’s smarter, but she seems to have more common sense. Makes it all the more difficult for him to give up a good deal of control to her and his mother. I felt his defeat.
I changed the subject to another family trauma. “Do you remember the fire?”
Eyes lit up. “That kid could have gotten all of us burned to death. And what was his mother thinking? Shutting the closet door and leaving their apartment like nothing happened.”
“The kid was a pyromaniac and she covered for him.”
Mary Ann asked, “Were you home when it happened?”
A fair question. I was in junior high school and seldom hung around the apartment during the day, or even after dark, for that matter. “All eight of us kids were. Don’t you remember?”
“I was only ten. But I can still picture Ma walking us to Aunt Rita’s small apartment like a bunch of chicks following Mother Hen. Lucky Ma was there when the fire broke out.” Mary Ann peered into her coffee cup. “Seems like she’d been gone a lot. Was she working?” Her attention focused on Mother rather than Dad.
“The job at Whirlpool came later, after Hasting put Dad on out-patient status. At the time of the fire, she kept herself busy trying to get Dad transferred out of St. Peter.”
“And taking care of us kids.” Mary Ann reminisced. “I remember moving to the Projects quite clearly. Less crowded than at Aunt Rita’s, but the boys got the bigger bedroom, and four of us girls squeezed into the smaller one.”
“We had lived there years earlier.”
“I must have been a baby. How did we…?
I paused but Mary Ann failed to complete her question.
“When I got hepatitis from that filthy back yard and passed it on to our parents, Dad moved us back to the apartment on Seventh Street where we used to live with Grandma Leslie.” Thinking about that place conjured many unhappy memories as a toddler. Grandma fighting with my mother and forced out of her own apartment. Mother leaving me unattended and I fell off the second story porch. My being sent back to my Wisconsin grandmother because Mother was pregnant with Mary Ann. I can still feel Grandma’s swats across my butt with a willow switch.
“When did we move to the apartment on Ostego where that kid nearly burned the place down?”
“After a year or so on Simms Avenue.”
Mary Ann’s mood turned somber. “I remember moving often.” She brightened. “Well, once Dad got out of the hospital, it didn’t take him long to get us moved out of the Projects to our own house on Conway.”
“Thanks to being put back on one hundred percent disability. He made the down payment with the three years back pay he received.” The moment seemed right. “After nine months of lock-up at St. Peter, do you think Hastings’ psychiatrists should have allowed Dad that much freedom so soon? He was barely there a month.”
“No thanks to Hachey!”
“I suspect the judge made his decision and couldn’t change his mind without looking weak.” A deep plunge. “Dad could have gone haywire again and done something worse. Maybe even killed someone.”
“Dad would never do that.” Mary Ann voiced the opinion I’d shared until I read the newspaper accounts.
“That’s what we thought that back then.”
A childhood vision flashed of Dad asleep on the couch yelling and firing a make believe rifle into the air. Ma shooed us off to our rooms, said Dad was having a nightmare. Little did we know how his nightmare would become ours.
Mary Ann’s opinion remained firm. “Well, he’s a different man now.” She reflected, “That part of my life is cloudy. I was still in elementary school. All I remember is crying myself back to sleep ‘cause Dad wasn’t there to tuck me in.”
“You had Mother,” a direction I hadn’t intended for this conversation.
“Ma wasn’t as affectionate as Dad.”
“She let you brush her hair.” There, it was out, my only childhood envy of any of my siblings. Mother had long soft hair but, like touching a hot stove, a second attempt didn’t happen.
“Fixing her hair was my chore. We all had our jobs to do.”
“I never thought of it that way.” My leadership role in our family, belated but glaringly necessary, to stand up for my father as a counter to siblings who side in with our mother, or don’t give a damn about either. Mute though it must be, I will maintain my opinion about our father’s too casual treatment by his psychiatrist, a feeling I had resisted until researching the facts. He shot two men with little or no provocation. Location of the entry wounds indicted an intent to kill rather than just wound. Within inches, just one of the bullets would have changed Dad’s charge from attempted murder to first or second degree, or an insanity plea that would have been taken more seriously.
My head tells me Judge Hachey’s opinion was correct, and my heart sides in with those who diminished Dad’s crime. Why hadn’t I left the matter rest with family lore rather than dig into the facts? Consider the entire coverage of Dad’s criminal act buried permanently, along with the curiosity of one snoopy daughter.
The conversation with my sister steered back to Dad spending time in North Dakota. I agreed to work toward that goal, if I can’t get him to help himself without having to leave home.

CHAPTER FOUR (latest posting–Scroll down for previous chapters starting from the beginning)

Friday, November 24, 1899

Crayons in box on table point to picture of Jesus. Want Caleb to pick color for Jesus’ beard.
Nana’s Jesus has a brown beard. Oma said Jesus beard should be black.
Doesn’t like black. Fire makes stick-soldier turn black. Asks Stella, “What color is Jesus’ beard?”
Stella turns from stove and points to brown and yellow. “Some shade between these two colors.”
Face wants to cry. Knocking on the kitchen door makes stomach jerk.
“Please see who’s there, Caleb.”
Voice shakes. “Maybe Papa.”
“I told you not to call him Papa. Besides, Father wouldn’t bother to knock.” She points. “Open the door and surprise whoever it is.”
“But, Nana.”
“You can call me Nana, for now. At least until you learn to pronounce your ‘s’ words.” Nana keeps eyes on Caleb.
Whimpers and does slow walk. Opens door and sees lady with red hair from café. She grabs arm of boy bigger than Caleb. Boy’s lip curls, eyes glare at lady.
“Hello, Caleb.” She pushes boy into kitchen.
Backs into Nana. Looks up at her and points. “Oma.”
Boy slams door shut. Oma takes green and yellow candy suckers from brown purse. Boy grabs green one. She shows Caleb yellow one.
Shakes head. Wants green one.
She puts yellow sucker in her mouth. “Good morning, Stella. Who the hell is Oma?”
“Good morning, Emma. “Oma was Caleb’s mother. I’m Nana, his grandmother. We can deal with it later.”
“I’ll rather like the idea of role-playing his mom.” Yellow sucker between teeth, Oma grins. “Nana, I would like you to meet my son. Buddy, this is Miss Reinhardt, Father Busch’s house keeper.” She points at Caleb, teeth crush yellow sucker. “And this, I suppose, is your new brother, Caleb. He’s about your age.”
“Caleb is five.” Words left lips without permission. Sits and looks at Jesus’ beard with no color.
“Close enough.” Oma sets purse on table and takes off boy’s cap. He sticks out green tongue.
“Father Busch isn’t here, Emma. He’s in Harrington making his rounds at the hospital.”
“I know. Every Friday morning after Mass. Father used to stop at the café for breakfast before you became his cook.” She licks finger and pats down bunch of boy’s black hair. It pops back up.
“Then why…?”
She brushes red hair from her eyes. “I could say we just happened to be in the neighborhood but it would be a white lie.”
Oma tells Nana not to lie to Caleb.
“Sorry to barge into Father’s private quarters. I rang at the office entrance.”
“Caleb and I were involved in some serious art work, but I try to listen for visitors to the Rectory when he’s not here.” She frowns. “You rang the office bell knowing Father was out?”
“My first lie for the day. Okay?”
Oma says, “Don’t lie to me about my baby, Sean.”
“Am I forgiven? Nana?”
Nana? Not Stella?
“You’re forgiven, Emma. Take off your coats and sit down.”
Buddy drops coat on floor and sits on Father’s chair feet facing wrong way. “Buddy, please let your mother have that chair.” Nana moves chair too close to Caleb’s chair. “Sit here and I’m sure Caleb will share some of his crayons.”
Picks crayon from box. Colors Jesus’ beard green. Careful to stay inside the lines.
Nana shakes her head and turns away.
Shoves green crayon back and closes box. Makes eating-lemons face.
“Cookie for you, too, Emma? With a cup of coffee, perhaps?”
“Aha, a peace offering. Yes, I drink it black.” She drapes coats over back of Father’s chair.
Slams coloring book shut. Wants Nana’s eyes to scold.
“Be nice to your new friend and share.” She pours Oma’s coffee. “Careful, it’s boiling hot.”
Opens coloring book to Jesus green beard. Shows Buddy other page. Pushes box of colors little bit closer.
Buddy dumps crayons onto pile. He doesn’t color careful. His mother should tell him to color inside lines. She says, “Buddy, tell Caleb thank you.”
Buddy colors with crayon in each hand. He doesn’t say thank you.
Oma should scold her son. She pours coffee into saucer and sips. Tells Nana. “I came to apologize for my rude comment yesterday.”
“I don’t know what you’re sorry about, Emma.”
“Having been with Father Busch barely a year, you aren’t aware of local gossip.” Oma’s eyes find the couch in living room with Mother’s quilt. “Father keeps you hidden away in this house.”
“I want to live with Caleb and Nana, but Sean keeps me hidden away.”
Nana moves crayons and sets down two glasses of milk with plate of cookies. Sniffs. Not cookie like Caleb’s real Nana made. Buddy grabs two cookies and dunks one with fingers into milk. He jams whole cookie into his mouth, licks fingers.
takes small bite and makes Oma’s eating-lemons face. Spits cookie into milk and pushes it down with finger. Nana doesn’t look at Caleb.
She tells Oma, “I just quietly do my job as Father’s housekeeper and avoid gossip, Emma.”
Buddy’s mother looks at his scribbly picture. Smiles?
She faces Nana. “That’s not how the real world works, Stella.”
“I’m just Stella now, not Nana. Done role playing with names?”
“I was only trying to amuse the kids. With adults, I’m still Emma and you’re Stella.” She looks at Caleb, “Kids will say anything to get attention.”
Nana should tell Emma not to hurt Caleb’s feelings.
“Sorry I interrupted. You were describing the real world.”
Emma says, “Well, you won’t find it at the nunnery in Harrington. And not at the nun’s house here in Bovine.”
“Teachers here are Benedictines. I was preparing to be a Franciscan sister.”
No brown dress and bonnet. Not Nana. Not Fran…
Stella looks sad at Emma. “Until Mother Superior made me drop out before taking my final vows. Told me to serve God as a lay person. She felt I wasn’t ready for the cloistered life.”
“Amen to that.”
“I still feel bound by chastity, poverty, and obedience.”
Emma waves her hand at ceiling. “After a few years of marriage, all women look favorably at chastity, can’t avoid poverty, and we should be used to obeying.”
Policeman says Oma must obey the law.
Stella says, “I’m still wondering how you were rude to me yesterday.”
“I accused you of keeping my dead husband’s name on the record.” Emma takes a big breath. “I was your age when we married, Felix was in his sixties.” She pauses. “Thank you for not gasping.”
Stella’s face is surprised.
“Before you became secretary, Father Busch kept the minutes, summaries he called them, until Cunningham got all uppity about rules of order.” Emma drinks from sauce and then blows into coffee cup. “I imagine that’s how his wife, Clara, runs her household. I’ll have to admit, meetings have gone much smoother since.”
“Back in high school, those rules of order were barely mentioned. Teachers enforced rules, and in the convent, Mother Superior—”
Buddy’s mother slaps the table. “That’s the kind of top-down thinking that we have to put up with when dealing in church matters. Case-in-point, the Orphan Train business.” Lady with red hair pours hot coffee into saucer again and slurps from it. “Dumping New York street kids on us.” Café Lady looks angry. “And the Matt Gerhard matter.”
“Father Busch just wants Matt to repent.”
Lady with red hair smiles funny. “It’s more serious than that. Even the pope got involved.”
“I’ll take it all the way to the pope.” Man-in-Black laughs.
“Mary had problems when she carried her last baby. She almost died giving birth to their daughter, Rose.” Emma whispers secret too loud.
Nana says Little Sister came out of Oma’s belly.
Picks up black crayon. Wants to scribble all over Jesus.
Man-in-Black said Little Sister died. Nana and Oma cried. Caleb cried, too.
Puts black crayon into empty box. Buddy off of his chair.
“Mary already had her son, Earl, who, by the way, is about our boys’ age.”
“Caleb, isn’t my… I mean I’m not his mother.”
“Of course not by blood. She sips coffee from cup. “You and Father are a family unit.”
“Just until Father finds Caleb a home.”
“Your boy can’t stay with his grandmother.”
“And after hell freezes over.” Emma sets her cup on dirty saucer. “Unless Matt and Mary adopt Caleb. They can’t have any more children.”
“Oma won’t give you another Little Sister.”
Stella lifts her cup but doesn’t drink. “Can’t have?”
“Matt had some surgeon fix his wife to never have any more babies.” Emma shakes her finger. “Father Busch handed down Mary’s penance.” She smiles mean. “Avoid having sex for the rest of her life.”
Oma says sex is a bad word.
Stella Stands. She sits back down.
“Matt complained—a fist to the holy schnoz before their argument ended.” Another mean smile.
Buddy goes into living room.
“Ask Father about his crooked nose, some time.”
Stella goes to ice box, but just holds handle, doesn’t like Emma’s talk. She turns and asks Emma, “Will your step-grandson, Earl, start school next year with our…these boys?”
Emma says, “A welcome change of subject. Buddy will be in the second grade in town, and Earl will start at a country school where they hardly even count grades. Every cluster of farm families built their own one-room school house. Except for church on Sunday, those kids don’t get to town much.”
“At the Council meeting, you didn’t sound too hopeful about presenting the idea of adoption to…your step son, Matt.”
Plays peek-a-boo with Buddy behind Mother’s quilt.
“He’s a couple years older than me and didn’t approve a teenager marrying his father. Before he died, Felix told him to take care of his young bride. Matt bought me off with a few sacks of oats and some bushels of potatoes.”
Oma says, “You can’t buy me off with some crazy promises.”
“I’m okay with the deal. I got Bud and the café to keep me going. And my son, Buddy.” Emma smiles big. “I was hoping Caleb and Buddy might strike up a friendship. Do some playing together.” She looks surprised at Buddy’s empty chair and his colored-up picture. She doesn’t see Buddy wearing Mother’s quilt like a cape.
“Oh my gosh, Emma.” Stella’s eyes move from Buddy’s picture to Caleb’s. “What have we been saying in front of the boys?”
Stella is sad that Caleb colored Jesus’ beard green.
Buddy runs and slaps his mouth. Makes woo-woo-woo sound. He drags Mother’s quilt. Emma chases him and takes it away. “That’s Caleb’s. Gives it to Stella.”
Buddy’s game with Mother’s quilt is funny.
Stella folds it and puts it back on the couch. “I’ll be glad when Caleb gets his own room.”
Oma says, “Caleb sleeps in his own bed.”
Emma tells Stella, “I have an idea. Let’s drive out to Matt’s farm. Give our boys a chance to burn off some of their pent up energy.”
Smiles at Buddy. He smiles back.
“I’m still under the vow of obedience.”
“Would it make a difference if I told you to come with us?”
“I am bound to obey Father.”
Father is Stella’s Papa?
“You get his permission and I’ll stop around noon tomorrow.” Emma gives Buddy his coat. Buddy puts hood on head and pulls sleeves under chin. He runs around kitchen making scary face.
Giggles. Buddy is funny.
Emma says, “Put your coat on the proper way.” She takes coat and picks up purse with no candy.
Buddy shoves arms in the wrong sleeves. “Button it in back, Ma.”
She laughs and pushes him out the door. She waves back at Caleb. “Don’t worry, we’ll find you a place to live.”
Lifts arm. Hand won’t wave back.
“Good Lord, what kind of mess did I just get into?”
Nana is sad.

The Wedding Shower

The Wedding Shower
by Mort Harris

A friend of mine was getting married. I was invited to his wedding shower that was held at a Dude Ranch. The wedding shower was great but the day ended in disaster. That was the day I received a new suit, got blisters on my foot and tried to explain to a judge why I was picked-up for indecent exposure.
There I stood in front of the judge with no pants and looking like a drowned rat. The judge stared down at me.
“It says here you were found by the police wandering on the bridle path in your underwear and no shoes. Do you have anything to say?”
“Yes. For one thing, I was not just in my underwear, I had a shirt on and I had one shoe on. I lost the other one trying to get my pants off.”
“Can you explain why you’re tried to get your pants off?”
“Yes.” “I was at my friends shower.”
“You were showering with a friend?” asked the judge.
“No your honor, I was with a horse.”
“You were showering with a horse?”
“ I was at a Dude Ranch your honor.”
“Okay” she said, “we’ll work that out later. Continue.”
“Well, it suddenly began to rain heavily so we were washed out.”
“You or the horse?”
“The shower was rained out so, we reined in the horses.”
She stopped me, “you said the shower was rained out and the horses were reined in?” “Yes.”
“We’ll work that out later too” she said. “Go on.”

“Well, we all rode our horses back to the stable but on the way my horse stopped to eat apples on the ground. I kicked, I hit, I punched but the horse would not move. So there I am sitting on the horse and getting rained on. I thought, if I could get off the horse and pull him away from the apples but that is when my leg got caught in the reins.”
“Wait” said the judge “you say your leg was caught in the rain? Where was the rest of you?”
“Getting soaked!”
“How come only your leg got caught in the rain?”
“Because your honor, I let the reins drop.”
“I know sir, in what direction did the rains drop” she snapped. Continue.”
“Well, as I was trying to get my leg out of the reins the horse started to run and there I was with one leg in the reins and the other on the ground being dragged along. To get my leg out of the reins I had to strip off my pants and lost a shoe at the same time. That’s how I got out of the rain.”
“Why was it so important to just get your leg out of the rain?”
“You don’t understand!”
“Please” said the judge “I’m confused enough. You must be telling the truth because no one could make-up a ridiculous story like that. We now find your story at the stable. They said your horse came back with a pair of pants but no rider. I have two pieces of advice for you. See a doctor and stay out of the rain. Case dismissed.”
When I returned to the stable there was my horse looking at me and laughing, and I’m sure the rest of the horses were giggling too. That’s the last Dude Ranch you’ll se me at.


Career development and lasting relationships

My mother claimed I laughed after hanging up, but the information received wasn’t funny. Gerald was dead, and I felt some responsibility for his decision to end his own life.
My mother had called me to the phone and stood by, curiosity etched on her face. “Well, what was that all about?”
I said, “My cashier’s husband shot himself.” I distinctly remember saying my cashier, not the cashier at the Paramount, or calling her by name, Carol.
“But you laughed.”
“I didn’t laugh,” I replied. “At least I didn’t mean to.”
“Were the two of you friends, this man who shot himself?”
“No, as a matter of fact he was very jealous, and I think he wanted to hurt me.” I had already said too much, but she tucked that incident away with the other mysteries surrounding my life away from home. “That was my manager on the phone and he wants me back right away.”
I had been summoned, but more important, I needed to talk to Carol, the first person I ever had intimate sex with.
The thirty-mile drive from my parent’s home to my college apartment seemed to take forever, with emotions ping ponged from guilt to relief and back to guilt. My unplanned one-day trip to visit my parents was to avoid a conflict with Gerald. Carol and I had been counting the box office receipts, when he parked across the street, got out of his yellow Buick, and glared.
Against Carol’s advice—he had obviously been drinking—I crossed the street rehearsing a question that I hoped would break the ice. His features were shadowed from the overhead streetlight and gave no indication of his temperament, but the strong odor of alcohol offered a clue.
“Are you willing to talk to me?” I chose my words carefully, opting against the blunt can we talk?
I accepted his snort as yes, because I hadn’t a prepared response if he refused.
“I’m so sorry about what happened between Carol and me. I would give anything to change that.” Silence. I chanced what only a naive young man might attempt. I held out my hand and said, “I’m hoping we can get past this and still be friends.”
The double irony of the situation, we weren’t friends before the incident. From the details Carol told me about their relationship, he wouldn’t be the kind of person I would want as a friend.
He stared at my hand and said, “And to think I was just beginning to trust you.” He stepped off the curb and headed toward the Paramount. Carol scrambled from the box office and disappeared into the theater. Gerald paused in mid street and headed toward the Sportsman Bar. I felt a sigh of relief when he bypassed my uncle’s bar in favor of a more rowdy bar a few doors down.
Later, as I was taking the receipts to the night deposit at the bank, a huge yellow Buick swerved, jumped the curb and came directly toward me. I froze, not knowing which way to move, but it swung back into the traffic. Gerald’s last words through his open window, “You fucker.”
I didn’t go to my apartment that night, but decided to pay my folks a visit. The next day was my day off and I didn’t care if I missed a day of school.
The seduction began a couple of months earlier when Carol and I were counting the matinee receipts. I joked that my landlady painted the toilet seat without telling me.
She laughed and said, “My sister’s fixing up an apartment in her basement you could rent. I’m living upstairs with her for the time being.”
Separated from their husbands, both sisters could use the extra money; it seemed like a logical decision. I moved a couple of days later, just before the storm of the century. When I woke up, I found approximately four inches of water covering the floor. Sloshing to the toilet I thought about the painted toilet seat, my reason for moving to this swimming pool. I retreated back to bed, the only dry spot, and pondered my predicament.
A light knock on the door and Carol’s voice, “Are you awake?”
She entered before I could answer, standing in the open door with the sunlight behind her. Her long blond hair usually tossed over her shoulder and spread across her left breast or braided and trailing behind her, was rolled tightly into a circle on top of her head. The few errant strands glittered.
She sat on the edge of my bed and said, “I’m sorry. We never expected a flooded basement. I wouldn’t blame you if you want to move out.”
I lay on my back grasping the single sheet tight to my neck. “Does this happen every time it rains?”
“It depends on what you mean by this.” She crossed her arms, lifted her negligee and thrust it aside. She stood and pulled the cover from my grasp. I remember her cold wet feet against mine, barely recovering from my trip to the bathroom. We were side by side, naked.
I can’t remember what happened, or didn’t happen, but she said, “Maybe if I let my hair down it will help,” so I assume our first attempt wasn’t a total success.
I didn’t need her to let her hair down to appear more sexy. That wasn’t the problem. I couldn’t tell her that the stretch marks on her stomach disturbed me. I knew she had children, but I had no idea what pregnancies can do to a woman’s stomach. To this day I imagine, if she thinks of the incident at all, she will assume letting her hair down did the trick. Actually, I shut my eyes, and it worked.
I hesitate to tell what happened next. Gerald burst into the room, sloshed to our bed and cuffed me across the face. He pulled Carol up by the hair and dragged her through the water and upstairs.
About a minute later Carol’s sister came down and said, “He’s gone, but you better get out of here.”
After a night in my car, my friend Del Hoppe and I located an apartment above Harry’s Bar at the opposite end of St. Germain from the Paramount. Del, a fellow college student, worked as a relief projectionist at the Paramount. We maintained our friendship to the present.
I suffered bouts of anger and guilt, the first against Carol and second against me, and our relationship never recovered to the openness we once shared. She got into trouble reselling tickets and pocketing the money, a somewhat common practice at the time, and agreed to quit. She remarried one of my college buddies.
I stopped at their apartment one evening after work to share the details of my promotion and was surprised at her protruding belly. I resisted asking if the wrinkles disappeared, and then began to mentally count our months of separation, although nearly a year had lapsed.
She grinned and patted her tummy. “It’s my husband’s baby.” She cast her gaze to the floor. “I miscarried Gerald’s baby.”
Gerald’s baby. I again began to mentally count but had no beginning or ending reference dates.
“You probably figured out that we reconciled before I quit at the Paramount, but you and I weren’t talking much at the time.”
My turn to stare at the floor. “I’m sorry.” For allowing her to take the blame or for the loss of her as my confidant, I couldn’t express at the time.
She ignored my apology. “Gerald took advantage of my guilt and forced himself sexually on me until I got pregnant. After the doctor established my due date, he shot himself.”
“He wanted you pregnant? Why?”
“I would have three kids to support, not an attractive situation for finding another husband.”
“Well, I guess you proved him wrong. Where is Gary?” When I had called she said he wasn’t home but I should come over anyhow.
“He hasn’t left me, if that’s what you’re thinking, nor are you going to get a repeat performance. We’ve hurt each other enough.”
“You didn’t hurt me,” I lied.
“Good. Now tell me what happened to Sammy?”
Sammy had been fired as manager of Paramount’s sister theater, and I was promoted to his position, the news I intended to share with Carol that evening. Theater business dominated our conversation the remainder of the evening. I wish we could have dug deeper into our relationship, which, except for one incident of sex, was like a brother sister. Had things worked out different, my seduction could have been a positive experience.
Like an older sister, Carol cautioned me about stumbling into a forced relationship by getting a girl pregnant. “Always carry condoms,” she had advised. “Look at me. Pregnant at age seventeen and forced into a bad marriage.”
I refused her advice because the sin would be premeditated. Ironically, she hadn’t offered a condom that morning in the flooded basement.
I believe her intent was my initiation to sex and wanted to make the experience a positive one for me. Another gift of irony, it turned out to be the least safe sex of all. The incident ultimately blended with all my other growing-up experiences and helped shape my character.
I only wish Gerald would have shaken my hand that night in front of the theater.

Gossip and Alpha Male

According to Yuval Noah Harari in his book SAPIENS, the key that set homo sapiens apart from the other animals about a million years ago can be found in the use of language. Most animals have speech related to specific needs: mating, danger, and pleasure. Some such as monkeys learned to deceive, a false alarm to clear the pack from a food source. Most sounds are memorized codes such as the alphabet soup of acronyms relating to our government, CIA, FBI, USDA, etc. Like the nouns in any language, the list could go on nearly forever.

Homo sapiens discovered relationships between these coded sounds, much like verbs, actions between them. On to higher forms of communication: abstractions (unseen forces in the universe) and hypothetical’s (if thens and what ifs.)

Abstract language coupled with a more basic interaction inherited from animals—rule of the alpha male over social groups, modern time extended to include alpha female—coupled with a basic human need for self identity. Who am I in relation to the other members of my social group. Gossip. These judgmental statements require abstract words—feelings, values, attitudes, appraisals, put-downs.

Social groups are still ruled by alpha males, but the lower hierarchy continually jostles for position, how do I fit in relation to those closest to me. Conspiracy theories—recently labeled fake news—add juice to the conversation.


by Mort Harris
Nineteen forty eight, the American West teemed with hostile Indians. As more settlers moved out West, Redskins attacked wagon trains and burned ranch houses, tarnishing the name of Washington’s famous football team. The President, in desperation called upon Stephen Gold, the Secretary of State. “We have a serious problem with terrorism in this country” said the President. “The Indians are attacking us indiscriminately. We have information that they are stealing herds of women and raping the cattle.”
“Sir” asked Gold, “Could that report be in error?”
“Never!” thundered the President. “Our intelligence is indisputable; worse than that, they have resorted to suicide knifing.”
Gold was shocked. “Suicide knifing?”
“Yes” said the President. “Terrorists are attacking saloons; they knife a few people and then stab themselves to death.”
Gold shook his head. “Insane fanatics.”
“What’s wrong with those Indians?” questioned the President. “Haven’t we been generous with them?”
Gold whispered, “Maybe they are a little upset about us being on their land and slaughtering their Buffalo.”
“Nonsense. It’s those wild extremists, the Redskin Supremacists.” He grabbed Gold by the shoulders, “Gold, you are an expert on the far West. I need you to go and check out the tribes. We have received reports that they are preparing for more attacks. More importantly, it is rumored that they are compiling arrows of mass destruction.”
Gold asked, “Have you intercepted any vital messages between the tribes?”
“Only one, when we broke their smoke signal code.”
“What did it say?”
“Yankee go home.” The President shook his head. “Those inconsiderate heathens.”
“Ungrateful savages.” echoed Gold.
The President slammed his fist against his desk. “We have got to have more rigid immigration laws. The Indians act as if it were their land.”
Gold grimaced but nodded.
“One more thing Gold, when you’re out West find out what we can do to lure more settlers out there. I’ll send a large army with you as a peace measure, of course.”
After his futile search for arrows of mass destruction, Gold wrote:
Dear Mr. President,
I picked up some pretty trinkets and got a great buy on a blanket. At our pow-wow, I learned the tribes were not open to our kind of democracy. However, they thanked you for the gifts of whiskey.
Stephen (One Braid) Gold
Toward the end of his trip, Gold found himself in Sutter’s Mill, California. Crossing the muddy main street, he was struck by a speeding stagecoach. People gathered around his injured body.
“Who is that?”
“That’s Gold.”
“What happened to him?”
“He was struck by a stagecoach.”
Word started spreading though the town. “They struck Gold.”
“Sutter’s Mill.”
The Pony Express carried the fake news all the way to Missouri. “They struck gold in California.”
The excitement spread by telegraph to Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Thousands of people stampeded out West to seek their fortune.
Swathed in bandages, splints on his arms and legs, Gold, leaning on a crutch, met the President in the Oval Office. The President nailed a medal into the cast that covered Gold’s chest. Gold attempted a salute but the cast on his arm locked at the half way point. The president heaped praises on his Secretary of State. “You have exceeded my expectations. You not only pacified the Indians with whiskey, but you discovered an ingenious way to get our people to migrate West.”
“Sir, the people of this nation are lucky to have a man such as you as President.”
“I know,” boasted the president. “I sent my best General and more troops to suppress the Indian uprising in the Dakota territory.”
Months later, General Custer stood proudly on a hill top waving the flag of the 27th Cavalry and shouted, “I will stop those Indians if it’s the last thing I do.”
Mort Harris is a comedy writer for Marty Allen.


by Geri Bedrosian, President Summerlin Writers Workshop

Calpurnius loved his horses. It might be said Calpurnius loved his horses more
than his sons, more than his daughters, more than Potitus, his father, more than his
wife, Conchessa, more than his life. True the horses and the cavalry command
brought him wealth and prestige. The horses in the cavalry and his Decurion, (10
Roman-Briton cavalry horse warriors), needed him-they were welfare, income, life
style, life’s blood. Every day he and the men and his sons tended to the horses
every need. The exercising to create muscles of steel, quick responses and
maneuvers in the face of battling foe, feed, brushing down, rubbing down, finding
mares and sires to continue to breed the finest cavalry horses in Cumbria. He
demanded utmost allegiance from his men, his ten and his sons that these horses
and men became as one in the face of battling for life, limb, family, tribe, religion,
country and king.
Depending on the season, bone cold, chilling wet or hot soaking steamy work life,
little rest from training, maintaining, managing – it consumed all their lives for it
was their livelihood. They slept and woke with the horses every day. This was the
life of Calpurnius’ son Maewum Siccat, born 387 to Calpernius and
Conchessa. He grew to be a strong, wiry fair-haired lad and could know the best
and worst of a horse, could out ride his tribe and siblings, could know the very
dreams and ideas behind those most beautiful largest eyes in kingdom come.

That is why it surprised Calpernius that his elder son did not want to serve the
Calvary or the Curia, the senate seat of Cumbria’s decision-making government as
was written by law. Maewum wanted adventure and not servitude to the Cumbrian
citizenry. He knew horses and he knew he was a warrior. Be careful what you
wish for. And, as fate would have it, Maewum got his wish. A marauding tribe of
Irish pirates overtook Cumbria and kidnapped most of the women and children,
leaving many Cumbrian men dead. Maewum was on board a ship to Ireland with
some of his townspeople, a slave to a ruthless Pelagian tribe who believed original
sin was not passed on to mankind, born in innocence with a nature that is pure as
Adam first was. This was not Maewum’s tribal religion. He was in servitude until
he was 16 having mastered the Irish language and culture and worked as beast
master, tending all manner of animals. He was abused and psychologically
brainwashed to believe the Pelagian ways or die. This he did until his
He escaped all right-right into the hands of the French in Tours where he learned
French monasticism. He escaped and returned to Ireland where he converted
pagan warriors, wealthy royal, noble women, the unfree and the poor to vow to his
monastic charity overthrowing pagan idols, converting pagans in Ireland to true
Christianity, that humankind is born in sin and must spend eternity and good works
to escape it. Churches were built on royal lands but Maewum refused Kingly gifts,
their kinship which made him outside their protection. He was charged with
financial impropriety having received gifts from his converts, wealthy women,
who later became nuns. He was beaten, robbed, chained, imprisoned, awaited
execution. He returned the gifts and made restitution and was set free to continue
his life’s work. It is true he used the parable of the shamrock to teach the trinity of
3 persons in one God: the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit but never a snake
slithered in Ireland’s cold and salt sands. The Druids wrote this poem about
“Across the sea will come adze head, crazed in the head, his cloakwill hole
for the head, his stick bent in the head, he will chant impieties from a table in the
front of his house and all his people will answer: so be it, so be it.”
By now Maewum Siccat was being called holy
Magnus (famous), Succetus (god of war), Patricius (father of citizens),
and Cothirtiacus, which in Old Irish is Cathraige and Celtic Latin
is Patricius (servant to the Four Druid Houses). This last name is the name
Maewum became: Patricius (Patrick) warrior/priest, father to followers, slayer of
Pagans for conversion to true Christianity. He made a name for himself but about
that color green….


The leprechaun slipped out of his secret hiding place as
the sun set in the west.
From afar he heard the music of an Irish Jig and began
to swirl and dance.
A cloud appeared above his head and swiftly travel to the
young lass.
To bring unto her young life a feeling of a wonderous
No, no said the people, we do not believe in love and
It’s for us to decide who shall drive the bridal carriage.
Young people do not have the wisdom and knowledge to
make such an important decision,
it’s the elders to decide each and every mission.
Ah, but the leprechaun wanted to cause havoc and
disruption, for he knew true love was the best of a
romantic discussion.
So, he cast a spell upon a priest to secretly to find and
marry, those of whom that loves comes from the sprinkle
of the love fairy.
He goes by the name of Patrick and the world owes him
great affection, because he turned the world around in a
new direction.
This annoying little leprechaun spell made the Priest owe
so famous.
A holiday was name after him that brought true love to
the surface.
First comes St. Patrick’s Day – when the Irish celebrate
the Wearing of the Green. Then comes April 15th – when
the government observes the Sharing of the Green.
St. Patrick’s Day is such a wonderful occasion. It gives
Irishmen that same feeling of omnipotence that Texans
have all year round.
Like Clancy told his wife the other day: “You gotta look
on the bright side of things, honey. Remember all the
gold jewelry I gave you for Christmas? Be thankful it
turned green in time for St. Patrick’s Day.”
I know a Jewish fella who celebrates St. Patrick’s Day.
The way he reads it, it’s: Aaron – Bo Ruagh!
Leprechaun fair warning “Never iron a four-leaf Clover.
You don’t want to press your luck.”
Murphy told Quinn that his wife was driving him to drink.
Quinn thinks he’s very lucky because his own wife makes
him walk.
Reilly went to trial for armed robbery. The jury foreman
came out and announced, “Not guilty.” That’s grand!
shouted Reilly. “Does that mean I can keep the money?”
Billy stops Paddy in Dublin and asks for the quickest way
to Cork. Paddy says, “Are you on foot or in the car?” Billy
says, “In the car.” Paddy says, “That’s the quickest way.”
On St. Patrick’s Day O’Reilly was going to take his final
solo flying lesson. His engines cuts out and he
immediately gets on the radio yelling, “Easter –
Christmas – Armistice – April fools – New Years. The
radio operator on the end says very comely, “Do you
mean mayday?”
“Did you see the paper?” Gallagher asked. “They say I
died!” “Yes, I saw it!” Finney replied. “Where are you
callin’ from?”
Leprechaun words of wisdom: In life, there are only two
things to worry about. Whether you’ll live or you’ll die.
If you live, there is nothing to worry about. If you die,
there are two things to worry about: whether you’ll go to
Heaven or Hell. If you go to Heaven, there is nothing to
worry about. If you go to Hell, you’ll be shaking hands
with so many friends you won’t have time to worry.


Joyce is an active member of the Summerlin’s Writers’ and Poets’ Workshop.

Joyce Rice is an inspiring and enthusiastic performer, author, and motivational speaker who
connects to audiences of all ages through her genuine and generous spirit.
Featured nationally on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as numerous international television
programs, Joyce has lectured on the “Art of Innovation” for such influential and forward thinking corporations as General Dynamics, Rockwell International, and ITT.
Her self-developed strategies for success and happiness originated on her family’s sixth generation farm in Iowa and have been cultivated over a lifetime.
At age 17—after years of practice, determination and staying true to her potential—she was
judged the best baton twirler in the world, defeating some 20,000 other young women for the
World Champion title.
But that was just the beginning. She has also excelled in the field of entertainment with more
than 40 years of experience on stage.
Her talent with the baton took her across the US and Europe, performing at professional football
games, festivals, and world fairs and as the opening act for the Harlem Globetrotters.
She parlayed that talent into a long-running act as America’s Favorite Cowgirl, demonstrating
her prowess with whip-cracking, lariat-spinning, juggling, and comedy at venues around the
She also co-founded and developed the “Thank A Farmer” educational program, adding magic
tricks to her repertoire to promote agriculture and the critical role of farmers and ranchers.
Joyce’s numerous successes allow her to share with audiences how an Iowa farm girl with a
dream became a successful innovator in show business—and one of today’s most unique and
outstanding speakers.
Her journey inspires her to engage with audiences and light a spark that will put people on the
path of accomplishing their own dreams.
She’s been called a “master of visual and verbal communication” and uses those skills to make
points indelible and delight audiences by demonstrating innovation in action.
By sharing her life lessons and proven strategies, Joyce inspires and empowers others to
maximize their talents, rise to the top, and live their full potential.
Joyce strives to help others remember they are capable, responsible, and in control of achieving
their goals and dreams.