It was dark as the inside of a boot and yet as cool as a cucumber. And it was quiet, TOO quiet. You could almost feel the cliches going bump in the night, as they crept around in the dark, like dark thoughts inside a shrunken head.
Suddenly, the quiet was shattered like breaking a Pepsi bottle before they were made of plastic! The whole village, men, women, children, visiting relatives and dogs came running and screaming out of the dark. Have you ever heard a dog scream? It's enough to make the hair on your neck stand up! Unable to sleep with all that noise, I too got up (like my hair) and ran for my life. Instinctively, senses sharpened by, what we call out here, jungle smarts, I knew this maddened village was after me. Just because I had stolen their lousy idol's eye! I felt like a kid again; it had taken a whole village to raise me!
They came for me like wild piranha after a domesticated gold fish with a Big Mac in its mouth! Not a bad analogy, I thought wryly, shaping mouth to thought, since I had their precious idol's Golden Eye. Big deal! Hadn't these guys ever listened in Sunday School? Idol's can't SEE, for crying out loud! It wasn't like I made him blind or anything! Running as fast as I could, heart racing wildly, I somberly reflected on the events that led up to this mad dash for safety.
It had all begun in a seedy bar called The Palace, in a no-where, run down section of a small jungle village named Grenco. The Palace was owned and presided over by an unsavory character (are there savory characters? How does one tell?) called King. King ruled his Palace with a plastic hand; no, really ! He had a new type of prosthetic where his right hand used to be, now curled into a sort of permanent fist.
At least the new hand had clean fingernails, unlike its real, live mate . Some say he lost his hand to a shark as mean as himself. Others whisper the tale of a drug-laden small plane being manually started on a moonless night by a drunk spinning its prop. Some say King had a hand in it. Whatever the case, King was in charge of The Palace, a fact enforced by the many hard-eyed dudes that made up his Palace guard. I didn't know their names so I called each of them "sir", since I was raised to be polite.
I sat contemplating my resources at a greasy table while I nursed a sick drink, surrounded by a thick cloud of rank tobacco smoke. Slipping tenses easily, I notice the run-down clientele shuffling in and out, buying over-priced seed (I told you it was a seedy bar) (pay attention or there will be a lot more parenthetical statements) for the up-coming harvest season.
The Grenco natives were always one season out of step, which made for a real dip in their agricultural output due to their chronic seasonal confusion. Many a time, a Grencoite would arrive to harvest his crops only to find his well-intentioned neighbor plowing them under to prepare the field for planting.
On their way to The Palace, the farmers often insisted on walking in the middle of the road, in absolute defiance of the crazy drivers of Grenco. These drivers were a strange bunch, with their easy flashing eyes, cramped broad smiles and braggadocio bravado. They were bound together by an unwritten code, which meshed nicely with their illiteracy.
The code was known as "El Crunca", a term that loosely translated means; "mangle the pedestrians" or "make pavement for the roads of Grenco from their ground-up bones". The slang term for El Crunca is "kill".
And indeed, these drivers lived to kill, patrolling the entire turnpike system (some two miles) of Grenco, 24/7, alert for the unwary, the defiant and the merely stupid.. In any case, the El Cruncos were happy to accommodate any such by running them down.
Actually, the El Gruncos' owned the single car (cars don't wed in Grenco) in all of Grenco yet there were over 30,000 El Cruncos hungry for a little excitement, standing in line to get their greasy hands on the wheel, many for the first time ever. Grown men were often turned away, weeping openly, spirits broken from long days in the car line. Despairing of ever being charged with vehicle homicide, many wandered blindly into the street where they were promptly run over by a lucky, more patient El Grunco from Grenco.
Anyway, I counted my money silently, the quiet only occasionally broken by the noise of a hit and run accident of some kind in the background. I had thirteen dollars and fifty cents American and 10 million in local money! That was enough U. S. money to buy all of Grenco, and with the leftover local currency, a cup of coffee. The buy would include the car and drivers thrown in ...or pushed in ... sometimes the car wouldn't start, and it's a toll call to A to say the least. We're too remote for AAA, in case you're wondering.
But I had ambitions beyond merely buying Grenco, I wanted to transform it! I would need to invest this money in something that would pay off big ... and quick! I liked that thought; it was unique and oh, so me!
Feeling good, Beach Boy tunes blasting on the beach inside my head, I looked unapologetically through the sorry opening that passed for a rude window. The Palace allowed a good view of downtown Grenco, since it sat on a hill of elephant dung. Apparently, having a place to go when they die is not their only "special" location to go. I was grateful for the ranked cigarette smoke (about 8 on a scale of 1 to 10) that made the elephant ordure odor in The Palace partially bearable.
Anyway, fondly fingering the fortune folded in my flight jacket pocket flap, I gazed fixedly, not at what I saw, but what I would cause Grenco to become! Some would have seen merely 15 squalid huts, the herd of wandering pigs, the simple natives, the Mr.. Softie Ice Cream, the Son of Sam's Place, the numerous burned out remains of dozens of small drug trafficker's aircraft, and the other 10 herds of wandering pigs. They would have seen only the drizzling rain and simply smelled the sinus-searing pungent odors. Perhaps they would reflect thoughtfully for a moment or two on the many Grenco pedestrians fallen in the knee-deep mud, tire tracks still visible on their bodies.
But through the shimmering heat waves and the gaseous cloud enveloping me (can you get high on methane?) I saw broad, paved roads leading to an international airport alive with the comings and goings of the beautiful people of the world. I saw schools and hospitals, factories, bars, cars, stars, restaurants, radio and TV stations. I saw the smokestacks of industry spewing out enormous clouds spelling out ... POLLUTION! I saw ... wait a minute! I saw EVERYTHING that made me leave New York city in the first place! But I calmed down; THIS pollution and all its riches would be MY pollution! What a difference ownership makes, no matter what it is one owns!
I remember a kid in our town had the worst riding, hardest peddling, ugliest bike you ever saw. Besides being aesthetically challenged, it had a nasty habit of its brakes seizing up and throwing Louie (that's the kid that owned this piece of junk) over its handlebars every other day or so. We all used to laugh at him and his weird wheels. He was always wearing Band Aids and riding funny because his glasses were broken, held together by a duct tape silver hinge.
One day, just he and I were sitting in front of the village store, waiting for the other guys to show up. Louie looked lonely, lost and lackadaisical. I felt sorry for him and as I was experiencing this novel emotion, wondering what it was, Louie spoke.
"Billy", he said, looking though his duct-taped glasses, " you're a really smart guy."
Just by his simple honesty, Louie had my attention and had won my admiration for his ability to correctly size people up. " I know, Louie", I replied. He might as well have said the sun was hot, another undeniable fact. I looked at my new friend and admirer closely. He was CRYING, for --- well, for crying out loud!
"Billy", he struggled between out-right sobs, "this bike has got me beat! Everyone in town knows it! They all think I'm a fool! Do you think I'm a fool, Billy?"
These statements had started out with Louie's head hanging down, then slowly lifting until his eyes (his amazingly blue eyes; I had never noticed them before while ridiculing him) met mine. This happened as the last word in the question was asked and seemed to pierce my brain, propelled by an intense sincerity that demanded reciprocation from me, its target. Bulls eye!
"No, I don't, Louie", I answered. In reality, five minutes ago I thought Louie had the mental capacities of a small, used, Dunkin' Donuts cup. Now I knew him as a deeply perceptive person who had developed enough as a human being to evoke sympathy, or whatever this mysterious thing was, in the heart of an astute individual such as myself. Louie was definitely the product of an intellectual evolution in my mind, most of it occurring in the last few minutes, right before my astonished eyes.
"Well then, buy my bike and sell me yours, Billy!"
"What? Are you crazy? That things a piece of junk! You should THROW it away!"
"You're right, I know, but my mother gave me this bike! She paid for it with her
welfare check! I CAN'T throw it away! Did you know my mother is in a wheel chair and she will never walk again? What kind of a son would do that to his poor old mother? But she would understand and admire me if I traded up!"
I was going to remind Louie that his mother, (though I had never met her) was probably about 25 years old but I thought he must mean poor, like "poor in spirit", like in the Bible. But Louie's tears were flowing like Niagara, tons of water falling with great power, eroding the rocks below. Louie may have been evolving on this day, but the rock that had been in my chest was definitely eroding. I think I fought back a tear ...
I held out though, I didn't buy Louie's bike. Instead I half-traded him mine, convinced by him that I was smart enough to "beat the bike" as he called it. By half-traded, I mean I traded half and gave the other half to get Louie to stop crying. Besides, our community admired sympathetic people but was a town without pity for folks who were foolish, especially in business. That new compassion thing was growing, but it needed to be managed.
It died in me forever, at least in regard to Louie, right after we traded bikes, spit in our palms and shook hands, making it a done deal forever in our world. Louie was smiling through his tears as he straddled my three month old Schwinn with all the bells, horns and whistles. Real bikes in those days were BUILT and could come out completely intact after a head on collision with a Winnebago!
Just then, as the contractual spit on my hand was still wet, an attractive young lady went jogging by and said "Hi" to Louie, reminding him to be home on time for supper... as he was to wash the new car afterwards ...
"Hi Mom, OK ", said Louie. Then he clapped his hand over his mouth, his blue eyes looking at me with terror and dismay. Then he was gone quicker than a politician's promise after election day.
I couldn't catch him using his old bike that day or any other in the weeks that followed.. It was hard to pedal Louie's bike, especially when the brakes work so well. And so suddenly. Thoughtfully, I traced the scar on the wrist I broke the first week I owned Louie's bike ...all these years and I still have never been able to call Louie's bike mine ... Louie never had any such problem with my bike. He went on to build an empire of used car lots all over North America. "Catch a break with Louie" is his national slogan. It has a different meaning to me than the one intended by Louie's well paid advertising agency.
As I thought about that long-ago experience, I realized that it had prepared me for a whole bunch of Louie's in my present position and I brightened up. I was ready for them!
Suddenly, I clutched my greasy wad of bills closer, as a new plan seeped through the sandy beaches of my mind like MacDonald's hot coffee though an old ladies dress, all to the tune of Surfin' USA! I would seek out One-eyed, One-Eared, Four-Fingered, One Legged Happy and buy the map to the Forbidden Cave of the Idol!
He had offered it to me once before when I had pulled him to safety just before he got El Cruncaded by the crazy car. In a whiskey-soaked spasm of gratitude he told me about the map to the Idol with the Golden Eye which would make me rich. He then offered to sell me his map for $5.50 American.
Everyone knew him and just called him Hap, being careful to not to hurt his feelings. Sometimes it seemed he didn't even know he was missing some parts. Once I saw him put his foot up on a chair just to stop and intimidate some guys on the deck of The Palace. Wham! Down he went! Old Mr. Denial had put up the only leg he had, and knocked out his front teeth in the bargain! No one laughed though, because old Hap' was an object of sympathy. He also carried a nasty looking Glock and in spite of his normally genial ways, could get very peevish at times if he thought anyone was looking at him.
But now I was looking, because I wanted that map he had showed me last week. Then, I hadn't been ready to go into the darkest part of the bush and wrest fame and fortune from all the devils that lived there, but now I was! I didn't come this far to go back to New York to hear the jeers and the taunts of my old buddies. No sir, that's why I left there in the first place. But this time, I'd be coming back in style!
So I walked kinda casual like around downtown Grenco, slipping and sliding in the mud with both eyes peeled, looking for Hap'. In a half hour I had walked around the center of Grenco 10 times and now both eyes were full of mud; probably not a good idea to have peeled eyes in that situation. So far, I had been run down three times by the car, which, unfortunately for me, was running well that day.
Suddenly, I saw him! There was Hap' where the car had half-buried him in the mud. I pulled him to a dry spot beside the muddy road as the car roared by again barely missing Hap' and throwing mud all over us. It was such a close call, it would've run over Hap's left leg if he still had one.
"Hi Hap'! I've been looking for you!"
"Who are you and what did you say? Blasted mud!'
"It's Billy! You know, the guy you tried to sell the map to! You are Hap aren't you?"
"Oh yeah. Got the money?"
"Sure do! $5.50, right?"
" I can buy half of Grenco with that much, give it here!"
"Not so fast, Hap'. Is this the only copy, and is it copyrighted?"
A sly look came over Hap's scarred face, and he grinned a toothless grin. "Wouldn't you like to know! Well, that info will cost ya"!
"How much?" I loved to bargain!
"$8.00, take it or leave it!"
I looked at this miserable wreck of a man, sitting in the mud, mouth still bloody, missing various body parts, and felt a wave of compassion, left over from the Billy bike deal. I reached for the last of my money and said, " Ok, Ok, I'm coming up with it, now put that gun away, will you?"
Hap' grabbed my money. "Good, I can buy ALL of Grenco now! There's only one other map and it's in the hands of ..... AGGGGGGGGGGGGH!
Just then, the car, driven by the craziest driver of all, Bonzi, came out of nowhere turning deliberately out of the road to run over Hap'. I felt for a pulse in the muddy neck; he was dead! I ran and got his head to put it near the body. Ol' Hap' had lost enough body parts; no more, no sir, not on MY watch!
But was there a rival map owner? I grabbed the map as Bonzi made a u turn to come back and get the one who got away, me! Then I reached back and got Hap's gun and my money. I thought for a moment about standing there and pumping some white hot lead into the tiny brain of Bonzi as he sped towards me, spewing mud on some white clad tourists who had just arrived on the train. I lifted the powerful weapon, the years of training in a secret department of our government causing me to automatically zone in on Bonzi, the human zero. Bonzi was gonna be gonzo in a minute!
But I couldn't do it! I turned and ran instead! Had I lost my nerve? Had my killing skills lapsed into remission? Sure, at the last minute I had seen Bonzi's 3 wives and 25 kids squeezed into the car (no wonder he never picked up passengers) but so what? That shouldn't stop a TRUE agent!! Or even a wannab one who had washed out of the survival entry exam after 8 years of trying! I don't think our Sarge, AKA Captain Bligh, liked me.
I sat down for a few minutes under the nearest elephant to think. I dunno, it seems to help my memory when I sit there. I began to put two and two together and then add them up. Bonzi had tried to kill me! Oh sure, he tries to kill everyone, but usually only with the car. The fact that he had been firing his Uzi at me as I leapt away from the car seem to at least qualify as malice above and beyond the usual amount he was willing to expend to maim pedestrians indiscriminately.
No, I was a marked man! Bonzi never had an original thought stagger across the barren wasteland of his brain. It remained in its pristine, virgin state, absolutely trackless. Only occasionally were the dunes shifted in shape by an outside wind. Bonzi needed outside motivation like Norman Bates needed a dating service! And someone was supplying the motivating wind; you could almost hear it whistle through the empty space in Bonzi's head, perhaps turning a little generator that supplied the evil light in his eyes. Metaphorically speaking ,of course.
I smelled money in the wind! Someone was after my newly purchased map! And that someone was not afraid to spend the two dollars it would take to get Bonzi to abandon every shredded bit of decency in his unwashed breast, beating with murderous, greedy anticipation under his unwashed shirt!
Now it was all coming together for me just like when you have too much milk in the pancake mix and then you add just the right amount of flour and with a few stirs, you've got the perfect consistency. I remember this one time when that first happened to me; I was glowing with sappy happiness! I've always had this wonderful ability to stick it out until the job is done! I was 12 years old and that was my first success, my first thrill of accomplishment. After I got through adding flour, then milk, milk then flour and so on, I wound up with 35 gallons of mix, but I'll have you know, it was the right consistency! We've still got some in the freezer, many years later, but I bet if you thawed that stuff out, it would still not need anything added!
But enough of my former achievements. Bonzi was trying to make a pancake out of ME with the car or Swiss cheese with his UZI. I was in trouble! Everything seemed gray, looming over me, like a Democratic president with a Republican majority in congress. Suddenly, I realized that I had gradually slid into a prone position under Dumbo and was looking up at his belly.
I had to get out from under in more ways than one.
I scooted over behind a pig pen for safety and leaned there a moment. Crack! A rotten board gave way, and I fell sideways into you know what only worse than any what you can know! My whole left side was saturated with indescribable slop! What now? A killer after me, pigs buddying up to me like I was one of their own; what else could go wrong? Well, at least I still had the map! Or did I? In a panic, I patted my person persistently to perceive the presence of the map. Ah yes! It was in my pocket, on my unpolluted side, thank goodness!
I left the pig pen hastily, fearful lest the natives get wind of my movements, or perhaps the pigs in this case. I had to get to a place of safety, sanity and sanitation. I needed a bath! Just then, a foot long Boa constrictor fell on me from a low hanging limb. I threw him off, thankful that I hadn't come by here a few years later!
I stopped in front of the once grand hotel on main street. I know I didn't mention that we had a hotel earlier because it's not much to write about. The old sign had just had it's border painted in a bright red around the faded letters that spelled out The Grande Hotel. The red border seemed a desperate attempt to recapture better times. Kind of like an old lady in a nursing home slapping on some garish lipstick to get the attention of the "new boy" at the dinner table.
I walked in sideways, very conscious of trailing a little "juice" on the faded lobby rug thus improving its faded design as well as sealing its dirt. The odor I brought with me was very apparent to it's wearer, but did not immediately draw attention from the sleepy deskman who had his own formidable entry in this stinky war.
An overhead fan was whirling lazily above the check-in desk, directly over where I stood. I was vainly hoping its weak efforts would drive my clinging vapors in every direction away from me. I continued standing slightly sideways as I waited for Lightening, the night clerk, to finish his game of solitaire
A hound dog get up from the shadows of the rear of the room, cast a reproachful eye at me and then forced his way out the double screen door entrance. I felt like Jack Palance, entering the bar in Shane.
Suddenly, the night clerk woke up with a jerk. The wedding ring on his finger suggested that his wife had the same experience every morning.
"Yuk! What's that SMELL?"
"I think the wind shifted and is now coming from the direction of downtown Grenco", I replied politely, eyes tearing from the unbearable intensity of the stench enshrouding me.
"This IS downtown Grenco"!
"I rest my case".
"What do you want?"
"A room with a bath, now."
His suspicious, beady, bloodshot, red-rimmed, washed-out green little pig eyes squinted narrowly at me. He reminded me of my third grade teacher, only he had more attractive eyes. Finally, he said, "5000 Grenco greenies for the night and double if you don't use the bath right away. You ain't foolin' anyone!"
The price was cheap even for Grenco, and I was soon drawing a hot bath. As I was prying the sliver of dirty soap from the filthy soap dish, a gunshot rang out and a picture on the wall shattered. It wasn't that great a picture, just a routine landscape but I leaped anyway to turn out the solitary bulb. Its dim light had been just enough to define squalor in my mind for the rest of my life.
As I lay there in the stinking darkness ... no wait. As I lay there stinking in the darkness, every sense in my body on full alert, I thought back to my happy home which I had left so many long years ago. I thought of my brother and how we roamed the fields and woods, happily hunting for berries and nuts. Or was it that everyone called us nuts for looking for berries on ball fields? Oh well, we were poor but unhappy, forced into relying on each other for companionship. We used to fight all day long.
But I put old times away and took up the business at hand. I guess memories help you to put things in their proper perspective. It was good to be back, even if it meant facing a killer somewhere in the darkness. Kinda like waiting for my angry brother to get home to try and get even with me for some supposed slight of the day. How did I know Billy's bike would seize up again when I let him rent it? How can people hold grudges like that?
Suddenly, I realized that though I couldn't see the killer, he could SMELL me! Unless he was one of those unfortunate people who were born with no olfactory glands -- BANG! A board splintered beside my head! I guess "killer" had been born complete after all!
I slipped out of my slimy shirt, balled it up around a doorstop, and flung it across the room. BANG! BANG! I leaped at the figure, suddenly faintly visible, as he stood confidently to his feet, sure that he had killed me. As I grappled with him, I hissed in his ear, " The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated!" I always loved that line of Mark Twain, and figured I could use it here in Grenco where they think literate is something you carry bodies to the hospital on after they have been mowed down by the car.
Imagine my amazement when he threw me through the window and hissed back, "Out, foul spot"! My hasty exit hurt my body as much as the "foul" thing hurt my inner child!
I thought for a moment about coming back with something from Poe about a guilty heart but couldn't remember it. Not wanting to be killed, or worse, shamed in a great quotations smack-down by a citizen of Grenco, of all people, I leaped to my feet and ran through the night shirtless, clutching my money and map in my soiled pants with my soiled hands. It began to rain, hard.
I suddenly realized I didn't know where I was running to, let alone from who I was running. A shot rang out and shattered the window of Macy's right next to me! I know it sounds crazy but it's true; some people have no respect for Macys! I kept running, but when could I stop? Where? Who would take me in and why?
I wrecked my brain trying to think of a refuge from the killer or killers that were after me as I continued running in the now torrential rain. At least I would be clean again!
Finally, I stopped, leaning against a giant hammock tree, head thrown back, gasping for air. Soon I was choking on the water gushing down my throat, so I closed my mouth. A simple thing, but here in the jungle, little things often make the difference between life and death. One learns, or drowns. Jungle smarts, we call them.
I was still looking up, and now no longer distracted by the choking water, I gazed in awe at the massive, sweeping boughs above me. Suddenly I remembered an old movie starring Efram Zimbalist and Deborah Kerr called King Solomon's Mines.
They too had been chased by angry natives (I could relate) and took refuge in a huge tree out of sight of their enemies. They fell asleep. Then in the morning when they woke up, they looked at each other and kissed! It was beautiful! Before coffee even!
I began climbing this friendly tree, thoughts of the beautiful Ms. Kerr streaming freely through my head, like Elsa the lion, running through the grass when she was finally given her freedom. Soon I was asleep high above the path and far from the eyes of my ruthless enemies.
I continued to dream of Deb (by now we were on a first name basis) but they were troubled visions indeed. I had the uncomfortable feeling that Efram Zimbalist Jr. (playing the character of Alan Quartermain)was watching my every move with increasing displeasure. Deb was openly showing that I was not just another monkey in a tree to her, and the big celluloid Bawanna didn't like it one bit!
Morning came, and completely caught up in the beauty and warmth of Deb, I threw caution to the wind and puckered up for her morning kiss. At that moment, I would've fought Zimbalist Jr. AND senior for her affection. Out of the corner of my eye I saw MR. BIG SHOT MOVIE STAR handed his elephant gun by his number one boy, while numbers two through two thousand grinned and applauded down below! He pointed it right at my head and pulled the trigger! Crack! Just missed me! I didn't know whether to taunt him for his poor marksmanship or to be quietly grateful for it. I chose the latter, but I was mad.
"Stop!" I yelled. "she's chosen me over you, now take it like a man! Your being jealous and angry will never change her mind!"
I was pretty proud of myself for being willing to die for Deb; it's amazing what love will do to a man.
" I don't care about her, she's just another actress. I'm ticked off at you for not getting my name right in this story. I'm Stewart Granger, NOT Efrem Zimbalist, senior or junior! You're supposed to be a writer, get your facts straight! Zimbalist Senior was a world class violinist, while Junior was a second rate actor, often mistaken for me!"
I ignored the setup because now I was even madder! I am a stickler for accuracy as any of my legion of fans will gladly attest. Efram or Granger or whatever had gone TOO FAR this time! I was getting ready to charge him, whether he had an elephant gun or an aerosol can of OFF, I didn't care anymore!
But then, my new darling, Deb, stepped in to defend me. Tiny fists clenched (I estimate approximately 2.5 inches across, fully formed) she seethed with rage! Her MAN had been insulted and she was having no part of it from what's his name! It's amazing what love will do for a woman!
"How dare you?" With clipped British accent, she poured out a stream of white hot verbal invectives at the target caught in the cross hairs of her indignation. "Just another actress indeed! You just can't stand it that they chose Richard Chamberlain for the remake of King Solomon's Mines! Ha-ha! He's better than you ever were! And you want to take out your anger and spite on this second-rate writer of pulp fiction, this literary equivalent of the Paparazzi! Shame on you! Shame on you for dragging the name of Allan Quartermain through the mud! No wonder they chose Richard Chamberlain!"
Although her standing up for me was not exactly going the way I had anticipated, I admired her spunk. (Spunk is a word that was used in more genteel times of women who had guts. Genteel is a word .. oh never mind, look it up). Her hard-ball delivery had a pitch or two miss the home plate, but I was still prepared to give the thumb to ol' Quartermain on a called third strike!
However, the effect of her onslaught on Granger was remarkable. He hung his head in abject surrender to the truth of her words. Then slowly lifting his handsome tear-streaked face as the years seemed to roll away, he said, "You're right".
Men, husbands, boys, brothers, sons, take note right here. The way to a woman's heart is not jewels, candy, flowers or flattery; none of those. The two little words, "You're right" (OK, three little words if you want to quibble over a contraction, for crying out loud) will melt the heart of any true member of the tender gender worthy of the name "woman". Then, and only then, will she wear the jewels, put the flowers in water, accept the candy and enjoy the flattery .. at an expensive restaurant before the play.
Suddenly, my fickle darling was in the arms of Alan Quartermain, and she was young again and he was too and they were passionately kissing RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME and murmuring apologies and "I've always loved you, and I've missed you so much my darling" and lots of other pure RUBBISH! (The lingering effects of Ms. Kerr's ever so brief stay as an object of my affection no doubt brought about this choice of the common English usage of the noun "rubbish" for our American "baloney!")
Now I really was awake, hanging on to a branch ten feet lower than the freshly broken one that had been my sleeping quarters. Slowly, I climbed to the ground, now gingerly testing each branch, having learned by experience that you can't tell a branch by its lover. Finally on the ground, I took stock. I was a mess, but at least I no longer stunk. Even so, Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger had sure looked a lot better on the morning after their sleepover in the tree tops! Ah, Hollywood!
A voice behind me said softly, "Need any help?"
I jumped a foot. But it was Bob, my number one boy from many safaris into the remotest parts of the jungle.
"Bob"! I almost sobbed I was so glad to see a friendly, smiling face! "Yes! Yes! Yes! I do need help, and you are just the man I need!"
"Good", said Bob, "now pay me for all those safaris into the remotest parts of the jungle!"
I couldn't help noticing that the smile on his lips died quicker than the polite applause at a Joe Biden speech. Suddenly, he was carefully fingering his razor sharp spear. Quickly, I reached into my pocket and gave him a dollar in American. "Sure, sure, I was looking for you! I wanted to pay you! Glad we ran into each other"!
"Not so fast", said Bob, his eyes colder than Attila the Hun on horseback on a bad hemorrhoid day, " Did you take out taxes and social security?"
"Bob, I keep telling you, that's only if you live in the States."
Bob struggled with that for a while, then his usual good nature prevailed. "Ok", he smiled. "I won't kill you today and I'm ready for work."
"Good , because someone is trying to kill me, and although it's dangerous, I need you to watch my back ..... COME BACK HERE YOU ... YOU ...COWARD! Ha-ha! I DID take out withholding and Social Security and NOW I'm keeping it!"
A dark cloud settled over me along with the dust stirred up by Bob's hasty departure. I was alone. Again. Naturally. I brushed off a beetle that was making it's way up my arm. Born to run, what a boss idea. I broke into a determined lope for I knew not where, to meet I knew not who, for a reason I did not understand.
That sounded so romantic I wanted to get it in there, even as I held the briefcase containing the map securely in both hands, as my athletic body ate up the feet.
A storm was brewing. Dark clouds resembling huge, evil creatures scudded across the sky like vermin seeking a place to hide from the light. It reminded me of The Palace when they open the place in the morning. I rushed around looking for a place of shelter from the coming storm. Suddenly a shot rang out, barely missing me ... again! I had had it! "Missed me, missed me, now you gotta kiss me!"
I whispered this venomous insult under my breath as I scurried into the safety of a wrecked and abandoned drug plane. No sense getting killed for taunting! Bad enough to be thrown out of an NFL game for doing that! And they never let me explain the bad call of the ref! That's no way to treat a FAN, for crying out loud!
I sat quietly in the pilot's torn, dirty seat, head down and out of the line of fire, safe from the drenching rain that had begun a few minutes earlier. I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, exhausted from my many adventures and the hypnotic effect of the drumming of the rain on the cracked cockpit.
Eventually, the early morning sun warmed my cozy glass house and woke me as it did so. I opened my eyes reluctantly, loath to launch into a new day of trouble. I gradually realized that my legs, rather my whole lower body, had fallen asleep and was immobile, as if full of cement. Now fully awake, I found myself staring eyeball to eyeball with the largest python I had ever seen!
The serpent had coiled a large part of its body into my lap during the night. Hence my "dead" legs. It's nasty little tongue was flickering inches from my face! Suddenly, it recoiled and tried to get away! I pushed back the cockpit hatch, and the snake crawled quickly out without even an "excuse me". I know my breath can be toxic in the morning and this day I was glad! I gotta make a movie of this sometime!
I was shifting my knees around, in an understandable excitement as the snake exited all 35 feet of itself from the wrecked plane. In my shifting (ok) FRANTIC gyrations, I accidentally bumped the starter button and the engine kicked over as the prop took a spin!
Wow! I snapped on the go switch and grinned! Some drug runner had disguised this plane to look like an abandoned wreck and it was fully operable! I got out and looked more closely. It was easy to pull the light plane out of the trees it had "crashed" into. I spun it by the tail to head the nose to the level field. I was ready for take off!
I had never flown before, but I had seen a lot of movies of people flying. And I certainly had a safer plane than Wilbur or Oliver had for THEIR first flight! I could get it wright ... er ... right! As I was looking around for the automatic pilot, I found a How To Fly This Plane book and decided to flip though it to refresh my memory. It had been a long time since I last saw Airplane!
There was a large red lettered box on page #1. It read, WARNING! DO NOT TRY TO FLY THIS PLANE NO MATTER HOW MANY MOVIES YOU HAVE SEEN ABOUT NOVICES SUCCESSFULLY DOING SO! THOSE WERE MOVIES, YOU IDIOT! REAL PILOTS ARE TRAINED PROFESSIONALS!
I was bitterly disappointed. My hopes of flying away from my problems were dashed, like Charlie Brown's kite. Maybe it was all for the best. Thinking of Charlie Brown's disastrous kite flights gave me pause. I started to drop the book when page #2 caught my eye!
It read; "What are you, chicken? Page #1 was a GUT-CHECK for crying out loud! An idiot could fly this plane, it's so easy!" I felt, no I KNEW this book was speaking right to me. I looked at the simple instructions, the easy illustrations, the charts, the graphs, the world atlas and the encouraging words! I could do it, I could fly! "Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings ..."
Suddenly, a shot rang out! A voice shouted, "Kisses? We don't need no stinkin' kisses!"
Wow! They had heard my silent taunting! Nawwwwww, they were just paranoid, or perhaps others had actually verbally taunted them with that awful slur, "Missed me, missed me, now you gotta kiss me!" Another shot rang out!
I started the engine, and shoved the throttle three-quarters ahead. Soon, I was barreling towards a crowd of the worst looking bunch of cut-throats I had ever seen! They were pointing at me and making slashing gestures across their unwashed throats! They would have been thrown out of any NFL game, whether players or fans. Suddenly, the sun glinted off several rifles. I pulled back on the wheel, lowered the flaps and zoomed over their heads so closely I could almost smell their after shave lotion! A shot rang out but it missed me. I was safe and too high for either taunting or kissing! I leveled off and cruised in the sunlight, towards the river and the mountains beyond.
I guess it's a weakness and I don't like to share it but it's the truth, so here goes. Sometimes, when the sunlight hits my nose just right, I ..., well, I SNEEZE! There's just no other way to put it. I am a sunlight-on-the- nose-sneezer. Sometimes three or four times in a row, I simply sneeze my brains out! I'm not holding anything back any more, you are getting the real deal when I talk like this.
Anyway, my weakness kicked in as I was flying along and I sneezed five times in a row! A new record for me. I began to think seriously of joining a support group for sneezers who would understand that this affliction was inherited from my father and therefore not my fault. He only started in his old age so he was a sneezer-geezer, I guess.
But, happily, my sneezing had dislodged the map from my jacket and it fell open. I read " WARNING! DO NOT TRY TO FLY THIS PLANE ..." Oh no, in trying to clean the windshield from the sneezing fit and fly the plane, I was looking at the flight instruction book again. I threw it aside and grabbed the map.
There it was! Good Ol' Hap had marked the road to the mouth of the cave where the Idol with the Golden Eye sat unseeing. As the script would have it, I was flying over a level field that marked the beginning of the road to the mountain!I landed safely, and climbed out of the plane. As I walked away, the plane went up in a gratuitous explosion that might help my story be made into a movie.
I broke into an easy, loping run, my eyes set on a black opening almost at the top of the huge rocky mountain at the far edge of the field. I hadn't noticed it from the air, but after the river, there were miles of trackless desert between the field and Treasure Mountain, as I had come to call it. Could that be the cave pictured on the map? Or was it up even higher in a less accessible area? My long, loping easy run would have me there in no time but right now I had to slow to a walk to get my breath. I took a drink from my canteen, allowing the water to slosh down the front of my shirt as I gulped in most of it.
Just then, a shot rang out! It blew the canteen right out of my hand! I felt rested enough now to resume my run for the desert at the base of my mountain. Bullets kicked up dust all around my feet. I was just outside of rifle range. The one that got my canteen must have been a lucky shot. Just then a spear landed ten feet in front of me, just missing my head as it went by. Wow! What an arm on that guy! The Payton Manning of the jungle! But he missed me! Ha! Couldn't get the big one!
Suddenly, a shot rang out ... no, no, suddenly I was slipping and sliding down the steep, sandy river bank. I was falling, cart wheeling, out of control, into the river! Splash!
I looked back to see some very stunned alligators, many 20 to 30 feet in length with their mouths open. They were the same size even with their mouths closed. I guess they were still wondering where I came from since I had barreled through them so fast. As they hastened to join me, I decided to try out the swimming skills that should have had made me the captain of my high school swimming team (if I had tried out) and see if I could beat them to the other shore.
As I swam furiously, I remembered how angry I would have been if I was on the team because the team had no decent place to practice. They had to use the old swimming hole, breaking the ice before they went in to do their laps. A small team, yet cool.
I made it to the other shore in record time, motivated only by a desire to uphold the honor of dear old Lawrence High's swim team. I had overcome so much, I wasn't going to let some overgrown lizards with an attitude stop me now!
I crawled out on the shady side of the river, where there were no sunbathing reptiles, thank goodness! I lay there for a moment, catching my breath, watching the river. A piece of boat wreckage drifted slowly by and I struggled to make out the faint letters on the broken transom;"... can Queen". No! It couldn't be! But then a rum bottle floated by, then another and another ... mesmerized, exhausted, I dozed off in the one sunny spot on that side of the river ...
I'm not one to believe in visions and such, but all I know is that a spinsterish looking woman who looked a lot like Catherine Hepburn was shaking me awake and saying in very authoritative tones, "Get up! You must get up! The natives are coming and will get you if the alligators don't do the job for them first! Now, get up!"
I was tired, but I stirred myself. Since she was obviously right, I wasn't going to quibble with her reality at this point. I looked down to see an unopened wine bottle in the shady part of the bank. Impulsively, I grabbed it, twisted off the top, and took a huge swig. As I open my eyes fully, I looked into the disapproving face of Kate, who shook her head and disappeared. I think I heard her say a disgusted, "Really! Just like Charlie"!
Completely awake now, senses on full alert, I dumped the rest of the wine in the river in honor of Kate. Once again, I broke into the long easy lope of the natural athlete that eats up the miles at an effortless pace. It had already brought me a mile from my landing spot. My pursuers were being held at bay by the now aroused alligators. I decided to walk, there being no need to run anymore, and being out of breath and all.
The hot sun (is there a cool sun?) broiled down on me as I paced my self to get to the bottom of the mountain. That mountain had the cave I had seen from the air. It was only an hour ago but it seemed like an eternity in this merciless sun. It was so hot, I hardly noticed when Humphrey Bogart appeared beside me, trudging along with his three pack mules.
"Got any water to spare?" I croaked.
"Water? Don't touch my water! No one touches Fred C. Dobbs stuff and lives! No sir!"
"Well, how about wine from The African Queen?" I asked as my eyes looked over his mules' packs, searching for a canteen.
"Say, what are you, a wise guy?"
This snarled inquiry made me look at him more closely and caused me to shiver in spite of the heat. I was looking into the eyes of a mad man, his eyes snapping and crackling with insanity. My jungle smarts, still fully operative here in the desert, instinctively told me I was in danger. After all, he murdered his partner ... oh, oh, I thought, I better not let him know I knew about that ... after all HE was CRAZY!
Suddenly, mercifully, he was gone. I breathed a sigh of relief and looked up into the sky blue eyes of Lawrence of Arabia as I momentarily enjoyed the shadow of his camel. He murmured something unintelligible, shook his head, and was gone. Strange chap. I forgave him for being English for Deb's sake.
Staggering on through the blazing sun, I tripped on something metallic. Glad for a chance to rest a moment, I picked up Tiger Woods' three iron. Wow! He musta been REALLY mad the day he kicked that one!
Night was coming on now, and I lay down on an empty stomach. At first I thought it was an old animal skin but no, it really was an empty stomach of some unfortunate beast. Dried out in the sun, it made for a good night cloth anyway. I drifted off to sleep and began to dream.
I was back in my hometown and standing in line to see the Saturday Matinee. It was something called Americans Are Smarter, Braver and Better Fighters Than the Japs and Germans. We all knew this and were yet still willing to pay 25 cents on this Saturday in 1943 to see it proved once again, like all the Saturdays before, on the silver screen that dominated the shabby Elizabeth Theater.
It was after the movie ended that the real war began for us. We poured out of the Elizabeth Theater in a living, pulsating stream of patriotism that hadn't been seen since Bunker Hill days! We knew we were in enemy territory, a sneaky Japanese sniper in every tree, or pretending to be dead on the street. Hadn't we JUST SEEN with our own eyes how just such an individual had shot John Wayne in the BACK, for crying out loud? Look at The Sands of Iwo Jima, and you can see it for yourself! I'm NOT holding anything back when my country is involved !!!!
When we played WAR (which is what we called it) some of us had to play the bad guys while the rest of the gang were REAL AMERICANS, undefeatable, not to mention invincible! In a funny twist, which no one would ever admit, whoever got to be the enemy took a perverse satisfaction in the role and played it with what can only be called "gusto"!
Our death scenes would rank right up there with the best! Top of the world, Ma!!!
Our gangs' red, white, and blue adrenal rush eventually wore off and we got home before our mothers were stirred to anger by our tardiness. Fearless before the foreign enemy, we were anxious not to meet a more formidable one on the domestic side. Yet long after the WAR had ended, my brother and I kept up a scenario for several years that began with one of us suddenly make a shocking announcement.
It went something like this. My brother would suddenly seize me by the throat with both hands, choking off my wind, and through clenched teeth and an accent honed by many darkened hours in The Elizabeth, alert me to the fact that he was a mole. He was NOT my brother after all, but rather a secret agent of the Nazi's, planted long ago in a nefarious plot that somehow was going to neutralize the war effort in our little town.
My untimely death at his hands would initiate this master plan. He was very believable, because as he got caught up in his role, I sensed his intensity growing in the hands tightening around my wind pipe! I was supposed to fight him off and totally dispatch him, as he was, after all, the enemy, and as such, even he knew he could not defeat a REAL AMERICAN! Thank goodness he knew that or I would probably have really died at his hands. That boy could emote!
I woke in a cold sweat. The moon was full, and a gentle, life giving breeze swept over me. I arose, somewhat refreshed, yet terribly thirsty and plodded on, the music from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre playing in my head. I longed for water and on cue, Walter Houston appeared, jumping up and down and calling ME crazy!
"Water? Water? It's all around you, you idiot!" Then he broke into a paroxysm of insane laughter.
"You said gold in the movie", I muttered, ignoring him.
I walked on three more days. Don't ask me about those days, don't EVER ask me about those days! Picture me as John Wayne in The Searchers, saying that, and don't you ever ask me, as long as you live, don't you ever ask me again, Blanket Head!
I woke one morning in a cool oasis at the foot of Treasure Mountain. Some mountain ... really more of a hill. I drank cool, sweet water and ate mangos till I could hold no more. Then I had a Triple Big Mac and a Chocolate shake, slept all day and night, and was ready to climb that mountain! I was as refreshed as a Tea Party member at a Palin event!
Suddenly, a shot rang out, smashing my cell phone from my hand! No big deal, I had no bars anyway and hadn't had any for a month. I was just glad I was a pre-pay guy instead of having a plan I would have to pay for if I lived through this crazy journey.
I ran for the cover of some overgrown shrubs at the base of the hill and made it just as another shot splattered against some enormous slabs of granite towering over my head. Now I was mad and fired up to take that hill and find my thrill or I was gonna be berry, berry blue!
Twisting and turning, shouting, twist and shout, all the way to the top of the hill, bullets or no bullets! Gasping, panting, sweating, sucking wind; I finally stood at the top of the hill gazing down at ... at ... Grenco! That's right, dirty, stinkin' GRENCO!
WHEN THE PRESSURE IS JUST TOO MUCH
The Apostle Paul told of his own experience with over-whelming pressure here in 2 Corinthians 2:8: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death."
COMMENT: At first glance, we may be amazed to learn the great Apostle is confessing to such pressure he even "despaired of life" and felt death was inevitable. After all, he had expressed and demonstrated tremendous faith in many other places.
It is he who taught in 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."
So what is going on? Is Paul folding under pressure and thus giving the lie to his teaching in other places in scripture?
No, we can't believe such is the case. What we do believe is the absolute honesty of the Apostle in confessing to the fact of stress which all people experience. We are encouraged that what Paul successfully endured and overcame can be a blueprint for victory in our own battle with stress, even overwhelming stress.
The key to victory for the Apostle was finding meaning and purpose in unavoidable stress. Here's the conclusion he reached in the depths of his own painful experience:
"But this happened (this threat of imminent death) that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead."
So distress, real distress, spirit-breaking distress, is allowed in the believer's life so we will not count on ourselves (our personal strength, intelligence, education, wealth, friends, position) "BUT ON GOD, WHO RAISES THE DEAD."
Self-reliance is our common area of greatest weakness. It may "work" in minor areas of our lives, but it will be crushed in the jaws of the realities of life.
Anyone can see faith in the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and is able to save us in life or death is far superior to our weak and fleshy resolves . Yet our natural tendency is to rely on ourselves. Thus it becomes apparent we we need help in this area: who are we going to trust, self or God?
God allows this test to happen again and again in the Christian life until we begin to see the wisdom of Christ in those strange sounding words (to our self-sufficient ears) of James 1:2:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Achieving maturity in the faith may involve many bumps and bruises along the path, but it is far superior to the cul-de-sac of immaturity. There we simply go round and round, like the disobedient Israelites wandering in the wilderness of sin. So let us make it our aim to become mature as our Father wants us to be, even while honestly admitting we have not yet "arrived".
As Paul said in Philippians 3:10-14:
10 I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
The rest of the original passage regarding Paul's experience with overwhelming pressure is found here:
10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
LAST COMMENT: Perhaps the "deadly peril" Paul is referring to is not death. Could it be he is praising God for delivering him from self-reliance which is indeed a "deadly peril" to real faith in the living God?
May God also deliver us and the church from relying on man-made schemes which disregard the saving power of the Word of God.
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