Key West author Reef Perkins shares more of his hilarious book,
***The End of the Road***
(Click here for previous chapter)
“Hey, Dad, where’s Key West?”
“It’s at the end of the road, Danny.”
“What happens at the end of the road?” the twelve-year old asked.
Mud Lips paused to spit a ball of brown goo out his partly open window. “Well, Danny, from what I hear it’s one crazy-assed roundabout. That’s what it is. It’s a counter-clockwise, liquor-laden, mud-wrestling contest. Sucks you in then spits you out. It’s floating out in the water, I think.”
“Sounds like fun, Dad. Are we there yet?”
Unknown to Mud Lips, the car’s left turn signal was broken and kept flashing. They were in the right hand lane. Irritated drivers honked like pissed off geese when they passed the overloaded Ford Falcon that hurtled south in a cloud of catalytic by-pass and countless carbon footprints. Danny thought the drivers were being friendly and waved.
Mud Lips decided on day one that it would be easier if he told the family they were going to Key West. Personally, he didn’t want to go where weird things happened all the time. But, he hoped the well-known destination would stimulate Earline and Danny to abandon life in Hinckley and set forth on a family adventure.
“Honk! … Honk!”
“Folks sure are friendly, ain’t they Dad?”
“Yup, sure seems like it, Danny.”
Two days earlier, the Quatrell family had packed up their belongings, shook the mothballs off their dreams and motored out of Hinckley, Ohio, bound for Key West.
They departed on October 25, the same day a nasty F2 tornado laid a big wet hickey on the rural town of Pooheepka, Florida.
Two days later, on the 27th, a blue Ford Falcon containing Billy “Mud Lips” Quatrell his wife, Earline and their twelve-year-old son Danny, coasted to a stop at the end of a dirt road, out west of Pooheepka.
Earline put down her copy of National Perspirer magazine and pointed an ink-stained finger at a wooden address board, toe-nailed to an uprooted gatepost. The board read, “Low IQ Ranch –Home of the Wigglin’ Herd.”
Danny looked up from the Key West brochures he’d received in the mail, “Is this Key West, Dad?”
“Nope, it’s still down the road Danny.”
“But you said Key West was at the end of the road and we’re here, at the end of a road, right here, Dad!”
“A road, not thee road. That’s a different road, Danny.”
“When are we getting to that road, Dad? “
“Someday, Danny, someday.”
Two months earlier and without Earline’s knowledge or consent, Mud Lips lost his job and, the same day, bought a worm ranch, sight unseen, through a men’s magazine advertisement. “Millions can be made! Own a Worm Ranch TODAY!” Millions of worms, the small print read.
According to Mud Lips, he got laid off because his pressure washing business was downsizing. He was, however, the only employee. It hurt to let himself go. Earline had bugged Mud Lips for years to, “Just let yourself go!” But, when he finally did, “That was not what I meant, you dumb-assed Nimrod!” was all she could say. It was enough.
However, on this day, instead of heading for Key West, the Quatrells arrived at their new worm ranch. “Wiggling Herd? Low IQ? What the fuh …Wiggle this!” Earline twanged and gestured obscenely from the back seat where Danny couldn’t see. Earline was a big girl with a big gesture.
“Hey baby, the property was a deal, before the tornado.” Mud lips twanged back. SOULED was crudely printed on a cardboard sign nearby. Something struck a chord in Mud Lips.
Danny still wanted to go to Key West, like his Dad promised, but things had changed. Key West would have to wait.
The old Falcon sputtered when Mud Lips put her in gear and gained another yard up the worm-slicked driveway. The yard smelled earthy, and the Falcon’s overloaded and smoking tires lent a distinctive bouquet to the atmosphere. Even from down the hill Danny could see the back part of the house was torn away.
Danny’s dad chewed tobacco, Red Man tobacco. Any mention of chewing Mail Pouch made him uneasy. He chawed the dampened cud and spit most of the juice out the driver’s window. Unfortunately, the window only cranked halfway down. A sticky brownness prevented Mud Lips from enjoying the additional earth-tone terrain on the way up the hill.
The Falcon coughed to a stop at the top. No one was prepared for the tornado’s aftermath.
“Look at all these fucking worms!” Earline gasped and tightened her seat belt.
Pickled, baked and clearly stunned, worms covered the north side of the house and surrounding property. The worms in the hot tub were a happier shade of brown than those on the sun baked, less than fruited, plain.
Danny was sad, but curious. Not curious about being sad, but wondering why a tornado would affect worms. They were in the ground! “Who invented dirt, Dad?”
“That’s a good question, Danny.”
“Well, who did?”
“A good question deserves a good answer, Danny.”
“So what’s the answer, Dad?”
“…The answer lies in the words of Mark Twain, Danny, a famous talker.”
“What did he say?”
“…Twain said…When asked a difficult and complex question, I was pleased to be able to respond quickly. I said…I don’t know.”
“Oh… thanks Dad.”
At twelve years old, Danny had never developed a close relationship with a worm but he was ready to give it a try.
In the time it took Mud Lips to get out of the car and take a whiz, Danny calculated that there were 1.12 million squirming livestock in, on or around the land. Danny could count anything, fast. Some said it was a gift. Some said it was bullshit. But no one ever bothered to check. Danny knew they wouldn’t. Danny was smart, and always right by default.
The Quatrells faced a daunting task. The worm corrals were destroyed and thousands of worms, like fat brown spaghetti, were homeless and wiggling. Part of the kitchen was blown away. The land looked like it had been worked over with a giant toilet bowl plunger.
“Hey Dad, why’s these worms so long?” Danny pointed down.
“Well, Danny, I reckon that twister wind came over top of them worm fellas and sucked them plumb out of their holes. The longest ones were the toughest, Danny. See, the long ones held on till the end, just like Special Forces guys, Danny, just like I hope you do when you become a man like me. We were all good once, Danny, all good once. Let them worms be a lesson to you son and shit, we’d be rich if we sold em’ by the inch! Ha, ha, ha … Ain’t that right Earline?”
“You said shit, Dad.”
“I ain’t stepping foot on no worms. No-siree, Bob!” Earline hollered from the Falcon.
It was quiet.
Who is Bob? Mud Lips wondered.
Danny wanted to absorb the worms’ emotions, but worms have feelings some kids will never fully understand.
“Earline?” Mud Lips coached.
After listening to Earline bemoan the situation for a few hours, Mud Lips was ready to call it quits and move back to Hinckley. But Danny didn’t want to go back; he hated Hinckley and those stinky, hissing buzzards. He wanted to go to Key West. Even buzzards get to go to Key West, Danny reminded himself. He’d studied the Hinckley buzzards in school and found they migrated to Key West every winter to poop on the population at will. “I won’t do that if I git there!” Danny promised himself, and Key West.
“Hey Dad, look at this!”
Mud Lips climbed out of the Falcon. The springs sighed in relief.
“Danny, what the heck are you doing? Hey! Put some clothes on, you’ll scare the neighbors.”
“I’m gathering up some worms, Dad, and it’s hot.”
“It’s Florida, Danny, plus you’re liable get sun burned or maybe grab the wrong worm. Might not be a keeper.”
“Ha, ha, good one, Dad.”
“What’re you going to do with them worms, son?”
“Dad,” Danny inhaled to fill his brain, “these worms are called Red Gainers. I looked them up in the brochure you hid under your seat.”
“Dad! …Worms is protein, Dad, and protein is food and food is money and money is the way to get the fuck outta here and on down to Key West. We’ll cook em’ and bag em’ and call em’ Organic Earth Noodles.”
“You said fuck, Danny.”
“I’m a worm wrangler now, Dad…Yup, I said fuck, said noodle too. You said shit. Saddle up Dad!” Danny was growing up.
“Good point son, just checking…earth noodles?
“Did you ask your mom?”
“No, you do it.”
Danny’s Dad trudged through the mud and tried to tell Earline about Danny’s earth noodle idea but she turned the radio up and wouldn’t roll her window down. Mud Lips lost a boot on the way back. He loved Danny and had no discernible perception of reality. He simply wanted Danny to learn to read and have culture. In Danny’s case it would be vermiculture.
Danny rinsed off at the hand pump, turned his backside toward the sun and put his shorts on slowly. His buns had long been sunless in Hinckley.
“Still clean, Dad, look!” Danny pointed at his shorts.
“I git it, shut up.”
Danny entered the remnants of the kitchen. He dug a frying pan out of the rubble and found two quarts of cooking oil and four quarts of personal lubricant under the sink. Thank goodness the labels hadn’t come off, Danny thought. He had received his campfire badge in Boy Scouts and quickly built a fire with parts of the art-deco kitchen furniture. He heated the cooking oil and tossed two hundred, hot-tub marinated worms, into the boiling oil. They were the first real Red Gainer Specials and sizzled like hard rain on a tin roof. They tasted like….
The next day, the family, except Earline, decided to take some of the “Fried Earth Noodles,” to neighbors who had also suffered through the tornado. The noodles were a big hit in Pooheepka. “So fat, so tasty!” said one farmer’s wife with a wink at Danny.
The days grew shorter; so did the worms. Skinny, herniated worms littered the landscape. The herd grew listless. Mud Lips couldn’t say listless or chew Mail Pouch.
Suddenly, when hope grew dim, a hero appeared among the herd. Danny and Mud Lips spotted the muscular worm emerging from the scarred and barren earth near the ramshackle outhouse. Danny bent and talked to the worm. The worm twisted in the hot dirt and made letter shapes that spelled his name. His name was Duke. Once Duke knew Danny could read he continued to communicate by twisting his body into the shape of letters and numbers. His interpretation of a semicolon was hilarious.
The Duke of soil rose from the recently hoovered earth. He was a big fella and stood, ah, laid out at 9.5 inches tall, long and weighed in at .7 ounces. After a thorough vetting, an awkward group hug and a warm, worm welcome, the Quatrells, minus Earline, took Duke on as a partner.
Duke was good with the other worms but he was a big Red Gainer and was ugly, even for a worm. Still, he got all the dirt he wanted.
At first, the lesser papagallo worms got up in Duke’s face, only to find it was his ass. Duke took it all in stride. “Worms don’t stop for nothing,” he liked to say in wormglish. “Gotta feed that half,” he communicated with a backward nod, “to keep it happy.”
Local legend had it that, during the vertical suction event, Duke held his breath and curled his private parts into an unyielding ball at the bottom of his dwelling. He lived alone; most worms do.
The tornado passed slowly over the vast herd’s holes. It took all Duke’s worm power not to exhale. Not to be sucked, ass or head first, it didn’t make much difference, out of the hole, his hole, the hole where he first met “that half,” his common law partner and unsympathetic lover, the half whose name was Ekud.
Others were not as fortunate or as strong as The Duke.
Duke got to work and led the dazed, appendage-challenged herd back to their respective holes. He encouraged them to get to work, “Eat and Shit!” was the Duke’s rallying cry. “I don’t want to see nothin’ but assholes and elbows! … ah, forget the elbows!” He encouraged the tired and worn out clitellatas to return to their holes. Some newly elongated worms had to dig their holes deeper so their ass wouldn’t hang out in the wind.
Mud Lips was also seriously motivated by Duke and dove face-first into the soft, dark dirt. Duke was good with people too.
“Dad!” Danny snapped.
“What?” Mud Lips said through a mouthful.
“Look Dad, I’m into bioturbation now, don’t mess it up.”
’Well, I guess that’s better than the alternative. Don’t let your mom catch you and don’t forget to change hands, else you’ll get Carpel’s Tunnel, like me. Why don’t you just get a girlfriend instead?”
“Ha, ha, good one Dad.”
“I just want to help, Danny.”
Danny dug Mud Lip’s dentures out of the soil and washed them at the hand pump.
“It’s OK, Dad. Let the worms do it, OK?”
“OK, Danny, I’ll try, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let a worm out-work me.”
“Whatever, Dad, just stay in soft ground, OK? Stay around the house but away from the wiring and septic tank, OK?”
“Oh, OK, Danny, OK.”
Danny bought a small herd of cats from a stoned rock farmer who lived at the terminus of another dead-end road. With patience and kitty food trails, Danny trained the feline commandos to patrol the perimeter of the worm hostels and keep the early birds at bay. But Danny didn’t worry too much. The Red Gainers were a tough breed and had been known to hunt as a pack and bring down large American Buffalo stink-bugs on occasion.
Soon, fresh or fried, the newly named, Earline’s Organic Earth Noodles were highly sought after both by fishermen, connoisseurs and worm enthusiasts the world over. A collectible species, each Red Gainer has both male and female organs. It is said the Gainers were first discovered in Key West during the early 1700s. Many, much larger, mutant and well-dressed descendants live there to this day.
Since each worm is, not wholly by choice, both male and female, one worm is considered a team or a couple by veteran worm wranglers, marriage counselors, airlines, fishermen and cheap motels alike.
Within the first month the Wigglin’ Herd turned into money when hundreds of unexpected out of town fishermen descended on Pooheepka to fish the “Tornado Zone Tournament,” sponsored by the local Moose Lodge. It was the newest rage in the game fishing business; right up there with Bone fishing in a water spout that was the newest craze in Key West.
Dozens of boats on trailers arrived in a clouds of Pooheepka dust. Mud Lips hired a good looking, skinny girl, wearing only strategically placed bobbers and a bright pink flounder pounder, to shill Red Gainers up near the highway. She did real well, he heard. Now all he had to do was find her, and get his money.
If a fishermen was lucky enough to catch a “Tornado Trout” in one of the lakes nearby, it was gutted, soaked in epoxy and Fed-Ex’d home where the sportsman’s wife toe-nailed it to a wall in the den.
In a short period of time “Earline’s Organic Earth Noodles, LLC” was an underground success. Danny formed the Early Bird Research Center and attempted to crossbreed New Zealand glowworms with Florida Red Gainers. The “Mood Noodles” were designed to be sold at farmer’s markets, worn as living jewelry and then buried in the garden for safekeeping.
With over fifteen bait runners and three casting recovery sites, the father, the son and the wholly Duke worked the worms hard. Duke wormed like he had never wormed before.
During the day and throughout the night Duke ate, processed, and left innumerable “castings” throughout the worm community and various charitable organizations. Mud Lips also ate and processed. He was still working on his first hole when Earline, who was not into worms and had lived in the Falcon since their arrival, died.
First, Earline contracted what she called “Dirtitis.” Then a more disturbing complication occurred. Earline learned that worms “did themselves.” That unsavory knowledge qualified as the last straw.
Earline fizzled out, alone, in the old Ford while father and son were outside, busy composting. “Go worm yourself!” were her last words. She said them to herself and, of course, no one can be sure she said them, but she did.
A squad of buzzard worms circled silently below. There may have been a Hinckley above.
The men buried Earline and the Falcon in a worm-free zone out back and, in keeping with Earline’s last request, Mud Lips left the radio turned up full blast. It was tuned to the only music station in Pooheepka, W-ORM- AM. “We’ll put a squirm in yer worm!” was the station’s motto. It was worm country after all.
Danny and his dad could still hear muffled music coming through the ground twelve hours later.
“Got your mom a good battery, Danny, she was a good woman, got her a Sears Die Hard,” Mud Lips said.
“Yeah, Dad, good battery.”
As a tribute to his mom the earth noodles were renamed again. They would forever be known as “Earline’s Ruby Reds.” The Ruby Reds were advertised to be a descendant of the Annelides Phylumpenis (a rock band in the 60s.) and sold well.
Twenty-four years ticked by. It was a hard life.
Danny was thirty-six and still didn’t even have a nickname. Meanwhile, during those twenty-four years Duke fathered 123,461 offspring, by himself. At a certain age he got tired of the worm race and, although the front part of him hated to admit it, he was tired of “That half.” He said the words quietly, with a backwards nod. ”I’m tired of that half always having a headache at night. “ He tried sneaking out but that didn’t work. Duke wanted some strange and tried to screw a garter snake. He got hurt in the process and Danny had to put his ass in a sling. Then, one dark night, in a tragic case of mistaken identity, he tried to pick himself up. He’d burrowed a hole where someone spilled a beer, got dirt drunk and didn’t recognize his own ass! After the incident, “That half” wanted a divorce. Duke argued with himself continuously and, finally one afternoon, “That half” got its divorce.
On that particularly bad day, Duke positioned himself half way in and half way out the open back door. When Danny came home and slammed it closed, Duke got his divorce. In a way he hoped his back half returned as a likeable asexual friend instead of another miserable asshole.
Years later, when Duke’s front half died, alone, the Old Worm Registry down at the courthouse in Pooheepka reported that Duke was one of the oldest half-assed worms ever known to exist in Pooheep County.
Danny wanted to have the worm mounted but Duke had chosen to be cremated instead. (The BBQ grill behind the house smelled bad for weeks.) The thought of going back in a hole, even his own hole, back in the dirt for eternity, troubled Duke. “That’s something people do…yuck!” It would be like burying a fish in water. Just not right.
Danny studied Darwin and Darwin studied the worm which he considered to be one of the most important creatures on earth. Dogs came in second. Man was almost last, just above fish foam.
The early worm was driven to ground during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution when man chose to use mechanical and chemical means to till and fertilize the soil rather than letting the worms do their natural work. Work, it should be noted, for which they were not respected or well compensated. “Eat Dirt,” was the order of the day for a worm before the advent of machinery.
But now, with Duke gone, the farm slowly returned to its natural state. Sure, Mud Lips kept up his part, eating and processing, but it wasn’t enough. Then he came down with Ben Gay fever from rubbing too much of the ointment on his back after he hurt it reaching around to scratch his ass. “Wore out a disc,” he told Danny. Mud Lips was getting too old and couldn’t burrow effectively anymore. His castings were shallow and sad.
Danny worried about his dad and, toward the end, hired me, Trout Bender to help wrangle the ranch.
Danny met me in the worm food aisle at the local hardware store. We got to talking and, although I was new in Pooheepka, I told Danny that I worked with worms before. Danny liked me right off the bat and hired me. He gave me a place to stay on the ranch.
Danny couldn’t help but ask the new hand how he got the name Trout.
“Well,” Trout began, “my mom, Semolina Bisquick Bender told me that, when I was born my dad, Irving “Chief Butt Feather,” looked at me, eyed her suspiciously and said, ‘The little fucker looks like a damn trout!’ I became known as Trout. It is the way of my people.”
After Trout arrived things did get a little easier. He taught Danny the Way of the Worm. Trout explained that a worm wrangler wakes up at dawn and sits on the porch. Later, the wrangler gets up and puts on his clothes. Sun is bad for the skin of both worms and men. With beady gunslinger eyes, the wiry wrangler stares out across the rangelands. If nothing changes by sunset, it’s been a good day and he goes inside for some grub and a native smoke. Danny was thankful for this knowledge.
As young Turaquoians and blood members of the Wannabe Clan, Trout and his classmates were schooled in worm charming, along with worm grunting and worm fiddling, all socially acceptable methods of attracting earthworms from the ground. Peeing in holes was considered poor from and not allowed! The activity was usually performed to collect bait for fishing but could also take the form of a competitive sport, interpretive dance or to help one burp. Being an Indian, Trout was trained in all disciplines of worm enchantment and harvest. It wasn’t that long ago he won first place at the Worm Gruntin’ Free Style Festival and Bake Sale held every year in Sopchoppy, Florida, near where he grew up.
Trout practiced for the competition in his back yard. The family worms finally got tired of his stomping and cooing and quit going back in their holes. The Worm Gruntin’ competition followed ground rules set forth by The British and European Federation of Wormcharmers. Rules include a plot, no greater than 3 meters by 3 meters, a five-minute warm up period, a three-person team of charmer, catcher and counter and the demand that all worms be returned to the ground after the contest in accordance with the Standards and Practices of the British Association of Worm Length Supporters (BAWLS).
Trout won his plot fair and square on that day of competition, but he was a rebel then and a rebel now and during the teenage years, he developed his own American Worm Freeform Finger style. The worms, and a few girlfriends, loved Trout’s moves and came a’crawling!
Now, day after day, the father, the son and the wholly Trout worked the land. Things were looking up, but Danny looked down and grew tired of looking at wormholes.
Mud Lips died a few years later. Danny wrote his father’s obituary. It was printed in the weekly Pooheepka Pile Gazette.
“Dad went down his hole one day and never came up. Saved me digging one, that’s for sure.”
Danny filled his dad’s earthly orifice with soil from the Falcon mound while right-hand man, Trout Bender, prepared a crude wooden tombstone with these words written in charcoal.
Here lays Mud Lips Quatrell. — It’s over.
We are worms in the galactic compost heap,
Temporary residents on an orbiting mulch pile.
Have fun dad – Danny & Trout B.
After Mud Lips bit the dust, many of the older worms moved off the Low IQ. They wanted to be closer to town and the newly cast condos with a scenic sewer-view and spa. Danny became depressed.
On a dark, lonely Tuesday morning Danny could carry on no longer, go no further. With Earline, Mud Lips and Duke gone there was nothing left for him except a few worm memories. Danny came to the end of the road or, at least, the end of his road. Earline used to say, “Danny, if you think you’re at the end of the road, just turn around!”
A real worm puts his ass in gear and heads the other way, Danny reflected. Somehow Danny knew he would never get to Key West, the real “End of the Road.” Still, for more than twenty years, Danny kept wishing, and had the Key West Citizen Newspaper delivered to his P.O. Box in Pooheepka.
Over the years Danny built a commodious outhouse with the bundled newsprint. However, this morning would be different.
At seven a.m. Danny took a copy of the Key West newspaper, affectionately called the “Mullet Wrapper,” from the outhouse wall and squatted. He read halfway through the Letters to the Editor, sighed, then threw himself and the paper out the door and onto the compost heap. He sighed and died. It was his last sigh before he moved in with the herd.
Trout Bender found Danny when he came to work that day. He called for an ambulance but no one could hear him. He walked back into town to wake the doctor. He disturbed half a dozen people, but there was no doctor among them and by the time he rounded up the sheriff, it was too late. Trout picked up the copy of the Mullet Wrapper Danny had been reading and tucked it in to his back pocket as a memento. Trout would miss the Low IQ.
After Danny went tits-up, bit the dust, bought the farm, shit the bed, etc. Trout packed his belongings and walked into town to look for a new job. On the inside of a grain store window he saw a faded poster. It was difficult to read. Eventually he made out the words, “hel … turt … circ … 999.662-4511. A turtle circus? Trout was curious and pumped a quarter into a pay phone. He was mildly surprised by the nature of the work required but took the job and rented a room near the government center trailer complex. Now, after a year devoted to circumcising snapping turtles for the animal welfare league, his time in Pooheepka came to an inglorious end. He was fired for fraternization.
Trout was a man alone.
Two hours before leaving Pooheepka forever, he packed his things and walked towards the bus station on the other side of town.
“Everything is so beautiful.” Trout spouted. As he walked, he pulled a Key West Sunday newspaper out of his back pocket. It was the one he’d taken from Danny’s mulch pile as a momento. He’d read it, front to back, the previous night and suddenly, “Hoo Hee! I’ll bet its even beautifuller down in ol’ Key West! One-hundred years ago, Trout’s grandfather Moon Bender, a full-blooded Turaquoi Indian had joined forces with a guy named Wiley Bagwidth to move an abandoned bordello from Great Guano Key in the Bahamas to Key West. That was the only fact Trout knew about his early family history.
“Yessirree, Bob! I’m a-going to Key West! Maybe I’ll meet an ancestor!”
Less than a mile from the bus station and Trout finally knew where he was headed and how to get there. An ongoing series of wedgies had plagued him since he’d been in Pooheepka. Maybe they would cease down south. He was hopeful.
Trout burnt some wacky-tabacky on the way to town. Fuzzy memories of a man named Moon Bender mixed with swept back flamingoes, mud flaps and birds that bobbed for worms. His mind filled with the warm winds of forgotten desire.
Trout was not dead and could prove it. He was a keeper and confirmed the convictions of a dying breed whose abandoned forts of self-preservation made way for fearless ingenuity and seedy field trips. Bender did not know he was thinking this high level stuff, but he was. It was Trout’s way. It was the Bender way.
He walked on in his own nimbus cloud. “What was that daydream all about? … I’m calling-a Ferbil on that one!” Trout mumbled resolutely and soon more, but gentler, mumblings ensued.
Ferbil is a word, immaculately birthed by Mister Trout Bender. A compact utterance designed to explain, “The lack of an explanation,” in any given circumstance. “The Benders have their way with words,” Trout often remarked without being asked. Suddenly, Trout’s thoughts skidded to a stop, like a skateboard in the sand. Trying to rid himself of the unexplained dream was tiring, like coughing up a fur ball. Finally Trout ceased his daily thinking exercise on a familiar and decisive note. “Ferbil,” Bender burbled with undisguised gusto and popped a pop-top. “There’s no other word for it, hotdammit! And, there’s no excuse for this continual confusion on my end of the stick.” Trout guzzled his last warm Key Deer beer, crushed the can underfoot, picked it up and headed for the rural bus station. There was no one to talk with on the way to the station.
Less than a hundred yards from the depot Trout found a dumpster and tossed the can in. A small thief, hidden in the shadows sprang out and bumped into Trout. The kid quickly picked Trout’s wallet, stuffed it into his front pocket then turned and ran. The kid’s quick, Trout noted and grabbed hold of the dumpster.
After twenty feet the monofilament attached to Trout’s wallet, and secured to Trout’s belt, ran out. The kid jerked backwards, his pants ripped apart and slid to his ankles. He went down flat, like a hog-tied calf. Trout absorbed the shock, let go of the dumpster and heaved on the fishing line. He reeled the punk in, walked over and kicked the kid in the ass, hard enough to make him spit his tongue out. Trout put his left foot on the exposed tongue, took his wallet back then released the kid. Catch and release was Trout’s motto. “That kind of thing will get on your nerves if you let it,” Trout said to himself, and to the punk who was still lying in the dirt trying to figure out what happened.
The bus depot smelled heavy. Burnt fossil fumes and the earthy, old book odor of poor and sometimes disturbed people traveling from one failure to the next, filled the air. How do they do it? Can they all be writers?
Trout passed waiting buses, standing like steel horses in a row of stalls. Primordial scents melded at the boarding docks where carnivorous passenger machines idled on hot rubber tires and waited to ingest their human cargo. The two-stroke diesel souls combusted with no hope of love except from those who abandon them, like the daily turd, at scheduled stops. Loved, only for being on time, was sparse consolation for an eight-cylinder. A bus backfired. A nervous security guard fired back. These machines must be lonely; Trout ducked and speculated. He stared at worn black rubber tires. Without prejudice, the sixteen ply tires crushed torn lottery tickets, lip stick tubes, dreams, cigarette butts and gum wrappers near the curb. Trout entered the station. No heads turned, nor did beady eyes scout his progress across the worn linoleum floor.
Trout bought a ticket to Key West at the counter. He turned, pulled his T-shirt collar up and hunched into a non-existent wind. It was his James Dean slash Tom Sawyer look.
Most people can’t even spell linoleum, Trout mused and garfooned deeply. He felt good about his own self. He was making a move, a step in the right direction, a move toward happiness, he hoped.
When Trout arrived at Gate Four, he discovered a small, but energetic, transport company, The Gayhound Buzz Line. The Buzz Line was operated by the same guy who owned the “Harpooned Raspberry” restaurant in Key West. Trout’s ride was an old school bus painted pink. The Buzz Line motto, hand printed on the side read, “We can go Fast, but we can’t go Straight.” A peeling bumper sticker read, “We stop for road kill.”
Homeless night bugs and other disciples of darkness circled aloft eager to dive, to suck, their measure of blood from waiting passengers. A few lucky bugs drilled a drunk and were instantly inebriated. With intoxicated determination they reeled around the overhead light fixtures. Most of the bulbs were burnt out and dark fanged spiders reigned supreme in the high webbed rafters. Abandoned on the scarred linoleum, charred cigarette butts outnumbered roaches and blind bus-bums smoked both with equal pleasure.
Karmic palpitations and insistent taxi horns echoed off the damp concrete walls. Weird thoughts exploded, like microwave popcorn. Trout dug it.
“Pull up Eddie! Pull up kid!’ Trout said out loud. The solid walls accommodated his desire for echo. The line was from an old black and white war movie. Eddie was a pilot, his plane had been hit and he was trying to land. Ground control called, “Pull up Eddie! Pull up kid!” but Eddie made a smoking hole anyway. Trout loved reliving the movie scene in the shower, the echo was great!
Trout Bender approached the bus where the driver summarily punched his ticket. It was a simple act and Trout was a compact man, a native. He watched his chad flutter downward to hang forever, if there is a forever, with other abandoned chads. It was Florida after all and forever is not that long down there.
Trout mounted the Gayhound. He picked his seat and then, with the persistent wedgie corrected, looked for somewhere to sit. With a quick glance up the aisle, he casually tossed his bundle into the overhead rack. Unfortunately, there was no overhead rack and the lumpy diaper landed on a shabby blond-haired woman, already seated, low and inside. Some of Trout’s toiletries fell out including a spring-loaded nose hair clipper that he had designed years ago. It was bulky and looked a little like a dildo.
“Fuck!” the female said when the nose hair clipper landed in her lap. Trout liked her style.
Dressed in a coffee bean bag, the woman smelled like cotton candy and wore one, red, sling back shoe. The heel looked like it had been chewed off. A set of rough looking, what Trout hoped were Gaucho Boleadoras, balls slipped from a sack below her seat. Years ago, the Turaquoi tribal elders taught Trout to come in swinging when dealing with questionable strangers wearing coffee bean bags. He fired off questions like Ali’s left jabs.
“Ah, howdy miss, I got a little ahead of myowndangedself there. Is that blood or lipstick on your knees? Rug burn? Woo Wee! Is them Bolos or bull’s balls? I gotta know, you know I do, you want the window? Names Trout, Trout Bender. You hearda me? I’m a native Indian! A Turaquoi from the Wannabe clan, does that answer your question? Ring a bell? You like Bingo? What’s your name, sweet baby-cakes?”
“Fuck Ya,” the blond beanbag quirked in grim, but determined, response.
“Fa-kuh-yah,” Trout sounded it out, “…you an A-rab?”
“Oh, god!” Beth said into her air-starved cleavage, “not A-freaking- Gain!”
It was quiet, naturally, and Beth wondered if her entire life experience was the result of her Midwestern accent when she said, “Fuck Ya!” She said it like the old farmers said it. She meant it like the old farmers meant it and said it hundreds of times with great sincerity.
It always worked for the farmers but never seemed to work like it was supposed to for Beth.
She was of Scottish descent and, wait a minute, she thought, maybe it’s because there are no R’s to roll in “fuck ya.” Maybe that’s why it doesn’t work so good for me. It was all she could figure, but it helped. If I said “fuck off,” would they think I was Russian?
Fortunately, real-time paused and allowed Beth, to once again be known as Fakyah, a moment to catch her breasts. Hold on, no one is gonna call me that except Blu. I gotta fix it, she said to herself.
“How the hell did I get here?” The shabby blond croaked up at Trout.
“Do you know where you’re at?”
“Earth,” Fakyah said with trademark conviction.
This question, “How the hell did I get here?” is often asked but rarely answered by any empirical data. It was, however, a familiar line of inquiry and occasionally uttered by Trout Bender himself, for whom the pursuit of an unanswerable question was a source of welcome relief and personal amusement, like watching women mud wrestlers.
Trout had his way with words and the newly minted Ferbil was his current and willing lover. He worked with the word on the way to Key West. It was a new day and a new way. A day when a Ferbil, in Fakyah’s clothing might come into play.
The bus driver, wearing a grass skirt and combat boots, popped the clutch and Gayhound lurched forward. Trout did not have a grip, on anything, and landed a full-tilt groiner on a metal seat frame. Time stood still. So did Trout. Finally, Bender impregnated his mind with the “Ferbil Concept,” and a full and clear lack of understanding was almost his until the pain at the point of impact clouded his perception. Still, within seconds of deep impact, Trout coughed heartily, hitched his pants, cowboyed-up and twanged, “Howdy miss, names’ Trou…”
“I know your name; you just introduced yourself, Nimrod.” Beth said. The bus filled with exhaust fumes. “Stanks, don’t it? Look here, mister… Trout Blender,”
“Ah, it’s Bender.” Trout rubbed the pulsing point of impact.
“OK … HEY! Stop that, you freeking Pree-vert! … I need food and air! You com-forking-pren- do?”
Trout didn’t speak Spanish, he’d have to learn when he arrived in Key West, but somehow knew to reply, “Si!”
“You know a gas station with a mail box, bag food and a good air pump? Got any quarters? You like chicken parts, Spout?” Fakyah queried.
“Well, let’s get going then, Stout Gender!”
“Ah, it’s BENder.”
“OK, Grout Mender. I need air!”
“Fakyah, it’s freaking BEN-der!”
“Whatever, I thought you said your name was Trout. Anyway, mister Freaking Bender, we’ll get off at the first stop and eat. I got thangs to do, down on highway number one and, if you promise to grab me some ketchup packets when we git there, I’ll tell you a story on the way down the Keys. You know, I’ve had a pretty rough time of it lately what with the gorilla, bullets and the bull and the snake, and three balls … and …. Well, OK, mister Gout Tender! You gonna help me or snot?” Beth was having fun with words for the first time in a long time.
“Ah OK, I’ll help but, to be honest, you look and smell a little rough there, Fakyah. I mean like, real rough, and real smell, you know what I mean? ”
“Yea, I do baby… So…Drink me pretty, Stout Gender!” She laid open her face and pulled a bottle of Southern Comfort out of a brown paper bag that was wet on the bottom.
“Holy bat shit!” Trout smiled and sat down next to her. He looked sideways at the girl’s puckered, stop-sign lips and pushed on the floor with his right foot. “I need air!” Beth bleated. Her little pink tongue tip remained out, snug between her lips. Trout pushed her tongue in, leaned over and blew down the front of her dress. “Here’s some air, darlin’…” The gesture reminded her of Blu.
Beth sighed, got supple and stretched. She crossed her legs and set the drag. Trout was on the hook by the time the Gayhound hit the Overseas Highway. Beth liked Trout but was saving the real thing for Blu.
After an hour of bumps, the bus screeched to a halt for a thirty-minute rest stop in Key Larvae. The parking area was slanted to provide drainage for tropical rains. So slanted, in fact, that when the bus stopped, the passengers on the up side slid off their seats and landed on the passengers on the low side. The colorful Gayhound creaked, tipped over slowly and landed on an overfull dog park dumpster. “Crap!” someone cried.
It was a mess, but eventually Trout and Beth climbed through the escape hatch. During the mêlée, Beth lost her sling backs to an overly aggressive insurance salesman. She found a pair of flips flops on the ground near the hatch cover and put them on. Trout clutched his diaper and accidently tripped the nose hair clipper which immediately bored a furious hole in the back of Beth’s beanbag. Beth didn’t notice, she was busy helping push the bus back onto its wheels.
When the Gayhound flopped upright, Beth wiped her hands on her dress. So did a few other passengers. Beth didn’t like that. She spoke sharply to them and heaved a few dog turds, with remarkable accuracy, at the offenders. Then she looked for and found a mailbox where she deposited a bulky, hastily-wrapped package. And, there was another pimple on her mind that she just had to pop. Simple, she was tired of the whole Fakyah routine. That name was just for her and Blu to share.
She flip flopped around and found Trout loitering upstream. On their way to the restrooms, Beth said, “Hey, Spout Bender, let’s get something straight right now, OK, Babyfish?”
“Babyfish? … Ah, sure, OK, sure.”
“OK, here goes. My name is not really Fakyah, its Beth, Miss Beth Mobley from Misty Fork, Missouri. Really. So stop calling me Fakyah and call me Beth, OK?
“No, not Bess, it’s Bethhhh.”
“OK, Miss Breast Wobbly from Missing Pork, Mississippi.”
“Oh, Trout, you fucking idiot!” she tweaked a smile and liked his style. Style, she thought, like an important sounding name, expensive shoes or good hair is the only thing some people have and, for some, it’s enough.
“It’s Sprout!” Bender bellowed.
Trout was having fun for the first time, in a long time, too. They laughed and walked toward the restrooms, engaged in silent conversation.
Two flushes later the pair headed for an all-night Burger Thing across US 1. Beth distracted the clerk while Trout stuffed ketchup packets down the front of his pants.
He had offered to buy her some food but she seemed appalled at the idea of paying for something that quote, “Ends up being a turd.” Unquote.
The caper went well until Trout remembered he wasn’t wearing underwear. Suddenly, the burly manager appeared in an apron and hair net. He wasn’t wearing underwear either. He caught Trout red-handed, standing among a pile of red packets with a red face. Trout looked for Beth. She was gone.
Trout had been in tough situations before, and got his ass whipped every time. But this time, he thought, this time I’ll fight back! This time will be different!
It wasn’t different. Trout headed back toward the Gayhound to lick his wounds, which would be virtually impossible without being a contortionist. He had some meds to ease the pain but he, Trout Bender, was tough and despite persistent rumors, could find his ass with both hands. He did so, gently, and sat down.
“Got the packets?” Beth asked from her window seat.
“Where’s it at?”
“Ah…” Trout shifted uncomfortably, “…never mind.”
“You know, its someplace, ah… inconvenient.”
“Oh, shit! How are we going to eat these crackers I stole, Grout?”
“Hey, don’t look at me and, hey where’s them Boleadoras you had under your seat, anyway? Someone musta stole ‘em! I’ll go and tell the bu–”
“Hold up there, Trout! I mailed them thangs out on the way over here. Told you I had something to do.”
“Mailed what out? “
“Mailed them thangs out. “
“Them … gorilla balls! … if you must know. Mailed ‘em back to Mama Dingling’s cir–”
“Gorilla balls? Mama Dingling? What the fuh? …”
It was quiet. Several passengers shifted uneasily in their seats.
“Never mind,” Beth said.
“No, you never mind.” Trout garfooned deeply, “I … I don’t understand women, Beth, I swear, I just don’t!”
“That’s ‘cause you try, Babyfish. That’s ‘cause you freakin’ try!”
The Gayhound pulled into traffic.
Beth stared at nose prints on the grimy window, the oily smears all pointed backwards, toward a life left behind. She listened to her stomach beg for greasy food and wondered if she was destined to become a Biafran.
Somewhat stunned and only an elbow’s width away Trout smelled life at the legal speed and tried to understand his many conflicting emotions.
The scent of sultry fish foamed Trout’s nostrils and countless sunbaked Tiki bars flashed past the unwashed windows. He was “Babyfish” now.
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About the Author
Captain Mark T. “Reef” Perkins is a marine surveyor with a colorful past. From commanding a 150-foot 300 DWT US Army diving ship off Vietnam to smuggling in the Caribbean, Reef Perkins has become a living legend. A graduate of both the US Army Engineer Officer Candidate School and the US Navy Salvage Officers School, he’s a man comfortable in or out of the water. Raised in rural Michigan, Reef now lives in Key West where he can get his feet wet. He is the author of the bestselling memoir, Sex, Salvage & Secrets.
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Screwed, Blu’d and Tattooed copyright © 2013 by Reef Perkins. Electronic compilation/ print edition copyright © 2013 by Whiz Bang LLC.
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