Apples

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We picked apples today. The sun was bright and the air was crisp. As I followed my wife and kids down one aisle between trees drooping with fruit I looked up at a crimson maple in the distance and back at the many apples breathing their last beneath the apple trees. I imagined that maple was fired by their apple ghosts rising in the morning mists, rising past the leaves and leaving the last traces of their brief bright spots among the green before they ascended to some sleepy Apple Heaven, where they hang all day in the sun and are never twisted into the grip of some greedy child, only to be briefly gnawed and discarded, among the shadows.

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Men in Tan Suits and Furry Hats

(I first published this in a blog about 4 years ago. The blog’s been gone for a while, but I also copied it to Facebook, where I re-read it today and decided it’d be fun to post here. This was originally written in early 2009 and I’ve only deleted one sentence from the Facebook note and added this paragraph.)

You’ve heard of mysterious Men in Black, or “MiBs.” They’re the odd guys that show up, sometimes when UFOs are sighted, and vaguely threaten witnesses before disappearing forever in what could be a government-issued vehicle (though it’s just as likely to be a cleverly concealed spacecraft).

My own personal experience was not with MiBs (not to be confused with comedian Michael Ian Black, or MIB). My experience was with the Men in the Tan Suits and Furry Hats. Or, if you like, MiTSFHs.

I am still trying to figure out just what the hell they were all about, even 20 years later.

I am not making this up.

The first time I recall seeing the pair, I was going to the Wave Pool in Donelson, TN. It is/was (don’t know if it is still there) by Two Rivers Park, less than a mile from my old high school and always a favorite way for us to waste a few bucks in the summer, even after many of us went to college.

My friends and I may have been in a state of chemically-enhanced amusement, but my memory of the Men in the Tan Suits and Furry Hats is clear. I saw them as we were pulling into the parking lot.

They were standing outside the 8-foot fence that surrounded the Wave Pool. It was June and just as hot and humid as it ever gets in Nashville, but these guys were wearing full, three-piece suits, sans ties. The suits were tan and looked like winter-weight wool. Even in 1989 in Nashville, tan, 3-piece suits were some 10 years out of style. Tan 3-piece suits in the middle of summer? Surreal.

Both men were bearded, one perhaps more gray than the other. To go with their matching tan suits, the men wore matching furry hats. Not the comically tall hats such as you see on guards at Buckingham Palace, but short hats roughly shaped like cake pans. Both men were fairly tall – over 6 feet.

The men stood side-by-side, oddly close, and one of them had his fingers meshed in the links. They did not appear to be holding any sort of conversation. They were just staring in at the half-naked folks enjoying the Wave Pool.

Perfectly innocent, I’m sure.

That was sighting one. The Men in the Tan Suits and Furry Hats were gone when we left the Wave Pool a few hours later, nicely burned and water-logged.

Sighting two took place some time around Christmas, 1990. I was rooming for the holiday with an old friend at his place in Murfreesboro and both he and I were single for the first time in a while. I was more mopey about it than he was – mopey, hell, I was just depressed – and he was into trying out the bar scene in Nashville. So one night he coaxed me out to a pseudo-industrial style place to “pick up chicks,” even though I’d lost any interest in “picking up chicks” in bars shortly after I entered college in late 1986. We went in and got beers and sat around scoping the place. Eventually I had to discharge my rented beverage and I headed to the can.

I sort-of bopped across one corner of the dance floor and into a shadowed area lit mostly by neon lights.

That’s when I saw them.

They were standing by the mens’ room, beneath orange neon spelling out the name of some now-defunct brand of beer. Or some random sex act, I’m not sure (my memory can sometimes be excellent, but not photographic).

The Men in the Tan Suits and Furry Hats stood on either side of the corner one rounded from a water fountain to enter the recessed doorway to the mens’ facilities. They were in identical poses – arms crossed, legs shoulder-width.

They wore the same tan, winter-weight suits (appropriately, this time) and the same disconcerting fuzzy hats.

I got a slightly better look at them than I’d had at the Wave Pool. They were the same height, which is to say, pretty tall – at least 6’4” (I’m 6’0) – and both heavily built without being fat. Their beards were mountain man thick and in the half-lights and neon glow of that stupid fucking bar, I couldn’t tell what color they were, though again, one seemed to have darker hair than the other.

One of the Men in the Tan Suits and Fuzzy Hats was smiling this rather odd, detached half-smile and clearly observing everything going on around him. The other was staring straight ahead, his face utterly unreadable beneath his fuzzy hat and heavy beard.

I am fairly sure I stood there and stared at the pair for a moment before going on into the restroom to do my business. I just couldn’t believe I’d seen them again. I couldn’t really believe they were real.

When I came out, they were still there.

When we left, (chick-less, of course, for we probably both had LOSER painted on our foreheads in neon brighter than any beer brand or sex act emblazoned on that bar’s walls) they were gone.

I told my friend about them, and he thought I was imagining things, even though he’d been with me at the previous sighting and could confirm they were there by the Wave Pool that day.

I know, to this day, that I was not imagining things at all.

Why, though, have they stayed in my brain? It isn’t like you don’t see weird people all over Nashville. Granted, the percentage of outwardly, boldly odd people in my hometown may be a little smaller than it is in less conservative, larger cities, but they are still there, to be sure.

I guess I’ve wondered if I really did see them. Maybe I even convinced myself my friend saw them too. I’ve also wondered, when assuming these dudes were real, just what the FUCK was UP with them? What normal adult male does that? “Hey, let’s put on these old suits and funny hats and just go hang out places and be weird in our beards?”

I can see a couple of teen boys doing stupid crap like that. Hell, I may have even been guilty of such a thing as a teen. But these guys were clearly grown-ups, and one or both of them older than me at the time.

If they were non-existent, simply figments of my heat-oppress’d imagination, it may be that my psyche is trying to tell me there is weird, bearded behavior in my future. Or that I should avoid men in tan suits. I don’t know.

I’ve really concluded over the years that they were real and their true purpose unknown. Maybe – see, between 1994 and 1998 I worked for a public TV station in Nashville (THE public TV station, actually) and my chief engineer there looked just like one ofthose dudes, without the tan suit and furry hat. Chief Bill was an unusual dude, too, to say the least. He had a heavy, white, mountain-man beard and stood about 6’3”, and he told odd stories about his past – one, for instance, of how he and his friends once wore pink shirts in high school just to mess with everyone else.

Not long after I started working there Bill brought in a new guy named Dale, who – big surprise – looked like a young Bill. Same thick hair (only not gray), same thick beard, same thick build. Bill and Dale seemed to be friends from way back, and Dale – who was a few years older than me – tagged along behind Bill like a puppy, much of the time. One engineer, a very snarky gay jewish dude named Steve, would say, “look, it’s a parade!” each time he saw the pair galumphing down the hall.

I used to wonder, in idle moments on that job – there were many of those – if Bill and Dale had been the Men in the Tan Suits and Furry Hats. They looked the parts.

Ultimately, never seeing them in those getups, I just didn’t know.

So there you go. Now you know I’m a haunted man. And among the many specters that flit down the dark halls of my memory, there are two bearded phantoms in out-of-date, 3-piece, woolen suits, wearing furry hats. They are forever standing mute by the fence, watching the non-furry-hatted world swim, and dreaming their strange, unfathomable khaki-colored dreams.

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OH MY DAMN, It’s The Tony Martin Show!

I figured I knew about all sorts of tenors from recent history, but movie tenor Tony Martin escaped me. In fact, discovering him singing the role of Frank Merton in Ziegfield Girl on Turner Classic Movies today revealed that my confidence in my fairly vast pop culture history knowledge was misplaced. I’d never heard of the dude, and in the 40s, especially, he was pretty wonderful, from a purely vocal point-of-view. His performances in Ziegfield Girl were sterling, well-sung to a fault.

It seems as his career in showbiz continued he went more in the direction of Sinatra-style crooning and general showbiz hackery, even achieving his own variety show for a brief time in the mid-1950s. That’s an episode of said show above, found on Archive.org. I have to believe it’s a real rarity, due to the show’s relatively brief life and the fact that Martin seems rather obscure, today.

Googling around I discovered that Martin, married for most of his professional life to Cyd Charisse, may not have been the most well-liked guy, but damned if he wasn’t long-lived. His last film appearance was in 1982 and he made TV appearances into the 90s.

Martin died at 98 in 2012. He’d outlived his whole family. The BBC obituary says he was a crooner, and maybe he became one, but he probably could have held his own with the likes of Mario Lanza. Either way–a nearly 80-year career and performing with every showbiz legend under the sun along the way? Dude had some kind of mojo, regardless.

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Scene (With Cat) VII or so.

(Cat watches birds flit among the eaves of a house across the street, makes cheeping noises.)

IT CAME TO ME IN A DREAM THAT HUMANS WILL EVOLVE TO JUST HAVE TINY T-REX ARMS. WE HAVE GONE FROM PHYSICAL KEYBOARDS TO TOUCHSCREENS TO WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY OPERATED BY VOICE CONTROL. EREGO, WE WILL NO LONGER NEED LONG ARMS.

(Cat leaps from windowsill, runs out of room.)

T-REX ARMS.

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Two mysterious figures in black parachuted into Lower Manhattan at 3 a.m. this morning…

Well, this isn’t scary at all. NBC New York:

The parachuters landed on the sidewalk at about 3 a.m. near the Goldman Sachs building on West Street, Kelly said.

It’s not clear what they were doing or where they came from.

According to a law enforcement official, the parachuters are seen on video in the air, and then in the landing.

That is some spooky spy movie shit right there and I would like to know what the hell was going on.

I’m sure it was fine.

Everything will be fine.

[NBC New York]

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Jordan Graham allegedly pushed husband of 8 days off a cliff

A crime story like this pops up every few years. No matter how disengaged from crime news I am at the time, I’m always fascinated. How do you get from the wedding day to homicide in a week and a day? Was there a plan? Is insurance money involved? I wish I didn’t want to know, but I do. From Reuters:

A Montana woman was charged on Monday with killing her husband of eight days by pushing him off a cliff at Glacier National Park during an argument and after expressing doubts about the marriage, court records show.

Jordan Graham, 22, was charged with second-degree murder in U.S. District Court in Missoula stemming from the July 7 death of her husband, Cody Johnson, 25, of Kalispell.

The article goes on to indicate that Graham may have unwittingly brought suspicion on herself by being the person who found her husband’s body.

I wish I had something to add to the story at the moment but I don’t, save predicting it will one day be fodder for an episode of CBS’s 48 Hours.

EDIT: I do have this to add–a blog post full of information about Graham and her late husband, including tons of photos of them looking like a happy, healthy couple. Meaning never trust tons of photos of a couple looking happy and healthy. I guess. (Another edit–looks like the post I’ve linked is just a scrape of the Daily Mail but I’m leaving it because the Daily Mail is just a human-edited news scraper anyway.)

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An interlude at the circus

The man’s eyes are dark and intense. They bore into yours. “Red, or blue?”

You look up and down the fairway, puzzled. “Dude. It’s just cotton candy.”

The man says, “You eat the blue cotton candy and you will be summoned back to your childhood and an endless summer day and raspberry breezes across goldenrods waving under the sun. It will be bliss.”

You shake your head and laugh. The man does not join you. You say, “Um, okay. What happens if I eat the red one?”

“Eat the red cotton candy, and discover how strange this cherry-flavored clown car of a world can get.”

You step back. This dude is fucked up. What the hell.

You scratch your head.

Then again, she left you at the gate, saying she had an emergency. Even though you’d planned the date for a week. Then again, she always turns her body between you and her cell phone.

Then again, you are a grown man alone at the fucking circus.

The cotton candy could be poisoned. This weird man’s words even seem to suggest a hallucinogen. Well then. Whatever.

“Red.”

The red cotton candy tastes like heaven. It tastes like the cherry candies your mom used to hide above the fridge, with their chocolate coating and that clear, sweet cream surrounding the real cherry in the center.

You sit on a bench outside a tent and enjoy it as dusk slides into starlight and a low, brass moon rises above the tents. You can hear a crowd inside the big tent roaring its approval for this act and that and you realize you should be enraged and depressed but you’re actually feeling pretty good.

Then there is a snapping and a tickling sensation so intense it is closer to burning. It begins in your feet and climbs. You look down. You are slowly being enveloped with red cotton candy. You try to shred it but it keeps coming back and consuming you. You begin to shout but people pass as if you’re doing nothing, just sitting there, what the fuck is going on?

You fall to the grass and roll under the bench, attempting to rip away the spiraling sugar strands. They are impossibly strong. In a moment you are cocooned, smothering as the spun sweetness invades your mouth, your nostrils and–another snap. You come to, huddled under white fabric, in darkness.

All around you is a chorus of breathing and unnaturally high-pitched giggles. You hear calliope music, but it’s muffled. You begin to struggle against the fabric when from all sides white-gloved hands grasp you and pull you upwards, through a small metal door into a searing, blinding light. You wince and collapse against the seemingly disembodied hands as a face blocks that glare. It is caked in white, black and red clown makeup. A blinking red bulb adorns its nose. The rubbery lips split the white-coated face and as he speaks, you realize you are again looking into the cotton candy man’s dark, burning eyes.

WELCOME,” he screams, “TO THE REAL WORLD.

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Scene (with cat) VI.

(Cat bats her fuzzy mouse toy across the kitchen floor.)

“THIS MORNING BEFORE DAWN I SWEAR I HEARD AN ICE CREAM TRUCK. IT WAS COLD AND DARK. SURELY I DREAMED IT.”

(Cat winds around his ankles, purring.)

“YEAH. DREAMED IT.”

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Scene (with cat) V.

(Cat sleeps on windowsill. Drinking coffee, he looks out window.)

“IF I KEEP DRINKING COFFEE I MAY BECOME LIGHT AND THE HEAT WILL BE UNBEARABLE. THIS IS CUP FIVE.”

(Cat jumps off windowsill, goes to litter box.)

“LIGHT. LIGHT.”

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Scene (with cat) IV.

(It is 3 a.m. Cat runs wildly through bedroom.)

“I SAW YOUR EYES IN THE DARK AND BECAUSE YOU WERE ON THE DESK I WAS CERTAIN THEY HAD COME FOR ME AT LAST, THE GRAY MEN WHO HAUNTED MY CHILDHOOD, TO TAKE ME AWAY FROM ALL THIS. BUT NO. NO.”

(Cat bats half full soda can off desk. Soft sobs fill the night.)

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