Friday, October 5, 2012

The Pond Mermaids

(Illustration from the sketchbook of my pal David Small)

Out there in the country where I grew up there was once a pond that was said to be full of wonders. It was a brackish pond, and the country around it was rough country, made difficult by stones, boulders, and prickly scrub brush. There was a lot of what I think you'd call rubble as well, or perhaps detritus. There was also a lot of junk left over from the lives of the people who used to live out there and had long since fled.

Here and there you'd still encounter a weathered hut on stilts, and there were a bunch of ragged sheep wandering around in the rubble, most of them gone feral. I can tell you that a feral sheep is something to be avoided.

There wasn't much else to recommend the community, such as it was, and it was a brutal place to be a child. There were only a handful of kids in those days, every one of us an accident born to people who were old enough to be our grandparents. The men who remained had once been fishermen, before their lake evaporated from all the poisons pumped in there by the old munitions factory. The lake was long gone by the time I was a child, and the old fishermen would occasionally emerge from their homes and wobble along the lousy roads on bicycles. Most of the old men had long, flowing white beards.

I do still remember the pond, though, and as I said, this pond had once allegedly been full of wondrous things; teeming with wonders, was what we were always told: mermaids --a whole extended family or tribe of mermaids-- and some sort of mutant creation that was said to be a cross between a dragon and a sea serpent. Pond dragons, the locals called these creatures.

The fishermen, bored by the loss of their livelihood, jigged every last one of those pond dragons out of the brackish pond and hauled them along the roads to be gutted and strung from clotheslines and rusty flagpoles. I never saw any of the pond dragons alive, but I do still have a vague memory of the mermaids. Old women used to go to the pond to throw stale bread and popcorn to the mermaids, which would flop up onto the ragged shore and fight among themselves for the offerings. Most of them I recall --or perhaps recall hearing-- were horribly obese.

The idle fishermen, having exhausted the pond's supply of dragons and grown desperate and lonely from their spartan and solitary existence, turned their attention to capturing the mermaids, and began to trap, net, and wrestle them from the pond. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that these randy old bachelors made bathtub pets of most of the remaining mermaids.

The pond, like the lake before it, eventually dried up completely, and the government sent in soldiers and heavy equipment one morning to enforce the long-ago-ordered evacuation of the land. Those of us who remained were loaded into trucks with our belongings and carted away to a relocation camp in the desert of Nevada.

I escaped from that camp some years ago, but not before hearing the rumor that one of the last surviving mermaids from that old brackish pond of my youth is now on display in a traveling carnival somewhere down south.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Which, Alas, I Am Not

My band could be your life and I don't even have a band. Maybe that's my point, if I even have a point. I guess I need new tires and reading glasses and a root canal. I could shit a better doghouse, said my neighbor after I built a doghouse. I wish you would, I said. I didn't plant those daisies, but there they are, and dying, a classic, understated flower, exactly the kind of flower I would plant if I were the sort of guy who plants flowers, which, alas, I am not. The invaders slew the Moens yesterday morning and dragged them across the yard by the heels and trussed them to the roof of what looked like a Ford Explorer. You don't look too closely if you know what's good for you, which I don't, mostly. I guess I should mention that five Moens, total, perished at the hands of the invaders. Intelligence, I have heard, identified Pere Moen as a key member of the insurgency. They seemed like a nice enough family. A good looking bunch. It's a decent enough place to live, though, if you like rocks and can figure out creative things to do with them, and if you don't mind repeated crank phone calls that are virtually always the same: A voice that sounds like that of an old woman, or some punk trying to sound like an old woman, says, "The devil is laughing." At least I think they're crank calls. At least I think that's what the voice says. You get used to the planes and the paranoia. And et cetera, I suppose I should say. I am told that the avian species, or many of them, that you will find here are unique to the region. Not that I care, but you do see people in the woods with binoculars. And guns. Sometimes they also have guns. I recently heard an old man at the local diner say, "When there is nothing else left to shoot they will shoot butterflies." Which struck me as strange. I tried to picture it, even as I no longer try to picture much of anything. It helps to have a sense of humor and a tolerance for boredom. It helps to have an appreciation for Chuck Berry. Or Hank Williams. Or someone like that. It helps if you can still look at the moon and not feel completely lost. Or dead, for that matter, which I almost can, sometimes, and which the doctor assures me is progress.