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But The Dogs All Know Me
Stephen Capen
Catapult, California. November 23.

A 55 year-old former criminal attorney passed through town the other day. He just came off a long driveabout: a peculiar way to celebrate, but that's what it was. Clown University had just graduated him. At last.

The University arranged the job: traveling with the Ringling Brothers circus had been lined up for the following spring, and a glorious, inconspicuous career as a clown would begin.

But such whimsy did not arrive without having survived forty years in the circular world of law, circular as a buzzsaw. This aging criminal attorney had spent his passing representing liars, cutthroats and thieves in so-called Halls of Justice. A mockery in this nation, he'd been heard to say. Now for the very first time in his life, he's doing what he's really wanted.

Clowning around.

The ex-lawyer, a Mr. Cappoddocio, Esq., found himself in the small town of Catapult, CA. At the Drink Up And Get Out! he stopped for a cup of joe and ran smack into a sideshow of another kind, a hornet's nest of political debate running the length of the counter.

Most loudly from Norodom Balatalangsarangtangaramrabangnantangarudaranglang -- the wiry, feisty little man people simply call "Hobie" because there isn't enough room in anyone's mouth or memory to carry his whole name.

Brainard Ames was there, the Maine lobsterman-turned-vegetarian, weighing in at 400 lbs; and Eamon Damon, the mayor-by-default.

All were locked in a misfit, though heated, debate over what might as well have been a walrus in a cow field: Social Services. In Catapult, there are none. People here simply take care of one another as the situation arises--without an MRI. This collective probably has more in common with the Tarahumara Indians of the Copper Canyon in Mexico, than, say, the citizenry of Coral Gables or Dearborn or Dover, don't you know.

The scuffle centered around a facet of the Demoblicans' --- Republicrats', if you will --- latest contribution to the demise of the western empire. Powerful anti-nausea drugs would no longer be covered by Medicare. Chemotherapy patients well into their sunset years, for example, would just have to brass it out, and that's that.

Part of a 270 zillon dollar savings at the expense of the poor -- who are always with us.

Just say "Oy." Oy to the Pharisees.

And Oy to those Phillistines, to the Roundheads, and all the rest.

In 1648, C. Walker, in The History of Independence , said, "Some of them acknowledge the Scripture, but only to Pharisees themselves, and to Publicans the world over besides."

No one had any idea what he was talking about.

Indeed the three-headed scrap going on in DUGO turned toward Pharisees and Philistines, if not the Roundheads. The mayor, silver-haired and easy-going, despite a look that nearly always seemed to say, "I see you stealing that," decided to draw on his Dublin education, Trinity and that lost University's astonishing library. He dispensed with a bit of wisdom he firmly believed applied to modern day. Pharisees, that is.

Brainard Ames, all 400 pounds, slouched forward staring toward the mirror behind the counter as if to make sure he was still here and nodding his head to god knows what, saying only, "Whart?"

Norodom Balatalanga -- er, Hobie, spat disbelief. He was the one man in town who truly views the mayor-by-default, Eamon Daemon, as a celtic demon, and thus capable of any conceivable hornswoggle if it would help convince you he was in the know.

Suddenly, the rest of the place ran dead cold, without a shudder, and barely a mutter. "Publicans?" someone whispered. For a moment, it was as if the clock was holding its breath. Then Eamon broke the silence.

"These men are first class hypocrites." Thin wrists stuck well out of his starched cuffs. "Self-righteous formalists, the press in the old days would call them, just plain despotic," he said. Two gold links held those shirtflaps together as his arms quivered in excitement. "I see you stealing that" was in his eyes.

"Oliphant in Piccadilly talked about modern-day pharisseism in 1865," he continued. "The privileged few, and the restless many. We've got 'em in spades. And if you have Pharisees then you're going to have Philistines as well."

"Pork pies on a two crisp!" Fletch yelled from the back room. For a moment all minds scurried toward to the kitchen, but everyone remained seated, and only a few eyes strained backwards.

Brainard was getting restless, fidgeting with an imaginary yoyo. "Besides whart?" he wondered aloud.

Norodom Balatalangsanga-- er,Hobie ... was working his worry beads, nervously anticipating some sort of private explosion. To Hobie, the entire room felt suddenly crowded. Getting worked up into a minor frenzy, his spastic eyes screamed, "I'm waiting!"

Oblivious, the Mayor went on.

"So far as a man or a woman's worth is concerned," he opined, "nothing matters to people like this but how rich or how poor they are. Nothing." He accentuated that statement by bringing his forefinger straight down to the center of the table; he did it slowly. "Brainard, look at you, you haven't got a pot to piss in, living in that old fishing skow you brought here." The mayor looked around, then blurted, "He's sitting on lobster pots!", and laughed until he was red-faced.

"It's Publicanism" Brainard insisted.

"Oh you don't know nothing, Brainterd. Publican's most simply just a Mocrat in drag," Hobie squeaked, in his tiny high pitched voice. He still didn't have the Aemrican palaver, but you got it.

"All I was SAYIN," the Mayor yelled for attention, short-stopping the room once again, "was that these self-proclaimed, self-righteous hat wearers only quoted the Bible to impress, among others, the IRS! That's in the core context of the Pharisees...."

"Annnnnd...Philistines," Harry, over at the bookstore happened to say at almost that same moment, "Were an alien warlike people of uncertain origin residing on the southern seacoast of Palestine? Imagine that."

He thought he'd begun a reflective journey inward with Wanda, his cohort at the book store -- but she'd disappeared to wait on a customer and left Harry alone in the stacks.

Harry had lately been creating projects in the shop to keep Wanda close. He'd deliberately fouled up the day's receipts a number of times and miscounted the cash drawer. And repeatedly so, such that she would have to teach him, and he would be able to sit close to her, facing one another, eye to eye to eye to eye --full moon eyes, at that. Another personal lifelong inner train would soon pull into another bliss station.

She fired him instead. That was an evening we heard about for days.

Yes, and she hired him back the next day, realizing she had simply been irked. She had not the slightest inkling of the wild love Harry felt for her. Harry, unaware that Wanda had slipped away from him, went on philistinisizing:

"And on the other hand, it's anyone considered an enemy into whose hands you might fall,. Including bailiffs and literary critics."

It was at that moment Gramma Morgan burst into the store, headed straight for the books on Morocco and Rajisthan and the Pelloponese and any other far-flung place ouside the realm of Harry's imagination, at the time at least, since it might forever take him far away from the object of his love.

So, Harry kept on about the Philistines, loudly at that, while Wanda fielded a stern complaint from a customer about the slim selection of dog-related books, as Gramma Morgan rifled through the travel section searching for her own intended Valhalla.

Gramma Morgan burst into the store and headed straight for the books on Morocco and Rajisthan and the Pelloponese and any other far-flung place outside the realm of Harry's imagination. For the time being at least, since it might forever take him far away from the object of his love.

Through the window, one could see Brainard Ames wander out into the empty street in a trancelike daze, muttering about Roundheads, while inside the Drink Up And Get Out! the Mayor prattled on amid the din of lunch hour, locking horns with the compact but fiery Norodom Ba--with Hobie --above all the standard mayhem, even in this island of humanity.

And about two hundred feet in the air, on an uppermost branch of an austere Sugar Pine, a Golden Eagle in all its grandeur, with its eight foot wingspan and an amazing calm. Steady eyes are a slim mask for ferocity rarely experienced or witnessed. A few branches below him a pair of Western Grebes speak the language of love. Craning their long necks, these borderline extraterrestrials watch over the town, perhaps discussing the same ancient themes in another manner and another language.

Don't ever choose a Sugar Pine to rest under, unless you want to take a chance on getting bopped by an eighteen inch, fifteen pound pine cone!

So instead of calling Gramma Morgan a taxi and waiting an hour -- there wasn't one in Catapult, but up in Trampolina -- Harry the lovelorn said "I'll just drive you home myself," Wanda's aggravation re-piqued when Harry just up and left the bookshop. He was drifting again. There was really no question when she was on his mind, which was most of the time -- lately.

Problem was Gramma Morgan had had her license jacked because of a crazy period in her life where she would appear suddenly out of nowhere in her '53 Buick (what a beauty!), careening and lurching down the road a goddam mile a minute! She never intended to hurt anyone, she was, well .... at a loss for any sense of boundaries, experiencing a "loosening of associations," the Jungians would say-- as in the weight of a foot on a gas pedal relative to the length one can jump at a moment's notice -- roaring through town and sending the citizenry fleeing in spastic attempts to avoid being sucked under her wheels. And anyway she could barely see over the dashboard.

It didn't take long before people here learned to always look both ways.

And I don't know how I come to know these things, cloistered up here in my 30-room mansion without furniture, high on the ridgeback, where I can almost look the Grebes in the eye. If they weren't too busy honking at each other for love, that is, to be concerned about an old man. But I know about the town. I just do.

Maybe it's that as I travel the backstreets in town I overhear snippets as I walk past open windows, hear tete a tetes on the streetcorners, watch the drama unfold from afar, before I repair to the Indian footpaths in the hills. Anyhow, no one ever seems to notice me and I've never spoken to a single soul in the few years I've been here. Except, that is, Mr. Orwellian Cappodoccio, Esq.

He was hightailing it north when he pulled over so suddenly he fishtailed and was a cunt-hair away from a triple rollover at the very least. All just to do the most amazingly funny impression for the first person he spotted along the roadside. Isn't it curious how timing works? -- that person turned out to be me! Of all the Catapultians! His look, truly, came from the face of someone who was born to be a clown.

"This is a fat Philisteen!" he shouted, and made a face that'd crack you up irreparably. I doubled over with laughter. He beamed. We nodded to each other and he was on his way.

But, as I was saying, the only ones who KNOW me are the critters I feed as I pass by, and I get a taste of the world overhearing swaths of conversations. That's as close as I want to get. At least for right now.

And it's enough that the dogs all know me.

Stranger things have existed in Catapult. I dreamt of one last night -- unsure exactly whether it actually occurred within or without ...... of the dreamworld.

Tell you about it next time.

Questions or comments about Catapult? Feel free to let us know what's on your mind.

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