PRANKS. OIL. PROTEST. JOKES BETWEEN NEWLYWEDS.
AND ONE HILARIOUS SIEGE OF A MAJOR CORPORATION.
Remmy grows up with Beth in Bellhammer, Illinois as oil and coal companies rob the land of everything that made it paradise. Under his Grandad, he learns how to properly prank his neighbors, friends, and foes. Beth tries to fix Remmy by taking him to church. Under his Daddy, Remmy starts the Bell Hammer Construction Company, which depends on contracts from Texarco Oil. And Beth argues with him about how to build a better business. Together, Remmy and Beth start to build a great neighborhood of “merry men” carpenters: a paradise of s’mores, porch furniture, newborn babies, and summer trips to Branson where their boys pop the tops off of the neighborhood’s two hundred soda bottles. Their witty banter builds a kind of castle among a growing nostalgia.
Then one of Jim Johnstone’s faulty Texarco oil derricks falls down on their house and poisons their neighborhood’s well.
Poisoned wells escalate to torched dog houses. Torched dog houses escalate to stolen carpentry tools and cancelled contracts. Cancelled contracts escalate to eminent domain. Sick of the attacks from Texaco Oil on his neighborhood, Remmy assembles his merry men:
“We need the world’s greatest prank. One grand glorious jest that’ll bloody the nose of that tyrant. Besides, pranks and jokes don’t got no consequences, right?”
Buckass naked in hot, hand-boiled bathtub suds, playing with his tin New York dairy truck and some
Spur Cola bottles, he heard old Rooney’s brakes set to squelching.
“Aww shit.” He was six years old. “Aw shitty shit shit.”
They didn’t have no school buses back then, you see, just one room schoolhouses dotting the countryside like peppercorns tossed sparingly over a pot of boiled taters. And if you weren’t gonna walk five miles to school one way, you’d better get your ass in line for old Rooney’s flatbed truck when it pulled up to your street corner when them brakes squelched out loud.
Remmy jumped up quick as a cat scared by a cucumber and ran out without drying himself. “Rooney! Rooney!” Momma Midge cried after but it was of no use.
It started to go and all of his classmates and Elizabeth too stared at him with suds all down his naked body as he
sprinted across that hot dirt road and it picked up on his feet till the soles went black and he caught the truck just barely and plopped buckass naked on the back with the rest of them.
The other kids stared. One snorted.
Rooney slammed on the brakes with a fresh squelch and craned his head out the window. “The hell, Remmy?”
“The hell, Old Man Rooney?”
“Don’t you the hell me, boy, you’re buckass nekked!” The kids giggled then. Specially Elizabeth.
Remmy blushed a bit. He was naked, but not quite old enough to be ashamed. Not quite. “So?”
“So you can’t go to Sunday school nekked, Remmy!”
“You can’t go to Sunday school without me, Old
“Well… well you’re nekked though.”
“Well so what? Skin and mind ain’t the same.”
“Don’t get smart with me now. Don’t you start.”
“Honest, Old Man Rooney, I’d rather go to school naked than to stay home covered but dumb.”
Rooney shook his head. “Go put on your britches. I’ll wait.” Remmy scooted off the back of that pickup and got about five feet before he heard the kids pointing and laughing. He looked down — some of the limestone dust in the back of that flatbed had stuck to his butt, and now he had a white ass to offset them black soles. Full white moon and hooves of black. Like a whitetail buck.
But they got him to class, they did. Him and the others. He sat down and tried his best to wink at Beth. He winked and he winked and fidgeted in his chair, the limestone working his buttcheeks like sandpaper.
Beth never did wink back no matter how much work Remmy’d put into winking her way. He’d give anything just to be able to fall asleep in the safety of her older, softer arms and wish the world and its scaffolding and fist fights away. Oh and its hate too, yup. But she didn’t seem fond of that idea, the winking and the kissing and the holding, or even the noticing him, really, busy as she was with her maths.
Maybe she’d seen enough of him for the day, all things in mind.
Remmy’d been in the second grade at the time and learning from Miss Witt in the one-room school. Miss Witt said, “Well it looks like we got six students and four oil people today.”
The children of parents not employed at Texarco laughed and pointed at the rest. The children of oil parents blushed. That included Beth.
“Missing one oil person,” Miss Witt said. “Where’s Jim Johnstone?”
“Probably painting himself black with tar,” Remmy said.
“You quit,” Beth said to Remmy.
Beth being one of them oil people put him in one of them tight spot dilemma problems, it did. Remmy went to school there along with a few other kids, learning his grammars, how to make his thoughts into clean words, but mostly just winking at Beth Donder and hoping she’d wink back.
She was five years older than him, which made her twelve or something. That combined with his oil people comments made it damned near impossible he’d get a wink out of her. He remembered the news came in on a Sunday morning in the middle of the Sunday school and the winking and her age.
Jim Johnstone came running in hot and sweating like a creek-dipped mink in his winter wear, that look on his face like he had bad news nobody else knew about and he’d only tell you once you begged him good and long to reveal his secrets. Except it must have been extra bad cause he said,
“Miss Witt! Miss Witt! Turn on the radio!” She turned it on.
“—C. Hello NBC. This is KTU in Honolulu, Hawaii. I am speaking from the roof of the Advertiser Publishing Company Building. We have witnessed this morning the distant view a brief full battle of Pearl Harbor and the severe bombing of Pearl Harbor by enemy planes, undoubtedly Japanese. The city of Honolulu has also been attacked and considerable damage done. This battle has been going on for nearly three hours. One of the bombs dropped within fifty feet of our KTU tower. It is no joke. It is a real war. The public of Honolulu has been advised to keep in their homes and away from the Army and Navy. There has been serious fighting going on in the air and the sea. The heavy shooting seems to be—” Static cut off the broadcast. Then the voice went silent. The kids did too.
Remmy didn’t like how quiet it was so he got up and went into the corner of the schoolhouse and dropped his britches — which showed his limestone-white ass — and started peeing in the mop bucket.
Miss Witt shouted, “Good Lord, Remmy, what on earth! Why are you doing that?”
“Cause I got good aim,” he said. “Why else?” The kids laughed.
Remmy turned his aim a bit while they was laughing and sprayed a little on Jim Johnstone’s notebook just cause that boy liked being the bearer of bad news. Miss Witt sent him home early and, though happy that he made the kids laugh instead of thinking about the new war, in later years Remmy would say to me, “I couldn’t believe I did that. I guess I always enjoyed the power of a good prank.”
They had rationing after that. You couldn’t buy sugar or coffee or gasoline or anything without a stamp, which you got from the ration board. It mattered how far you had to drive to work which messed up his Daddy John’s milk jug gathering, since Daddy John had finally saved up enough to ditch the wagon and get a la bumba of a car.
Forced Daddy John to take more time building homes and sheds and things for men in the oil fields. Daddy John wasn’t that close in to begin with, but Remmy hated the government for taking away his dad even further and hated Texarco for keeping him. It took away too his chance of one day having Beth to rock him to sleep safe away from shouting and wars like a good mother, curbing travel like that. See, you had to ride with somebody else wherever you went so you didn’t drive so many cars. If you wore out your tires, you had to get a permit for another one — one at a time instead of a set. Couldn’t get meat, so Remmy’d shoot squirrels and rabbits with his slingshot and cook them, and that’s no lie.
Remmy stole stories from the one room school house — for one, cause they were expensive, books, and for another, cause boys made fun of other boys for reading and so he needed to read in private, and for a third, cause if he didn’t like the book — say it tried to sound smarter than it really was deep down — and if rations got real bad, he could always use the front pages to wipe his ass.
They’d had themselves a farm — a peaceful place out away from the oil fields and out away from the milk driving, where at least one Saturday a month Remmy’d been able to play out in the yard with Daddy John. He missed the smell of that farm — the sweet corn and shitty smell of good fertile soil. But because of the travel curbing, they moved in from the farm. Moved in to the big city: Odin, Illinois. Traffic was awful when you had a twenty-four street town. They sold most of it, his parents and the farm, but they brought a couple pigs along. Them pigs was an anchor for a while, keeping Remmy joined to that heavenly garden on earth. Other people had pig pens in the back. John David — Remmy’s Daddy — raised them so they could have some pork.
When the pig got turned into pork, the anchor was cut loose and he was free floating in Odin. Midge — Remmy’s Momma — kept chickens so they could have those, but they weren’t half the people pigs were. The chicken coops went in the side yard, and those chickens never really settled down either after the move. Remmy got it: foxes everywhere.
Shoes was hard to get all of a sudden. Hell, when he was on the farm he’d loved going barefoot, and as soon as he needed shoes to walk around town on account of moving into town on account of the war, he couldn’t get good shoes also on account of the war, which wasn’t fair no matter how he looked at it. Had to sole them and put heels on them over and over again, wishing he had Moses’ shoes that never wore out. Couldn’t buy hardly anything. So everybody dug in and did what they could do.
They had paper drives. Remmy took his paper around to people’s houses and tied it in bundles and stuck it up on the wagon and sold it, hoping the money would help Daddy John not work so hard and then maybe have some time to the family. Never really worked, though. What’d they sell the paper for? Well for cardboard, for shipping crates for the war. Some of them crates had munitions, stuff for the war. Oh, yeah, they had a pants factory. Pants for the army. Cause you can’t go to war with your horse running loose out of its barn, the other seven-year-olds boys all said. Specially the streakers.
Remmy had to admit that he knew something about that.
Yeah it was the big plant that’d done the bottled cola there, Spur Cola from Bellhammer, Illinois? Remmy watched that plant close one day in the war for the pants and watched them take all of those bottles — just a bunch of them — and he followed them out and saw people dump them into a specific mine shaft. Yeah, that cola plant’d shut down and turned into a place for making pants that kept the horses of the respective army men in their respective barns. That and saltpeter.
Well when they abandoned that coal mine around the same time, everybody dumped their trash down in there, down in the mine. So it seemed right when the time came to do so to lower all those full and sealed Spur Cola bottles down that shaft. Remmy watched them do it just to make room for the pants, and he was just a little boy, so he wasn’t strong enough to go down in there and get them bottles, but he reminded himself of the place: the old railroad, the groundwork of the truck stop, the shoe factory, and the bottle factory near the mine. He did. Because he asked The Good Lord, “Good Lord, will you help me remember this place?”
And The Good Lord said back, “Remmy, I will.
Remember me, Remmy.”
And Remmy said, “Good Lord, I will.”
So Remmy memorized it and The Good Lord both. Some days he’d come back and mark the spot with his toe or a flag made of a stick and a rag or write his name in the dirt there with his piss just to make sure he still knew all them bottles were hid down in there. And one day he’d come back and dig up all those bottles, cause there wasn’t another Spur Cola in the world but in Bellhammer, Illinois, and therefore one day those Spur Cola bottles would be prime rare antiques, and so he’d dig up all of them and sell them one at a time on the big city auction block. A regular old Sotheby’s, yes sir. And then he’d have enough money to buy his Daddy John a vacation for just the two of them in some castle somewhere in Ireland or Germany or Camelot — somewhere where they have those old castles and throw jokes like jesters at all the dumb tyrants around the world. He wanted to build the biggest castle out of the world’s greatest joke. Best part about throwing jokes and pranking tyrants is that there ain’t no consequences for a good joke, and yet they change people’s minds. Kind of like the joke he’d told about the castle he’d built the year before out of the Lincoln Logs in the back of the horse wagon, back when he’d gotten lost and Daddy John had shouted. That was before they’d moved in from the safety of the farm — their Little Egypt castle. Before everything went to hell and they’d treated each other like Bloody Williamson.