January 2011

Hishout Farm was one of oh so many that’d been abandoned after the area’s topsoil blotted away into dust storms. Rain follows the plow, so they’d said, and so it had–a black rain, the sort that even Unitarian farmers had to admit gave them a certain end-times chill.

Nobody seemed to remember much about Hishout, his family, or where they’d come from. If pressed, one of the old-timers that hung out at Strasser’s might allow that the Hishouts were from back east and struck out for California, but that was speculation commingled with the distant fog of memory.

No, the only matter that set the Hishout farmstead apart from all the others that had failed and foreclosed, swept like flotsam before the black prairie skies , is that it hadn’t been sold or torn down. The fields had returned to plow-untouched nature, but the farmhouse and barn stood tall, unbowed by the weight of years, as if any day now Hishout might return, wipe his brow, and set to tilling once more.


My generation was immersed in lovey-dovey sentiments about “being ourselves” and “doing what makes us happy.” Our parents probably thought they were doing us a favor–the Woodstock and Summer of Love generation, they felt like they had to struggle with their parents to go off and do what they wanted. Hell, even today there are scads of movies and TV shows lionizing the 60’s radicals who bucked what their parents wanted in order to Live the Dream.

The problem was, much of my generation decided that being themselves and doing what makes them happy was being slackers and mooching. I think that a lot of what made our parents such go-getters was the fact that–at least as they saw it–people were always telling them they couldn’t or shouldn’t do things. Who wouldn’t want to go out and get busy confronted with that, especially if there were millions in the same boat? But if from the start you’re told that you’re special and mollycoddled, you get kids working at a 7-11 with a Masters degree, just content to scrape by. Say what you will about the unshaven pot-smoking hippies of yesteryear, but they got shit done.

I was determined to avoid what was, to me, the ultimate badge of shame: moving back in with Mom and Dad and gradually abandoning all pretense of an independent life. Which led me, straight-arrow, to my current predicament.

“I’ve gotta be honest with you, Sandy,” Karen sighed. “Cats creep the hell out of me.”

“Because you are creeped out by things that are awesome?” Sandy riposted. “That explains your Netflix queue.”

“Because of a lot of things,” Karen said. “Like the claws. They can pop out at any time, without warning. One moment you’re petting a loving animal on your lap, and the next it has a dozen needles stuck in the flesh of a very sensitive area. Or you try to pet a cat on the tummy and then five of its six ends are suddenly pointy and whirling. And you can’t talk about declawing, because cat owners react to that word as if you just said ‘Auschwitz.'”

“It’s cutting off the tips of their fingers,” Sandy said. “How would you feel about that?”

“If I was always going around clawing at people you’d look at it differently.”

“Mmm-hmm, right,” Sandy said. “Was that it, or did you have some more ranting while you’re at it?”

“And then you’ve got the cats that bite you and scratch you at will, and while you sit there oozing blood the owner goes ‘Oh, it’s just a love bite!'” Karen continued. “It’s a classic example of toxic codependency in an abusive relationship–the cat bites me and scratches me and scars me and I have to wear long sleeves to cover up the marks but it still loves me.”

“That’s a pretty dangerous sentiment to go spreading around,” said Sandy. “Especially around cat fanciers like me who will defend our fuzzy compatriots unto the death.”

Lady Milvy vanced with flowers crowned
And trighted through the dale
No harlop nor gumsy spilky sound
Did johten with a wail

And when to a punzley lock she came
No lyr was she to nace
She slorried two times and with no blame
Did she holvoo that place

Harvard lowered the paper and glanced at his tired and broken comrades, caked with the grime of a fortnight’s march through garden and stream.

“That’s supposed to set us free?”

“They were desperate. No shipyard still in their hands had the ability to lay down a vessel to Clarnaird’s design, and there was no ironworks or machine shop to tool the necessary parts. Overseas construction was the only choice.”

Paula removed another logbook from its shelf and added it to the cart. “So you’re looking for details about the ship, then,” she said. “It would really help me gather materials from the archive if you were more forthcoming, Mr. Hayes.”

“I have all the details about the ship that I need, right down to the original blueprints,” Hayes snapped. “Found in a Virginia barn. No, I need information on the shipyard, specifically when the ironclad CSS Clarnaird was launched and when it departed for the States.”

“They surely would have given that information when they arrived,” said Paula.

“That’s just the thing, Ms. Weatherby–it didn’t.”

“Ah, lacrosse,” said Greg “The favored sport of the common unadulterated douchebag.”

“Hey, man,” Mike said. “Just because they’re playing lacrosse doesn’t make them douchebags.”

“Look at the sunglasses on a cloudy day, the untucked shirts, the askance ballcaps barely concealing duck’s ass haircuts,” Greg said, observing the ball as it moved fluidly between stick-nets. “If those aren’t douchebags they do a good impression.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean that all lacrosse players are douches,” Mike countered through a mouthful of sandwich.

“Think about it: when have you even known a lacrosse player who wasn’t a douche? The motion’s enough like paddling that the skill transfers right over to the Phi Qoppa Jackass initiation,” said Greg. “I bet they use the sticks when the Initiation Paddle breaks.”

“I used to play lacrosse.”

“See? There’s your proof right there.”

Edith had what I like to call a “rising presence.” Her involvement in any meeting or debate followed a predictable pattern:

Stage 1: Listen and observe. Edith would carefully absorb what she could about the information in play, the personalities behind it, and the opinions of her fellows.

Stage 2: Asking questions. Edith would ease her way into the discussion by asking questions. Innocent ones at first, then more probing.

Stage 3: Wading in. Having formed, or reinforced, an opinion, Edith would charge into the debate, scoring critical hits with well-placed rhetorical blows informed by all the information she’d gathered.

Few opponents could withstand the last phase, and those that did were usually driven into ossified and ultimately untenable positions. So when Edith slipped in five minutes after the meeting began and started scribbling notes, my heart sank. She might have been a nonentity then, and for the next several rounds of discussion, but her “rising presence” would make itself known soon enough.

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