29 July, 2010

From: In Season [The Motion]

“Should we… uh… DISCUSS this now?”

Alderman Cosko wasn’t usually so demure; but he was uncomfortable with being the de facto head of Town Council. He was in charge because the mayor was running late and the usual second in command – a wizened old codger named Fowler who predated every building in town except the barber shop – was stuck at a church function and couldn’t break away. And when that was the case – which happened more often than anyone in the town of Mt. Arliss was aware of since no one came out to the bi-monthly meetings – that meant Tom Cosko was in charge. And somewhere between the sudden rush of power, the fear of inevitable retribution – either from the mayor, his wife, or his constituency – and the concern over having a quorum, the portly, smiling, usually confident man shrank. Just a little.

“Well,” Alderman Rita Boflofsky said, sitting back in her chair. When she sat back in the chair the old wooden chair creaked like ancient bones and the sound of it made her visibly wince. She winced like it was her own bony frame making the noise. She winced the way fat people wince when they sit on chairs that won’t support them. Rita Boflofsky looked older than she was; she looked like a woman who had spent her entire life counting and keeping track of the number of M&M she ate. Her skin was taut and stretched like leather that had been left out in the sun too long and semi-salvaged from the rain. No one touched her on the shoulders for fear of being skewered by the bony protuberances. Small children had lost eyes because they wandered too close to her sharp swinging elbows when she walked. The tightness of her skin made her jaw look more prominent than it would have otherwise, and her dark beady eyes peered out from behind small librarian spectacles that sat neatly on the bridge of her narrow, short, nose.

“Well,” she repeated, looking around. “We might as well.”

The other three aldermen – Lena Linko from Ward 2, Cloris Hinkle from Ward 1, and Mackinaw Wojehovicz from Ward 4 – simply nodded their heads and said nothing. That was what they did most of the time, unless it was required by Robert’s Rules of Parliamentary Procedure.

Tom Cosko looked behind his left shoulder at the Chief of Police like he was asking for permission to speak, and the Chief nodded solemnly. Chief Dolarhyde was an old football buddy of the mayor’s, and also the mayor’s long arm. Dolarhyde was the star quarterback in the 80’s – that was before Mt. Arliss High was consolidated into the Arliss County school district and the school building itself was demolished to make space for an industrial park that was never built. Mayor Leslie Bane was the water boy. He was too short and too wide to play football. In fact, he was probably a midget; but his temper far exceeded his stature and while no one really liked him and none of the girls would date him for fear of ending up having midget babies, no one gave him a difficult time. He and Jeff Dolarhyde had been friends their entire lives because they grew up living next door to one another – until Dolarhyde joined the Marines and went off to the first Gulf War. He’d come back a hero of sorts, married a past Corn Harvest Beauty Queen, and had been a deputy Sheriff in Iowa until Old Man Cleary was forced into retirement.

By that time, little Leslie Bane had lucked into marrying the pretty daughter of a local big wig who had more or less financed his run for the mayor’s office – mostly, it was thought, to ensure that his youngest daughter would be able to hold her head up as the mayor’s wife instead of being that poor girl who married a midget. It was also thought that Bane would make the local tax code more favorable for his father-in-law’s business interests. But because he refused to be under anyone’s thumb, Bane did the exact opposite and instituted so many nitpicky taxes that his by the time his father-in-law and political backer died from prostate cancer, he near broke and had to declare bankruptcy just to pay the extensive medical bills. There wouldn’t have been money to bury him if the entire community hadn’t kicked in; his grave would be unmarked if the headstone maker Mr. Feany hadn’t donated a small rectangle plot marker with his name, birth, and death date. Since then, his terms as mayor ran concurrently because no one wanted to mess with a midget who would bankrupt his father-in-law simply because God had made him a midget.

“Uh… okay.” Cosko looked into the audience. The dozen or so chairs were unusually crowded. All of the faces were familiar. All but one. The rest were a group of concerned citizens who had approached the Town Council demanding something be done to stem the tide of outsiders, malingerers, and illegal aliens that had descended upon the town in recent months. They wanted form the Arliss County Citizen’s Committee (ACC) – which they proposed would be a kind of community watch group that would keep an eye on things and report anything suspicious to the police. They wanted money from the Town Council and they wanted the Council’s stamp of approval. The topic had been brought up before, and was currently on the agenda for the Finance Committee –which happened to include everyone on Town Council – and typically, such matters were discussed before the official bell ringing that meant the regular council meeting had begun.

The ACCC agenda was fairly simple. The corporate farm had brought in workers for harvest, rather than hiring local people, or even the farmers whose land they bought, seized, or acquired. These migrants were Mexicans, and not a one of the spoke a word of English. ACCC was convinced that they were all border jumpers that were bringing drugs across the border in addition to taking jobs that rightfully belonged to good, upstanding, native born Americans. Parents were worried about their children – particularly their daughters, who were surely targets for rape, gang sodomy, and possible sale into white slavery – and the Police Chief, while sympathetic, was short staffed as it was. Cosko didn’t know how he felt about it, but he was sure that he’d seen something like this in a movie. The only thing that was missing was the lit torches and pitch forks.

When they first approached the council, they intended to form a militia, and they went after the council in public when they were told no. After numerous phones calls, threats, and prolific letters to the editors of area newspapers, as well as letters of support from several conservative political action committees and grass roots organizations like the Tea Leaf Brigade and the Southern Knights of The Republic, they approached the town council again – this time calling themselves a Committee.

The unofficial leader of ACCC was Don Breeble. Tom had known Don for years because the man had antagonized him from the moment he moved into town fifteen years ago. Don was a farmer, a gun owner, and Christian – when it suited him. He was also former President of the local chapter of the John Birch Society, until he broke with them because he thought they were too wishy-washy. His farm was five miles from the Lake Pilot Campground and Resort; that hadn’t been a problem for him until Tom and Rosie Kendle decided to convert their general store into a cantine. Now, according to Don, it was just a place for “queers and border jumpers” to hang out, spreading their societal disease like those mosquitoes that carry the West Nile Virus. He’d written letters to the editors of every county paper every week for months, speaking out against the roaming hordes, the town council, and Cosko in particular. Cosko’s wife was being harassed by her friends and threatened by anonymous phone calls. Cosko remembered one call word for word:

“If your husband doesn’t care about protecting our wives and daughters from being attacked, maybe we ought to come for YOU. After ten or twenty of us are done with you, maybe your dumbass of a husband will see the light. What do you think honey? Ever wonder what it would be like to have a REAL MAN between your legs?”

Naturally Cosko reported these call to Chief Dolarhyde; but the calls didn’t stop.

He took a deep breath and looked at the face he didn’t know. He’d seen the guy around and had heard he was a reporter for one of the papers, The Illinois Advocate. No one knew anything about him, other than he was new in town and spent a lot of time at the Moose Head. Then he turned his attention back to Don Breeble. “Okay Don,” he said. “What have you got for us tonight?”

Don Breeble stood up smiling. His teeth were yellow, like the hair of his scouring pad beard. The people he brought with him –the other prominent members of ACCC – applauded. Don handed a stack of papers to the Clerk of Court, Mandy Calumny, and she passed them round to each council member. “What I have here,” Don spoke loudly, “is an outline – as the council requested – discussing what our aims are, why we’re a service to the community, and how much money we need and why. Everything’s specific and defined. There’s no malfeasance or new math accounting.” He laughed and the rest of the ACCCers laughed too.

“Have you approached other communities in the county?” Rita Boflofsky asked. “Seems to me that if you’re a county-wide organization that the county and other communities should shoulder the burden too. It’s not just on us because you happen to live here.”

“We’ve gone to the county board,” Don answered like he was anticipating the question, and to nearly every community in county.”


“And we’re waiting on word from the county board. And every town except one has agreed.”

“And what do you need money for?” Cosko asked.

“To help cover the cost of patrols,” Don answered. “Upkeep of vehicles. We’ve been doing it on our own for some time, and we’ll keep on doing it that way if we have to. But we’re just trying to help protect what’s good and godly in our communities,” he turned and looked at his fellow ACCCers, all of whom nodded and grunted their agreement “and we’re just asking for a little help.”

Tom had heard stories about them doing it on their own. No one had died yet. Chief Dolarhyde and the County Sheriff were getting reports of threatening calls, rocks in windows, small brush fires, trucks and cars ran off the road. Of course, no one named Don Breeble and the ACCC; but no one had to. Everyone knew what was going on.

Don talked on for a few more minutes and was roundly and loudly applauded by the ACCCers in the audience. Tom looked behind him at Chief Dolarhyde, who wasn’t looking back at him, but who was looking down at a sheet of paper, nodding his head. Then he looked at Don Breeble, who smiled and winked at him. He thought about the voice on the other end of the phone that night at two in the morning and remembered that it had sounded familiar. He looked at the reporter whose name he didn’t know. Then he looked over at Rita Boflofsky and the other members of the quorum. It was a bad business. But he also knew that the mayor would support a motion to fund the ACCC. And he also believed the voice on the other end of the phone.

Lena Linko spoke up as if she had just woke up from a deep sleep. “I’m requesting a motion that we fund the ACCC in the amount of $500.”

“Where will the money come from?” Cosko asked.

“The general fund,” Rita said. “We’ve got it.” She looked at Mandy Calumny. “Don’t we?”

Mandy nodded.

“We should talk about this during the regular meeting,” Cosko said. “You know we can’t offer motions in committee.” He looked over at Don, with his wide smiling yellow teeth, and he thought about how his wife was afraid to go anywhere at night or alone. Or with him. “We have to follow the rules,” Cosko insisted. “Or none of it means anything.”

Don nodded his approval. Cosko felt Dolarhyde nodding too. Cosko looked over at the clock on the wall. It was time to start the meeting.

14 July, 2010

In Season: Part 3 [Illuminations]

Manolo was tired. There wasn’t a part of him that didn’t feel exhausted, worn out, or sore. Some of the other men in the bunk house had aspirina; but that never helped. A few others kept bottles of whiskey or tequila, if they could get it. But Manolo Dunne had no interest in that, either. The only thing he had any interest in was sleep.

The problem was, of course, that mot of the other workers wanted to blow off stream. They had all just gotten paid. And after they paid down their debt at the farm sundry and whittled down the amount they sent home to their families, they wanted to spend the remainder on drinking and the loteria.

One of the workers, and bitter half-toothless muscle named Roberto, interrupted Manolo’s thoughts and asked if he was going with them.

“¿A donde va?”

“La cantina. What you say, Gringo? You coming? Or you gonna stay here and play with yourself again?”

Manolo shook his head.

Roberto through his head back and laughed. “Ok, Gringo. Whatever you say.”

Manolo laid back on his bunk and looked at his hands. When he started following the migrant workers, his hands and feet would blister and the other workers, who hadn’t seen blisters since they were children, would laugh at him. They had expected him to quit, especially Roberto. Then when they found out that not only had he been to college but that he was only half-Mexican – they started calling him Gringo. He hated it, but let it slide. Whether they called him Manuel, Manny, Manolo, Gringo, or Ratón didn’t really matter to him. When he was in college some of the other students had called him Spick and he had learned to ignore them. After he had proven himself, most of the other workers started calling him by his name. All except Roberto, who was only tolerated because he could do the work of ten men. Manolo figured it was easier to forgive an idiot when the idiot was able to crush your head like a soft melon. And so he let it pass, and held to his purpose.

The blisters had long since passed, but the aches and pains still remained. And soon, the crops would be harvested and the aches and pains would still remain; but then it would be time to move on – move south, where the warmer climate meant a longer growing seasons and more work. And when that was finished, most of the workers would either go to Arizona and risk being caught on an expired work visa – those that actually had them – or they would cross back over into Mexico and wait for the harvest season to begin again. Most of the workers were illegal, and those that weren’t kept this fact quiet. A work visa could be hard to come by, but it was easy enough to change your name when someone disappeared and didn’t need it anymore.

He tried to pick up the book he’d been reading – Rimbaud’s Illuminations—but he was too tired to focus on the words. They blurred in front of his eyes and made him drowsy. So he put it away and took out the pictures he kept in the back. One was a picture of his sister Beatriz at her 16th birthday party. She was smiling at the camera and hugging him the way she used to hug him when she was a little girl. The party had taken place at their grandmother’s house in Nogales. He remembered every detail about the party: the music, the food, the bright balloons and decorations. She used to call him Manolito. She was the only one who could call him that without getting punched in the face.

The other picture was of their mother before she died. Beatriz clearly took after her, except that she was darker skinned and her eyes were brown, where Beatriz had hazel eyes like his. According to Abuela, their father had hazel eyes. Manolo barely remembered him, though people who had known him insisted Manolo looked a lot like him. Manolo remembered bits and pieces – the smell of his Old Spice aftershave, the sound of his laugh. Sometimes he heard his father’s voice in his dreams and it always scared him awake. He also remembered the things his mother had told him about his their father – that he was a strong, kind man. That he had been a war hero. That he loved him and Beatriz and her very much.

He hid the pictures in his book because he knew none of the others would look there. Since he pulled his weight during work, they gave him less of a hard time about he books he liked to read and the scribbling he did in his notebooks. They kept trying to tell him he needed to stop pretending he was a worker and go back to school, where he could read and scribble all he wanted.

Manolo put the pictures back in the book and put the book back in his knapsack, under the thin pillow under his head. Then he closed his eyes and tried to drift off to sleep, because the morning would come early.

12 July, 2010

In Season: Part 2 [Terra Non Grata

Later that night, Rosie sat at the card table in the back room, counted the reciepts and smiled. It had been more than seven years since she and Tom had moved back to Mount Arliss, took out the loan to buy the old campground, and began to set it right.

The first few years were the hardest; Pilot Lake had developed a reputation over the years; drug busts, high school parties, and a regular group of homeless people who came in on the trains and squatted at the grounds to avoid being arrested had made the place terra non grata as far as the surrounding communities and tourists were concerned. The first reported gang rape had occurred there back in the early 80’s – a high school graduation blow out that had gone a little too far; the girl wandered into the police station, barely able to stand, barely covered with what was left her muddy cut-offs and her Senior year memorial t-shirt, and listed no less than 20 boys – the bulk of the championship high school football team – who got her drunk and took turns at her until they got too drunk and passed out. Of course, it never went any further than that; the girl had a reputation and the boys were thought well of. But the stigma stayed on the campground for years after; and even when she and Tom bought the place twenty years later, people around town made sure to tell them both about the “kind of property” they were buying. As if the land itself were debauched and cursed.

“How’d we do?” Tom entered the back room that doubled as a pantry and the office and fell into the other folding chair.

“We did pretty well,” Rosie answered, turning the calculator around to show him the number. “Between the campers we have now, the ones who made reservations for Labor Day, and the cantine – this will be the second year we show a profit.”

“How much profit?”

She shrugged. “More than last year. And definitely more than we’ve ever seen. Another few years like this and we might even pay the mortgage off early.”

“Well, shiit,” Tom said. Then he reached down and pulled his boots off. “I sure wish that somebody would’ve warned me that success hurt like this.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Put those back on; you know I can’t handle how your feet stink when you’ve been working all day.”

“Can’t help it,” he said. “You know that.”

“You CAN help it. Put those boots back on and leave them on til we get home and you can take a shower.”

“And the foot powder?”

“Yes, God,” she breathed. “Don’t forget the foot powder.” She loved her husband completely, in spite of the slouchy way he carried himself and inspite of his hereditary foot stink. He couldn’t help it, anyway. Even his parents said they made him leave his sneakers outside when he was growing up. Tom had a good heart and kind face, even if he didn’t let the one show and even if he covered up the other with several days’ worth of stubble that never seemed to grow into a full beard. He was a thoughtful man and a hard worker and she knew he loved her.

He smiled and reached down to pull his boots back on. “Fine.” After he’d pulled them back over his feet, he picked up the calculator to take a closer look at the number on the display. “Damn.”

“What’s wrong?”

“We might actually be able to make a living at this.”

“Were you worried?”

“I’m always worried.”

“Well, that’s a good thing. But everyone seems happy and things are going … okay.” Rosie stopped herself short of saying “well” because she didn’t want to jinx their success. “The cantine was really a good idea.” She smiled and felt her insides swell up a little; it had been her idea.

“Not everyone’s happy.”


“A few of the campers complained.”

She shook her head and asked about what; though she already knew the answer.


“Just him?”

“Nope.” He sighed and pulled his old green ballcap off, exposing a salt and pepper scalp with a quickly receeding hairline. “Grant and his friends.”

“Not the farm workers?”

Tom nodded. “A few complaints about them, too,” he said.

“What’d you tell them?”

He shrugged.

“The same thing you usually tell them?”

He nodded.

“They’re good for business,” Rosie said. “They pay cash just like everybody else. They have fun, and don’t start trouble.”

“They don’t have to start trouble to make trouble.”

“So what? You want to stop them from coming?” She pointed to the calculator sitting between them. “You get a sense of what we’ll lose if that happens, right?”

Tom didn’t answer.

“And what’s the WORSE thing that can happen?” Rosie went on. “We have another customer base. Maybe we can look at rennovating those cabins on the south end of the lake – you know, like we talked about when we first bought the place. Maybe we can even build some NEW cabins. Dig deeper water and sewage lines. People would come out here in the winter, too, if we marketed it right…”

“Those farm workers can’t afford a to rent a cabin,” Tom said, “and they’re gone as soon as harvet is over.”

“They’re not the only customer base.”

“What?” Tom snorted. “You want to open a queer-friendly B&B? Out here?”

“I wish you’d stop using that word,” Rosie said. “It sounds awful when you say it.”

“They say it.”

“It’s different.”


“You’re changing the topic.”

Tom sighed. “Okay, so we rennovate and build a few cabins. Then what? If we scare off the campers, hunters, and people who fish, will we be able to stay afloat without them?”

“Don’t be homophobic.”

“I’m not. I DON’T care. I just…”

“And it doesn’t seem to bother you when those girls rub up on one another.”

It don’t seem to bother YOU either. “That’s not the same thing.”

It was Rosie’s turn to snort. “Oh REALLY? You want to watch me snuggle up to one of them? Maybe that blonde perky one who never wears a bra.”

Tom felt his stomach knot up, but the image in his mind excited him a little, too. “No. Of course not.” He sighed. “I’m not gonna DO anything, alright? They’re good business. What people do or who they are isn’t my business.”

Rosie smiled; then she stood up, walked over to her husband, and sat down on his lap. “It’ll be fine,” she cooed and ran her fingers through his thinning hair. “You’ll see.”

He grunted. “You really think we could rennovate those cabins?”

“After this season, maybe,” she whispered in his ear. “If we keep doing the way we’re doing.”

Tom liked the idea of the cabins. The south side of the lake was beautiful, even in the winter, and people would pay to be close to the water and have a regular kitchen and a normal bed to sleep in. He liked the idea of rennovating one of them just for him and Rosie; they could live on the property year round and move out of the house they rented in town. In the winter, they might get snowed in sometimes; but all that took was planning, a generator, and a wood fireplace. The image formed in his mind and made him relax. “We about ready to go home?”

“Yeah. I just need to finish the paperwork.”

He kissed her. “Well finish it, then. I need a bath and a beer.”

In Season: Part 1

The seven foot tall queen was belting out “I Will Survive” and managing to easily out-Gloria Gloria Gaynor and the crowd was more or less following along. The crowd – now relegated to audience – at the camp ground cantine didn’t mind the free entertainment, even if a few of the card carrying members of the John Birch Society were shifting uncomfortablly behind their sweating bottles of light beer.

Every Saturday night during the season, Tom and Rosie, the owners of the Pilot Lake Camp Ground Resort turned the cantine – which also doubled as a general sundry store and the primary management office – into a karaoke bar. No liquor – couldn’t afford the extra insurance and didn’t want the extra hassle – but they sold cold bottles of beer and pre-mix margaritas in regular and strawberry, along with dollar cans of pop and the usual kinds of potatoe chips, pretzels, and Rosie’s homemade rice krispy muffins (which were really just muffin shaped rice crispy treats -- but she like calling them muffins because it made them sound unique.) Tom thought it would give people an excuse to get away from their camp sites and spend extra money on beer and munchables and conversation. Sometimes the campers ordered pizzas from town and sat around half the night just talking. It wasn’t complicated. It was just a nice time.

Gradually word got out and people who weren’t staying on the property came out and joined in. At first, they offered to pay a cover charge to come in; but Tom said, No that wouldn’t be right. And that turned out, at the time, to be a good decision; because the new people would come in, drink more beer and margaritas, kick in a little for the pizza, and the cantina became something of a community epicenter out in the woods, away from town and away from the two bars that dominated the nearly non-existent night life in Mount Arliss. At one point, Tom and Rosie even talked about getting the extra insurance the additional license to serve liquor, and open a full-service bar … at certain times and only during the regular season.

But then .. THEY came.

Tom knew he wasn’t the kind of person who didn’t like people because they were different; he’d grown up in Mount Arliss and knew just how intolerant some older folks were, and he didn’t see himself that way. At first, some it was just one or two Mexicans – migrant workers on the huge corporate farm that had eaten up several area farms after the men who owned them became too old and their sons didn’t have any interest in being farmers themselves. He didn’t mind and he didn’t ask any questions so long as they didn’t cause trouble and so long as they paid in cash. Then they started bringing their checks to the store to get them cashed, and before long, it was part of the regular business – in season, of course. Sometimes they even brought instruments and played their own music and drank beer (never margaritas, which Tom thought was odd) until it was time to close the doors.

And even THAT was okay; sure, some of his campground customers took offense; but the worst the Mexicans ever did was play their music and laugh a lot – which was kind of like getting a free concert. And they didn’t try to mingle with the campers; the kept to themselves and jabbered on and on in Spanish. Tom worried sometimes that they might be talking about him – though he had no idea why he thought they might – but mostly they seemed to be telling stories and showing pictures. And that seemed normal enough.

But then, he thought. Then them others had to start coming, too.

And Tom told himself after they started coming and buying beer and drinking A LOT of pre-mix strawberry margaritas that he didn’t really care if they were queer … not REALLY … even if it didn’t make any sense to him. Sometimes a couple of the lesbians would start getting frisky, and that didn’t really bother him too much. The only thing about it that really bothered him was that it didn’t bother Rosie, either. And most of the gays – the guys – you couldn’t even really TELL they were queer unless you were paying attention (which he never did) and none of them ever got frisky while they were in the cantine.

The problem was that some of them were a bit too … well … obvious. Like Grant, the seven foot tall queen who came out for karoke night and sang so much that the campers stopped signing up. It was like they were scared to tough the microphone after he’d used it … like queer was a disease they could catch the way people caught mono off of toilet seats. But everybody drank and everybody bought potatoe chips and pretzels – except the queers, and they didn’t hardly eat at all; but they drank a lot of pre-mix margaritas while they sang show tunes to one another. Everybody drank. And Grant drank and sang and drank some more. Some nights he drank so much that between him and the other queers, Rosie ran out of strawberry margarita mix three hours before it was time to close.

A few of the campers complained, but as Tom explained, he couldn’t simply NOT serve them without opening himself up to a lawsuit. And with the courts being the way they were and with the Democrats being in charge, he told them, what was he supposed to do? Tom had, in fact, voted a straight Democratic ticket the last election; but a lot of his customers were, like his neighbors, conservative church going people who liked things to Stay The Same.

The problem was that Grant was the most flamboyant of the queers and he didn’t seem to mind who knew it. Tom had to look at him several times when he first started coming into the cantine for karaoke night because in the right light Grant looked like he could’ve been a woman … or at the very least, one of those female impersonators he’d seen that one time in that bar down in New Orleans when he was on leave from the Army. He’d heard stories about people who drank too much and picked one of them up … just thinking about it made his stomach turn a little. If Grant had an advantage, it was that he was almost seven feet tall, which intimidated most anybody who might have, if he were smaller, taken exception to his behavior. And he never came to the cantine alone. And he never stayed if his friends left.

The cantine was crazy busy that night. The campground was full to capacity, the Mexicans had just gotten paid, and the queers were taking over the karoke machine. He made his way behind the bar to give Rosie a hand.

“How we doing?” he asked her.

“We’re running low on strawberry margarita mix,” she answered, while she was getting one of the Mexicans another round of beers for his table.

“What about the extra case?”

“Already gone through most of it.”



“Should I run and get some more?”

She looked up and wrinkled her nose. “At this time of night? What’s open?”

He looked at his watch. He’d have to drive an hour to get to the nearest 24 hour grocery that carried the pre-mix margaritas. “Right.”

Rosie shrugged and smiled. “We’ll just make do and buy more for next time.”

“Make do,” Tom repeated.