A toilet, tv, and a place to sleep was always enough. Throw in a cardboard box for cushion and Johnny Redd let out heys and hohs of gratitude. Skoogie and Muddy flipped over pickle buckets and banged away. Tyrone hummed. Timba danced. Sister Crop Science swayed hands above her head like wheat stalks enjoying a breeze. And Muggy Doodle? Well, he just stood stiff and silent, like an observation tower, until that one summer afternoon when he couldn’t hold it in.
Humid as hell that day and Muggy loved heat. Said it lubricated his bones. Put him in the right rhythm. They roamed around; searched through trash for treasures. It was Muggy who first spotted the railroad ties or the first to shout about them anyway…. four stacked one on top of the other. Muggy insisted they drag them back home, “to build a shelter” he said. They had never heard Muggy sound so certain; never heard him sound at all.
Inspired obedience into everyone.
They gathered one tie at a time and walked like pallbearers back and forth across Cranish County’s back roads, dusty and old where no car ventured anymore. It took a morning and afternoon and along the way, Muggy spotted an abandoned Yapayah Pharmacy sign. He insisted they drag that home too, “for the shelter’s eastern wall” and so they did.
The neighbors wondered how they had pulled so much weight, but the the pickle bucket raft and lily pad crab catcher were still fresh in their minds, all that promise, but in the end, nothing to show for it, just another vision aborted; so even when Muggy and his friends arranged those ties like a batters box and poured cement inside, the neighbors waved their hands with doubt. They were right too because Muggy and friends grew tired or bored, maybe both or maybe gadgetry and fickle fashion ruled them like it ruled nature. A moon never lasted in a night time sky. A caterpillar gave up and surrendered to wings and being a butterfly.
Only the 8 x 12 floor and foundation remained, and no rain was gonna wash that away any time soon.
The neighbors flashed their middle fingers. They screamed and threatened to dynamite the eye soar and the friction worked wonders. Inspired Muggy to speak some more, about tree houses and it being time. A refreshing moonshine breeze. Shut the neighbors up because this was Cranish County, where Weeping Willows were everywhere and tree houses were a normal part of growing up……expected.
Those neighbors smiled as Muggy and friends nailed wood slabs to the tallest willow in the yard, one rung after the other, higher and higher they climbed, hoisted that Yapayah Pharmacy sign into a v-shape of branches. A floor. Then walls. A celebration. Muggy sat on his back down below and stared up at the branches.
He remembered his father flop jacking change to pay for rot gut vodka and how he sometimes asked him to do the panhandling.
He remembered how he and old man Muscovitz at the Dicker Five and Dime counted out the change and how Muscovitz put the flask in a dark bag and winked.
“But my dad never beat me,” Muggy sang in a slur to the others up above. “And a little drop of nectar turned his breath into song,”
Muggy knew about kids walking on hot coals, catching fish with their hands, and chanting ancient texts. He figured panhandling for his pa was another kind of ‘nitiation’ and he felt good in his kin and skin.
He remembered his great Uncle Blue up north and sang some more, about him…..”knowing rivers like truck drivers today know roads, back when people walked alleyways thinking about nothing in particular, in towns with animal names like Buffalo and Chinchilla.”
No one knew if the stories were true and no one dared or cared to find out. They needed them like a set of dentures needs sauce to soak in at night, to rest and revive, to be ready to recite at the edge of the bed come sunrise, “yes, i want to live.”
Muggy took off one day. No one knew where, but he left a note under a half can of moonshine or not really a note, just his name scribbled in wavy drunk letters….M uggy Doo dle.
No one expected to hear from him again, but the postcards started arriving a few months later, of baseball stadiums – Sick’s in Seattle, then Isotopes Park in Albuquerque, each one with the city name stamped in a circle at the top. There was a new one almost every month.
No one ever knew he liked baseball.