A Nose by Any Other Name
It’s funny. I snapped out of a day dream, standing beside my over-heated, two-toned Ford Edsel, at the side of the road. For no rational reason, I had a mysterious urge to continue traveling at a million miles an hour, but as my luck would have it- I was at a dead stop. My groggy mind pulled at me. Demanded my immediate and perpetual movement.
More reality began filtering in. The sun baked down on my shoulders and melted my polyester shirt to my body. I was clutching something the size and weight of a small steamer trunk. It’s old, sweat-stained leather grip had caused blisters to swell up on my palm.
The road was a mirror-scaled, asphalt python in the mid-morning sun. I was so preoccupied with getting somewhere, that I couldn't remember if I had passed a town along the way. I frankly couldn’t remember much at all. The road was virtually desolate, very few vehicles passed. Standing in my shirtsleeves beside a junkyard Edsel, I didn't exactly look the helpless hitch-hiker type; I felt more like the desperate, prison escapee type.
A T-bird sedan whooshed by, it’s heedless wake snapped my pant legs and shirtsleeves painfully against my skin. Walking seemed to get me nowhere, I stopped to wipe my brow. My burning feet could almost feel the earth rotating. I don’t know why I felt so disoriented. A pile driver banged inside my skull, sweat was just pouring off me. My left sleeve was sopping wet, as if a hose were draining down my arm into my hand. I suddenly came to a jarring realization, my shoulder was BLEEDING! I'd been SHOT! Somebody shot me, but why?
Hazy events started to rush back to me, somebody shot me with a…Jellybean! A sketchy story attempted to spell itself out. Remembering, stirred dusty flakes that settled and turned crystalline inside my cranium. I couldn't remember why exactly, but vague images of me robbing a troop of transient circus clowns came into focus. I never figured on them being so heavily armed. A nasty little blue-faced midget got the drop on me with an Uzi Jellybelly gun. He only winged me and I managed a narrow escape.
Desperate, I tried to recall what it was I stole from them and my attention drifted over to the leather trunk, thoughts there remained foggy. The only thing to do was open the cursed thing. I raised the lid…hesitant to peer inside…finally discovering RUBBER NOSES! What possessed me to steal rubber noses from a troop of nefarious clowns? The questions swimming aimlessly in my mind began to ignite paranoia. I couldn't ward-off my anxious feelings that the clowns might catch up to me very soon. I flashed-back to how ticked-off the dubious, grease-paint puppets were at the loss of their precious rubber noses. Discovering his personal loss, a blue-faced midget exhibited extreme, bipolar-homicidal tendencies.
A hot breeze blew sawdust particles off my pant leg. I closed my eyes and began to assemble the events that dragged me here. A stifling hot circus tent, knee-deep and reeking with sawdust and animal feces. Elephants, bears, poodles and ponies, those grungy clowns never bothered to clean up after each act. It seemed they were part of some international terrorist cell, headed by a mysterious and deranged biophysicist- for the moment, I failed remembering anything more.
I needed rest desperately. I had to get off the main highway. There had to be a small town somewhere near by. I cut across a drainage ditch to avoid trailing down an exposed exit ramp. The weeds were thick and overgrown. A scraggy tree branch barely shaded a sun-bleached sign with the inscription, “Free Parking Square.”
The locale consisted of rolling hills and meadows of brown, reedy grass. Random thickets of forest filled in between farmland. From my vantage point I saw no immediate indication of a town. Instead, surreal visions of Pagliacci haunted my sleep-deprived thoughts. A little further north, a hazy silhouette of a shack emerged, with a large, vintage model sedan parked beside it. No other signs of life, but as I got closer I imagined faint strains of dueling banjos.
My arm had started to go numb- I got a good look at the building. It was a remodeled hillbilly out-house complete with a rough-cut crescent moon on the door. The car was early to mid fifties with a terminal case of rust. I leaned back against the rear fender, careful not to impale myself on its tall fender fins. Exhausted and worried about my shoulder, I unwrapped my makeshift bandage and examined my wound.
The blood had a strange lemon meringue scent to it. I wondered if there was such a thing as sugar poisoning. My head was pounding like a late night conga solo at the Copa. I couldn't understand my nagging case of amnesia. Could it have been from all the cotton candy, corn dogs and stale circus peanuts I ate while I cased the circus grounds? Just before I closed my eyes, someone popped up from behind the outhouse.
He looked like Mr. Ziffle from the Green Acres television show. He tapped me on the shoulder at a distance with a long handled farm implement.
“Howdy stranger.” He greeted me in a hillbilly twang.
“You look a might tuckered.” He observed, hooking his thumbs in his suspenders.
“Well kinda, yeah.” I admitted.
“Maybe you got in a bit of trouble there.” His left eyebrow raised and the other sank as he sucked his upper lip behind his lower one and squinted at my bleeding shoulder.
“Yes, I mean NO. Noooo, my car broke down and I’m sort of lost at the moment.” I tried to think of something fast.
“Trouble with your car eh? Never had a day of trouble outta my Emmy Lou.” He boasted.
“Uhm, Emmy Lou?”
“Yer LEANIN’ on her,” he gestured with his bearded chin, “ she’s my au-ti-mobeel.”
“Oh yeah,” I played along with the hayseed, “she looks fabulous for her age.”
This guy was beginning to scare me. I’d feel safer if he wore the white dinner jacket with extra long sleeves instead of bib overalls. The man leaned in for a closer inspection of my wound.
“Yer arm looks a terrible sight, want me to take your va-leese for ya?”
“NO! Ah, no thank you sir. I’m wondering if you could tell me where I am?” I tried to stall for time to clear my head.
“Shor’ can,” he said proudly squaring his shoulders and stretching his suspenders, “you’re smack dab in the middle of Free Parking.”
“Yes, I know, but excuse me, where exactly is Free Parking?” I pressed for more information.
“Weeelll,” he began scratching the side of his jaw, “It’s kind’er in the corner of Board County you might say.”
“Board County?” I was more disoriented than I first realized. “This may sound a bit funny, crazy even, but it’s starting to sound like a Monopoly game.”
He narrowed his beady little pig eyes and stuck out his nanny goat chin.
“We don’t hanker much to talkin’ lightly ‘bout religion in these here parts mister.”
“Religion?” I winced.
“MONOPOLY!” he shouted then asked in a more hushed tone, “Ain’t you a believer?"
Some days I just couldn't catch a break if I tried, what were the odds?
“What? Believer? Oh yeah, yeahyeahyeah, of course I am.” I played along with this nut job. “It’s just that I’m not feeling well.”
“Then maybe you oughta go an’ see the Circus.” He suggested as he chewed his middle fingernail.
“CIRCUS!?” I yelled in surprise. That one word alone was alarming, my next words frantically spilled out. “What Circus? I didn’t hear about any Circus. Why?”
“Well, a circus makes you feel better, ‘specially them funny clowns.” He spit his fingernail out for emphasis.
THEM CLOWNS! Holy crap I forgot all about them clowns.
“Listen,” I said anxiously,” I’ve got to get going, I’m going to be late for an appointment. Could you possibly give me a lift in old Emmylou here? I’d be very much obliged.”
“Why not? You said she never gave you a day of trouble!?”
“Didn’t. Til yesterday, plum dang up an’ quit on me.” He shook his head and looked at the ground. Great, I could just about hear big clown shoes flapping in the distance.
“O.k. can you point me to the nearest train station then?” I hoped I didn’t sound too desperate.
“Shor can” he replied.
Time passed unnoticed.
“Well?” I gestured with my hands.
“Well What? “ He asked, seemingly oblivious to my first question
“Well, which WAY!”
“Alright, alright there young feller, don’t holler.” He tried to simmer me down,
“ It’s jes’ down that-a-way over them two humpty-back hills.”
“Don’t tell me, let me guess, it’s the Reading Railroad right?”
“Thank God.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
“It’s the B&O line.”
My delusional state of mind was still gruesomely in tact.
“Well thanks a lot,” I said slowly backing away, “take good care of old Emmylou here and give my regards to your pig. See ya.”
I beat a path over the two humpty-back hills. Behind me I could hear the slow-witted redneck plaintively call, “Hey! I ain’t got no pig.”
At this point I was running on pure adrenalin. All I kept thinking about was making it to the station and getting the heck away from all this lunacy. For all I knew, my very life could depend on it. I was still lugging the case full of noses I figured they’d make handy hostages. As I reached the peak of the last hill, a panoramic view of the valley opened below. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was on the back lot of the television series, Petty Coat Junction. I made a mental note then and there to stop watching so many late night TV reruns.
The antiquated station was positioned in the middle of the valley. There were a few dilapidated pick-up trucks parked behind it and the boarding platform looked pretty much empty. The best part was there were no clowns in sight. I decided it was now or never if I wanted to blow this one-horse county.
I scrambled down the rock-strewn embankment and casually moved toward the depot. If I could just make it to the train, I could lay low for the ride home.
I approached the back of the station when I heard the faint sound of a toy siren in the distance. The clowns had caught up with me. Off on the horizon, I saw them speeding furiously toward the station in an undersized fire truck trailing a tornado of road dust and clanging a cowbell for all it was worth. Spurred by this scene, I ran like a lab rat after cheese toward the depot.
By some miracle, I reached the boarding platform before the fire engine. I sprang panther-like onto the platform and desperately reached for a passenger car handrail. Suddenly, a hand, fat as an Easter ham, collared me and jerked.
“Hold on d'ere buddy, where’s your ticket?” a nasally voice demanded. The voice belonged to a fat old train conductor. He resembled Captain Kangaroo, blue coat, big pockets, sideburns, the whole nine yards; even sporting carrot greens from the tops of his side pockets.
“ER, I, um, I left it on the train, you see admiral, I was saying good bye to a friend and I…”
My lame attempt at stalling wasn't very convincing.
“I wasn’t born yesterday ya know bub. I’ve heard ‘em all. Now, DO you or DON’T you have your ticket?” He patted his bulging stomach and scrunched his mustache menacingly.
“Well no, but is it possible to buy a ticket on the train?”
I was sweating. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the clown’s miniature fire engine screech to a halt and skid sideways at the other end of the boarding platform. Twenty bodies piled out, ringing bells, blowing whistles and throwing pies. I almost didn’t recognize them without their noses. It was strange, amidst it all, but I thought they looked much funnier without those bulbous red appendages.
“Sure you can sonny,” the conductor casually answered, “Where do you want to go, Hooterville or Chicago?”
“Hooter-“ I checked myself, “I mean Chicago, definitely Chicago.” I had to go with the lesser of the two evils.
“Good choice, the ticket to Chicago is cheaper. I’ve got an Aunt lives in Chicago, her name’s EmmyL-“
“I’m sure she’s a peach, but I’m in kinda a hurry here.” I interrupted his reminiscing. “Just sell me the ticket please.”
“You sure you don’t want to stick around for the Circus?” He asked innocently while fumbling with the ticket punch.
“NO! I’m allergic to sawdust, besides their coronet band plays flat. Thanks anyway, really.”
I jumped into the nearest car just as the train was pulling away from the station. Talk about close calls, I made it to a seat just in time to see the rampaging pack of clowns miss my departure. They were slaphappy by this time and exploded “dirty” custard pies and bounced jellybean bullets off the sides of the club car. I had actually made it, I was safe now, relatively speaking of course. Fortunately for me that blue-faced midget was a lousy shot. I hoped the ride to Chicago was going to be a pleasant one. It felt good to be back on track to peace and sanity.
I settled back into the over-stuffed coach seat and tried to catch up on some much needed sleep. Immediately I felt a presence very close to my face. Hot wafts of air hit my cheek. I carefully opened one eye. There, three inches away from my face was a be-freckled, snout-nosed, six year old sharing some dubious, genetic linkage with Dennis the Menace.
“Ah, Hey ah mister,” his nose was running and his breath reeked of stale bubble gum, “watcha got in the funny trunk there,huh? Can I take a look? Huh? Can I, huh?”
Just then the conductor called out, “Next stop, Mayberry, all out!”