By Jack Cawthon|
I had a call recently from John Gutermuth in Atlanta, which is in Georgia, U.S.A., not the former Soviet Union, although with world-traveling John, one can never be sure. He is what every vanity writer—and we all are, who throw out (up?) words for another to read whether for pay or praise—hopes for: someone who reads everything one writes and often likes enough of it to encourage more of the same.
John, who is a chickened out West Virginian from Snalbans, down around Charleston, may have breathed too many chemical fumes while growing up in the Kanawha Valley, which may be the major reason he is drawn to my writing. He has followed faithfully from my days with Hillbilly over to the Herald. His only criticism is that I don’t use comma sufficiently. So, John, here is a supply to use as you wish (,,,,,,,,,,).
We were discussing the conditions in Morgantown, as John has relatives (RAL-a-tives) living here. So far, economic conditions are booming, the roads are choked, boxes, called “luxury housing,” with prices to reflect it if not the architecture, are springing up to cover former green spaces, and the people talk funnier all the time, implying a goodly crop of outsiders, which adds to my many clannish phobias.
I told John that I was ready to bag out and move to Big Puf. Then he asked the one question, the answer to which I had to deny him, the one and perhaps only one devoted reader that I have: Where is Big Puf? From time to time, I have hinted at the location of this sheltered oasis, but seemingly only those people suffering from some sort of chemical dependency have been able to follow the directions and find their way there.
I was asked by the community fathers and mothers not to send any more strange people their way as they already have one token Pennsylvanian in the form of Arley Cleeter.
This seemed like a reasonable request, as I had noticed while growing up in the hills that most towns could tolerate one alcoholic—this was before the added bad stuff—and accept him as their own. (I didn’t know back then that there were women alcoholics, which shows my chauvinistic upbringing.) We had one all our own in Glenville. John H. was tolerated and maybe coddled a little; all others were just plain drunks. John could recite Shakespeare, or what people assumed was Shakespeare, although it could have been the Internal Revenue Code for all the Shakespeare experts we had around town.
Already I may have contaminated Big Puf just by my presence. Just as smallpox and other major European diseases spread to America’s natives who had no resistance to them, I may have spread noxious diseases from Morgantown on my visits to the Tri-Holler region.
On my last visit I noticed that Arlo Pratlow had fenced around his rather modest three-room dwelling, I assumed to keep in his three sheep, two cows, a goat and three or four hogs. But when he installed a new livestock gate and began calling his place a “gated estate” just like Morgantown, I knew something was spreading.
Argyl Hanshaw needed to build a new two-holer outhouse, but was denied a permit as its location was in the “flood plain” of Big Puf Crick, which he couldn’t understand as he had been pouring his sewage directly into the crick and now just wanted to sanitize. But this sounded again like Morgantown to me, not with two-holers as our “estates” feature five and six bathrooms, cutting down on sharing but requiring permits, proving my point that to achieve such prominence one’s gastrointestinal system is so shot that all those bathrooms probably are in constant use.
My greatest concern now is that someday I will walk into the Over Easy Inn and Homer Bob will be reading a book. As you know, he is the one writer who never learned to read so that he might remain pure, never stealing from another. If so, I have spread another Morgantown disease from this center of learning, good and bad. If he receives a degree without ever attending classes, hey, we all know where that comes from!
I decided to pay a visit to the lone outsider who has been accepted into Big Puf community life. When I came close to Arley Cleeter's’ cabin I could see only its roof line. There were books everywhere and when I made my way through the bibliopile Arley had windows and doors wide open, although the temperature was near freezing. He was sweating profusely as he pushed volumes into his roaring stove.
“Give me some of those books about Dick Cheney,” he yelled as I entered. I noticed a large stack nearby and as I grabbed several and passed to him, he threw them into the stove.
“At last you have found a weapon of mass destruction, “ I declared as I praised the Lord and passed more ammunition. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion and Arley barely escaped the backlash from the stove as the stovepipe rattled and I feared it falling. I ran outside to see if there was a chimney fire, and I swear there was a miniature mushroom cloud arising above the cabin.
You may recall that Arley arrived in Big Puf one cold winter and settled into a deserted Pratlow cabin. He had no heat and no fuel. The only solution to thaw body and soul was to burn his precious books. For the next winter or two he began to scavenge books to burn, and he found easy pickings, not so much in Big Puf, which has never been too big in books, but by traveling around, possibly even as far as Morgantown, which has plenty of books to burn.
What he discovered and set him on a completely new tract was that the country was sinking and smothering in books. To save the world from brain pollution, Arley became a biblioecoist, burning as many books as he possibly could. Now, he is the one being smothered as people drive miles to deposit their unwanted books. (The best collection now features books on how to make money in the stock market.)
“No more Cheney books!” he pleaded, as I continued to move other imprints to him. “I’m going to ship the remainder to a hazardous waste dump,” he explained, “and they may end up back with Cheney himself.” As a former Republican, I swallowed the insult the best I could while hiccuping a giggle.
I told him that conditions could only become worse as more people decided to become writers and publish books. Some wise man has said that there is a book in everyone.
“Why can’t they just take a good catharsis and purge it out!” he exclaimed, looking intently at me. “Works for me,” I could only mutter meekly.
And, no, John, and you other readers, should there be more than just one of you, I can’t tell you the location of Big Puf. I have done enough damage myself carrying Morgantown diseases to this once sheltered way of life in the hills. No telling what might happen if the Federal bailout disease spreads that way.