March 03, 2010

March 2010, Vol. 9, Issue 3

Welcome back to the Almost-Spring issue of Truckin'.

1. Purple Pajamas by Paul McGuire
"A girl from Texas once told me that grasshoppers were lucky," said Lucien as he balanced his guitar on his leg and leaned into the microphone. "I didn't believe her. I used to kill 'em whenever I came across 'em."... More

2. Jonny, No H by Sigge S. Amdal
I needed a cabbie, and I needed it fast 'fore anyone wrong around me would pay any notice. This is a dog-eat-dog kind of town as soon as the bar closes and all the police of central Oslo has left somewhere else entirely, never there when you need them and especially there when you don't... More

3. Fire Confession by Chris Hall
The completely rational part of my brain drowned in a sea of paranoia as I frantically flapped my t-shirt underneath the alarm trying to stop it from going off. I couldn't really see any smoke, but this was an expensive hotel, maybe it had very sensitive fire-alarms that could detect it easily, but my alarm was going off. Ergo, it must be my fault... More

4. Kankakee by Change100
Well, there were a lot of tractors in these parts and for a moment there, I felt like I was in the opening scene of a slasher movie, the naïve girl being lured in by seemingly folksy farmers who then proceed to hack her to pieces and sell off her organs to smugglers... More

5. Those Grifting O'Malleys by Johnny Hughes
I parked the car, and walked over the bridge to Mexico. In a half a block, I bought a whiskey and coke for a nickel. It didn't take much to get me drunk, being only my fourth of fifth time. I bought this big sombrero, and two fifths of fancy, but cheap champagne. That was a mistake, because I had to carry them everywhere, and if I wore the sombrero, folks would hoorah me... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

The March issue marks the debut of British writer Chris Hall, with an embarrassing incident that happened in New Zealand. Change100 returns with a pumpkin story. Johnny Hughes is back with one of his Texas tales. Plus, we have a treat because everyone's favorite Norwegian is back with a... ghost story. Oh, and I spun a little something about... well... purple pajamas. Sort of. You'll see.

The scribes write at Truckin' for free, so please do us huge favor and help spread the word about your favorite stories. Tell your legions of friends on Facebook about us. Tweet your favorite story. We all appreciate the help and your generosity will improve your karma.

If anyone is interested in being added to the mailing list or writing for a future issue, then please to contact us.

As always, I can never thank the writers enough for sharing their blood work and taking a blind leap of faith with me. For that bold risk, I'm eternally grateful. They inspire me and keep this little e-zine humming along month after month.

And lastly, thanks to all of the readers for their unwavering support. That's you. If you're reading this... you rock.

Be good,

"All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together." - Jack Kerouac

Purple Pajamas

By Paul McGuire © 2010

"A girl from Texas once told me that grasshoppers were lucky," said Lucien as he balanced his guitar on his leg and leaned into the microphone. "I didn't believe her. I used to kill 'em whenever I came across 'em. Started when I was a little kid. I found out some years back that killing grasshoppers was bad luck. That would explain all that crappy luck I had in the 1980s."

"Are you referring to the trial?" Major Jackson asked.

"Damn hoodlums and communists," barked Lucien.

"You mean the IRS?"

"No, not the IRS. I'm talkin' bout my shyster lawyers. It took me the rest of the 80s to pay off the gov'ment. It took me all of 90s to pay off those damn lawyers."

"Well, if you just joined us, we have the rare and sincere honor of having Lucien Dexter in the WBRK studios with us. He's going to be playing a few songs off of his new album Purple Pajamas and the Old Wind Up Clock later this morning."

"It's morn already? I've been up all night."

"Some things never change, eh, Lucien?"

"That Red Bull? Mix it with vodka and you got yerself speed in a can. Back in the old days, and I'm not talkin' bout 1860, I'm talkin' bout 1960, we drove ourselves to the gigs. Three bands all on one old school bus. Except, it wasn't yeller like most school buses. It was painted white by a Baptist Church. One of them rich Dallas school districts donated the bus and those Jesus Freaks fixed it up and would use it to go on recruiting missions. I dunno how the hell we got stuck on the Baptist bus. I suspect that Curly, our slick New York manager, stole the damn thing. Anyway, Curly booked us on one of those tours through the Midwest. Ohio. Indiana. Illinois. We'd have to drive 300 sometimes 400 miles each night, often doubling back to where we had played days before. Curly always made sure we got paid, but that Heeb had no sense of geography. He'd book us in Dayton on Monday, then South Bend, Indiana on Tuesday. We'd double back to Ohio on Wednesday with a gig in Columbus, drive to Kokomo on Thursday, and return to Ohio on Friday with a show in Akron. We popped Benzies to stay awake."


"Speed. You kids have no idea about speed. But Red Bull is the closest thing to Benzies or Bennies. We called it by both names. Benzies puts a pep in your step. It makes my Peter stand at full attention. Makes your eyes watery but at the same time, they are dry as a bone. First time I visited New York City, I took Benzies with Hank Walcott and his wife. We walked around Times Square. Looked like we were floating underwater. All those blurry lights. Fuzzy. Halos."

"What was the real reason you didn't play Woodstock?"

"Because I hated hippies."

"Seriously, Lucien, why? It would have been the biggest turning point in your career."

"Truthfully? I was in jail. Drank too much one night. Slept with the wrong gal. Her old man got pissed. He shot my dog. Except, I didn't have a dog. He off'd my neighbor's dog. That didn't sit well with him. Let's just say, a lot of people got their heads bashed in. Including me."

"So you spent Woodstock in lock up?"

"Yeah. Don't regret it at all. I never had a desire for acceptance. That hippie generation was a generation of tenderness. Then they became disillusioned. The kids. Stupid kids. They didn't know any better. Could you blame them for getting scared with the violent reaction to their attempt of a revolution?"

"Is it true that you never held a job? Says here that you were a session musician from the age of 13."

"Now now Major. Don't believe everything you read. My publicist is a lying whore."

"So then, what was the last job you had?"

"I used to sell fruit at a roadside stand just outside of Atlanta. Did that for most of the 1950s. I sold berries and peaches during the day. At night, I'd go to the black part of town and sit in with Lightnin' Williams and the horn players from The Turtlebacks. Everything was segregated in those days. Even the clubs. Colored musicians couldn't play in the white clubs, but a few of us went down to play with them."

"Did you have any problems?"

"At first. They were suspicious and paranoid of whites. Thought they were spies or narcs. Not me, of course. I was too weird. They felt sorry for me mostly. Probably thought that I was a retard or somethin'."

"Why did you move to Spain in the 1970s?"

"Her name was Camila. She was beautiful. I followed her to Europe like a sick puppy. She made me sleep on the streets of Barcelona for four days. She broke my heart. I got hooked on heroin to get unhooked from her."

"But you still managed to produce not one, but two of what I feel are your greatest albums of your career."

"I could always play... until I started nodding off. Here's the deal, we recorded most of Dharma Blues in the afternoons. I'd wake up around noon. I'd shoot up. Go to the recording studio. Shoot up in that bathroom, drink wine, and then we'd play for a couple of hours. I was evading the cloud. It was always on the horizon. The dark cloud. As soon as it caught up to me, I was done. Couldn't function anymore. I'd go back to my pad. Shoot up some more and sleep. Wake up and repeat the process. Did that for a few months. We had a couple hours every day, that small window, where I was flying high and feeling no pain, but having to rush to figure out how to play all those notes inside my head. I never took notes. I just memorized the riffs. But I had a small window before the dark clouds swept me away. But in those moments before the cloud, that's when the magic happened."

"Maybe you can make a little magic for us in the studio? Will you play something?"

"Sure thing," said Lucien as he strummed his guitar. "I wrote this song about a man in purple faded pajamas who slept on the floor with an old wind up clock set a few inches from his head."

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.

Jonny, no H. The Best of Oslo Taxi.

By Sigge S. Amdal © 2010

For whatever reason, whatever grounds that night, I was irrevocably mugged by four umpteens taking turns like the worst scenes of a Clockwork Orange. Time is put on hold and your money is gone, everyone around you pose immediate threats; long, cold shadows reaching into the supporting structure surrounding your heart, and squeezing it for fear, every drop of it, until you go insane.

I stumbled up from the ground, brushed off my jacket and felt the throbbing in my crown. 'Dang, there goes fine dental work,' I thought to myself, but it hurt too much to laugh.

It was late at night, and I was on my way home from yet another fruitless adventure downtown when the robbery took place. I was bruised and battered, but still light at heart, as the friendly memories of two hours prior took precedence and left me unscathed. Thank God.

They were amateurs, hobbyists; no honest man of the criminal profession would approve; I was still standing, still breathing, still with a wit and walking ability! As I said, no honest thief would leave a heart beating. "Kids these days!" In hindsight I think that the alcohol helped.

It was closer to four than five am, and the distance to home only grew by every step I made forward. I needed a cabbie, and I needed it fast 'fore anyone wrong around me would pay any notice. This is a dog-eat-dog kind of town as soon as the bar closes and all the police of central Oslo has left somewhere else entirely, never there when you need them and especially there when you don't.

Short of putting my life on the line I stepped over the life-saving threshold that saves thousand pedestrian lives every night from the crazed, pill popping taxi drivers going a hundred and twenty, and onto the road to signal for help to a passing car. Like floating promises they are, pauses in time and space, taking you home or a magical place; those were the days, but I am older now, and seldom need to cash out for the fun. Definite destination was home.

A cabbie saw my distress call and stopped despite my rather shabby appearance.

"Hey, man!" I said as I got in, never give them time to re-consider. Too many cabbies are killed, if they were all careful we would never get a ride.

"Good evening," he said. He was an old Norse rider, one of those who've seen the city turn from a province town to a capital to a self-inflicted monster. He's the right kind of guy.

"Can you take me home, please?" I said and grunted. The soft clothed seats made me aware of all the bruises.

"Sure thing, pal. Hard night out?" He said, when I'd given him the address.

"You bet. It's nothing else than a jungle out there, a mental asylum, a heathen altar of human sacrifice."

"Tell me about it!"

And I did. I told him about the One Night Out, the flirts in skirts, the mixup at the bar with the Piña Coladas that ensued, the buddies who went wrong and ended up at The Gay Bar, the accompanying tales of such trouble and finally the mugging as a topping to the piece.

And we both laughed at the trials and tribulations that have come to pass as the Oslo Experience if you don't watch your ass; and he brought back humanity and heart-felt appreciation of the wonders of life, lost love and tearful teasers, the cinnamon in the bun so to speak, which makes life so worth living here. And I smiled and I laughed my heart out, clearing the dark patches in the process, those scars you don't see but wake up with, the cancer of the soul, which later come to determine so much of your life. Indeed, he was the best cabbie this city has seen. And I've seen a lot of them.

The minutes passed like the orange street lights outside the window – fast – and soon we were there.

"As you know I was mugged, and I don't have any cash," I said, "I have money, just not right now."

"Don't worry about it. Take down this number," he said, and gave me the cab registration number that I jot down a couple of times for good measure, as well as the cab company telephone number.

"You just transfer the money to the account they read up to you, and give my best to Denise."

"Okay. What's your name, by the way?"

"It's Jonny, no H."

"Right. Thanks for the ride, Jonny. I really appreciate it."

"Don't worry about it. You just get yourself home safely and make sure to sleep it out. Those bruises will heal but you better be careful the next time around."

"Oh, I will. Thanks again!" and I slammed the door shut and locked myself inside.

The reader should know that I once asked a cabbie what he would do if a passenger couldn't pay the fare. "Nothing," he said. There was nothing he could do. There has been too many killings over small bills that it wasn't worth the risk. Christ, just a week before this there had been a fatal stabbing over a failed taxi transaction downtown. Therefore the note and the transfer details. Good people will always pay up, and most people are a little good, especially the days after drinking.

It was Monday after this ordeal, having recovered from the whole thing through Sunday, that I found the piece of paper in my pocket with the number to call.

"Hi, this is Oslo Taxi, you're talking to Laura," said Laura.

"Hi, my name is Sigge and I'm calling 'cause I got this number from one of your cabbies that I couldn't pay on Saturday. But I'm a good honest-to-god kind of guy so having found it just now I want to make it right!"

"Alright, no problem." she said and laughed. "Can you give me the cab registration number, please?"

And I read it up, just like it was.

She became very silent before she said, "Are you sure about the number?"

"Yes, I even wrote it down twice!" I said merrily. "His name was Jonny, no H, and I was supposed to say hello to Denise. You got a Denise there by any chance?"

"Yes, we do. She's in a funeral right now, but can I take a message?"

"Just hello from Jonny no H, I guess."

"I don't know who that is. I'm sorry, I just started working here. Let me give you my boss."

A few moments later a man picked up the phone and asked me to give me the cab registration number all over again, and I did, just like I'd written it down with the Jonny, no H, and hello to Denise.

"Sir, could you state your name again, for the record?"

"Yeah," and done.

"Is this some sort of sick joke?" He was angry.

"What? What do you mean? Jonny said I could pay through here, 'cause I didn't have the cash on me Saturday."

"Jonny doesn't work for us anymore. Not since he died last week! And I think you should fucking take that into consideration before calling here again you bastard! I'll call the cops!" then he slammed down the phone.

It just couldn't be. I picked up the newspaper and flipping through the dead pages I found Jonny no H taxi driver, "Taken from us prematurely."

I didn't call back, but I hope Laura delivered the message.

To this day I haven't seen Jonny's cab again. But I'm sure that he's out there with the other phantom cabs of Oslo, keeping an eye out for those that need a fare, but can't pay. I still have the note that I wrote and I keep it with me when I go out to town so I remember to stay out of trouble, and save some extra cash for a safe ride home.

Sigge S. Amdal is a word wanker from Olso, Norway.

Fire Confession

By Chris Hall © 2010

A hot summer in Auckland, the balcony door wide open as I muttered to myself about the fact the hotel I was staying in had air-con in the halls yet neglected to provide any within the room in which I was dwelling. I'd been moved from another hotel because the latter had been overbooked, the mighty AC/DC concert that was to be on the following night had every rock 'n' roll fan with 100 miles queuing up to stay in New Zealand's premier city.

This hotel room however provided a cooker and I was in the middle of poaching some fish with some rice, both had nearly been overcooked but saved just in time. I left the overheard fan on as I turned off the two hobs and settled my food down next to my laptop which was loading up a Kaki King video on YouTube for me to watch.

Just as I began to tuck in, a loud alarm-like noise went off, there was a five second pause and it went off was coming from my bedroom.

"Oh God," I thought, "I've set the hotel on fire... or at least set the alarm off... I mean it must be me, I've just been cooking... OH GOD! I'VE SET THE ALARM OFF! FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!"

The completely rational part of my brain drowned in a sea of paranoia as I frantically flapped my t-shirt underneath the alarm trying to stop it from going off. I couldn't really see any smoke, but this was an expensive hotel, maybe it had very sensitive fire-alarms that could detect it easily, but my alarm was going off. Ergo, it must be my fault.


I had to do something, as the alarm declared that people could leave the hotel if they wanted to, but they were allowed to stay in their rooms for now. I called reception, the phone ringing continuously as I occasionally ran back to flap the non-existent smoke that I had create from my fairly average cooking.


It was no use, the alarm continued to go off, I couldn't hear any other alarms in any other rooms which made me feel even worse, what would people I've never seen, met or care about think of me now that they knew I'd accidentally almost set the hotel on fire but hadn't?


When reception finally picked up, I blurted, "I think it was me. My alarm has gone off."

A calm female voice replied, "Is there smoke in your room?"

"No...," I answered, confused, before adding the damning words of confession, "but I've been cooking."

"Just stay in your room for now sir..."

I thanked her and put the phone down, if there was to be a fire I was sure I would be able to douse it with the crop-field sized sweat-patches that had appeared under my arms. If the fire brigade were to come then I was already sure they would chalk me up as a tertiary option from which to withdraw water.

The phone rang and a man's voice told me that everyone was about to be told to evacuate the hotel, he rechecked my room number, room 13 on the 13th floor, someone, somewhere was clearly laughing at me. As I put the phone back down the alarm suddenly changed, declaring loudly that now everyone was to leave the hotel.


What do I do??? I looked at the error-strewn mess that was my room and felt it could do with a tidy before I went downstairs. If the firemen were coming in here to check why I had set the alarm off, I could at least make it seemed like I had some semblance of being a normal person. Messy people are guilty people. Also, my mum tidies up the house before she has the cleaners over and that strikes me as being far more weird. Hopefully the firemen won't catch on though, they'll see the semi-smart room and think, "Wow, this is a tidy place from a confident normal young man who was so comfortable having done nothing wrong, he left all his worldly possessions in here. He must be innocent."

I walked out of my room with my keycard, in a mask of deception belying how I truly felt. The mask was immediately shattered as I walked past a man carrying a laptop who gave me a slightly quizzical look as I began the 50m walk to my right and the emergency exit, having missed the other exit roughly 2m to my left.

"He knows!!! He knows it's all my fault!" screamed the voice inside my head. I casually turned around and followed him out of the door, he smiled as he helpfully held the door open for me. This overt act of kindness seemed suspicious given the circumstances, and I kept my eye on him as he amiably walked down seven flights of stairs.

As we made it to the lobby with most of the hotel already standing outside relaxed and laughing, the guilt welled up inside of me, it then burst through my dam of silence, I couldn't take it any more and dashed to the front desk. I immediately confessed, "I think it was me...I'm in room 1313, I think it was my alarm that went off..."

The man at reception didn't look too concerned, "Was there any smoke?"

"No, but the alarm went off!"

What didn't he get? My logic horse had truly bolted the stable by now, I was gallivanting in pastures generally reserved for reality TV stars, Holocaust deniers and people who like Nickelback because they are 'edgy'.

In my head I was screaming, "I confessed, it was me! Just fine me the bazillion dollars or whatever so AJ Hackett can build another bungee in Queenstown for thrill-seeking Germans to throw themselves off."

"It might not be you sir," he said, before ushering me outside.

I wasn't convinced though and went out of the lobby, avoiding eye contact with the two hundred or so people standing outside in case they saw right through me and decide to regress into a lynching mob. All I could think at this point was, "Everyone is out here because I overcooked my rice."

In my mind I contemplated creating an alibi, by sneaking around the corner, going to a shop and coming back with a couple of bags of groceries and then saying, "What the bloody hell happened here?" in front of a couple of people who hadn't seen me. I then discounted this on the basis that around 250 people had seen me with 3 or 4 having spoken to me while the rest had probably seen me guiltily pace around nervously for about 20 minutes.

Tomorrow's newspaper headline was already solved in my mind...
Auckland executes Brit for not poaching fish properly - A nation applauds
The firemen turned up, I expected one of them to turn at me at some stage and point like in the remake of The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Maybe they saw my exceptionally tidy room and gave me a break?

Using a cover of trying to flirt with one of the barmaids who had been converted into a makeshift safety officer, I attempted to ascertain whether the staff knew in which room the alarm had been set off. She replied that she had no clue other than it had been triggered, my attempts to pump her for information (and thusly to have a shot at pumping her) hadn't really produced anything tangible but hopefully they wouldn't know that I DID IT.

The firemen left and the massive droves of people gradually filtered into the trio of elevators back to their rooms. I took the stairs and quietly got to my room, still shaking.

And then with some much needed clarity I thought.

I'd left the balcony door open...

And left the fan above the hob on...

The hobs had been turned off by me before the alarm was anywhere near starting...

In fact I was eating food at the time...

How in the blue hell could I have set the alarm off??? This epiphany proved a storm drain to the sea of stupidity awash within my brain. Soberly, I went back downstairs to retract all confessions from the front desk lest they changed their minds and sent me to work in the mines of Moria or even the Tower of Barad-dûr and let's face it, no-one wants to go there.

The man at the desk laughed. and said, "We're confident it wasn't your room, but we did check." Finally satisfied, I turned to leave and he added, "By the way, the firemen said it was a bit messy in your room so a maid has given you new clean towels and made your bed..."

Chris Hall is mainly a layabout but is also a part-time writer and traveler from the UK. He really hates Richard Curtis films.


By Change100 © 2010

I told Meredith I'd pick up the pumpkins because I wanted to drive her car. It wasn't a particularly remarkable vehicle but at the time, her blue-green Subaru might as well have been a Ferrari and Interstate 57 the Cote d'Azur. I wanted to drive. I didn't care where I had to go to do it, I just wanted to get behind the wheel. Only six weeks into fall quarter, I longed for my little red Volkswagen, rusting away in my parents' driveway back in Los Angeles. All summer, I'd driven her just to drive—to Malibu, to Oxnard, to Carpinteria, turning around for home once I'd had enough wind in my hair for that day. I hated the stasis of being confined to only a few blocks of college-town streets. Without a set of car keys, I felt stranded.

Meredith handed a set of directions scribbled on the back of an old flyer for a performance by one of the university's a capella groups. I was supposed to pick up 150 pumpkins that had been donated by a farmer in a small town about eighty miles downstate. I'd fetch the pumpkins, drive them back to campus and we'd sell them the following morning as a fundraiser for the musical Meredith was directing.

"Are you sure 150 pumpkins are going to fit in here?" I asked, looking at her four-door hatchback.

"Just cram in as many as you can," Meredith replied as she tossed me the keys. "Try to be back by five."

All thoughts of attending my 10:00 class evaporated once the keys hit my palm. I pulled out of the driveway of the theatre building, turned out onto Sheridan Road, and made my way through the leafy north shore suburbs on my way to I-94. The locals had names for it that seemed to change every few miles. One minute it was the Edens Expressway. Then the Kennedy. Fall was in full, furious bloom, the burnt orange and red of the dying leaves the last bits of color in the landscape as winter encroached and threatened to turn the entire middle of the country into graying, lifeless tundra.

I found the Dan Ryan Expressway and watched as the skyscrapers of the Loop gave way to the bombed-out south side once I merged onto I-57 south. Charred warehouses. Empty lots. Graffited billboards. Once the street numbers reached the triple digits, it didn't take long for civilization to fall away, concrete and mortar replaced with a patchwork quilt of farmland. For as long as I could take the cold, I rolled down the windows, singing along with a Stephen Sondheim musical on the tape deck. It seemed like no one was out here. Wide open spaces.

Forty miles later, I exited the highway, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The last town I'd seen was Kanakaee, a few miles back. No gas station. No supermarkets. I took the Subaru down a two-lane road, passing a farmhouse every few miles.

"You'll see an enormous yellow tractor parked outside. That's the place. Park out front and ask for Ellen or Henry," wrote Meredith in her loopy scrawl.

Well, there were a lot of tractors in these parts and for a moment there, I felt like I was in the opening scene of a slasher movie, the naïve girl being lured in by seemingly folksy farmers who then proceed to hack her to pieces and sell off her organs to smugglers. But there, over the tiniest ridge, was indeed an enormous yellow tractor, and outside a simple, single-story bungalow sat a woman who reminded me of Sissy Spacek, sitting behind a table making beaded necklaces. I parked the Subaru at the edge of the dirt patch where her lawn should have been, and stepped outside.

"You must be from the university," she said, hardly looking up from her work.

"Yes. How'd you know?"

"We don't see too many new people around here. I'm Ellen. My husband has your pumpkins. He'll be out in a minute."

"Thank you. We really appreciate the donation."

"We really appreciate y'all taking them off our hands. Glad someone will be able to enjoy 'em. You should probably pull your car up to the conveyor."

"The what?"

"The conveyor. Over there," she said, pointing at some contraption I didn't understand the use of.

I nudged the Subaru up toward the device.

"Turn around!"


"Turn around! You need to back up towards it!"


"You want to load the pumpkins in the back of the car, right, turn around!"

Feeling like a completely inept urbanite, I executed the worst three-point turn of my life and attempted to follow her instructions. Just as I pulled the parking brake, I heard the unmistakable screech of metal-on-metal, followed by a thundering shudder.

What the fuck had I done? Had I hit something? Scraped the bottom of Meredith's car? Would insurance cover farming-related damages.

"Hurry up, open the hatchback. They're coming out," shouted Ellen.


"The pumpkins, they're coming on the conveyor."

Just then I saw a mountain of a man emerge from behind the house. Henry wore a flannel shirt and overalls and a muddy green baseball cap. He had a wild gray beard and a sturdy gait that was unfortunately outpaced by the dozens of pumpkins that seemed to emerge from nowhere and rumble toward me down the conveyor belt.

Do I grab the pumpkins? Do I wait for Henry? And which choice will make me look like less of an idiot?

I went for the pumpkins. I went for them fast, and started hurling them in the back of the car as fast as I could. I didn't know how this conveyor worked, if it was like the baggage claim at the airport and I'd have another shot at these suckers, or whether it was like the one in the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy just couldn't keep up with the chocolates and ended up eating most of them. Either way, this wasn't going to turn out well for me. The hatch was already a mess. The pumpkins were getting bruised. And there was the matter of my black combat boots sinking into the mud up to my ankles.

Henry tried not to laugh at the sight before his eyes.

"Whoa there. What's your hurry? You don't have a lot of space there so we're going to have to arrange these just right.”

"So they'll come back around?"

"Of course they will! You think I could get anything off this thing with my back the way it is?"

Henry went to work re-arranging the pumpkins I'd already hurled into the car while I pulled off the remainder of them into the neatest pile I could manage.

"Y'all wanted a hundred and fifty, right?"

"Right, but are we going to be able to get them all in there?"

"Oh, I'll make 'em fit," said Henry with a deep sigh, as he lifted a particularly heavy one. "You're not from around here, are you?"

"How'd you guess?" I replied with a smirk.

"We don't see too many folks wearing leopard-print down this way. Or boots like those. Not too practical."

"No, I'm from Los Angeles.”

"You're from Hollywood? No kiddin'! My niece, she lived there a while. Now she's in New York City. Just got a job writing that Saturday Night Live show."

"Wow, that's amazing. I wouldn't mind doing something like that myself."

"Anything you can put your mind to, I always told her. Anything you can put your mind to, you can do. Me, I like to put my mind to this. My land, my potatoes. You know I mainly grow potatoes. The pumpkins were sort of a special thing for us. Just ended up with too damn many of 'em."

By some feat of exceptional special geometry, Henry crammed 150 pumpkins into Meredith's Subaru hatchback by laying down the back seats and allowing a couple dozen to ride shotgun with me. Somehow I made it eighty miles back up the highway, my rear view completely obstructed by a wall of orange.

Change100 is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.

Those Grifting O'Malleys

By Johnny Hughes © 2010

"Tough times make tough people." - Benny Binion
Being an O'Malley, I was learning the grift by age fourteen and I drove a car across Texas all by myself in 1937. You go ask any old person in the Southwest if they've seen my uncle Sky O'Malley's act, and they'll remember and laugh. They had this ol' bi-plane during the Depression. They'd go to county fairs and rodeos and such. Sam Hogan, another uncle , would do some trick flying. Then when he was off on break, Sky would come out acting real drunk with a fifth of rot gut in his hand, and he'd pretend to steal the plane. Well, he'd fly all over, doing tricks, and he'd let go this here smoke trail and go flying toward the audience, and all until he crashed it right in front of a fair size crowd in Oklahoma City. He had some broke bones and what not. A Deputy Sheriff didn't know it was an act and handcuffed him.

Now Sky had done some flying bootlegging before I went on the road with him and Sam Hogan. They'd bring booze from El Paso and Mexico to Dallas, and that's how him and ol' Benny Binion got to be real close friends. They were very young bootleggers together. When Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were the most famous bank robbers in America when they got gunned down by the Texas Rangers over yonder in Louisiana in 1934. They'd killed some folks, including some laws. Ol' Benny was only thirty years old, but he was already big in outlaw circles. He had big dice games in Dallas, which just kept getting bigger until he ran twenty-seven dice games in downtown Dallas during the war. He had a piece of some fancy casinos too. You know how most outlaws keep with their own kind for telling stories, and such, but ol' Benny would show out, even early on.

So, Benny comes to Sky and says he wants to hire Sky to fly a plane over Clyde Barrow's funeral to drop a floral wreath of fifty yellow roses. They went back and forth on it all one day, but Benny could talk a frog up out of a log. Clyde was real unpopular with the laws, but Sky did it anyway. It was in the Dallas newspaper, but the article didn't mention Sky or Benny.

Sky and Sam Hogan were my uncles. Sam was married into the O'Malleys with my aunt Grace. I'd been practicing cheating with cards since I was eight, but I wasn't really ready to do anything. I went on the road with them when I was fourteen. They'd leave out of Duke, Oklahoma and work every little town all the way through West Texas down to El Paso as gamblers. They both could play most anything pretty darned good. This was 1937. Sky wore these old painter's clothes, and had said he was headed for a big job, but he'd tell folks he'd lost a fortune gambling in his life. Him and Sam would shill up at dominoes, or pool, or poker if they could find it. Every town had a domino hall. They were both good players, and they'd take the O'Malley edge. They could false shuffle dominoes or playing cards, but they weren't good for any cold decks or big moves. In dominoes, Sky could hold the double six under his palm when he shuffled and throw it by Sam or himself every time, and I couldn't even see it. He'd leave some cards on the bottom of the deck and false shuffle. I could see that, which kept me half scared the whole trip.

When we first left out of Duke, Oklahoma, they both got nearly broke in a poker game in Amarillo, Texas, and nearly got in a fight. Any time trouble came up, Sky would say he was a classical pianist and couldn't hurt his hands, but Sam liked fighting, and he did the fighting for the family. Both of them were average-size guys, but wiry and strong. Sky'd give a grand speech, and there wouldn't be a fight, or I never saw one. Sky had a lock box over in El Paso, a fair spell away. Anyways, when they are acting, Sam does the winning, and Sky seems like an all-day sucker. If there was a movie house in any of those towns, we'd all three go to the movies, which wasn't smart for looking like we didn't know each other. Sky would say he looked like Errol Flynn, but he didn't.

When we got to El Paso, they were good winners and each had given me a few bucks. During the Depression, sometimes they were gambling for loose change and a few lonely singles. Sky traded for this slick shiny black Ford Roadster. He dressed up real fancy. O'Malley's have this genetic weakness for clothes that they don't need. On the way back, he'd tell how he won thousands off this banker in El Paso. Sam would tell them he was cold trailing Sky because he knew he'd blow his boodle. Well, the greed of the mark is my family's stock in trade, and it was hard to belly up to the table for all the folks hustling Sky. He'd flash a lot of cash. And Sam would win it off him, or appear to. Sometimes, Sky would figure out the best producer in a town, and end up playing him one on one something. They'd gather up all the money open, and get ready to go. Sometimes, Sky would soak a fake diamond ring to somebody right before we left.

Even with a nice, plump bankroll, Sky is always doing short cons. He'd steal milk off back porches with five hundred cash on him. We'd go in a cafe and Sky would go to praying, and Sam is calling him Reverend and all, and he'd get a free meal or something. He'd keep a dead fly in his coat pocket and slip it in the soup, and raise hell with the owner. In this pretty nice cafe, considering the depression, right outside Wichita Falls, he'd did the fly con, and the owner got madder than a hatter. He started grabbing the change out of the cash box and slamming it on the counter. Ol' Sky was scooping it up, and putting it in his handkerchief. Sky got out of there with a big ol' bunch of coins, but he could have got killed. That man was red as a fire engine.

So, they were my teachers and wouldn't much leave me be. Sky's always yakking about my education. He'd always say he was gonna buy me a new suit of clothes and a hat. Young guys like me wore a cap. In any town, I wanted to go find some folks my own age, mostly girls. We made a big circle around hitting several towns, and got to some little ol' town just north of El Paso, in New Mexico, but right by Texas. There was about thirty of them bad women, bootleggers, burglars, big 'uns, gambling at dice, poker, and pitching quarters at the line. Well, I was good at that, and Sky and Sam got to betting on me, but it wasn't much, just the experience. It was mostly a dice game, and there was no edge, except fading the square dice. They even let me fade, and I was just fourteen years old.

So, this deal came up where Sky is going to take this guy's plane and fly it to Dallas. Sky says it is a big money deal. I could tell you of several times he got flimflammed his own self. They were all drinking. Sky wants me to ride with him to make sure he stays awake. I'm not getting on any airplane with Sky O'Malley, drunk or sober, either one of us, even if I have to walk back to Oklahoma. So Sam goes, and they leave me to drive the car back. They were drinking, and they just flew off. I'd been driving lots on the highway, but I'd never driven alone. That fancy black Roadster could get you robbed or killed in those bad lands and hard times. At first it wouldn't even start, and I went to walking, madder than I have ever been before or since. Then I went back and it started easy.

I drove right to the bridge connecting El Paso and Juare. I parked the car, and walked over the bridge to Mexico. In a half a block, I bought a whiskey and coke for a nickel. It didn't take much to get me drunk, being only my fourth of fifth time. I bought this big sombrero, and two fifths of fancy, but cheap champagne. That was a mistake, because I had to carry them everywhere, and if I wore the sombrero, folks would hoorah me. It was as big as a wagon wheel. I bought this gold watch that turned my wrist green. I barely remember finding the car, and going to sleep in it. The next day, this man in a filling station is showing me how to get to Carlsbad, New Mexico and on to Lubbock. I'd never read me a road map, and the man just gave it to me. When I started to put it in the glove box, there was over five hundred dollars cash, and not a bill over a ten. I went back and gave that filling station man a ten spot, probably two weeks pay for him in those tough times. It was coming a golly whopper of a rain storm, so I figured to spend one night in a fancy hotel. O'Malleys were always hanging around the lobby of a swell joint looking for some action. I stayed downtown at the Plaza Hotel four days. Each morning and evening I'd know I should call the farm in Duke, but somehow I never did. In order to avoid the law, and look like a fellow who was not driving a bent car, I bought a new suit of clothes, and my first fedora. Everyone knows the laws will leave a rich man or his son alone. I even got a tall-collar, stiff, white shirt, but I only wore it once. I'd eat at the hotel in a fancy dining room with a table cloth and all. They had a lamb and potato dish I still remember.

Well, they joke about that trip when they swap O'Malley family stories. I tried to marry a gal in Big Spring, and her daddy came at me with a deer hunting rifle. I lost $100 in a poker game at the domino hall there, and I tried to claim me being only fourteen, it wasn't fair. I looked all grown up, and I nearly got whupped over it. I stayed at a motor court in Lubbock about a week, and ate at a cafe every single night. I'd go downtown to the picture show every afternoon, and buy something, a shirt or shoes or something. And I took to wearing a suit, tie, and a hat. I bought another black fedora with red, green, and brown feathers. It had a white silk lining. They say the people in Lubbock, Texas are the friendliest in the world, and I found no reason to question that.

Never said it, but I'm Pat O'Malley, not the famous wrestler. He was my cousin. The main thing about that trip was that I was alone for the very first time, and I had lots of time to think or daydream. I got to liking just driving down the road. Being the Depression, there were lots of hitchhikers, bums by the rail yards, and general misery. So, I'd pick 'em up, sometimes three at a time. I'd buy a big ol' loaf of bread, some onions, and some bologna, and some soda water, and they'd wolf it down. Lucky, I didn't get heisted.

I'd been just stopping in towns and lallygagging around for about three weeks, when I finally decided to go on to the farm in Duke, and see what was up. I'd decided that for sure Sky wouldn't know about the money or how much anyways. I had $200 left, and the whole back seat full of new clothes, shoes, real fancy clothes. I had two fedoras and a pork-pie hat. Thinking he might not even know he'd left money there, I had made up some good stories about me winning gambling at everything all along the way. Sky was at the farm. Must have been ten of the family came out into the yard. Sky knew to the dollar how much was in that glove box. I gave him a hundred, and held out a hundred, even though he was really yelling. I knew he wouldn't hit me or anything with a yard full of laughing O'Malleys around.

They still quote what I said, "Well, just chalk up a few hundred to the price of your education."

Editor's Note: Benny Binion really did hire a plane to drop a floral wreath at Clyde Barrow's funeral in 1934, when Benny was thirty.

Johnny Hughes is the author of Texas Poker Wisdom.