Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Phonolite

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary

Phonolite: From the ancient Phoenician, phoenolyte. Posited by archaeo-climatologists as a complicated temperature scale measuring temperature via the digestive tract of domesticated ungulates and the quality of light as witnessed through the prismatic spectrum.

Unlike his ever-trading brethren in nearby Phoenician cities, herdsman Itthobaal Milkherem (translation: Joe Smith) preferred a quiet life wandering the meadows, ruminating with his flock of cows. One day, while searching for his absent mind, Itthobaal concluded that by listening closely to the sounds of cud chewing and comparing the chorus of masticatory melodies with the varying qualities of light, he was able to determine whether he felt hot, warm, cool or cold. Later that night in their hut, after he expounded upon his new theory, Itthobaal’s wife scolded him. “You don’t need a scale to tell you that, you silly shepherd!” she said.

But Itthobaal was convinced that in phoenolyte, he’d made a discovery for the ages. And so one day he set out on a pilgrimage, spreading his newly coined word which people found useful as conversation filler, even if they had no idea what it meant. The musically adventurous plucked the scale on their lyres, but the music sounded more flatulent than tuneful and left the musicians cold, even on a hot day. However, Itthobaal spread the news near and far, culminating in a visit to the famous Oracle of Delphi where he set up a ballpark hot dog stand and lived the rest of his life in obscurity because no one had invented baseball yet.

Intriguingly, wandering nomads, known for their concern about properly maintaining body heat, used the phoenolyte scale intermittently through successive centuries, eventually wandering (nomadically) as far away as the Falkland Islands, where penguins preferred it over the confusion created by the constantly in-fighting firm of scientists, Kelvin, Celsius and Fahrenheit.

The phonolite scale, as we call it today, remained regrettably lost in the so-called mists of thyme, until rediscovered by audio archaeologists sifting through thousands of hours of tapes recorded by Falkland military herbologist and amateur sound technician, Sir Fernando Lemmingwild-Hough, whose parents met during the infamous Falkland Island war between Argentina, Great Britain and Herb Wadsack, a character from a simulated computer game. Once they decoded the unusually complex penguin dialect, linguists discovered a previously unknown, long forgotten temperature scale. After a decade of peer-reviewed journaling, they passed on to archaeologists what they mildly referred to as “this ersatz pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo claptrap.” The archaeologists passed it on to cultural anthropologists, who passed it on to top level government scientists, who passed it on to low level climatologists who had enough on their hands with global warming. Plus, as devotees of heavy metal, they refused to use the scale because the name “phonolite” made them think of “easy listening music.” And so, Itthobaal Milkherem’s intriguing theory is today no more than an obscure historical footnote, although there’s a colony of penguins on the march who think otherwise.

Actual meaning: a rare, light-colored (usually gray or green) volcanic rock composed of feldspars and nepheline. The name in Greek means “sounding stone.”

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Virustatic

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary
Virustatic: 1) a he-man so muscle-bound and manly that he becomes entirely incapable of moving. 2) a virulent variety of static disparaged by some and hailed by others for inconveniently disrupting radio and television transmissions.

Gurp was the youngest son of the once world-renowned former wrestler and gubernatorial candidate, Ferd Ferdelance. After a long-suffering youth in which he witnessed his father’s downfall, Ferd was determined not to make the same mistakes and wind up a lonely cleaner out of cages at the Minnetonkan Herpetarium. But what to do instead? “Why am I here?” he pondered. “What am I here for?”

He lifted weights, barbells, bookcases, buckets of sand, bags of bilbos, boxes of Special K, whatever was handy. Soon he sported bulging muscles rippling up and down his arms and legs and ears. His chest expanded exponentially. His shoulders broadened broadly. His nose grew several inches and was capable of lifting a 40 pound dog all on its own. Gurp kept hoisting and heaving until one day he lifted his house off of its foundation, carried it to the city park, where he beat his chest in triumph and then discovered that he had become virustatic. One by one his fingers froze in place. Gurp could no longer lift anything, not even a speck of dust. His tongue was so muscle-bound he could no longer speak. He couldn’t even bat an eyelash at one of the growing crowd of attractive women staring at him. He just stood in the one position, a haven for passing pigeons and scolding squirrels. Passersby couldn’t help thinking of the Tin Woodman in the Wizard of Oz at the time of his discovery in the dismal forest by the Dark Prince of Hollywood. Some joker poured a little oil in Gurp’s oversized ear, hoping to loosen him up, but the stuff just dripped into a slick puddle at his feet.

Meanwhile, in a nearby office building, an aged secretary named Mildred plugged in an antiquated coffee-maker and one of those newfangled toaster ovens at the same time(she liked her morning cottage cheese warmed up), causing an immediate and complete breakdown in communications networks throughout the known world and a few other places, too, such as Akron, Ohio. Ever on the spot, Washington officials proclaimed a national emergency over a bizarre condition their top scientists were calling “Virustatic.” “Stay calm!” they assured the populace in their initial broadcast. “All will be well! Stay tuned! This is not a test!” But of course not a soul heard them. Deejays tapped their microphones in bewilderment and then listened to them, as if hoping something might hatch. Soap opera stars, used to live TV, slipped on their soapy tears and no one cried. Newscasters cast news into the wind, which threw back dead air.

After two days of panic, a wiseacre garage attendant named Slim Jim Flimm, walked into the city park, sidled up to the new statue (Gurp), pulled out two old-fashioned television rabbit ears from his deep pockets, and employing his pocket blowtorch, welded them to Gurp’s muscular head. Instantly, all of the radio and television networks revived, saving the lives of thousands of despondent broadcasters. Authorities had no explanation for the mysterious Virustatic onslaught (in Germany they called it “Virustaaaaticgottfriedsonglutenjammer,” in Italy, “Virustaticcisalami”) or its sudden resolution.

Now most days, rain or shine, Slim Jim Flimm hunkers down by the smiling statue, shares a sandwich with the head-nodding pigeons and a quiet laugh with Gurp, who at long last seems to have found some purpose in life.

Actual meaning: tending to check the growth of viruses.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Petrifaction

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary
Petrifaction: 1) when someone is frightened out of their wits, hair standing on end, goose bumps approaching the size of hummingbird eggs, saucers as big as eyes 2) The “PetriFaction” is a politically motivated anarchistic coterie whose sole purpose is to create such unreasonable and unknowable terror as to paralyze any and all governmental bodies.

Fearless Ferd was a professional wrestler acclaimed for his unruly yard-long mop of hair and his uncanny ability to win every wrestling match that came his way, from sumo wrestlers to mountain gorillas to the arithmetical problem puzzling the professor down the street since 1972. So fearless and courageous was Ferd that he had never known a moment of petrifaction in his life, except perhaps once when he found himself surprisingly vulnerable to post nasal drip (he much preferred “pre”). Thankfully, the pontificatory press and his fervent, though as it turned out, fair-weather, fans never got wind of this tragic failing, and as he grew more and more powerful, he found himself increasingly interested in politics. One day (fortunately during an election year), he decided to run for governor of Minnetonka under the aegis of the “Ferdelance Party,” named, not as it was commonly supposed, after Ferd himself, but after his pet venomous viper, Ferdelance, whom he nominated as his running mate (allowed under an extremely obscure Minnetonkan law created as a sub-attachment to a bill passed in 1857).

Little did Ferd know that moments after his initial speechifying, his very own political machine became infiltrated by powerful members of the notorious PetriFaction, a group so nefarious, so unencumbered by charity and good will, so egregiously vocabulary-challenged, that no one had ever actually heard of them. Through highly negative campaign tactics, which included fear-mongering, gossip-mongering, fishmongering, and costermongering, as well as subliminal advertising and sublime televangelizing, the PetriFaction created such a paralytic state-wide gridlock that Ferd cruised to an amazing 96.2% election tally. However, when the dust settled and the graft graphed, it was the vituperative viper, Ferdelance, who actually became governor. The sneaky snake’s first step was to appoint Formerly Fearless Ferd as Chief Visionary Director of Cleaning out Cages (CVDCC) at the Minnetonkan Herpetarium, a lost soul, forever paralyzed by his new-found petrifaction. His only solace, as he darted in and out of cages, valiantly avoiding reptilian zeal, was a lonely late night hotdog slathered with mustard and grape jelly and then turned inside out with the bun tucked tidily within.

Actual meaning of petrifaction: A process of fossilization or petrifying, turning organic material into stone.

Prairie Hill – Free on Amazon 10/25-10/26 (read excerpt here)

My novel, Prairie Hill, is available for free on Amazon.com Thursday and Friday, October 25 and October 26.

Prairie Hill

Click on the cover photo or the link above to find reviews, further information, and to purchase the book. Amazon Prime members may also borrow the book for free even after the two-day promotion. Prairie Hill is also available at the UK and other Amazon sites.

The excellent website, Free Kindle Books and Tips featured Prairie Hill today: Free Kindle Books and Tips

Prairie Hill description:

In 1980, a troubled young stranger arrives in Prairie Hill, a small Wisconsin city. Jimmy Lathrop would like nothing better than to go about his business washing dishes at the popular local eatery, the Pullet Surprize. A fresh start. No questions asked. Then he begins moonlighting as the feathered mascot of the local minor league baseball team and meets someone who will change his life.

Jenny Diggles bides her time serving the locals at the Pullet Surprize, struggling to come to terms with her lonely, eccentric mother, Lila. Should she chuck it all and marry Lance Kilgore, the ambitious general manager of the Cobb Kernels baseball team? Jenny’s passion for prairies and heirloom plants as well as her deepening friendship with Jimmy Lathrop lead to self-discovery.

With its atmospheric backdrop of threatened tall grass prairie and a soon to be abandoned historic baseball stadium and through its cast of colorful, quirky characters, Prairie Hill explores themes of redemption and love.

Below is an excerpt from Prairie Hill, featuring Jimmy Lathrop and Jenny Diggles meeting with their friend the old farm woman, Hulda Bjorklund, at her home.

Jenny

Hulda ushered me and Jimmy into her ramshackle farmhouse and plopped us down on a wood bench behind the kitchen table. “I baked us two kinds of bread,” she said, “wheat and white. Try the honey on the wheat and the jam on the white.”

She plunked down a couple of sticky looking jars. The honey was thick and dark gold, almost brown, and spread on with bits of honeycomb still floating in it, reminding me of ferns in amber. I looked over at Jimmy, who’d tasted some and had a strange look on his face, like he’d seen a ghost. I turned back to Hulda. “I never had honey like this before,” I said.

“From last year,” she said, pushing the jar toward me. “Pile it on. There’s more jars. Still got me a couple beehives and them bees make me honey for the table and wax for candles. Daddy used to keep bees and he taught me how. That honey’s got a lot of clover in it of course, but the bees add in some from the Catalpa trees out back, which gives it that flavor and color. The jam’s from last year’s strawberry patch.” She poured us some lemonade.

“From last year’s lemons,” I said, catching Jimmy’s eye.

Hulda pushed Jimmy’s shoulder and pointed a finger at me. “That girl’s the dickens only most people don’t have a clue.” I was trying to figure out what was so different about Hulda today. More relaxed and not so tired from pushing a mop and making beds, I guess. But then I realized I’d never seen her out of her light blue polyester work suit. She wore a shiny blouse patterned with sunflowers, and knit pants, and she padded around in fluffy red slippers. “You all alone in this house?” I asked and at that moment heard a loud bark, which made us all laugh.

“That’s Ollie wanting to be let in. He’d like to join us I expect.” She stood up. “Yeah, it’s a big rambling old place. Grandpa added on to it when his family grew. He was a tough old buzzard and every one of his kids skedaddled except Daddy, who took over the farm. He and Ma only had me and my brother Emil and that boy left home when he was in his twenties. Emil never cottoned to farming the way I did and Daddy always said I shoulda been born a boy. I worked the farm with Daddy and what help we could afford until he got too old and we just sold off parcels after the highway come through. Ma died about ten years ago and I’ve lived here alone except for Ollie who’s eleven but still thinks he’s a pup.”

Hulda’s kitchen looked homey, if a little shabby, too. She had an old white enamel refrigerator and an even older gas burning stove and she’d covered the table with a green checkered oil cloth. There was a pump painted fire engine red next to her deep kitchen sink. Hulda caught me looking at it. “Still works,” she said, “but it’s just a keepsake. We got running water from our well. The city run their lines through here when they built the industrial park, but I never hooked up.” She pulled open the back door and let in Ollie, who trotted up to us, toenails clicking on the worn linoleum, tail wagging, nose checking us out and then seeking crumbs on our plates. I noticed Jimmy was being real nice to the dog, petting him just right, scratching under his chin, like he must have known and loved a dog once. “He’s a big old mutt,” Hulda said. “One of them puppies from an unfortunate love affair between pure bred collie and something only God could love.”

I suppose like me Jimmy wondered what we were doing there. Hulda didn’t seem to have any purpose beyond being social. She took us through the house which seemed snug enough – though you could tell she only occupied a few rooms out of many. “There’s enough space, Ollie could be king of his own castle, but he likes hunkering down at the foot of the bed in my room.” Ollie padded after us, occasionally sidetracked by an interesting corner, returning with a cobweb on his nose which made him sneeze.

“When was the house built?” Jimmy asked.

“Oh, the middle part goes back nearly 150 years. My great grandfather Olav settled here and built it out of logs – you’d still see ‘em if you took off the siding. It’s one of the oldest houses still standing ‘round here. The barn’s new, though, only a century or so!”

Jimmy paused in front of a row of framed photographs and I came over for a look. The first showed a group of people in Sunday finery, standing in front of the house, a horse and buggy to the side. There was another of the barn with a wind engine next to it and a wagon with a heaped up load of hay spilling over and a couple of guys with pitchforks standing on top looking proud, and then there were two portraits, a stern-looking patriarch and a grim-faced woman in black. “Great grandpa and grandma in old age,” Hulda said, and then pointed at a sepia-toned wedding photo probably taken at the turn of the century. “Them’s my parents,” she said, “and that there is me.” She nodded at a tinted black and white photo, a slim teenager surrounded by a patch of nodding sunflowers. In it, young Hulda held a bouquet of wildflowers.

“Lupine, spiderwort, goat’s beard,” I said, loving the names.

“You could find them all round about, missy,” Hulda said.

“It’s a beautiful photograph,” said Jimmy. “The guy behind the camera knew what he was doing.”

“My brother Emil,” Hulda said. “He was always taking pictures and messing around with them chemicals that bring ‘em out.”

“You were pretty, too,” Jimmy said, musing.

Hulda shook a fist at him. “Just ‘cause I never married don’t mean I weren’t as pretty as a daisy!”

“No, I never meant that. It’s just…”

“I’m an old bat now and it’s hard to picture.” Hulda chuckled. “Never you mind. Come on you two. I want to show you the barn.”

We traipsed outside after Hulda changed into more serviceable shoes. “You never know what might leap up at you,” she said. “They used to cast nails and horse shoes in there before I was born.” We followed her across the side yard to a grassy slope leading up to the barn doors, which hung ajar. Once inside it took some time for our eyes to adjust to the dim haze. Dust motes whirled in the patchy light filtering through clouded windows and thin cracks between the boards.

“Go ahead, take a gander around,” Hulda said.

Jimmy climbed a wooden ladder up to the open loft heaped with stacks of dingy hay bales. He startled some birds which winged it out of the loft doorway. “Barn swallows,” he said. “They’re nesting.”

I heard gentle cooing coming from the far end of the barn. “Pigeons, too,” I replied. Jimmy answered with a darned good imitation and I laughed when a pigeon flapped rather dolefully over to the loft.

We explored some more, peering into abandoned stalls for cows and horses. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the scents of animals and their sounds – munching hay, snorting, neighing and mooing, feet stamping on floorboards. We glanced at countless tools I didn’t know the use for, broken machinery, and rusty buckets and lanterns hanging on walls or propped in corners. The place held a dry, musty and dusty smell that I kind of liked. I led us into a separate room and gasped when I saw stacks of seed catalogs. The newest ones on top dated back before I was born. I’d have to ask Hulda if she’d lend me some. “It’s silly, but sometimes I dream that I find an old shed or barn with a drawer full of seed packets from fifty years ago – and the seeds still germinate,” I said to Jimmy.

There was something kind in his dark eyes, like maybe he knew what the heck I was talking about. “That’s where they’d be,” he said, pointing at long rows of hand-made bins, sun-faded seed packets nailed up to show what would go where. Every bin was empty.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – A couple of critters, the Shalloon and Muscat

Shalloon: 1) a shalloon is a subspecies of North American loon. Shallow lakes are its preferred domicile. 2) a shalloon is an odd-shaped balloon which resembles a nearly flat bowl. Long-suffering parents use them as a corrective for toddlers who constantly beg for traditional round or oblong balloons.

Luna laughed more than your typical loon, even more than her fellow shalloons of shallow Lake Walloon in Walloomsac, Maine. The Walloomsac shalloons are well-known, though not well-loved, for their riotous laughter. She was not the funniest, perhaps, but certainly the giggliest loon ever to glide along the tickling, rippling waves of the lake. One day, over one thousand balloons appeared, looking like shallow cereal bowls without the cereal, floating silhouettes in an orange sunset sky. Some days before, a throng of cheering children set them free as a promotion for a new corndog restaurant in Wadsac, New Jersey. As each balloon drifted down, the loon population of Lake Walloon snatched them in their beaks and popped them. Luna had trouble catching one, since she was laughing so hard. Then all of a sudden she grabbed what appeared to be a tasty-looking flapjack – she loved flapjacks with or without maple syrup. She bit down hard and there was a sudden hissing noise sounding like one of those angry swans that visited Lake Walloon now and again. Instead of flapjack Luna held flattened rubber. She guffawed, she chuckled, she let out a hoot and then the wildest, loudest loonish laughter ever heard in those parts, or for that matter, anywhere else. It was the only time in history – as far as we know – that two kinds of shalloons got together.

Actual meaning: A lightweight twilled fabric of wool or worsted mainly employed for linings of coats and uniforms.

Muscat: a muscat is a rare subspecies of muskrat known for its powerful ability to mimic musical modes, combining eerie vocalizing with a percussive tail. Uniquely, the muscat of Muskellunge, Idaho, offers the most impressive muscatorial specialty of all – scat singing. In fact, for centuries jazz singers have journeyed to Muskellunge in often vain hopes of catching the melodious scatting of this elusive beast, which sings only on the fourth Monday of the fifth month every sixteen years every other century. The word scat, contrary to popular belief, does not derive its original meaning from certain mammalian emissions or for the common epithet hurled at bothersome cats, but from the wondrous music of the muscat of Muskellunge, Idaho.

On Monday, May 25, 2122, renowned jazz artist Bebop Horne slipped and slid down the banks of the Muskellunge River in Muscatoomi, Idaho. Clambering up the sides of a disused beaver hutch, he hunkered down and waited patiently for hours and hours. At last, just before dusk, and after slapping polyrhythmically at the ever-increasing clouds of gnats, Bebop heard something stir, musically that is. At first it was a ground beat, half-diminished, followed by an intense fusion of diatonic boogie with augmented chromatic syncopation. He sat there, ignoring the gnats, spellbound. The following day, slathered from head to toe in calamine lotion, Bebop Horne composed and then recorded his tribute to the muscat, improvising on the famous old 20th century standard, “Muscat Man,” originally created by the master scatter, Scatmo Riff, and released on his seminal LP, Jamming the Wild Muscat. By late July, “Muscat Man 2122” reached #1 on the newly created Adult Contemporary Heavy Scat Chart, making Bebop Horne a trillionaire, while the muscats stilled their voices once again for the next two hundred years.

Actual meaning: A musky-scented grape, white, red or black, used for wine, raisins and as a table grape. Also, the capital of Oman.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Sudorific

Sudorific: Sudorific evolved from two words, “suds,” meaning the lather one creates from mixing soap with water, and “orifice,” meaning a mouth, or some such bodily cavity, or in layman’s terms, “opening.” Thus, the earliest definition of sudorific was “soap suds in mouth,” occasionally useful as a threat to the wayward child. However, as the centuries passed and the word “terrific” fizzed into popularity, “sudorific” came to mean “truly outstanding suds.” Both definitions continued in use, then gave way as a slang term gained currency in street talk, i.e.: “incredibly cool beer, dude.” German psychologist, Helmut Himmelspachendorfindoppelgangerfenstermacher coined the related term, “pseudorific,” after downing fourteen sudorific beers at the Schweinhund Cafe in Heidelberg. Pseudorific means, loosely translated, “Something one expects to be remarkably good, but is a pale imitation. Like sweet smelling soap with dud suds. Or flat, sudless beer.”

Mickey O’Hara was in trouble. He’d come to work in the mailroom under the influence, although no one could figure out just what influence he came to work under. But one look at his strange, shambling gait as he stumbled into a movable mail bin, sending it careening into his supervisor, Ned Shned, and his condition was obvious. “Oops, sorry, man,” said Mickey.

Ned was immediately aware of the sudorific bubbles leaking out of Mickey’s ears, a sure sign of sudorific imbibing. Ned was about to send Mickey home to sleep it off, when he thought better of it. He was extremely tired of pseudorific sudorific bubbles and pseudorific sudorific beer. The real stuff was unfailingly scarce since the economy went down some tubes or other only to spew out a month later as a confounding morass of political pabulum. Now everything was black market. You couldn’t buy a bar of soap worth its salt (unfortunately the pseudorific types were made of nothing but salt, which irrigated the skin – or was it irritated, Ned could never remember which). You couldn’t buy a beer without gagging on its pseudorific flavor, which always reminded Ned of strained sock juice. He pulled Mickey aside and pretended to be examining the postmarks on a batch of envelopes. Feeling damp around the edges, Mickey whipped out a Kleenex to wipe the suds off his shoulders. They both felt the intensely curious stares of the other workers in the room. Even the mail sorting machines seemed passingly interested. Ned Shned spoke first. “Uh, Mick, uh, where did you, uh, you know…”

“You mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I…”

“O.k.”

“It’s…”

“Uh huh.”

“Or you could…”

“Right.”

Hannah Holepunch, the office manager, known for her ability to slice four hundred pages at a time with the paper cutter, came to the rescue and as always, cut right to the quick. “Stop this dilly-dallying, higgledy-piggledy, wishy-washy, mollycoddling, comme ci comme ca speechifying,” she cried, although no one had the faintest idea what she meant. However, the two men immediately stopped hemming and hawing. “WHERE’S THE SUDS?” Hannah asked. “Tell me right now or I’ll stick you in a padded envelope and mail you to a padded cell where you’ll never see the light of day again.”

Mickey turned nearly as white as one of the envelopes in Ned’s hands, although he was sure that only in fiction does anyone ever actually turn white as a sheet, and of course this wasn’t fiction, but reality…wasn’t it? “On the outskirts of town there’s a little night spot,” he said.

“No there isn’t,” said Hannah. “That’s the beginning of an old song. Don’t you fool with me.”

He tried again. “Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a…”

“That’s another song! Tell me or else!”

He tried once more. “In a little border town, way down there in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.”

“You’re getting closer, but that’s still a song.”

When Hannah wielded her staple gun, Mickey finally caved in. “O.K. Go left on Central Avenue, down Pleasant two blocks and enter the second green door in the non-descript yellow shack with blue shutters shaped like one of the great pyramids.”

“You call that non-descript?”

Mickey nodded. “You got it. That’s where the suds are, the most sudorific suds ever found in this here land.”

“Music to my ears,” said Hannah, flying out of the room. Letters fluttered, packages fell, and a leaning tower of postcards toppled, as the room emptied, leaving Mickey alone. A strange gleam lit his eye as well as the small silver flask he pulled from his pocket. Was the gleam pseudorific or sudorific? No one ever found out. No one ever saw Mickey again, though rumor has it he’s fallen in love in a little border town in West Texas at a little night spot on the edge of…”

Actual meaning: causing or inducing sweat.

Birthday Special: Prairie Hill free on Amazon.com July 27-28

To celebrate my birthday, Prairie Hill, is available for free on Amazon.com and its international affiliates on Thursday and Friday, July 27 and July 28!

Prairie Hill

Click on the cover photo or the link above to find reviews, further information, and to purchase the book. Amazon Prime members may also borrow the book for free even after the two-day promotion.

Prairie Hill description:

In 1980, a troubled young stranger arrives in Prairie Hill, a small Wisconsin city. Jimmy Lathrop would like nothing better than to go about his business washing dishes at the popular local eatery, the Pullet Surprize. A fresh start. No questions asked. Then he begins moonlighting as the feathered mascot of the local minor league baseball team and meets someone who will change his life.

Jenny Diggles bides her time serving the locals at the Pullet Surprize, struggling to come to terms with her lonely, eccentric mother, Lila. Should she chuck it all and marry Lance Kilgore, the ambitious general manager of the Cobb Kernels baseball team? Jenny’s passion for prairies and heirloom plants as well as her deepening friendship with Jimmy Lathrop lead to self-discovery.

With its atmospheric backdrop of threatened tall grass prairie and a soon to be abandoned historic baseball stadium and through its cast of colorful, quirky characters, Prairie Hill explores themes of redemption and love.

Prairie Hill – a prequel short story

My novel, Prairie Hill, has its origins in a short story first published in Fan, a baseball literary magazine, in 1992. Although “Jimmy Lathrop” is not an autobiographical tale, the setting and atmosphere come from my own experiences playing high school baseball in the late 1970’s. No doubt the strangest game I ever played took place against a reform school run by monks. We wore old-fashioned flannel uniforms, but the reform school team donned tattered uniforms dating from the 1950’s. Their baseball diamond featured an outfield that no one had mowed yet and a rocky infield with ruts and pits, a non-existent pitcher’s mound and a rusty chain-link backstop.

After publishing “Jimmy Lathrop,” I kept thinking about the central character and I began to take notes about his life, sketching out a character study, meeting his family members, exploring his world. A few years later I passed through a quiet, dusty small town in Wisconsin. Looking out the window, I spotted a forlorn-looking black and white Holstein cow, waving to passersby, inviting them to stop at a local inn for the “best burgers in town.” The image stayed with me and, in time, came together with the mysterious Jimmy Lathrop, only he wore a chicken costume instead…

My brother Jeremy graciously rummaged through my mother’s meticulously kept photograph albums and scanned a few photos of me in my ball playing days, used here to illustrate “Jimmy Lathrop.” As an avid collector since the age of six, I took the opportunity to try out some of my favorite baseball card poses!

Jimmy Lathrop

Pulvey parked on a dirt lot next to a couple of baseball fields. Behind a thin line of trees and up on a hill, I saw a huge, gothic stone building with slate-shingled turrets.

“Come on guys! Get a move on!” yelled Pulvey. “Let’s warm up. The other team ain’t here yet.”

We shook out our travel-weary legs and trotted past the rusted chain link backstop and onto the lifeless ball field. I shagged some fly balls out in right, but grounders were hopeless. The grass grew above my ankles.

“This place sucks!” shouted Snitzer in center, when a grounder stopped short ten feet in front of him.

“Shut up, Bump,” came Pulvey’s voice from home plate. His words, and the next ball he swatted, died with the wind that kicked up dust and candy bar wrappers.

The sun had snuck behind clouds when the St. Boniface team filed down the hill to the filed, followed by a monk in a brown robe. We Emory Friends Schoolers crowded onto a bench, and watched them play pepper. Their ratty flannel uniforms were too big or too small, depending on the player. They seemed unfriendly…and strangely silent.

Pulvey walked over to the monk and said, “I’m Coach Pulvermacher,” and held out his hand. The monk ignored it. “We will play seven innings,” was all he said. They exchanged lineup cards.

Bump nudged me as their pitcher took the mound and fired some in. “Look at this dude. He probably shaved when he was ten.”

The St. Boniface pitcher was well over six feet and dark-faced, pockmarked. He threw one hard that got past the catcher and lodged in the backstop. “Be glad that’s not your baby face,” said Butterfield, our second baseman.

The umpire, whose blue shirt strained over his immense belly, shouted “Play ball!” I was the first batter up and stepped into the box. I felt the sweaty presence of the catcher next to me, and behind the cage, the monk. I nearly fell on my butt when he growled, “Hum it in there, Jimmy!” The first pitch was a called strike. The monk kept up a steady patter, “He’s no hitter; Swing! batter batter Swing! You got a strikeout Jimmy, hum it.” I swung hard at the next pitch, which hit the dirt in front of the catcher, and knocked him back. I dug in.

Pulvey was dancing around in front of our bench. Our players struggled to see past him. “Good eye, Kimball, good eye. This guy’s wild. Take your time.” I took the next pitch for a ball. Jimmy shrugged his shoulders up and down in a way that looked familiar to me. He kicked high and the next one came in fast and low. I swung, missed, heard the monk cheer, but not a word from the players perched on the St. Boniface bench. I gazed at the mound and saw a look of intensity on Jimmy’s face that was damn familiar.

Pulvey ignored me as I plopped down. He was already shouting at Bump. “Get your ass in there, Snitzer. He ain’t gonna knock you down!”

I asked this little eighth grade kid, Tony Lopello, our “manager,” to pass me the scorebook a second. I looked down their lineup. Batting fourth and pitching, Jimmy Lathrop. Jesus, the last time I saw him he was my height and sunny-faced. Sixth grade. Five years ago. “Hey Coach.” I jogged up to him.

“What?” He didn’t look at me. “Jesus Christ, Bump. Keep your eye on the g.d. ball! What do you want, Kimball?

“What are these kids in here for?” I asked.

He glanced at me quick, raising up one of his railroad track eyebrows. “Shit, I don’t know. All kinds of stuff. They mess up at school. They steal cars. They beat people up. You know. Delinquents.”

“Thanks Pulvey.” I sat down again. The Jimmy Lathrop I knew was a gentle farm kid. Apple orchards – I remembered climbing up the mountain of sweet-smelling apple crates to a tunnel that led to his hideout. We’d talk about girls and whether the Phillies would finally reach the World Series again. Baseball. He was always good at that.

We went down in our half of the first. I grabbed my glove and crossed the hard-packed infield. I passed by Lathrop. “Hey Jimmy,” I said. “Pete Kimball.” His head jerked a little, but he kept right on for their bench.

Our team made no progress against them. We misplayed grounders hopping off infield pebbles, threw to the wrong cutoff men, under threw, over threw. Once a heavy kid pounded a ball into the outfield. I was sure he was too much of a snail to get very far, so I ran it down. Snitzer had the same idea. “Outa my way you fucker!” he yelled. His blue cap flew off and his curly hair bounced around like it was trying to hold on. We nearly crashed, then watched the ball drop. We stomped around the tall grass, looking for it. The umpire was all ready to call it a ground rule double, when Snitzer (the bozo) came up with the ball and a fistful of grass. “Here it is! I found it!” The fat kid made it home, no problem.

Back at the bench again, Snitzer tapped “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on his teeth – teeth tapping is one of his few talents. “Bump, next time you run for a ball, leave your ego at home,” said Pulvey.

Butterfield picked up his bat. “I wish he’d leave his teeth at home.”

Bump kicked at a dried out patch of grass. “Hey, this team is really gruesome. The pitcher’s psycho.”

“What you need Snitzer, is a muzzle,” said Pulvey walking away.

I faced Jimmy again in the top of the fourth inning. We hadn’t hit a lick off him, but he walked a couple of us. It was either a walk or a strikeout. “The bastard throws about ninety miles an hour,” said Pulvey. “I don’t know why the hell he isn’t on their varsity.”

I wanted to say something to Jimmy. Ask him how his sister Molly was. Ask him if his Dad still rigged up the tap so apple cider’d trickle out. Ask him if he still spent hours in his homemade darkroom. I still have the photo of me in a field holding up a gourd shaped like a girl’s breast…His first pitch slammed into my butt and I limped to first base. I watched those shoulders shrug up and down again.

When Jimmy hit the next two batters, Pulvey’s face turned red and he kept wiping his brow and mussing up his brillow-pad hair. He didn’t like his batters knocked down, but he wanted the run. Maybe the only one we’d get that day? The monk strolled out to the mound, and Jimmy stepped off the rubber, which was actually a wood plank with the paint rubbed off. The monk slung his arm around Jimmy, turned his head and spat, just like a big league manager. “Is he always like that?” I asked their third baseman. He ignored me and took a pinch of Skoal from the can in his back pocket.

I was positive the monk would trip over his robes as he jogged off the field, but he didn’t, and sure enough Jimmy settled down. Three strikeouts and he was out of the inning.

“Nice going,” I said to Jimmy as I passed him. He didn’t even look up.

The score was eight-zip by the top of the seventh inning. Jimmy’d walked a few, hit a few, struck twelve of us out. He had a no hitter going. Pulvey paced back and forth in front of us. “He’s tiring,” he said. “I can tell he’s getting tired. You gotta take advantage. Get in there, Kimball.”

My last time up probably. I stepped in again. Jimmy took his time out on the mound, inspecting his cap, the ball, hiking up his stirrups, scraping up some clay. We used to play something we called “Great Catch.” You’d throw the ball in a hard to get place, and the other guy would dive for it, leap or jump at a weird angle, then roll over, twisting and turning, at last coming up with the ball, smiling and filthy. We’d play past dusk. Did Jimmy remember? “Come on, Play Ball!” hollered the ump. Old fart probably wanted to get home.

Jimmy finally let one go and I tipped it back into the cage. “That’s the way, Kimball. Good eye. Good eye!” yelled Pulvey. Jimmy’s next pitch was so slow I missed it by a mile. I peered at him. No, he didn’t look tired. Just fidgety. He threw the next pitch as fast and wild as ever. “Ball!”

I heard the monk again. “Lay it in, Jimmy. He’s no batter!” Jimmy kicked up and threw another slow one. I’m positive I heard the monk mutter “Jesus Christ.” I hit a weak grounder that just got by the third baseman, who must have been in shock. I raced to first and beat out a single.

Pulvey clapped his hand on my back. “Way to go!” He stepped back away from the bag and their first baseman elbowed me. “Quaker prep shit,” he said. I looked over at Jimmy. He was smiling.

After I stole second base, Jimmy struck out Snitzer and our catcher. When Butterfield popped up, the game was over. Our team huddled together, fists in the center for a desultory post-game cheer. “Hurrah Res, Hurrah Res, Hurrah Hurrah E.F.S., Yay St. Boniface!” After an incomprehensible cheer from them, we stood in line to shake hands and mumble “good game” a couple dozen times. When I got to Jimmy he looked straight at me and shook my hand hard. He held on just a little longer than he had to, but when I started to speak, he moved on to the next guys. From the bus I watched him climb the hill, the last in line.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Guanaco

Guanaco: Guanaco is the name of a small European city located near the famous Phosphatorium caves. Originally “settled” by itinerant fertilizer salesmen, the city took off when the Guanaco Company moved in and began mining a millennium’s worth of bat guano. Boom went bust when scientist Ignatio Mausoleum created synthetic fertilizer which was cheaper, although the very idea insulted every right-minded bat, plus its explosive qualities made it much more dangerous, if lots of fun in the backyard. The city dwindled to town size and then village size and then hamlet size and then…..a member of a new breed of scientists, Kyle Kintematsu (an African-Japanese-American), began on-site experimenting. If all went well, it would be boom-time for Guanaco once again.

Kyle had a PhD in ethical polynomial bio-fuel (a new degree), and had produced a widely discussed thesis, Computational and Analytical Parameter Estimation of Discontinuous Connectivity in Marginalized Bifurcating Tropes. The budding genius’s evil thesis adviser arranged for the shadowy, high-tech employer, “Stochastic Algorithms and Co.” to send him to Guanaco, which by that time seemed more Western-style ghost town than haven for aristocratic guano magnates. He booked a room at the decrepit “Batwing Hotel,” quaffed milkshakes at the earthquake ravaged “Quantum Shake Cafe,” and spent his remaining free time playing billiards by himself at the “Echolating Cue Ball.”

One day, while chalking his cue stick, wondering how on earth he ever ended up in small town nowhere deep in the heart of the backwater wasteland of some godforsaken spot in an obscure corner of the world, when he – Kyle Kintematsu – had been so sure of his post-graduate projection-based prediction of his future Nobel Prize-winning success, he lost track of his sentence and had an absolutely brilliant idea. He snapped the stick in two and immediately left for one of the famous caves, which twisted and turned until it became lost, deep in the ice-topped mountains. Kyle, too, found himself utterly lost, but fortunately still had his sticks and was able to beat off the indignant bats who were attempting to catch up on centuries of lost sleep due to incessant mining. The bats were in for a rude awakening, however, since Kyle’s idea might potentially bring a new boom to tranquil and inactive Guanaco.

After collecting a quantity of guano and fighting his way out of the maze, Kyle spent long hours in his grant-funded laboratory, creating a new kind of bio fuel. He was confident that his results would ensure a new frontier where engines no longer need guzzle oil or gas or ethanol. Farmers would no longer need to grow endless fields of corn or sugarcane or switchgrass or lima beans (not only poor for fuel, but with the gag-producing consistency and flavor of mildewed blanket). Fuel meticulously extracted from properly aged guano, however, not only ran cars and airplanes and other motorized vehicles (such as electric shavers) but actually grew those vehicles! People would no longer drive tiny compact models, Kyle thought, because the models would grow and grow…and grow. A tiny VW Beetle might expand to the size of a monster SUV. His only fear was that there was no cutoff point, that cars would grow so large they would begin to inflict too great a weight on the planet. Instead of fears of global warming, everyone would worry about global obesity.

While pondering these and other matters one day, Kyle found himself deep in one of the caves, lost in thought and lost in the cave, far from town, far from anyone hearing his desperate shouts for help as his thesis adviser, hanging upside down along with rows and rows of similarly inclined bats, caught Kyle in a carefully wrought trap.

Next thing Kyle knew, he was living the life of a laundromat accountant for a chain of dry cleaners in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, thousands and thousands of miles from Guanaco, in a place where no one had ever heard of bifurcation and even old bats slept soundly and dreamed sweetly.

Actual meaning: South American mammal with a soft thick fawn-colored coat. Although related to the camel, the guanaco lacks a dorsal hump.

Prairie Hill – Free on Amazon 6/21-6/22

My novel, Prairie Hill, is available for free on Amazon.com Thursday and Friday, June 21 and June 22.

Prairie Hill

Click on the cover photo or the link above to find reviews, further information, and to purchase the book. Amazon Prime members may also borrow the book for free even after the two-day promotion.

The excellent website Free Kindle Books and Tips featured this week’s promotion of Prairie Hill:

Free Kindle Books and Tips

Prairie Hill description:

In 1980, a troubled young stranger arrives in Prairie Hill, a small Wisconsin city. Jimmy Lathrop would like nothing better than to go about his business washing dishes at the popular local eatery, the Pullet Surprize. A fresh start. No questions asked. Then he begins moonlighting as the feathered mascot of the local minor league baseball team and meets someone who will change his life.

Jenny Diggles bides her time serving the locals at the Pullet Surprize, struggling to come to terms with her lonely, eccentric mother, Lila. Should she chuck it all and marry Lance Kilgore, the ambitious general manager of the Cobb Kernels baseball team? Jenny’s passion for prairies and heirloom plants as well as her deepening friendship with Jimmy Lathrop lead to self-discovery.

With its atmospheric backdrop of threatened tall grass prairie and a soon to be abandoned historic baseball stadium and through its cast of colorful, quirky characters, Prairie Hill explores themes of redemption and love.

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