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.

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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.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Falciform

Falciform: A falciform was briefly in vogue during the 1420’s in Europe during an unexpected shortage of falcons used for hunting. Any captive bird, from hummingbird to great auk was a candidate for the falciform, a cast-iron contraption designed to convert them into fierce hunting falcons. Falcon masters in on the secret process boasted that the scientific discovery was a miracle of avian alchemy. Kings, Queens, Jacks and Knaves, all vied for the finest in falciformic creations, only to find that the newly created falcons lacked something essential, namely, feathers. We know that a bald eagle proudly, vehemently accepts its baldness as a badge of honor. Not so a bald falcon. The poor monstrosities shivered in the cold and burrowed under tapestries and chain mail and cautiously inched into the depths of seemingly available holes. Burrowing owls resented the intrusion and cast the falcons out. Eventually lone and lorn bald falcons flapped away to tropical climes and disappeared, never seen again except as figments of their own imaginations.

On April 1st 1421, the European stock of usable hunting falcons suddenly plummeted, victim to an unexpected plague which sent the birds into dreamlike euphoria. The happy birds were completely useless as hunters and only good for breeding euphoric offspring. Hunters everywhere cried into their mugs of ale and then turned to priests and monks, sages and philosophers (basically, any old coot wearing a robe) for solutions. None of them had the slightest idea what to do about the dilemma aside from a Franciscan named Don Pedro Cinco de Mayo, who agreed to present his answer by May 5th. What he came up with, however, failed to satisfy the hunters, who angrily swung heavy maces and beat on the feathered effigies the dotty monk created, spilling their contents, which proved to be a lot of hard sweets wrapped in waxed paper – thus the piñata, but not a viable falcon.

Finally, in despair, King Rufous Sided Towhee of Tarragon (a tiny speck of a kingdom located somewhere or other in Central Europe), turned (in desperation) desperately to the resident mad scientist, who lived in a remote mountainous district covered in haunted woods and topped by a perpetually mist-wreathed castle. King Towhee had great faith in this particular wizardly scientist, Hawkston Falcone, a renowned specialist in the enigmatic thaumaturgy of name changing. For decades King Towhee had suffered under the unpronounceable weight of his given name, Pipilo Erythrophthalmus, and then one day Falcone concocted the feathery light and mellifluous “Rufous Sided Towhee,” and all was well. Falcone was of mixed Transylvanian and Persian heritage but preferred himself not to go by his original name, Count Lazlo Daavoooodi-Zaaadeeeh, because of constant run-ins with the vowel constabulary.

Hawkston took to Towhee’s falciformic challenge immediately, as hawks and falcons were his favorite birds, although naturally he hoarded a stock of the requisite midnight black ravens and wise-looking owls about the castle as a matter of course. He set to work in his combination laboratory and smithy, welding this piece of rare metal to that piece of even rarer metal, steeping them in various experimental chemical concoctions, one of which turned the metal into plastic which he immediately threw out, not recognizing its value. Finally, after many tries, he succeeded in transforming a sparrow into a crow and a crow into something not even a pterodactyl would eat.

He tried again.

At once he succeeded in turning a crow into a sea gull, which consequently pooped all over the laboratory and on Hawkston Falcone’s head. He kept trying, anyway – he was mad after all. At last he succeeded in creating a falcon, but like so many before him, could not see his way around the lack of feathers. Since he had a lot of gold as well as his mad scientist reputation riding on this, he raided the storage bin in his third sub-basement for his stash of thousands of feathers (useful in all kinds of deranged experiments), climbed up the dank stairwell to his seventh floor lab and artfully glued the feathers onto a flock of bald falcons. In the dead of night he stole to King Towhee’s palace, crossed the moat, and left them at the barred gateway, where the poor creatures clustered together for warmth.

Alas, King Towhee also needed to maintain his reputation as a double-dealer. He peddled the falciformed birds throughout Europe at outrageous prices. Monarchs and falconers alike pretended that everything was hunky-dory since they too needed to prop up their prestige, even in the Middle Ages, just a few years before Gallup Polls.

Meanwhile, Hawkston Falcone, high in his mist-wreathed castle, continued his diabolical experiments, wreaking havoc while cultivating an even madder expression on his face, later transferred to one of his most famous and monstrous creations…..

Actual meaning: curved, sickle-shaped

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Desoxy

Desoxy: The state (or art) of being desoxed [see also desoxcombobulated]

Giorgio had a problem with sox. His sock drawer was not only full of sox (among them, Bostonian Redsox and Chicagoan Whitesox, but alas, no Philadelphian Pucesox) they constantly seemed to multiply and spill out onto the floor. Every day he’d cart armloads of sox down to the Salvation Army Store, but by the time he came home they were back again, multiplying to the point that they entirely filled his bedroom and he had to sleep on the living room couch. After a week of soxiness, his entire house was bursting with sox. He was desperate to desoxify his house. He called in exterminators, but they knew nothing about desoxing. He put an ad in the paper and all sorts of crackpots called or wrote or showed up at the door with absolutely ridiculous ideas.

“Feed them bubblegum toothpaste,” said one old crone. The idea!

“Read plumbing manuals to them. They hate that,” said a man who kept tripping over his beard.

Finally, one sunny day, just as a gang of sweat-stained athletic sox forced him out of his front door, a tiny voice spoke in his ear. He rummaged around with a finger but there didn’t seem to be anyone hiding there. However, the voice was quite clear. “To desoxify your house you, yourself, must be desoxy.”

“Dagnabbit, how in tarnation does a feller do that?” Giorgio asked – lately he’d been reading Western novels as an escape from sox – “They say you can lead a horse to water, but there ain’t a cactus in hell can make these here newfangled hosiery drink.”

“Trust me,” the voice said. “Take one bicarbonate of desoxycorticosterone and mix it with two teaspoons of desoxyriboncucleic acid, mix it in some prune juice and pour it in your sock drawer – that is, if you can fight your way into the bedroom.”

Giorgio sighed, plunged through a drift of ever-clamoring argyles and managed to clear a path into the kitchen where naturally he had the ingredients on hand – he always kept desoxycorticosterone and desoxyriboncucleic acid handy for an emergency and prune juice because it reminded him of his birthplace in Sicily.

By the time he reached his bedroom, Giorgio looked more sock than human and the formerly bubbling vibrant green liquid had thickened with sock lint. He found the sock drawer writhing with formal dress sox, poured in the gunk, and then fainted. When he woke up there wasn’t a sock in the place, not even on his feet. His girlfriend Pandora arrived for the first time in days, gazed at the curiously empty house and said, “Giorgio my dear, you may not be very sexy, but you sure are desoxy.”

Actual meaning: earlier form of “deoxy” which means something that has less oxygen than its original compound, also used as a chemical prefix.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Retrolingual

Retrolingual: Retrolingual was a short lived academic fad of the mid 21st century. Students, tiring of traditional modern language studies (i.e.: French, Spanish, Chinese and Gezhundian) and traditional ancient language studies (i.e.: Latin, Greek, Olde English and Really Really Olde Gezhundian), took up faintly obscure, mostly forgotten extinct languages, such as “Modern Gutnish,” “Russenorsk,” “Kw’adza,” “Yugh,” and the easy to pronounce, “Ngarinyeric-Yithayithic.” The fad, although extremely popular for a few weeks, went the way of “pet rocks” since no one understood what anyone else was saying, and so, “Nixtifalacchio ifiniccionali Phaxtomiswopp,” which clearly meant “I would like a rutabaga to go, please,” became misinterpreted by many scholars as, “Your nostril drips like the ever flowing fountain of Phaxtom’s Mountain.”

Theodore Saurus took a lot of guff for his odd name. When shortened to Theo Saurus and said quickly with marbles in mouth, it sounded like the word “dictionary.” As it turned out, Theodore adored words, not just words you could look up in an ordinary dictionary or even in one of those massive, multi-volume lexicons, but words found in all corners of the world and a few dusty closets, too. As a child he passionately studied foreign language dictionaries, eventually opening them up to see what was inside. In his teens he progressed to ancient languages such as Vulgar Latin, Sanskrit, Sumerian, and Egyptian, and became conversant in all of them, although none of his schoolmates understood his jokes and his would-be girlfriends slammed the door on his amorous proclamations in exotic foreign tongues because they preferred red blooded American tongues. By the time he entered college he’d memorized Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People, in forty-two languages and thought it might be working when a cat befriended him because he seemed able to interpret its desire for a bowl of milk. However, he felt determined to win friends and influence his college class as well as his professors.

It took time, but then all at once he succeeded. On November 28, 2051, he invented the term “retrolingual” and immediately began speaking in languages no one else on campus knew a single word of, including fragments of Thracian, Etruscan and his personal favorite, Philistine. Envious of his multilingual facility, other would-be language artists took note and began their own campaigns of linguistic obscurity. Soon dorm rooms were abuzz with words like, “oophrizrastic” and “quixxicoxxinixxitwat.” One wise pundit commented that the fad spread from campus to campus like “vrinoslippicoth,” a cliché in Vrinthlon, the language of an obscure European sect known as the Vrinthligoths. Actual translation: “like wildfire,” but naturally no one knew that. The fad lasted just over three weeks when students left for the winter holidays and forgot all about it. Theodore Saurus abandoned languages for the study of dinosaurs and at long last achieved popularity – suddenly his name was cool.

Actual meaning: situated behind or near the base of the tongue (salivary glands)

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Lithomarge


Lithomarge: [see also, lithobutter] a print produced by lithomargraphy, a process in which one renders an image or word via rendered margarine on non-absorbent pastry which repels the ink, allowing it to rappel onto an appropriate surface or external locus, ostensibly providing a subcutaneous veneer, although a few (jealous – or zealous? I can’t read my own handwriting) scientists in Monaco doubt its plausibility.

You’ve heard of butter sculpture? This is similar. Read on:

Long, long ago an itinerant Italian artist and printer named Graphias Litho sat down at the breakfast table with a hefty chunk of Tuscan flatbread and a pot of well-congealed butter. He was an absent minded fellow, given to flights of fancy and flights of forgetfulness. That day, knife in hand, he was about to slice into the flat, smooth crust, when without thinking a thought, he carved a word in his native language, “buffone” or “buffoon” as we call it today. He then pressed the bread against the creamy butter, while simultaneously spilling a quantity of ink which he’d mistaken for wine. When he lifted the bread, he cried, “Voila!” Or, rather, “Ecco!” There was “buffone” spelled out in lovely burgundy-colored letters. Sadly, the newly invented “lithobutter” had a very short life span once the Tuscan sun – and Graphias’s wife Petra – heated up. Petra was quite upset to find ink mixed into her butter and threatened to use Graphias’s printing press as kindling. But the germ of an idea grasped Graphias and spun him around. Once he stopped spinning, he began the art of lithography in earnest.

Flash forward two centuries and an Armenian avant-garde scholar/artiste named Plebiscite Philagorean spent two hundred days in the Litho room of the Benedetto Archives of Siena, Italy, pouring over Graphias Litho’s papers, which included original lithographs, baffling treatises on befuddled subjects (unless it was the other way around), and mysterious ink-stained notes, as well as assorted crumbs from long ago meals. One day he stumbled upon a still slightly greasy jotting about Litho’s initial discovery of the lithobutter process. A light bulb lit above Philagorean’s head, although that was not unusual. Lights were always flickering on and off at the Benedetto Archives, which along with its fabulous collections, featured faulty electrical wiring.

Plebiscite Philagorean raced back to his hotel room on the Rue de la Champagne (for some reason he was commuting daily from Lac Dumas aux Flambeau, France, 750 miles away), not forgetting to pick up the flattest, hardest, three-day old bread he could find. He rummaged in the refrigerator for a plastic tub of margarine and then set to work. To honor the Italian Graphias Litho, Philagorean carved the word “vermicelli,” a type of pasta also known as “little worms.” He pressed the bread word into the margarine and stared in disbelief at the faint, spectacularly unspectacular imprint. He’d forgotten the ink! Hurriedly he pulled apart a BIC pen and squirted it all over himself. Fortunately, enough ink dripped onto the bread that he was able to try again and this time the word stood out a vibrant blue. The art of the lithomarge, created by way of lithomargraphy, was born and the world was never the same, although the world didn’t know it.

Actual definition: smooth, compact kaolin, a type of clay used to manufacture porcelain.

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