The Stupid 365 Project, Day 28: “Spirit House,” Part 1

October 28th, 2010

“In four hundred yards,” Doris said, “turn left.”

Peering through the windshield at a dark tangle of scrub and forest that looked like the last hour of “Deliverance.” Artie said, “Aww, fuck you, Doris. This can’t be right.” The road had gone from blacktop to gravel, and now it was muddy and pitted with potholes, filled with rainwater that reflected the moon. The moon glimmered up at him in a dozen places on the surface of the road, like a cluster of fireflies. A ragged Lon Chaney cloud briefly ate half the moon and then moved on.

“In one hundred yards,” Doris said, “turn left on Cherry Street.”

The front right wheel of the big SUV plunged into a hole, rocking the vehicle hard enough to make the bobble-head doll of Bozo the clown on the dashboard nod its head a little frantically. “She’s nuts, isn’t she, Larry?” Artie said to the bobblehead. “Nobody in his right mind would live out here.”

“Turn left on Cherry Street,” Doris said. “Then turn right.”

“There isn’t any goddamn Cherry Street –” Artie said, but then broke off. The sign in his headlights was rusted, perforated with bullet-holes, and leaning wearily to the right, but it said CHERRY STREET. “Okay,” Artie said, “So you were right. Whaddya want, a cookie?”

He cranked the wheel to the left, bounced onto Cherry Street, and used the steering wheel control to turn on the radio. Instantly one of the hundreds of unforgettable guitar riffs created in the 1950s by Buck Cherry filled the car.

Ernestine,” Artie said, his spirits lifting. “There’s a radio royalty check, a dollar in the bank. Hey, how about that, Doris?  We turn onto Cherry Street and we hear Buck Cherry.” The road bent left in front of him and he hit the brights and leaned forward, squinting ahead. “Old Buck, that jerk. Hey, Doris, imagine escaping through here? Tiptoeing out of some plantation in the middle of the night, heading north, copperheads under your feet, water moccasins in the trees. That’ll put some guts in your blues, huh?”

“In two hundred yards,” Doris said “turn right.”

“These streets get any narrower, I’m gonna be driving through somebody’s living room,” Artie said. “All these goddamn woods. You see the South in the daytime, everything’s so thick and green and friendly. You can almost forget it’s the nitrogen from all the blood in the ground.” He jerked upright as the red lights bloomed behind him. “Great, great, this is what I need. Some redneck cop in the middle of nowhere.”

“Turn right on –” Doris said, but Artie had pulled to the right and cut the engine. He shifted his weight to get at his wallet, stuffed into the pocket of his sharply pressed jeans, and by the time the cop was at the window, Artie was holding his license up between thumb and forefinger.

“What did I do?” Artie said. The cop looked past the license at Artie, so Artie sort of jiggled it up and down a little to get the cop’s attention.

“Ran the stop back at the turn,” the cop said. He was thick-headed and fat-necked, with several patchily shaved chins undulating down to the top of his shirt. One of his eyes was bigger than the other. A fringe of dead-looking, curly hair peeked over his forehead as though trying to wriggle out from under from the cop’s cap.

“There was no stop sign,” Artie said.

“Wul, Mr. – “ The cop peered at the license but still made no move to take it. “Mr. Feffer –”

”Pepper,” Artie said, mostly teeth. Feffer was his real name, and he hated it, “Not Feffer, Pepper. Those are Ps, not Fs”

“So they are,” the cop said. “Wul, Mr. Feffer, sayin’ there ain’t no sign back there, that’s not gone be a productive argument.”

“I suppose not.” Languidly, Artie turned the license around so the cop could see the folded hundred-dollar bill behind it.

“That a bribe, Mr. Feffer?” He smiled, revealing a large number of what appeared to be silver teeth. Artie barely felt the bill slip from beneath his finger.

“Pepper, not Feffer. Is what a bribe?”

“Nice music, huh?” The cop pocketed the bill and leaned in and looked past Artie at the empty passenger seat. He smelled like potting soil, and Artie leaned back. “At’s a Buck Cherry tune, right?”

“Great stuff,” Artie said, stifling a yawn.

The silver, or perhaps steel, smile appeared again. It made the smaller eye even smaller but left the larger one untouched. “Ol’ Buck, he died poor, didn’t he? Shame, huh? Wrote all them good songs and all.”

“Couldn’t manage his money,” Artie said. This did not seem like a good time to announce that ol’ Buck had involuntarily paid for the SUV.

“Lotta them ol’ boys died poor.”

Without thinking, Artie said, “How about that.” But then he said, “Listen, do you know where Lamar White lives?”

The cop leaned back on his heels and pushed the cap up. The fringe of hair went up with it. “Lamar – oh, Lamar White. ‘Nother one, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” Artie said. “He is.”

“Turn right up here just a spit or two and watch the rocks on the downhill. Bridge might oughta be washed out, all this rain. You never know. ‘At’s some license plate. What’s SPRT HZ mean?”

“It stands for Spirit House, my record company,” Artie said, starting the car. “Spirit House, where the spirit of rock ‘n roll never dies. Listen, it’s been nice chatting with –”

“You got a record company?”

Artie exhaled slowly. “The sentence I just spoke contained the words ‘my record company’ as I recall, and, yes, that would suggest I own a record company. Is that bridge going to be washed out or not?”

The cop gave him a big steely grin and backed away into the dark. “Might be, might not be,” he said. He faded into the gloom. Artie waited for the sound of the patrol car starting, but when he looked back it was already gone. On the radio, the Buck Cherry song died away and Artie was surprised to hear the traveling bassline that opened Lamar White’s “Mississippi Mojo.”

“Listen to that, Doris,” he said. “Tonight they’re playing our songs.”

“Recalculating,” Doris said.  “In 50 yards, turn right on Freedom Trail.”

26 Responses to “The Stupid 365 Project, Day 28: “Spirit House,” Part 1”

  1. Sylvia Says:

    Ooooh. I can’t wait for tomorrow!

  2. Gary Says:

    Not a bad start, Tim!

    So what are we all gonna gripe about, now that you’ve actually written it?

  3. Larissa Says:

    heehee…reminiscent of a particular road trip I believe someone took (c: I love it. Keep going! So…perhaps I should only ask this sort of question in an email because I’m sure it’ll do two things: 1) make me look like an idiot 2) make me look like an idiot…but Buck Cherry? Like the modern day mediocre rock band? Or literally a character named “Cherry, Buck”?

    Just wondering…it’s also very early on a Friday..that could just be it.

  4. Bonnie Says:

    I was going to hold out until day 3, but what can I say? No self-control. Wondering if you heard the Guy Noir skit on Prairie Home Companion a couple weeks ago where Guy is arguing with his GPS. It’s a riot.

  5. Kaye Barley Says:

    I’m loving this!!!!

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Sylvia, it gets better tomorrow. It’s part three that worries me.

    Gary, I’m sure Everett will think of something. (Just kidding, Everett!)

    Riss, yes, Doris is named after my own Doris, and yes, the inspiration for this story came from the book tour through Kansas and down into the deep South. “Buck Cherry” is my cunning, lawsuit-avoiding transliteration of “Chuck Berry.” Is there a modern-day mediocre rock band?

    Bonnie, no, I didn’t. This story is based in part on my real-life relationship with my GPS — although you’ll see later how “in part” it is.

    Kaye — glad to hear it. Short stories are an alien form to me. This is the product of several gallons of angst.

  7. EverettK Says:

    Proofreading, as always…

    “trying to wriggle out from under from the cop’s cap.” Has an an extra ‘from,’ I believe.

    As for the story itself…

  8. EverettK Says:

    Sigh. The blog’s comment processor obviously doesn’t care for less-than and greater-than symbols, it must process http codes. The above “As for the story itself…” was supposed to be followed by:

    Oops, sorry, that’s the end of Part 1 of my comments. Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of my comments.

    To be continued…

  9. fairyhedgehog Says:

    We don’t have a Doris – we have a Seamus. We chose the Irish guy’s voice for our TomTom, because it was the warmest of the ones on offer.

    Whereas our BMW has a rather harsher and choppier voice so she’s simply referred to as “her”.

  10. Suzanna Says:

    Love this, Tim. Not sure how you can possibly be worried. But then again, I’m not the one doing the work that makes this story seem so fresh and easy to read.

    Like this little gem:

    “It made the smaller eye even smaller but left the larger one untouched.”

    This line in your story gave me a good belly laugh. I’m a teensy bit ashamed of laughing at this character’s facial peculiarities but I can’t help it, you wrote it so well!

    Enjoy your time off from the Stupid Project! Looking forward to Part II and III.

  11. Larissa Says:

    Everett-you crack me up. I end up reading the comments just to see what you’re going to say next. (c:

    Tim-yes, there is a modern day rock band called “Buck Cherry”…they are known for such brilliant music as “Crazy Bitch” among other classics….and no I’m not kidding. So-you might want to come up with a different name?

  12. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, again, everyone — what a handsome group!

    Except Everett, of course. Thanks for the proofing catch. You couldn’t have left me in ignorance? And if you think that’s bad, I discovered last night that I’d renamed the character “Marty” throughout most of Part Two and all of Part Three. By the way, Everett e-mailed me after the first of the Simeon books came out in e-book format with some very nice comments and 132 single-spaced pages of typos. He is single-handedly responsible for our having to take every book in the series down, make hundreds of fixes, and then put it back up again. And he won’t even let me pay him. I finally got smart and sent him the first Junior Bender book, CRASHED, in Word so he can fix it in advance. So I got an e-mail from him this morning saying he’d done digital alchemy over the Word file to get it on his (obscure, off-brand) reader and that he hadn’t had time to read it yet, but I had a typo on page 112.

    Thanks, Everett. Oh, yeah, and I’ll get right to work on the comments software to fix that “lesser-than” and “greater-than” problem.

    FHH — did you know/did everybody know immediately that Doris was a GPS? (Those who have been reading the blog for a long time have already met Doris, but did the rest of you?) Seamus is a good name, lots of character. Yours is warm, huh? Warmth is not a characteristic I’d apply to Doris, but there was something sort of panicky and clueless about the British voice, as you’ll see in Part Two.

    Thank you Suzanna — the worry arises from my deep conviction that I have no idea what I’m doing in the short-story form. I’d go into it in more detail, but I know that Everett wants to see a bunch of posts about SPIRIT HOUSE long after the story itself has been forgotten, so I’ll just jot . . . a . . . note . . . right here.

    Riss, SO glad to know that what brings you here is Everett. Fortunately, my ego is secure. Completely secure. On a bedrock of confidence. Really? Everett?

    Well, I’ve never heard Buck Cherry, but no band that records a song called “Crazy Bitch” can be all something or other.

  13. EverettK Says:

    Tim said: Oh, yeah, and I’ll get right to work on the comments software to fix that “lesser-than” and “greater-than” problem.

    Yeah, right. 🙂

    Honestly, if I thought you were capable of it (snicker), I’d harangue you not to do it, because then I wouldn’t be able to put in these nifty formatting commands that I just realized I could do, thanks to my earlier mistake…er…discovery.

    Now, I can convey much more emotional meaning in my comments, the lack of which you were just bemoaning yesterday. Don’t you wish you knew a little more html now?


  14. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Oh, nooooooooooooooo, as Mr. Bill (whom I increasingly feel like) says. Not emoticons. NOT EMOTICONS. I’m going to start with the punctuation faces if you’re not careful. And just remember, this comment is visible to the world for one reason and one reason only: I pushed a button marked APPROVE.

    Who’s Bwaaaaa-haaaaaaahaha-ing now?

  15. EverettK Says:

    I agree, you’re in control. You push the button. I’m sure it feels good to know you’re in control of something.

    By the way, are the rubber underpants working for you?

  16. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    They’re marvelous, Everett — you look MUCH better when I have them over my head.

  17. EverettK Says:

    Oh. By the way, I wasn’t talking about the emoticons. I was talking about the more subtle bold and italics attributes, as well as other potentially useful stuff like inserting links to pages (like as the Amazon page for A Nail Through The Heart Kindle edition and other useful things. There are no controls available for this comment edit window that easily let you put those things in, but if you know the http, you can insert them and they’ll display properly in the posted comment.

    For those who don’t know http, you can italicize a word or phrase by placing ‘<i>’ in front of it (minus the single-quotes) and placing ‘</i>’ after it. Bold is done in the same way with ‘<b>’ and ‘</b>’.

    Hopefully, I entered all of that right so that it formats and displays right in the final comment, but given my luck lately, I’m not counting on it. And another thing this silly comment editor field is lacking is a ‘preview’ function. Could you get right on that, Tim? So much obliged…

  18. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    This story is very funny. The comments are vying for equal credit. When is the next installment? I missed this last night due to the World Series; I won’t make that mistake again. Do the rubber underpants have anything to do with your face which I hope is all better? Or did miss something?

  19. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Lil —

    How nice to have a response from someone I’m speaking to. The rubber pants are a recurring fantasy of Everett’s that we generally try to keep from public view. My face is fine now thank you (see, SOMEONE is concerned) and I no longer look like I was bobbing for apples in a deep-fryer. And even better, all the area that was treated is completely free of damage — the treatment seems to have gotten everything.

    The story will continue tomorrow AM or late tonight and conclude on Halloween oooOOOOOooooOOOOOOOooooo.

    Oh, I’m sorry — did someone else say something? By the way, I’ve recently figured out all by myself how to do boldface and italics in these responses, and even how to insert links. This is dangerous knowledge, but I’ll share it by private e-mail.

    And I thought I’d follow Part One with Part Two, in case anyone is still reading the story, as opposed to the comments.

  20. Gary Says:

    Thank you, Everett. I’m so glad I know how to format my comments.

    They’ll look much more intelligent now.

  21. Gary Says:

    And repeated use of bold and italics seems to confuse the system. My two earlier posts were meant to have alternating words in bold or italics, not the whole post bold plus italics.

    But without preview feature I couldn’t see that – except by repeated trivial posts like this one.

  22. EverettK Says:

    Gary: you have to make VERY VERY sure that you properly match up the opening and closing format codes AND don’t make any ‘spelling’ errors. If an open format isn’t properly closed, then the whole rest of the message will continue in that format.

    And here I was thinking your posts couldn’t possibly get any more intelligent! Guess that was my second mistake this year…

  23. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Geez, would you guys just get a room?

  24. Gary Says:

    Wouldn’t a preview feature just be sooo useful.

  25. Sylvia Says:

    I suspected Doris was a GPS from the very first line and her next statement confirmed it.It was really clear.

    Real mendon’t need preview. 😉

  26. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Sylvia, you get the Giggler Award for funniest comment.

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