The Devil is in the Details

Mortimer P. Worthy stepped out of his modest size home, straightened his checkered tie and proceeded down the cement path towards his car. Eileen kept the new car, her Mazda, in the garage while Mortimer parked his five-year-old gray Corolla out front underneath a tall spruce tree. It was an unusually warm Wednesday in March, making his five-minute drive to work quite enjoyable. He lowered all four windows, turned on the classic rock station and drove down the block.

His job was going to be especially satisfying today. All five of his English classes had been reading Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke and today was the day they would be held accountable. Mortimer preferred essay tests, something his students detested. Of course grading all one hundred and twenty five tests would be a pain, but it’s not like he was obligated to get them back to the students tomorrow.

Mortimer thought of Johnny Caralta, who was constantly breaking his chops, as he cruised down the street. In all his years teaching, Johnny was by far the worst kid of them all. He doubted Johnny ever picked up the book; all he ever did was flirt with Samantha O’Reilly or interrupt his discussions with some inane comment or noise. Well, today would be Johnny’s day of reckoning. If he didn’t pull an eighty five on this test he was off the baseball team.

One stop sign, one red light and then the usual parking spot in the back of the building, a routine Mortimer could do with his eyes closed. His thoughts continued to wander as he approached the red light. Softball season was almost here, he had to remember to put a try out notice in the morning announcements. The light turned green and Mortimer automatically began rolling out, failing to see Edward Dwayne Nassour and his red Pathfinder come flying down the road. Edward had once again overslept and was once again in a mad dash, hoping he could make it to work before Mr. Dishman realized he wasn’t at his desk.

Mortimer lazily turned to his left, his foot gently pressing down on the gas when he saw Edward coming right at him. There was nothing either man could do; the moment of impact was less than a second away. English tests and angry bosses were no longer a pressing concern as the cars collided at the intersection of Cortelyou and Lamoka. Witnesses later told police on the scene it was the loudest crash they had ever heard. Edward had been doing at least seventy and his truck had nearly sliced Mortimer’s car in half, before flipping over eight times and coming to a stop almost one hundred feet away.

There were no survivors, only remains.

Mortimer was pissed.

He was forty-four years old and was still in what he considered the prime of his life. He had been teaching English for eighteen years at two different schools and life had become quite monotonous. At his sister’s request, he started to write down the stories he told his nieces and nephews. She believed there was potential and was going to show her friend who had an in at a publishing company. Perhaps if things broke right he wouldn’t be dealing with the Johnny Caralta’s of the classroom when he was sixty. Maybe he could spend his years sitting on the back patio jotting down amusing stories and making a comfortable living.

Of course, none of the above mattered. Mortimer was dead and presently watching police keep the gawkers at bay while his mortal remains lay scattered on the pavement. He paced up and down the street when he had the sudden urge to find the person who did this and kill them…again. Mortimer stormed up the street and saw firefighters on the scene hosing down the fire which had erupted from the truck. He stood in front of the smashed windshield, looked in and screamed,

“Hey! Hey you! Come out here!”

He heard movement coming from inside the vehicle and a badly charred man crawled out from the wreckage. He looked like he had been left on the barbeque an hour too long.

“What do you want?” he replied somewhat hostile.

“What do I want? Are you kidding me? You killed us!”

“So? We’re both dead now, ain’t nothing we can do.”

“I at least want an explanation, maybe an apology.”

“Maybe if you were paying attention we wouldn’t be dead!”

“Me? Are you trying to blame this on…hey, where are you going?”

Edward Dwayne Nassour had started walking down the street, leaving a trail of charred remains, obviously not interested in furthering the conversation.

“Get back here! You owe me my life! I want my life back!” Edward didn’t care enough to turn around and said with a mix of sarcasm and indifference,

“Why don’t you make a deal with the Devil? Isn’t that what people do in situations like this?”

Mortimer began to say something, but stammered and nothing coherent came out of his mouth. Instead, he shot both middle fingers in the air and began gesturing wildly at the departing murderer.

“The Devil. Ha, very funny.” He said to himself. What am I supposed to do, call out for him and he’ll appear out of some ominous smoke?”

Quite the opposite, actually.

Mortimer shrieked and turned around to see the prince of darkness standing behind him. He was over eight feet tall, blood red, with the horns and tail and looking a little like Pierce Brosnan. The stereotypical appearance, save for the Armani suit he was wearing.

“Are you…are you the….”

Satan himself. Charmed to make your acquaintance. The Devil deeply bowed.

“You’re wearing a suit?”

I take on the appearance of whatever is in your mind’s eye and this is a much better looks than what I’m accustomed to. Thank you.

“You’re welcome?” His response was half questioning the reality of the situation and half embarrassed.

Now, I take it you didn’t call on me to have a polite conversation regarding my appearance, correct?

“That would be correct, yes. The reason why I called is because I was killed this morning by some asshole who didn’t even accept responsibility!”

There is nothing more offensive than rudeness, the Devil said with a tsk.

“Yes! Thank you. Anyway, the one thing he did do for me was suggest I contact you…“

In order to resume your life?

The two beings shared a laugh. “Wow, the Devil really is a decent guy,” Mortimer thought to himself.

I can’t exactly do that. There are rules, you know.

“Not to be rude, but if you can’t do that for me, what can you do?”

An ominous smile formed across the Devil’s genial face. With a flourish he exclaimed,

I can allow you to go back and make your life better than what it was.

“Better?”

Yes. You can go back and influence things so that way you’ll be infinitely more satisfied with the duration of your life.

“Hmmm,” Mortimer tapped the area on his face where a chin should be and pondered. “Influence how?”

I’ll explain everything in tedious detail if you’d like. I like to give my perspective clients all the necessary information.

“Okay but before you do tell me the catch. I’ve read enough books and seen enough movies to know there’s always a catch with you.” The Devil laughed like a British man watching Monty Python.

I love how paranoid humanity has become. Always thinking someone is out to get them. The notion of tricking unsuspecting men and women into giving me their soul is a propaganda trick started by the opposite side. Here is the catch, as you say. In exchange for my gift, you agree that at the end of your life you’ll spend the remaining eternity with me.

The suggestion of eternity with Satan caused Mortimer to pause. Enough had been said and written of the devil being a purely evil creature. Did he want to be condemned to a lifetime with him?

“I don’t know. Eternity is a long time.”

Before you decide please allow me to finish. I will bring you back to any day you like. You will be a spirit, unseen by anyone, including your younger self. You will have one day, from the moment your younger self wakes up to the moment your younger self falls asleep to change your life.

Mortimer clapped his hands in excitement. “You’re saying I could go back a couple of hours and make myself late for work and miss the accident? That’s great!”

No, I’m not saying that at all. The Devil said with some irritation. Remember when I said I don’t have that kind of power? You’re dead; there is no coming back from death. I’m allowing you the opportunity to improve your life up to the moment of your untimely demise. To go back and offer a suggestion that will allow you a more prosperous life, with the perspective of the knowledge you have right now.

“So I could tell my younger self to buy stock in Google and Apple?” His voice rose like a little boy telling Santa Clause what he wanted for Christmas.

Now you’re getting it. Although I’m not sure if simply an influx in money would bring you happiness. You seem like a deeper man than that. Mortimer thought about it and slowly nodded.

“I guess you’re right.”

Don’t give up now dear friend. You were a teacher for almost twenty years. In a perfect world what would you rather have done?

“I like to tell stories.” Mortimer said, sounding more like George Costanza telling Jerry Seinfeld what kind of job he wanted.

Good, good! Now we’re getting somewhere.

“My sister was just saying how I should write them down and she would try to get me published!” His enthusiasm rose on every word.

What if you didn’t need your sister’s help? What if you went back twenty years and told yourself a guaranteed best selling story?

“I couldn’t think of a guaranteed best seller when I was alive. How would I think of one now that I’m dead?”

You’re not thinking big enough. You could tell yourself The Da Vinci Code and write it! You could take one of the thousands of James Patterson best sellers and slap your name on it. Do you see what I’m saying?

“You’re saying I could steal The Hunger Games?!”

Yes exactly! So, I suggest you go back to your mid to late twenties. You would still be young enough to use that imagination of yours while at the same time have enough life experience to write some quality material. Since you were a teacher all these years I’m assuming you took the summers off?

“That would be correct.”

Good. Then I say you go back to the summer of your twenty-seventh birthday. This also allows you to keep one year of teaching under your belt. We wouldn’t want to drastically change that.

“Yeah, despite the headaches I loved to teach.”

We’ll pick a rainy day so there are no distractions and you can significantly change your life for the better.

Mortimer paused. Something still wasn’t right. “I don’t know. This is too easy. I mean, you’re the Devil it’s your job to lie.” The Devil smiled and took a dramatic bow.

How can I be a liar if I’m telling you upfront I will own your soul? I’ll spell it out again for your benefit. Your life on Earth will be infinitely better. You will die in a car accident on this day regardless of what you change and when you die your soul will belong to me.

Mortimer felt uneasy and looked around. “Wait, shouldn’t God or an angel or something show up and give me another option?”

You called for me and God gave humans free will. It’s up to you to decide. Mortimer paced back and forth debating. Finally, he reached a decision,

“And this isn’t some kind of trick?” The Devil smiled the smile of a patient man.

Human beings are remarkable at deceiving themselves. They don’t need help from me. I spelled out the situation and at the end you will end up with me. I don’t know how I can be any more plain.

“Okay, I’m ready. Let’s do it.” He stuck out his hand and shook the Devil’s red claw.

You’ll see, it won’t be too bad. Besides, you’ll have an eternity to bask in your remarkable achievements.

#

For a second he lost his breath, which was strange considering he was dead. Mortimer instinctively closed his eyes, and when he opened them the world was pitch black. Panic set in as the idea that maybe the Devil isn’t the most truthful of characters popped into his brain. Relief washed over him as his eyes began growing accustomed to the dark and he realized where he was—the bedroom of the first house he bought with Eileen. His wife was a fussy sleeper, thus the dark curtains and the absence of any light whatsoever in the room.

Mortimer looked over at his alarm clock and saw that it was 6:20am. Eileen’s alarm wouldn’t be going off for another half hour, giving him plenty of time to formulate a plan. He came to an immediate conclusion; why waste any time? Be there the moment his younger self woke up and immediately give him the idea.

Dead Mortimer crept over to the left side of the bed and stared at his back for the first time in his life. The reality of the situation presented itself and Dead Mortimer laughed. His younger version wasn’t aware of him; he could jump on top of himself if he wanted to. He pulled the five-hundred count cream sheets back, climbed into bed and waited for his younger eyes to open. The excitement of the moment was building and he started jabbering out loud,

“You are going to be so happy when you wake up. The only thing you’ll have to do is grab a pen and start writing everything down. Hell, if you’re really lazy you can even tell Eileen. You’re going to write about a post apocalyptic world where kids…”

“BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP”

The sound startled Dead Mortimer so much he jumped backwards and fell out of bed. Fortunately, being dead precludes you from getting any bruises, broken bones or even being heard.

“What the hell was that?” Dead Mortimer thought to himself. He raced over to the window and saw the garbage truck outside, with a rather large man haphazardly depositing trash into the back of the vehicle. Behind him he heard another noise and turned to see his old self now awake.

“Good morning hun.”

“Hmmmmm.”

“You want coffee babe?”

“Hmmmm,” his wife mumbled in reply.

“No problem.” He, rather the living version of He, kissed his wife on her forehead and rose out of bed.

“Game on,” he thought to himself.

His younger self made his way down the hallway and to the kitchen to put on the coffee. Scratching his stomach, Alive Mortimer stretched and yawned. Dead Mortimer knew he couldn’t absorb a thought without coffee and decided to get the most out of the experience. He could walk down memory lane and come back in ten minutes when his young brain was eager for information.

The first place he went to was the downstairs rec room. The old gray La-Z-Boy! Eileen hated that chair and when they eventually moved would force him to put his precious chair to the curb, an act that nearly broke his heart. The chair was his dad’s, and his mother spent years trying to get rid of it as well. Finally, his dad gave in but instead of throwing it out, his dad gave it to him as a house-warming present. Neither of the Worthy women was pleased. But the year wasn’t 2014, it was 1997 and his chair was still his.

Dead Mortimer sat down, cranked the lever back and let out a gratified sigh. He ran his hands over the upholstery and stared at the various little stains that had come from spilling a drink or a little ice cream. Various thoughts of childhood came to him and would have still come to him if he hadn’t looked up at the clock.

1:00PM

ONE O’CLOCK?!!

How was that possible? It was 6:20am a minute ago! Apparently time didn’t behave the same for the dead as it did for the living. With a rush Mortimer bolted out of the chair and upstairs. How fortunate he was for looking up when he did, he thought with a shiver.

Dead Mortimer wandered around the house, looking for his living self. Where the hell did he go? He checked the calendar and saw an empty box where, Tuesday August 12 resided. Pressing his thumbs to his temples, Mortimer concentrated on what had happened that day. Where could he have gone? The minutes passed and the answer continued to elude him. How the hell was he supposed to remember a random Tuesday?

Mortimer checked the clock and saw it had jumped to 3:39. Time was slipping away and there was nothing he could do and he gave his soul away for nothing and…

There was a vibration underneath his feet.

The garage door was opening! In two minutes, (or a couple of seconds to Dead Mortimer) Alive Mortimer would be walking up the stairs. He ran to the door to greet himself like a puppy awaiting his master. The moment that door opened he would start talking and wouldn’t stop until the idea stuck.

His younger entered and in a Herculean effort was carrying twenty-eight bags of groceries to avoid a second trip. Typical Mortimer, he thought to himself. He followed his younger self, struggling to make his way to the kitchen while talking the entire time.

“Mortimer, listen to me right now. Imagine a post apocalyptic world where kids were forced to fight kids due to a corrupt government. There’s a main character named Katniss, okay I really don’t like that name we can change it to something better but that’s not the point. The point is she’s the hero and we follow her and a boy who’s in love with her who was a baker. No, his father was a baker, he just enjoys eating bread named Peeta.” Mortimer laughed. “That’s the first time I got the joke. Pita bread. That’s actually kind of funny. He’s with her and there’s a romance and she shoots an arrow into a force field and you’re going to make millions!”

Dead Mortimer watched as Alive Mortimer paused in front of the cabinet while holding a box of Frosted Flakes. A smile came over his living self. The seed was planted, now all he had to do was write it. Alive Mortimer put the box down and ran to the office next to their bedroom, with Dead Mortimer firmly on his heels. He turned the computer on and stood there antsy, his left foot tapping the ground. Their computer wasn’t the newest brand, or the fastest. Booting up would take a couple of minutes.

Just enough to go grab a snack from the fridge.

Dead Mortimer watched his other him leave the room. He rationalized the move by saying, “Okay, no big deal. Just going to grab a drink, maybe a bite to eat. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes, the computer will be ready and we can do this.” Mortimer stared at his crappy computer as it ran through the various processes and programs needed to start. For a second, Mortimer wondered if his living self was going to get distracted, but that fear was alleviated upon seeing himself walk in with a glass of iced tea in his hand. He watched himself climb into the computer chair, set his glass down and open up Microsoft WORD. Dead Mortimer could hear the chimes of the cash register ringing over and over inside his head. He was going to be rich, successful and best of all, never deal with annoying kids who wouldn’t do their homework! His younger self put his fingers to the keyboard and was ready to start typing away when he suddenly stopped. Dead Mortimer barely heard what his younger self said,

“Mets game.”

Shit.

The New York Mets were playing a day game today in St. Louis. This was the first year they were good since 1989 and his younger self was not going to miss any game for any reason. That meant there would be no writing for the next couple of hours. His younger him made his way downstairs, sat down on his favorite chair and turned the television on. It was only the top of the fourth, meaning at least another two hours. Resigned to the situation, Dead Mortimer sat down on the couch and watched along.

An hour later the game was over and both Mortimers were in a bad mood. Alive Mortimer was pissed because they lost 5-2 and played like garbage. Dead Mortimer was pissed because time was ticking away. Mortimer remembered how he was after a loss; writing would be the last thing he wanted to do. How the hell was he going to get himself over to the computer? He needed another idea, and fast. He needed magic. He needed….

Dead Mortimer raced over to himself, sitting there angry on the La Z Boy.

“What if you had the ability to change the results of the game? What if you could do magic? What if you were the chosen one, sent to defend everyone from the most evil wizard on the planet? What if your name was Harry Potter?”

The familiar smile washed over his face and this time, instead of casually walking to the office room, Alive Mortimer jogged upstairs. This was money. The killing kids idea would be nothing but headaches, but this one was money. Plus, it could be for kids. Merchandising, movie rights, this was it. Alive Mortimer sat down on the computer chair leaned back and cracked his knuckles. Dead Mortimer walked into the room to watch his life change forever when the phone rang.

Thankfully he was never a phone person, so the conversation would only last a couple of minutes—tops. In fact, the only person who could keep him on the phone was his friend Mike because they would talk nothing but Mets.

“Oh no,” he thought to himself. “The Mets just lost, that means….”

“Hey Mike, yeah I watched. We gave that game away.”

“No no no! This conversation could last an hour!” Dead Mortimer thought to himself. He sat back, resigned to the fact that there was nothing he could do but wait.

Ninety minutes later, Mortimer hung up the phone. It was now 5:45pm. Eileen would be home in forty-five minutes. The good news was he had remained in the chair in front of his computer. All he had to do was get himself to write the idea down and frame out the general outline. Once he did that, he could always come back to the story tomorrow or the next day. Just start typing!

Alive Mortimer pulled himself in towards the desk and paused. Dead Mortimer took that as his cue to once again give the idea.

“Wizards, magic, Harry Potter. Annoying relatives. Boarding school for magical people. Lord Voldemort.”

The smile returned to his younger self and he typed out, “The” when the phone rang again. Dead Mortimer slammed his fist down on the desk and swore repeatedly. Who could this be? Dead Mortimer listened to half the conversation.

“Hey, honey what’s up?…No I don’t mind…I don’t want you going alone…Not a problem I’ll pick you up at the bus stop and we’ll go together…Love you too.”

Immediately Mortimer remembered, his wife’s co-worker’s mother had died and the funeral services were that night. Out of all the nights! Mortimer watched as his younger self walked out of the room and into the shower. Not to downplay a tragedy but this could be good; the best ideas came in the shower. His younger self turned on the hot water and just as he was going into the shower stopped to turn on WFAN.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

How the hell was he going to get through to his thick skull if he was going to listen to sports talk radio? He could feel his own thoughts, they were a mixture of trivial sports and the nature of death. No matter how many times he tried to talk, there would be no getting through and he resigned to waiting until the wake was over.

#

After the wake they went out for drinks with some of his wife’s other co-workers. Time was slipping through his hands and there was nothing he could do to keep a thought implanted inside his head. Finally, they said their goodbyes and were in the car.

It was go time.

He let his wife talk about the night and the wake. After all, he had to be a good husband. Mortimer patiently waited until there was a proper lull and when his wife seemed to be all talked out said,

“Listen to me very carefully. A young wizard named Harry Potter. His parents are killed by an evil wizard. He has friends who have red hair and weird sexual chemistry. His uncle is a werewolf. I want you to speak this out loud and tell Eileen so you won’t forget.” Mortimer watched as a glimmer appeared in his younger version’s eye.

“I know this is going to be random but can I tell you something?”

“Sure what’s up?”

“A weird idea just came to me about a boy who is a wizard and there’s a bad guy who murders his parents and I think this could be something big.” His wife stared at him without saying a word. “Well, what do you think?”

“This is weird but I think it’s been done already.”

“What?” both Mortimers replied in synch.

“Yeah I was talking with Maggie the other day and she’s reading a book that you just described. I think it’s called Henry Cotter or something like that.”

“Damn it!” Dead Mortimer exclaimed, and then said again when he realized they were home. The three of them made their way upstairs while Dead Mortimer decided to go back to The Hunger Games.

“Okay this isn’t a big deal. Let’s focus on Katniss, or maybe we’ll call her Janice. She’s a tough teenage girl and…”

“I’m going to take a shower. You want to join me?”

“Yeah? You sure?

“Do I have to ask you twice?”

Dead Mortimer hadn’t counted on that.

No matter, there would still be time. He would just now have to wait for the shower to be over. Dead Mortimer listened for the shower to shut off and watched as his satisfied self and blushing bride walked down the hallway and into the bedroom. The happily married couple settled into bed and Eileen put her head down on his chest.

This was it, Dead Mortimer’s last chance. He could whisper the plot and have Mortimer tell his wife. That way the idea would be in both their heads and guaranteed to be written down at some point.

“Tell me something,” his wonderful wife exclaimed. Oh, he could kiss her right now. This was the perfect moment. He would his younger self the story of The Hunger Games, who would repeat verbatim to his wife. She would love it and he would be so excited by her enthusiasm he would start writing tomorrow. Mortimer leaned in and spoke while his younger self repeated.

“Well I had an idea for a children’s story, but it wouldn’t just be for kids. It’s set in the future.”

“Okay.”

“It’s about this girl who is forced to fight other kids to the death and—“

Eileen jumped off his chest and looked down at her husband.

“Are you kidding me? Kids fighting to the death? What kind of story is this?”

Dead Mortimer was pale in the face. Or as pale as a dead face could be. His wife was ruining everything.

“Well that’s not the whole story, it’s got a lot of political elements too.”

“Let me get this straight. You want to write a children’s story about kids murdering kids AND there’s politics involved too?”

Dead Mortimer knew he was losing the fight and decided to change gears. But to what? What else was there? Potter was out, Katniss was out. What was left? Dead Mortimer snapped his fingers, The Da Vinci Code.

“Maybe you’re right about this kids but how about this. What if Jesus wasn’t really God? What if He was married to Mary Magdalene and…”

You would have thought Mortimer stabbed his wife in the chest with a dull blade from the ferocity of her reaction.

“Stop! Stop right now! You’re going to write something that tears down your religion? You would prostitute your faith for a book? And what if you did get that published and people took it as fact? You could affect the faith of thousands, or millions!”

Young Mortimer looked horrified and agreed with his wife.

“I don’t know why I said that. I guess the wake kind of shook me up. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. I know you’re looking for that million dollar idea. Don’t worry babe I believe in you. One day you’re going to write a great book!” Young Mortimer leaned in and kissed his wife while Dead Mortimer stood up on the bed and shouted,

“No! No I won’t if you keep rejecting my ideas! Why did I marry you? Oh my God I’m dead and I’m going to lose my soul!”

“What do you say, Mort? We’ve both had a long day. You want to turn over and pass out?”

“Sounds good. Give me one more kiss first.”

Mortimer and Eileen kissed and turned over while Dead Mortimer remained standing in shock. He couldn’t think of anything else and the clock was running out. If he didn’t plant an idea before Alive Mortimer fell asleep, he was literally doomed. Panic flooded his systems like ice water in the Titanic and he began shouting out premises,

“A REIMAGINED BATMAN BUT GRITTIER!”

“TEENAGE GIRL FALLS IN LOVE WITH VAMPIRES AND NOTHING HAPPENS!”

“ZOMBIES!”

He heard himself snoring and knew it was over.

#

Here’s where you’ll be staying for the rest of eternity. As you can see there are no amenities, no comforts to be found. You’ll be sleeping on this jagged rock while bugs of various kinds crawl over you and eat you alive. The Devil stood over him, pointing at the bugs crawling on the ground.

“And this will go on for…” The words barely escaped the grimace on his face.

Eternity. After ten thousand years we’ll switch it up a bit. Wouldn’t want you to get bored of the same horrible punishment over and over, if you get my drift.

Mortimer P. Worthy stood there and gazed around. In frustration he shouted out,

“Why are there two rocks?”

Well we like to maximize space here in hell so you have a roommate. Say hello to, umm what’s your name again?

Another soul walked in, leaving a trail of cockroaches and spiders in his wake. He said with tremendous indifference,

“Edward Dwayne Nassour.”

Mortimer P. Worthy’s jaw dropped and he stared at his new roommate.

“You! Not only did you kill me, but you convinced me to sell my soul! And now I have to live with you forever?”

The Devil laughed and said,

Oh that’s right, I forgot. You guys know each other. How funny is that? Morty, you didn’t even hear the best part. Hey Eddie, what’s the name of your son?

“Johnny.”

“And what’s his last name?”

“Well, his horrible mother changed it when she got remarried.”

“To what?”

“Caralta.”

Mortimer’s face flushed with anger.

“So what I’m hearing is that the father of the worst kid I ever taught is responsible for my death, eternal damnation and my roommate forever.” He ran over and punched Edward right in the face. Edward spat out a tooth and responded with a left cross of his own. The two men stood there screaming, beating the hell out of each other. The demon looked on in amusement, smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

Come now, Mortimer, what are you mad about? All great authors know the devil is in the details.

 

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My Life as a Henchman

A Google search can be a wonderful thing. With the snow coming down outside my window and an intense lack of desire to shovel I decided to spend a Saturday afternoon tumbling down the rabbit hole that is the World Wide Web. Was my girlfriend thrilled by my abdication of boyfriend related duties? No, of course not. Fortunately, I had a cop-out excuse ready at my disposal, “I was doing research for the next book.” A funny thing happened while I waited to get screamed at, I wound up screaming for her. Once again the Internet had decided to bestow wisdom upon the ignorant in the form of an image. On the fifth page of a Google search of my last name I had found a picture of someone who appeared to be my Pop-Pop, Frank Starita, adorn in all black and standing next to the ultimate super villain of the 1950’s – Nonde Script.

I planned on calling Dad and asking him about this remarkable coincidence before my girlfriend advised me to skip the middleman. Why waste a half hour on the phone talking to Dad when I could go straight to the source. Thus, the next day I drove to my grandparent’s house to spend a wonderful Sunday afternoon in the living room of a ninety-one year old man. He was in his glory discussing events and remembering circumstances that had been previously forgotten in the past. Yes, my Pop was a thug, a “bad guy” if you will. At the same time if you’re going to be a “bad guy” you might as well do it under the employment of the man referred to as the “Pinnacle of Evil,” “The Devil’s Shadow,” “The Collector of Chaos” and pound for pound the greatest bad guy of all time, Nonde Script.

My grandfather was a henchman, a professional goon, a first class assistant villain.

Who would have thunk it?

When I showed him the picture I found, there was no denial, no shame and definitely no remorse. Instead, like a little boy eagerly awaiting his ice cream cone he took the picture from my hands and stared long and hard. He didn’t even bother with the perfunctory, “where did you find this?” When you’re ninety-one you skip the small talk bullshit and go straight to the story.

His life, like most of his generation, has a clear demarcation point – the end of World War II. Before the war he was a high school dropout who joined the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor, seeing action all over the Pacific. He even earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star; the details behind the medals are something he always chose to keep to himself. When we dropped “The Bomb” and ended the war, Frank came home, unclear about what to do next. Some of his friends became career military, which held no appeal to him due to spending the previous four years ducking bullets. Others took advantage of the GI Bill and went to college.

Frank went back to the old neighborhood in Brooklyn.

It’s funny; the frail old man I hung out with that Sunday bore no resemblance to the man who walked around Brooklyn circa 1945. What Frank didn’t have in height he made up in girth. Broad shoulders, barrel chest and thighs you could barbeque several slabs of meat on. There was something else about Frank that stood out, his hands. To describe Frank’s physical appearance without mentioning his hands would be like discussing Mona Lisa and leaving out her lack of smile. If you shook hands with the man you were acutely aware several hours later. They would engulf a normal man and constrict like a boa.

He had strong hands.

Anyway, he spent a couple of months working some bullshit jobs in the area when he met Louise, my future Nana, right before Thanksgiving, 1945. Because this is the story of a secret bad guy and not a love story in the manner of “The Notebook” I will spare you the gory details. The only item you need to be aware of was they were engaged by Christmas, married by Valentine’s Day, 1946 and expecting their first son at the end of the year.

Frank worked fast.

The problem was Frank had no money, no education and no stable job. They moved in temporarily into the apartment above Louise’s parents where Frank quietly had to endure the slings and barbs of his impatient father-in-law. The only way to shut him up would be to get a job and take care of his family.

On an unseasonably cold afternoon in March of 1946, Frank stepped inside of O’Leary’s Pub for a quick drink to warm his insides. He was a slight drinker back in the day and wanted to warm his belly before spending the rest of the afternoon pounding the pavement looking for work. Halfway through his second whiskey, the door opened up and in walked Frank’s old Navy buddy George. They recognized each other immediately and sat together for an hour drinking and catching up. George deftly evaded questions on what he was up to post-Pacific and was more interested in the frustrating details of Frank’s life, his marriage, impending child, lack of money, burdensome living conditions. Finally, George decided he heard enough and asked Frank the question that changed his life,

“Do you want to make some money?”

Of course Frank said yes, he didn’t even ask what type of job it was. His number one priority was providing for his family with the long-term goal of living as far away from his father-in-law as possible. George wrote an address down and told him to be there at 2:30pm sharp tomorrow afternoon. He also instructed him to wear black, along with a fedora hat that could be pulled down enough to block his face while still looking nondescript. Frank didn’t bat an eye and thanked George for the opportunity.

The next day Frank showed up five minutes early wearing black dress pants, a black button down shirt, black jacket and a black fedora he had pulled down to shield his eyes. George hadn’t told him whom he was meeting with or what he was supposed to do, just gave him the address, which happened to be The First Union Bank of Brooklyn. For a moment Frank thought maybe he should go inside and wait before his better instincts kicked in and he remained planted firmly on the pavement.

Three minutes later he felt a tap from behind on his left shoulder. Frank was more of a listener than a talker, which helped him that day because George wasn’t in the mood for conversation. Instead he placed in his right hand a 45 Revolver and told him to follow his lead. Frank did as he was told and followed George into the bank.

Up until this part of the story, we were just two guys sitting in the living room. Pop’s voice remained steady, casually speaking as if we were discussing the upcoming Super Bowl. Now, as he reached the dramatic part his eyes lit up as if he was a little boy at Christmas and his voice went up two octaves. He wasn’t just remembering the story, he was reliving it.

Pop wanted to be clear; he had no intention of firing the gun. If I was going to hear his story I had to know that. In his mind he had used up his allotted quota of right index finger movements in the war. At the same time he knew his job was to cover his George. His partner would do the talking and Frank would provide the necessary intimidation to coerce anyone dumb enough to have a hero complex to think otherwise. Sure enough, the robbery went smoothly, the customers and employees of the bank did what they were told and the two men were about to walk away with little more than eight thousand dollars. Not bad for ten minutes of work. What really made Frank happy was how they only robbed from the bank and not from the people. He knew most of them here were just like him, scrapping by and he didn’t want to inflict damage on anyone except the institution. Without saying a word George nodded towards the door and Frank knew it was time to make their escape. They walked across the room like kings and he admitted that he hadn’t felt a rush like that since the war. George reached the exit first and stopped. Frank naturally stopped too, following George’s lead and waited, trying to keep patient. George put his left hand on Frank’s shoulder and winked at him. With his right hand inches from the brass knob, seconds away from escape, a resounding thud echoed from outside. Before they could register what was going on they heard someone shriek in an excited voice,

“Gee Willikers, it’s Mr. Awesome!”

Pop admitted to me at that very moment he was nervous. Not scared and definitely not panicked, just nervous. After all, he had faced the horrors of the Japanese, or the Japs as he referred to them and nothing could ever compare to that. Fear was for anyone who didn’t land on Iwo Jima and witness the guy to his left getting shot through the stomach. You don’t know what panic is until you watch that poor bastard try to gather up all his intestines lying on the sand.

The door slammed open and in walked everyone’s favorite hero, Mr. Awesome. The cheer from the people inside the bank gave Frank goose bumps and he knew they had two options, fight their way out or surrender. He had heard stories of Mr. Awesome, how he had super strength and was impervious to pain and Frank didn’t care. He fought at Wake Island. Those Japs seemed to have super strength and be impervious to pain and good ol’ Uncle Sam cleared them out. Mr. Awesome would be no different.

George on the other hand had other ideas. He took a step forward in what Frank later realized was a sign of surrender. The only problem was he didn’t tell Frank. Again, Frank didn’t want to use his gun so he tucked it inside his jacket pocket and came out swinging. With no shame in his voice he freely admitted to getting his ass handed to him by Mr. Awesome. There were three swings, the first by Frank that Mr. Awesome ducked. The next two were a combination of BAM! and POW! that put Frank on the floor. Minutes later he was tied up back to back with George on the floor with cops standing around and congratulating Mr. Awesome on another job well done. A deep sense of shame came over Frank as he imagined what would happen next. He would be booked at the precinct, definitely some jail time and worst of all, the humiliation of facing his family, specifically his father-in-law. Life looked bleak for Frank and rightfully so.

The car ride to the station was a quiet one, except for the occasional barbs thrown their way by the cops riding in front. The rest of the time was a whirlwind. They were finger printed; had their mug shots taken and when Frank was offered his phone call he declined. There was no way he was calling his wife to bail him out. The mess was his; he alone would clean it up. George felt differently and a minute later returned to the holding cell with the look of a confident man.

Twenty minutes later they heard a commotion coming from the front desk. Frank couldn’t make out any words, just lots of angry shouting. Suddenly the bars were sliding open and the two men were walking out to the frustration of the officers escorting them. Frank was confused, even more so by the sly grin on George’s face. The whole time the men had not spoken a word to each other and Frank couldn’t get over how calmly George was taking things. Now he had an idea that George had somehow known how things would shake out from the very beginning. A man in a very expensive suit greeted Frank and George and led them outside into a waiting car. The car was idling and Frank detected a slight silhouette in the back seat. George sat in the front with the man who had bailed them out while Frank rode in the back seat next to the most infamous man in New York City, Nonde Script.

They drove two blocks in total silence before George spoke up and asked Frank if he knew the man to his right. Frank was almost certain of his identity yet didn’t want to risk offending anyone so he hedged his bet and with a smile said the man looked familiar. At that, Nonde let loose a laugh and shook his hand. As Pop related the details of that car ride to me a wry grin came over his lips and he remembered the first thing Nonde Script ever said to him,

“Your friend George vouched for you and I’d say he was on the mark.”

The bank job was a test on nine different levels. His gun was full of blanks. They had no escape car or route. They hadn’t disarmed any guards. Yet they had almost eight thousand dollars in their hands by the time they reached the bank door. Frank didn’t flinch in facing Mr. Awesome or getting his ass kicked. Most importantly, after everything went down, Frank didn’t squeal to the police. His silence was the final initials on their verbal contract.

He was in.

By this point I was completely enraptured with the story. I asked him if he could describe what Nonde Script was like. Sure we have pictures and quotes related to the man but I wanted something more intimate. According to Pop, his name said it all. The most plain, regular, mundane man you could meet. Nothing about him stood out, he was of average height – five foot eight and weighed one hundred sixty-five pounds. His clothes were mostly grays and blacks. No scars, no tattoos or earrings. He was meticulously clean-shaven with a clear part in his hair. His hands were almost lady-like in their delicacy. His speech was quiet and the perceived firmness behind his words only existed due to his reputation. There was nothing about the man that would suggest he was Public Enemy #1.

Nonde Script was as an appropriate name as any.

I imagined an evil villain of Nonde’s magnitude must have been a real prick to work with. Again, Pop laughed and said I couldn’t be farther from the truth. There was an unwritten rule, Nonde Script gets the glory and as long as you could deal with being an anonymous background guy you got along splendidly. Seeing how Pop had no interest in advertising to his neighbors that he was a real life bad guy he was more than pleased with the arrangement. At the same time Nonde gave everyone on his crew a chance to shine a little bit. If they wanted to be the first one in a fight or the one barking orders during a robbery he was fine with it.

Questions began flooding my mind. I asked about the crew itself. Size, make up, personality conflicts, betrayals and things like that. Pop suggested that we take a break and eat a sandwich first. I wanted to say we could talk and eat but knew better. Still, there was still so much more to learn.

We made our way into the kitchen where Nana sat reading the Daily News. Upon seeing our arrival she jumped up, (jumped being a loose word when the woman is eighty-eight) and grabbed a couple of glasses, pouring Hawaiian Punch in each. She could tell from the shocked expression on my face that we were having a productive afternoon. We ate our roast beef sandwiches with a side of potato salad while Nana asked me about my girlfriend and if I had another book brewing inside of me. As we talked I would occasionally sneak a glance at Pop, who was slowly chewing. In my mind’s eye I could see his battery getting recharged. Twenty minutes later Pop announced he was finished and just like that picked up our conversation from where we had left off.

Ordinarily the size of the group ranged from three to eight, depending on the size of the job. Most of the time the group was under five members, but it was always made up of all men. Nonde didn’t like having women around to distract his employees. The biggest crew they ever assembled was the time they kidnapped the Mayor. That was a full-scale operation and eighteen ringers were brought in. For the most part the guys got along, if they didn’t they weren’t around long enough to cause a ripple. In fact some of those guys, like George became like brothers to Frank, simply because no one else knew or could comprehend their lives. Again it’s not like they could talk about their activities at Church on Sunday with the congregation. Plus Frank didn’t want to tell his wife too many details, so she wouldn’t get worried. At that I turned to Nana and decided to get her opinion on things. The one thing about Nana, she was never shy about expressing her opinions. I asked one question, when did Pop tell her the truth about things and she ran with it.

She knew right away something was up because she had a friend she grew up with working at the station where Frank was processed. Of course she couldn’t believe it, refused to believe it until she heard the words directly from her husband. That night, when he came home she sat at the table and waited for him to come in and greet her. She knew all his faces and as soon as he walked in the truth was confirmed. She had married a felon. That said she held off her vengeance until she heard his side of the story. He explained what had happened and stressed several times the end result, he wasn’t charged with any crime and was released under his own volition. When she asked why he said his new boss had a lot of influence in the department. Louise was five seconds away from screaming out of frustration when Frank pulled out five one hundred dollar bills and laid them on the table.

When she told me this part of the story I could see her mouth hanging open as if she was still looking at the sight. The difference between being broke and having a life sat tangibly on their kitchen table. Of course Louise wasn’t thrilled about the idea of their family being supported on a foundation of lies and dirty money, at the same time she was pregnant and they needed to do something. What made the decision harder was the relative ease regarding the job. All he had to do was open his mailbox every morning. If there was a piece of paper with an address inside he was to memorize and destroy the evidence. From there he would read the situation and act accordingly. For his time and efforts he would take home more or less five hundred dollars every week.

Their problems were solved.

To be able to get their own house when no one they knew could afford one was one perk. To be able to get out from under her father’s thumb was another. In her mind the biggest benefit of all was she could stay up and raise her son and future kids. There would be no stress in trying to find someone to watch her son while she went to work. The more she thought about the perks the easier it became to put her head on the pillow.

I looked over at Pop, who enjoyed listening to his wife talk and asked if there were truly no problems from that point on? He laughed and said, “Okay yeah, there might have been a slight tiny one…Mr. Awesome.”

The way Pop explained it there was almost a sort of understanding between Nonde Script and Mr. Awesome. Twice a year, or sometimes three times in an eighteen month period, Nonde Script would plan a huge attention grabbing crime. In doing so several things were accomplished, one it kept Nonde as the number one bad guy in New York. Two, they were guaranteed a ridiculous amount of press. Three, it took care of Mr. Awesome, who always foiled the plan and ended up looking good as the hero.

Upon hearing those words come out of Pop’s mouth I furrowed my brow. It didn’t add up, none of this was adding up. And what did he mean when he said, “it took care of Mr. Awesome?” Pop gave a quick wink at Nana, took a deep breath and said,

“Oh God Tommy you don’t think there were really superheroes back then did you? It was all bullshit. We were like wrestling, putting on a show for everyone.”

I was shocked. It was the equivalent of finding out there was no Santa Clause, except instead of learning this at nine I had learned it at thirty-three. Pop patted me on the shoulder and laughed again.

“Geez don’t you think we would have gone to prison for all the bullshit stunts we pulled?”

I remained shocked and just let him talk while I listened and tried to take notes. Basically the superhero business wasn’t one you could just break into; you had to be personally recruited like he was that day by George. They wouldn’t tell you anything, just watched you react to the situation. Most importantly, they wanted to see if you would keep your mouth shut afterwards. Frank passed his test that day by keeping quiet and not doing anything foolish. In fact, if he had tried to do something foolish, like say firing the gun George handed him at Mr. Awesome it would have accomplished two things. The first was to further the legend of Mr. Awesome’s super strength because the gun was full of blanks. The second was to show he was too much of a wild card to be trusted with the operation and he would have done six months in prison to show everyone crime doesn’t pay.

At that point Pop’s back was acting up and he asked if I minded hearing the rest of the story back in the living room. I could tell this was taking a lot out of him and at the same time I was thirsty to learn everything. This was a huge story! We sat down and for the second time in his life he broke his silence. The details he told me that afternoon he didn’t tell Nana until after he was out. Almost as if he was in the CIA. Of course, since the budget for all these activities came from the CIA and his checks were government issued, I suppose he was. To be fair, Nana had figured out from the get-go that things weren’t as they appeared; she was just smart enough to wait for Pop to fess up.

The way he explained it was after World War II the United States needed to give the next generation of kids’ heroes to look up to. Those who had fought in war were jaded. The gung-ho patriotism had disappeared in a hail of bullets and a torrent of blood. Therefore, these new heroes could be the role models for the kids and impart in them the values and patriotism this country needed them to learn. While he wouldn’t go as far as to use the term “brain-washing” it was a mighty fine line. Together with the movie studios the Government came up with a system to divide the country up into territories. Each territory had a superhero and a super villain. Then, when someone on either side grew stale they could either ship them off to another part of the country or import someone new. Some heroes didn’t want to leave their homes so they would bring in a new partner to freshen things up. A guy like Mr. Awesome was an east coast talent who traveled only occasionally. And when he did travel, like to say Texas, it was a huge deal. As time passed other countries took notice of the super hero phenomenon, put two and two together and developed their own nationalistic super heroes. Of course Hollywood was filming everything and showing the footage on Saturday afternoons to the kids at the movies. If you ever wondered how it was possible that not only was the superhero always able to thwart the evil villain but also do so on camera, now you know.

Every good storyteller knows if you have a hero you need an equally as impressive bad guy. Hitler was dead, Stalin was too far away, America needed someone they could see be defeated, either on the big screen or even in person. A great villain was someone you feared and loathed; someone the general public wouldn’t dare go after. By providing the country with a great villain, the hero became that much more important. Pop couldn’t stress enough how important the bad guy was to the whole story. If you gave the public a shitty villain that was weak or unimposing, the superhero didn’t look that impressive thwarting his evil plans. If the regular Joe Q. Taxpayer thought he could defeat the bad guy then the aura around the superhero was damaged, or lost. It happened out in St. Louis where no one thought “The Mysterious Fog” was a threat and as a result, no one took “The Blue Falcon” seriously. They had to eventually repackage “The Blue Falcon” as “Sonic Boom” and “The Mysterious Fog” had to leave the business entirely.

The evil villain also played a major role in the underground crime scene of their respective city. Because both the superhero and the evil villain were paid employees of the United States, the evil villain became an informer on all nefarious doings. Pop wouldn’t go into details but he was involved in the infiltration and subsequent breakdown of the Italian Mafia. The best part was the villains had license to do whatever it took to convince other bad guys of their (in)sincerity. The police obviously couldn’t be trusted with this vital information, so every now and then Frank would get rounded up with other bad guys. All it took was one phone call to their government contact and they were sprung, usually within the hour.

For seventeen years, from 1946 to 1963 Frank worked his way up the chain of command, first as a simple henchman for Nonde Script before eventually reaching the pinnacle, his #2. Several times he was offered the role as the lead bad guy and each time Frank turned it down. It was one thing to play the unknown henchman taking a punch, it was another to uproot your family, sometimes to another country and be the big heel. To be a bad guy wasn’t safe for your family. You couldn’t just move into a suburban neighborhood and be friendly with the neighbors. Pop did say there was one offer that really made him think. Back in 1959 the government offered him the California territory. The money was ridiculous, Hollywood and all it’s magic was right there and he always wanted to live in California but then his middle son (and my future father) Bill, who was seven at the time, caught pneumonia and spent several weeks in the hospital. There was no way he could leave his son when he needed him the most so he declined the offer.

Late 1962 the guys and small amount of girls involved in the industry talked about unionizing. There was even the largest gathering of superheroes ever in Tampa, Florida to vote on the proceedings. Unfortunately Captain Electric who was becoming a huge star in Florida was friendly with J. Edgar Hoover, who was not pleased. He sent an emissary down to inform everyone there they had two choices. The first was to unionize, upon which they would be immediately fired or “killed” in the public eye and replaced with a new generation of heroes. The second was to acquiesce and the studios could spin the meeting as the heroes forming a new uber-team to take on a new dastardly alliance. The union initiative was permanently DOA. As soon as Frank heard about this he knew they were done. The government and Hollywood wouldn’t risk the boys going rogue ever again. New heroes for a new time would be made and the old guard would be weeded out. The day Kennedy died was the day Frank decided it was time to hang it up. He put in his papers and returned to a civilian life, working at a local department store, which he did for twenty-two years before finally retiring.

To this day Pop still receives a modest pension from the government for his service to his country. I asked him if he had any guilt in talking to me and pulling back the curtain of the super hero industry. He replied that if things were still going like they were back then he would have kept this to his grave, just because he wouldn’t want to cost anyone their livelihood. The era of the Superhero is long gone. First off, the true hero/villain dynamic ended at the end of the eighties with the death of the Cold War. The nineties were a prosperous time for everyone and they didn’t need to believe in anything other than the tech bubble. Second, civilians were getting a little too ballsy, like the time The Black Dragon got shot down in Washington D.C. Sure they were able to cover it up by saying it was a combination of the guy’s bullet and Superiorion’s electric shock wave that finally killed The Black Dragon but the cat was basically out of the bag. The biggest factor of course was the computer. With the Internet around and cameras everywhere he felt it would be impossible to convince the public their shit was real. Too much risk of identities being compromised, or super powers getting exposed as nothing more than Hollywood smoke and mirrors.

I stole a glance at the grandfather clock in the corner of the room and saw we had been talking for several hours. I could tell Pop was tired and decided now would be a good time to call it a day. Pop thanked me for coming by and said he better get half of anything I make off this book. I laughed and kissed him before going into the kitchen to say goodbye to Nana. She was clipping coupons and thanked me for keeping them company. After we kissed I made my way down the steps and towards the front door when I stopped. There was one thing still itching the back of my brain. Turning around I asked Nana even though she had her suspicions was she ever worried? Without missing a beat she yelled back,

“Are you kidding me? Your grandfather killed hundreds of Japanese all over the Pacific. Do you really think he’d really have a problem with a jerk named Mr. Awesome?”

The True Story of The Lorax

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon I laid across my expensive and recently paid off leather couch desperately seeking some sort of diversion. I searched the thousands of movies available to me across a bevy of devices and found The Lorax. Throughout the film, I noticed details that seemed to reference deeper meanings. If nothing else I am a wannabe detective so I took my pursuit of the truth to the hallowed halls of Google, where strange enough, nothing could be found on Seuss esotericism.

While on line waiting for my car to get washed, an older gentleman overheard me talking about my Seuss frustration on my phone and offered up a tip — our local library had plenty of old moth infested books that could possibly possess some answers. Joy filled my heart and I felt the need to thank the man to which he insisted none was needed. Finally, he permitted a doff of my hat and I was on my way to the hallowed halls of the Great Kills Library.

Unfortunately, they were closed.

The next morning I returned and after hours of perusing various microfilms and filthy relics, I came upon an article written by James Cortelyou who purported to know the true origins of The Lorax. The headline screamed, “THE LORAX AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION” and as I scanned down, all I saw was one big brown stain. Of course the rest of the article was illegible, due to a careless patron spilling coffee over the document.

Blast!

Ninety-nine percent of the time that’s the end of the story. Ninety-nine percent of the time whatever truth there is left to find is consigned to the garbage bin of history.

Thankfully, I am part of the one percent. A sentence, which when taken out of context will condemn me to countless hate mail from confused hippies.

With a recipe that is two-thirds ingenuity, a quarter high-speed Internet connection and three-eighths free long distance phone call thanks to Verizon, I managed to track down James Cortelyou at his house deep in the brass fields of Tecumseh, Oklahoma. At first he was hesitant to speak, most likely due to the intimidating Seuss agents residing all across the continental United States. Eventually, due to my easygoing nature and his need to unburden his heavy soul he opened up and told me the true story behind The Lorax.

Our tale begins in the year 1793, in the quaint French countryside of Fougères, located on the outskirts of le Mont St-Michel. Fougères is famous for having one of the only three belfries in Brittany, a former feudal state that existed for a time in France. For years, peace ruled the land until the winds of change came roaring in the form of The French Revolution. With the monarchy facing opposition from all sides and people thirsting for freedom it was the perfect storm for creativity and fresh ideas.

Enter Pierre de la Crème Glacée Parapluie, or simply Pete Parapluie to his friends. Pete was a simple glassmaker, one of dozens located in a town famous for its glass-making industry. The problem was Pete wasn’t especially fond of glass making. Every day, he would come home with little cuts all over his fingers from the fine nature of the glass. If that was the only hassle, historians are pretty sure Pete could have handled it.

The problem began with the upper crust of French society that came to buy pieces from Pete’s shop. They would come in their fancy clothes and powdered faces, shooting off their sneering glances and condescending attitudes. Pete did his best to fake smile and to tolerate them. After all, it was nearly impossible to find a French aristocrat at that time that didn’t sneer and condescend with a powdered face and fancy clothes. The crux of the problem was how the aristocrats came with their cats.

Not just a cat, Many cats.

Multiple cats.

Lots of cats.

Une multitude de chats.

Pete hated cats.

These cats would come and use his place as their own personal litter box. What was formerly a clean work shop turned into a disgusting toilet. Long after the aristocrats and their cats would leave, Pete would find nastiness in his shoes, in his glass machinery, even in his ears. This drove Pete crazy. Did you ever find shit in your ears? Not dirt, but actual shit.

It is not a pleasant feeling.

Enough was enough.

On the morning of January 20, 1793, he marched down to The Church of Saint Sulpice and demanded the attention of the townspeople. Quickly, a mob gathered, (as was the norm at the time) to listen to Pete’s words. There he gave a speech widely regarded as the most important in French history and the reason why King Louis XVI was executed the very next day. Before we get to those words, let me extend my apologies to those who speak French. Some of the meaning gets lost in translation.

My fellow countrymen!

I am tired! I am tired of making glass for these horrible rich people who think they are better than we are. I am tired of seeing their smug faces and having to hold my tongue as they talk down to me. But most of all I am tired of their cats!

To hell with their cats!

To hell with those useless animals that believe by virtue of their birth that they own dominion over all that they see. To hell with their belief that they can go to the bathroom wherever they want. I am tired of their shit, both literal and metaphorical. WE are tired of their shit. I know there isn’t a man alive here in our proud town that enjoys finding cat shit in their ears. I know there isn’t a woman alive in this town who enjoys having to ruin their brooms sweeping up all the cat shit. I say it’s time we give them back all the shit they have given us!

It is time to rise up!

It is time to cast off these bonds of servitude and force the rich to acknowledge whom truly runs this beautiful land we call France!

It is time to fuck shit up!

There was more but the rest of the speech is lost to the annals of history. Apparently after that last line the crowd went into frenzy and began to chant,

“A l’enfer avec les Royals et a l’enfer avecs leurs chats!”

Translated into English,

“To hell with the Royals and to hell with their cats!”

This sentiment raged across the countryside as hoards of angry French citizens attacked those they believe persecuted them. They wanted freedom, they wanted equality, and they wanted to be rid of those annoying cats. Thus, whenever French nobility was attacked, they would end the assault by placing all their cats into a sack and throwing them into a river.

In casting off their symbolic shackles, they cast off the cats.

The most impressionable of all were the French children, who watched this all go down. Psychologists later came to the conclusion that to deal with the horrors all around them, the French children created a game, that later became the impetus of the game “Freeze Tag,” complete with a song. The game would begin with all the children gathered together. Quickly, two children would be singled out. One would be “The Royalty” and one would be “The Cat.” The rest of the children would denigrate into a mob and chase “The Royalty” and “The Cat” all over. When they finally tagged “The Royalty” that child was forced to stand still and watch as the children then focused their attention on finding “The Cat.” Once “The Cat” was found, the children would carry “The Cat” and throw them into “The River” which was normally substituted with a mound of garbage. Once “The Cat” was thrown into “The River” the children would sing,

Nous sommes les enfants assez & petit

Nous jeter le cat dans la rivière

La Révolution vivent plus longtemps que le cat

C’est dans la rivière jeter

Le cat jeter

Le cat jeter

Le cat dans la rivière jeter

Le cat jeter

Le cat jeter

Et a l’enfer avec lui

Translated into English,

We are children pretty & small

We throw the cat in the river

The Revolution shall live longer than the cat

That’s in the river

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

In the river

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

And to hell with him!

Perhaps you’re wondering how this ties into The Lorax?

In the late 1960s, Theodor Seuss Geisel was traveling the French countryside with his second wife, Audrey Stone Dimond when they decided to check out the famous castle in Fougères, built in the year 1000. On the road to the castle he came across a plaque for Pierre de la Crème Glacée Parapluie. Seeing how Theodor couldn’t read or speak French, he asked a fellow traveler to translate the words on the plaque. Those words were the famous speech Pete made at the Church. Seuss was now intrigued at learning the rest of the story and by the time he arrived home in California, Seuss decided to Americanize the story and make it suitable for children.

Thus, The Lorax.

So the next time you read The Lorax to your children or watch the movie on Netflix, try to find the symbolic meaning behind The Lorax creature, representing the French peasants and the Once-Ler representing the French Royalty. Think of those simple French people. Think of all those French people who had to suffer with finding cat shit in their ears. Think of how cat shit led to the French Revolution, forever changing the way people lived and were governed. Think of how, without the cat shit, there would be no French Revolution and consequently no United States of America.

The next time you are frustrated with American politics remember we are a country founded on the principles of cat shit and throwing cats into the river…

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

And to hell with him!

Chapter 23 – And Fools Shine On

The following is an accumulation of information pierced together from my hazy memory, Google, Denmarkian historical record and Babette, who you’ll come to meet in a little bit. I can’t promise this to be one hundred percent accurate because of the old saying about winners and history books. What I can promise is that I tried to be truthful, or as truthful as one can be when the title of your story is,

“The Unquestionably False Yet Undeniably True Story of Tom Starita”
Continue reading “Chapter 23 – And Fools Shine On”