An old-fashioned newspaper personal column, from a curmudgeon cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, with readers in more than 125 countries.-- Sunrise on the old Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

'Shake a Leg at Stumpy's'--the talk of the town

Chapter 4
The  twice-a-week  newspaper had been struggling to survive the rural economic woes and the town's declining population for years. Darling, on the banks of the Canadian River  at the edge of caprock and prairie, had only about 3,000 people left. 
When he first came back, Greg wanted to cut it back to a weekly. His dad, an old-time newspaperman who was owned by the paper more than he owned it, refused to consider the idea, just as he'd refused to consider selling it to the Donrey chain.
"The Index has been in this family since 1904. It won't be Don Caldwell who sells our birthright and our town to those bottom -line boys at Donrey," he'd yelled when Greg suggested letting the paper go.

"You should retire, Dad."
"Hell, no. Shitfire, no! Son, the paper is more than in my blood. It is my blood. And yours too."
Greg was trapped. He'd quickly learned that a hurry-up lifestyle, excellent writing and idealistic journalistic standards wouldn't save the paper, at least in a small town. He'd grudgingly began to concentrate on advertising.
 That's when he had scandalized the town as he starting running ads from Stumpy's Spur, after a conversation of coffee on Sunday mornings.  His dad, a tee-totaling Methodist, wouldn't run ads having to do with liquor.

Facing declining advertising with more stores boarded up, The Darling Index needed the money. After the first half-page ad appeared featuring a local band and with a big bold headline,  "Shake a leg at Stumpy's," right underneath the obituaries, the town started talking. The Ministerial Alliance had called to protest what they saw as a newcomer changing the paper and endangering morals. Greg ignored them, reminding them they all wanted 20 percent discounts for their small church ads, and were often late paying.
Stumpy always paid cash, pulling out a thick roll of bills and flipping out the twenties until the half-page-a-week ad was paid for. Greg wondered why Stumpy agreed to advertise in the first place, and had asked.

"Respectability," Stumpy said, winking. "And maybe just to irritate some people."
Greg had already managed to do that in the first six months with his editorials too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Stumpy's Spur--Breakfast at the Fat Lion

Chapter 3
Reluctantly giving up a cherished academic career at an Oklahoma City college, Greg had returned to Darling a year ago to run the family newspaper after his dad had a stroke. His wife Jeanne and two children didn't want to leave city life and friends behind either.  The empty Texas Panhandle and cliquish small town made it worse.
The only social life revolved around the churches, a few social clubs and high school football.  Jeanne eventually fit in at the First Baptist Church because she could sing in the choir, but the members' holier-than-thou attitudes toward the rest of the town only irritated Greg. After a month in town, he quit attending, much to Jeanne's chagrin.
"What will people think?" Jeanne demanded when Greg first said he wasn't going back one Sunday morning.  "What am I going to tell them?"
"Tell them I'm busy, or I don't agree everybody else is going to hell. I don't care," he'd snapped back.   After another 15 minutes of arguing, Jeanne took the teenagers to  the car and drove off. 
Greg drove downtown to the Fat Lion Cafe to get breakfast. When he walked in, he saw Stumpy in the corner, motioning him over.
"How come you ain't in church, Greg? Backsliding?" He smirked." Sit down here with a sinner and have breakfast."
"I'm surprised you're up after a late night at the Spur," Greg shot back, smiling as he pulled up a chair. "Conscience keeping you up?"
An hour later, they were still talking as Greg finished his sausage and eggs, hash browns, pinto beans and biscuits and gravy.  Cafe owner Myrt Brown was giving them a good-natured hard time about emptying two coffee pots. Meeting Stumpy became a Sunday morning ritual every week that Greg joked of as "Church at the Fat Lion." 
It relieved the tension at home, and kept Greg in touch with what was really happening in town--not the chamber of commerce version—but the gossip and behind-the-scene politics of the town’s leading citizens.
“What you hear at the Spur is usually reliable—once you clean the bullshit off the boots,” Stumpy would say, tearing off a wad of Beechnut tobacco and putting it in his cheek as they left before the "church crowd" showed up.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stumpy's Spur--'A Crutch to the Crotch'

Chapter Two
Stumpy had tried to jump a freight train in Tucumcari when he was 18, slipped and fell under the big steel wheels of a boxcar. He’d pushed himself away and that had cost him his little finger too.
“Came home to die—couldn’t rodeo anymore, play football, nothing,” he said when Greg Caldwell asked about the leg. “But my coach told me to quit feeling sorry for myself. He bought me a crutch and took up a collection for my wooden leg.”
“Worst part is when my big toe itches. I can feel it, but it ain’t there.”
Newcomers to town would be shocked when they’d see Stumpy without his wooden leg on the rare times his stump got irritated. He’d hobble down the sidewalk with a pant leg penned up, hopping along on crutches with a peculiar clop-plop sound, alternating with the one cowboy boot.
But if he was crippled, he wasn’t handicapped. Caldwell had heard his father Don, owner of the Panhandle Index, tell one story over and over.
Several years ago,  a drunk cowboy had been thrown out of a downtown bar and landed at Stumpy’s foot as he hobbled along.
The cowboy stood up, cussing loudly as a crowd gathered at the door of the bar. People from the adjacent Phillips department store watched from the window and he started threatening them.
Stumpy told the drunk to shut up and leave, that he ought to be ashamed.
The cowboy turned on Stumpy and pulled a knife.
What happened next happened so fast people weren’t sure it did, and the legend grew. Greg’s dad had been in the department store and saw it all.
Balancing on his one leg, Stumpy swung one crutch and quickly caught the cowboy in the groin. As the drunk bent over in pain, Stumpy brought the crutch around and slapped him on the side of the head with a loud pop, knocking off his dirty Stetson.
The cowboy slumped to the pavement, out cold. Stumpy hobbled over to his rusty pickup and drove off, while the bar owner called the police.
The next day the Index carried the story, with the headline: "A Crutch to the Crotch." The first two sentences still made Greg smile: “Stumpy stomped a drunk, leaving him out cold. He may be handicapped, but he’s not foot-capped.”
Stumpy was so proud of the article he had it laminated and tacked to the wall behind his cash register.
“That’s when we became friends,” Greg’s dad told him. “Only time he got his name in the paper. 'Course it embarrassed your mom to use such language in the paper, and the ministerial alliance thought I was giving him free advertising.
“They’re all for the First Amendment when they agree with it,” Greg said.
“Yeah, remember to put out the paper for the little people—the Stumpys,” his dad had said.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Stumpy's Spur--a story

Chapter One
Stumpy Clark wore wide-striped suspenders,  had a wooden leg and walked with a limp. But he was the fanciest  two-stepper in the Panhandle. His dance hall at the north edge of town, Stumpy’s Spur, reeked of beer, cigarette smoke and urine. Attracting country and western bands and dancers from all over West Texas,  the Spur was Darling’s biggest attraction, although the  chamber of commerce wasn’t too proud of it. The gravel parking lot covered two acres, and would be packed with pickups and cars every weekend.
Stumpy always drank Long Island teas, mingled with the crowd, picked the prettiest bosomy blondes  to dance with. His favorite songs were “Great Balls of Fire”  and "Red River Valley." When they were played at least twice a night, Stumpy would be at the center of the wooden dance floor, two-stepping to the wild music with some big-haired, boot-wearing girl in tight jeans. There was plenty of talk about how many sweet young things he’d taken upstairs in the office behind the DJ’s booth afterward for encores.
Somebody would yell across the room at him, after the dance, “Hey Stump, how ‘bout an encore?” He’d turn, tip the edge of his worn straw cowboy hat, wink, and lead his partner off the dance floor.

Sunday morning porch time

A crisp, bright fall morning, coffee and the Sunday newspaper. That's when I need a porch.
I'd prefer a front porch, a wooden rocking chair, where I could sit and muse, read, watch people walking by, but alas, they don't build them any more, like the one we sat on at Turtle Rock Farm a few Sundays ago.
But we do have a back porch, tucked into the corner of the house, where I can sit at a round table, drinking coffee, spread the New York Times out in front of me, listen to the chatter of birds and squirrels, ignore the weeds in my herb garden and other yard work desperately needed. Instead, here I sit and relax and enjoy every moment, as the cats watch me through the window and door.
Today's paper was a treasure of stories and information spurring thoughts and wonder and ideas to write about, as time flitted away with the dappled sunlight through the trees. 
Front porch at Turtle Rock Farm
A porch is a church of sorts, with nature all around, with time for quietude and the music of wildlife, and the communion of coffee and the written word. To me, that's not sacrilegious, but just the opposite...connecting with the wonder of spirit and creation and life.
I decided I'd write more about those ideas from today's paper later. For the time being, I just enjoyed the back porch.
Sophie checking up