by James L. Secor & Minna vander Pfaltz
Buck limped across the street, calling out, “Hellecchino! Hellecchino!”
It was a bright sunny day, as per usual in Chokepointe Piste, or anywhere in the Brazos River Basin, where the rain rarely came tumbling down to cleanse the air and the land. Acid rain here was disallowed. It had been comfortably moved northward to Dallas and Houston and southward to San Antonio and Mexico. This very point allowed the PR firm of Yabu & Son–there was no son but it sounded good and made for an increase in business, for it dripped respectability–to sell tourists on the “sun all year round”-ness of the country and the temperate climate conducive to tan and wind and open range freedom. The pitch hadn’t caught on yet but what’s time when profits are involved?
So. . .Buck was perspiring by the time he reached the boardwalk on the other side of the street from The Lone Star Inn & Bordello and began stumping–rump-TUMP, rump-TUMP–along the loose boards until he turned into The Hotel, where he raised his breathless voice again, “Hellecchino! Hellecchino!”
The desk clerk dumbly watched him. Anything was a welcome break from routine. Buck peeked into the lounge. No Hellecchino. Buck peeked into the restaurant. No Hellecchino. Buck peeked into the bar-salon. No Hellecchino. Each time, he called out, “Hellecchino! Hellecchino!”
Buck ran–ker-PLUNK, ker-PLUNK–up the stairs and knocked injudiciously on the door to Hellecchino’s room. No answer.
Buck descended the stairs and stood before the front desk catching his breath. Finally, he said, “Where’s Hellecchino?”
And the desk clerk answered, in all truthfulness, “He ain’t here.”
Buck nodded and stumped out of the hotel. He looked both ways before he stepped out onto the boardwalk. It was difficult to decide which way to go, right or left. So, he turned right and continued plunking down the boardwalk toward Fancy Dan’s where he knew Hellecchino liked to indulge in lip-smackin’, finger-lickin’, chin-dribblin’ bovine costae with generous dabs of Arthur Bryant’s Masterpiece Barbeque sauce shipped direct from wild and wooly Kansas City via Yabu Transport and thus an extravagant item. Import duties made sure that any competition to the famous Yabu Cactus Barbeque Sauce remained beyond the capabilities of the common man while the ribs themselves were cheap at half the price.
And sure enough, that’s where Buck found Hellecchino, face covered in a clown-like smile of reddish-brown sauce dripping from his chinny-chin-chin down onto a checkered bib, supplied by Fancy Dan’s as part of the dinner packet. After all, rib juice and barbeque sauce stained, and stains would limit Fancy Dan’s business drastically. But, he covered his ass, Daniel Bunesci did, by also owning and operating the Italian Ristorante a la Mexicali and the Chinese laundry that conveniently did a big business removing spaghetti sauce evidence. Wives and mothers were eternally grateful. So was Daniel Bunesci.
“Hellecchino! Hellecchino!” yelled Buck, clunking up to Hellecchino’s table and plopping himself down in the chair opposite his mentor and hero.
“What’s up, Bucko?” inquired Hellecchino, smacking his lips and showering Buck with little pinpoint splatters of sauce. “Better get a napkin,” suggested Hellecchino. “Oh, boy! Another napkin, please.” He snapped his fingers, sending a shower of sauce and juice into the air.
The napkin was brought. Buck wiped his face.
“So. What’s up, Buck?”
Buck wiped his face again. “Yabu’s back in town.”
“His town. No news there.”
“No. We got trouble.”
“We’s alahs gots trouble, Bucko. It’s de name o’ de game. It’s what brings me to dis part of the world.”
Buck wiped his face. “But he’s just back from seeing his guru.”
“You mean Master Hiram Evananda?”
“You know about him?”
“Shore do, Bucko. Ain’t nothin’ I don’t know ’bout. I’m a hero, y’know.”
“An’ yore magic,” chortled Buck, wiping his face yet again.
“Oh, boy!” and Hellecchino snapped his thickly wet fingers again, again spraying reddish sauce hither and yon. “I’m finished. Bring me the handiwipes and take this stuff away.” When the boy had done his bidding, Hellecchino said, “Put it on my bill. Now. . . what is it that couldn’t wait until I finished my noonday repast?”
“Well, Yabu’s returned from Big Chief Buttons Compound out on Merengue Montaña. An’ he’s shoutin’ and carryin’ on about bein’ enlightened.”
“What so new about that? So damned many people return from Peyote Pete’s Big Rock Candy Mountain claiming the same thing.”
“Ain’t none o’ them Gyorgy Yabu.”
“Well, now. There you have a point. What’s he on about this time?”
“Who’s reporting this?”
“McTortle. He keeps a keen eye on these kinds of things.”
“Hmm. . .always some kind of shell game, eh?”
“That’s exactly right. How’dja know?”
“I’m a hero. I keep tellin’ ya, Buck. Don’tcha ever listen?”
“What did McTortle have to say?”
“Yabu’s enlightenment is about separatin’ good from bad.”
“Wowzer! He’s got a way to tell the difference?”
“Seems so. He’s gonna build a wall to keep the bad out.”
“Oh, my. . .that’ll cost a bit.”
“Not so, Hellecchino. Master Hiram Evananda has ties to the asphalt and concrete business down the road at Ocee and he owns the grease and oil business out on Country Road 317 on the way to Old McGregor’s Farm.”
“I see. . .”
“So, we got a problem, Hellecchino. Let’s get to work and save mankind.”
“I think you’re being a bit hasty, Buck. What if mankind don’t wanna be saved?”
“Yore shittin’ me!”
“No. I’m not. We gotta wait til people start complainin’ and seein’ the error of Yabu’s ways. Y’know, if’n it ain’t in yore backyard, it ain’t worth doin’ nothin’ about. It’s the rules o’ the game.”
“Ain’t Chokepointe Piste yore backyard?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. But people tend to shrink the term ‘backyard’ to personal, private dimensions. Let me tell you a little story–”
“We got time for stories?”
“There’s always time for a story, Buck. It’s in stories that knowledge is passed along, as Wredgranny says.”
“An old Indian woman. An elder. A storyteller.”
“Buck, I’m surprised at you!”
“Why? Ain’t all Indian old women fat?”
“You ever seen an old Indian woman?”
“Hell no. They ain’t allowed in Chokepointe Piste.”
“So, what do you base your opinion on?”
“The pitchers in hist’ry books.”
“Well. . .let me tell you, Buck. Those books are written by white men who don’t like Indians and so the pictures are what they want you to believe is the truth.”
“Right down the road there is the Educational Research Analysts, led by Mel Gabler, Hedda’s distant relative. Deborah L. Brezina rents the building out of which Gabler and the Educational Analysts regurgitate history. Y’see, Buck. All you know of fat old Indian women is what this organization tells you. They stereotype the Indians. Fat old women are not welcome in this part of the country, no?”
“Well, I’ll be hornswaggled!”
“That’s right, Buck. You’re the victim of political propaganda.”
“Old Indian women aren’t fat?’
“No. Not necessarily. The only thing that all old Indian women are is wrinkled.”
“Well, hell! That comes with age.”
“Indians are people.”
“Well, sure. But. . .ain’t they all got big noses?”
“You mean like Italians and Polish?”
“Sure. Like that.”
“Ain’t stereotype something that comes outa two sides?”
“Buck. . .let me tell you a story.” Hellecchino pushed his chair back and crossed his hands over his flat belly. “To stereotype is to fix in lasting form.”
“Kinda like sculpture?”
“In a manner of speaking, stereotypes are writ in stone. Howsomever. . .a stereotype is also something constantly repeated without change–”
“Like a prayer!”
“Will you just let me get to the bottom of this?” Buck subsided, hung his head. “Alright. As I was saying. . .stereotypes come in phrases and X and factoids. . .”
“A factoid, etymologically, is ‘something like a fact.’ ”
“So a stereotype is something like a fact but it ain’t.”
“Exactly.” Hellecchino leaned back, looked up at the ceiling and began his story. “The blowback on stereotypes is that some people begin to believe ’em. That is, if you’re told something enough times, you begin to believe it. Like a fox. Foxes been told they’re cunning tricksters for centuries and they believe it now. But the trap is. . .it ain’t necessarily true. Now, somehow or other, Fox got his fellow woodsy denizens to work for him harvesting his fields. Fox, of course, was wily enough to get out of most of the hard work. But, along about mid-morning, Rabbit got a thistle stuck in his paw. He started hoppin’ and jumpin’ around and shoutin’ enough to wake the dead. You know how over-excited rabbits get. Anyway. . .Fox came trottin’ down the row Rabbit was workin’ and saw the thistle. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘go on over t’ the well and put some cool, clear water on it. But don’t be gone too long, y’hear?’ Rabbit didn’t say nothin’, just hip-hopped outa the patch and through the woods to the well. Well, when he got there, he found that the water was way down in there. He dropped a pebble into the well an’ it took some time to find bottom, as it were. There were a couple buckets sittin’ on the edge o’ the well, so Rabbit figured he’d just ride one down to the water, dip his paw in the water, take a little drink, it bein’ a hot day an’ all, and then ride right back up. So, he jumped in a bucket and fell downward, landin’ kerplop in the water. It was pretty cool down there but Rabbit knew he’d better get back to the vegetable patch before Fox came a-lookin’ for him. But when we pulled on the rope, the bucket up top lodged against the pulley and. . .Rabbit was stuck down the well. ‘Holy cow paddies,’ he said to himself. ‘I’m in for it now.’ There wasn’t anything he could do but wait for Fox to come stormin’ after him. An’, sure enough, Fox appeared at the top of the well. He knew all along that Rabbit was jus’ tryin’ to git outa work. ‘Hey! What you doin’ down there?” Fox shouted. ‘I’m fishin’,’ answered Rabbit. ‘Some fine fishin’ down here.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Really. Come on down ‘fore they’s all gone. Easy pickin’s,’ Rabbit encouraged Fox. How stupid of Rabbit, thought Fox, ‘to let me go down there an’ git all the fish while he’s up here starvin’. Okay,’ he said. ‘Just jump in that there bucket,’ suggested Rabbit. Fox did and he flew to the bottom, passin’ Rabbit on the way up. Rabbit waved at Fox, smilin’ kinda big, like a Cheshire cat. ‘I’ll come back later, when the farmin’s done,’ shouted Rabbit and hopped merrily along. Well, o’ course Rabbit didn’t come back an’ there was wily ol’ Fox stuck in the bottom of the well. Didn’t take him long to figure out who outfoxed who, let me tell you.”
“That all?” asked Buck, sitting up in his chair.
“Yep. Old wily Fox got himself stuck thinking he was outfoxing Rabbit.”
“Did he ever git outa that well?”
“Sure did. A thirsty hunter came by and hauled up a bucket full of water–only he got a bucket full of Fox. Well, Fox lit on outa there before he got a behind fulla buckshot.”
“Didn’t git no fish neither.”
“You ever heard of fish in a well?”
“Pretty dumb Fox, eh?”
“An’ foxes are s’posed t’be so cunnin’.”
“Yep. Fox believed all that hype about foxes being cunning and got himself trapped.”
“So that’s how a stereotype works! An’ I was right to begin with–a stereotype is somethin’ that’s got two sides. There was two buckets there at that well. Boy! Yore ingenious, Hellecchino!”
They sat quietly at the table for some time, each thinking his own thoughts. Finally, Hellecchino got up.
“Okay. I’m digested. Let’s go out into the sunshine and see what Yabu’s up to.”
“There you are!” shouted McTortle from down the street. “I been looking for you.”
Along with McTortle was a young woman, tall and willowy with long, flowing black hair, black eyes and thin but ruddy lips. She was dressed in calico. Her hips jerked right and left as she hurried after McTortle.
“Lookie there! There’s my sister.”
“You got a sister?”
“Shore. Ain’t only Mexicans got sisters, y’know.”
“She always chase after McTortle like that?”
“Nah. McTortle’s married. Harriet’s her name.”
“Might pretty lady, your sister.”
“Yep. I s’pose so. Y’want I should interduce ya?”
“Don’t think you’ll have much choice.”
The sprinting couple came to a panting halt but a few inches from Hellecchino and Buck. They leaned over, hands on knees, trying to catch their breaths. Both spit into the dry, dry road dust. Both held up their hands, as if to speak. . .and then subsided into heavy breathing once more. Finally, McTortle straightened up. “Yabu’s done done it this time,” he said. “Don’t know how much longer I can put up with this.”
“How much longer have you put up with it so far?” asked Hellecchino.
“Oh, hell. I don’t know. Perhaps 10-12 years.”
“Where would you go if you actually ever decided to got?” Hellecchino seemed genuinely interested in McTortle’s dilemma, leaning in and peering at McTortle’s reddened face.
“Don’t rightly know. Haven’t given it much thought. My home is here. I’m kinda settled in. . .if y’know what I mean.”
“How are you, Miss Harriet? I’m Hellecchino, local hero,” smiled Hellecchino as he smiled down on the diminutive lady and held out his hand.
Harriet gripped his hand rather more forcefully than he expected and said, “You don’t look much like a hero.”
“Appearances are deceiving.”
“Buck. . .what the hell you know? You’re drunk half the time.”
“No, I ain’t. More like two thirds’ the time.”
“And you’re braggin’?”
“Cain’t brag ’bout my leg, yknow.”
“I don’t wanna talk bout it, alright? How many times I gotta tell ya, huh?”
“How come you chose Buck to be your sidekick, Mr. Hellecchino?” Harriet asked sardonically.
“He asked.” A bald-faced truth.
“Well. . .I guess that explains it.”
“Have I got a piece of land for you!”
“I thought you was a hero.”
“So, what you goin’ about sellin’ land for?”
“Seemed like a good thing to do with Yabu’s wall going up.”
“You know about that?” startled McTortle chortled.
“How could you? We haven’t told you yet.” Harriet creased her brow, one line between her eyebrows, and tilted her head off to the right.
“Harriet. . .I’m a hero.”
“I’ll be damned!”
“I doubt it. You’re too pretty. Care to take a walk?”
“Does it matter?”
“I suppose not, all things considering. . .”
“You’ll take care of McTortle, right Buck?”
“What about Yabu’s wall?!”
“What about it?”
“He’s gonna build it through town keepin’ out all the bad tings. The things he don’t like.”
“No. People too, more’n likely.”
“I ‘spect so. But, tell me. . .is it built yet?”
“Well, then. No worries.”
“But we gotta keep it from bein’ built, damn it! It ain’t right.”
“Why ain’t it right, McTortle? He was given the task by his guru, Dr. Hiram Evananda, Master of the race. Surely, Yabu believes in whatever he’s told.”
“But it ain’t right, shuttin’ good people out.”
“No, I s’pose you’re right. But Yabu doesn’t consider them good people and that’s what’s important.”
“Well, people don’t have to buy into it. If he thinks it’s important, let him build it. He’ll stop sure enough if nobody else thinks it’s important. I think what y’all oughta do it take up a collection to help him finance the building of his wall. He’s precious protective of his own money, y’know. Getting someone else’s to do the job would be mighty pleasing, don’t you think?”
“Ain’t that self-defeatin’?”
“Nope. If you donate to the building of the wall, you get to know where the wall’s going before it’s gone there and so you can organize yourselves. After all, sooner or later he’s going to need supplies, right?”
“Yeah. I ‘spec’ so.”
“Well. . .here’s a stack of money,” and Hellecchino dipped into his back pocket. “I want you to go on over to the real estate office and buy up a strip of land just outside of town. . .like right where the Chisholm Trail bends round to come into town. You buy up the land so it crosses that road. A half mile on either side and 100 yards wide. When you got title, come and find me.”
“Whatcha gonna do with a piddlin’ piece o’ land like that? Can’t hardly build a house on it.”
“Why you gotta keep throwin’ up blockades to success, Buck? We don’t have no need of a devil’s advocate here,” scolded Harriet, putting her hands on her shapely hips.
“I’m only tryin’–”
“You stop tryin’. You’re tryin’ to second guess a hero here. You can’t know what he’s thinkin’.”
“Yeah, but I wanna. Any harm in that?”
“I’ll tell, ya, Buck,” said Hellecchino, putting his hand on Harriet’s left hip hand, “if I tell ya what it is I’m up to, you’ll know too much. If you don’t know why I want a stupid strip of land for, so much the better. But it’s your land, Buck. And you’re already known for being kinda mindless, right?”
“Well, the agent will just put it down to another stupid Buck move and think nothin’ of selling you a useless bit o’ land ’cause his goal is to make money.”
“Y’mean. . .what I don’t know won’t hurt me?”
“In this case, yes. Though it might be more to the point to say what you don’t know won’t hurt me and alot of other folk.”
“Damn! I never knew ignorance could be so useful!”
“Y’don’t know everything, Buck.”
“Goddamn it, Harriet! Why th’ hell you always comin’ down on me?!”
“Come on, Miss Harriet, let’s go for our walk. I’d like to see the cemetery.”
“There’s more than one?”
“Sure. One for us and one for Yabu’s men and one for the Yabu family.”
“Whatchu wanna go to the cemetery for on yore first date, Hellecchino?”
“‘Cause it’s quiet.”
And with that, Hellecchino steered Harriet down the street and around the corner, despite her quiet insistence that they needed to go the other way. Hellecchino told her, soto voce too, that there was more than one road to take to get somewhere and there was no more arguing. Buck when on to the real estate office, another DIY operation, while McTortle was left in the middle of the street spluttering and turning in circles over nothing getting done to solve the problem of the wall. Finally, he scratched his head and went on home, thinking that some heroes are really weird. . . and perhaps not worth their weight in salt.
Hellecchino, meanwhile, was banking on history. And psychology. How many walls have been built down through history to keep certain kinds of people out? Hadrian’s Wall. Didn’t keep the Picts out. The Great Wall of China. Didn’t keep the Xiangnu and other northern barbarians out. Flodden Wall. Didn’t keep the Brits out. Jericho’s walls. They came tumbling down. The Berlin Wall. This one came tumbling down, too. The Israeli Roadmap to Peace Wall. It was difficult to tell whether this was keeping its own in or out. Prison Wall. Nope. No good. Prisoners still got in. The Southern Border Wall, really a huge electrified barbed wire concentration camp type affair keeping Texans in and Texans out. It weren’t no good neither. So, what was one more wall? Certainly couldn’t be no worse than Frost’s Fence!
Well, Hellecchino had a plan. As all heroes do. It had to do with logistics.
Here are some questions to consider:
1) How’s Yabu going to get his wall built?
2) What’s Hellecchino going to do with Buck’s piece of land?
3) What if Yabu makes a mistake?
4) Does it really matter?
Well. . .a few days later, Buck found Hellecchino and Harriet sitting under a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g. And he was waving a piece of paper.
“What is it, Buck? Can’t you see I’m busy cementing social relationships?”
“But I got the land. Here’s the title.”
“Good boy. Now go build on it.”
“A block house. Cinder blocks. A door and two windows.”
“One on either side of the door?”
“Yes. So it looks like a mouth and two eyes.”
“And then what?”
“But I got a house.”
“This is more than a house, Buck. This is a business. When you’re done with the house, you build a little three foot high pedestal alongside of the road, one on either side of the road, and you get a pole made that’ll fit into the slots you made in the tops of the pedestals. But you don’t use it yet. You keep it behind your house, where the ladder to the top of the house is.”
“What I need a ladder to the top of my house for?”
“Because up there you’re going to build a little garden with a little table and a couple three chairs. Maybe even an umbrella or something.”
“You want me to do all this?”
“Yep. I ‘spect there’ll be lotsa people wanna help a crip do himself up good.”
“I guess so. But. . .I don’t like pretendin’ and whinin’ an’ such.”
“The hell you don’t! Just gowan out’n do what you’re told for once in your life!”
“Now, Harriet, don’t be so hard on the guy,” soothed Hellecchino. “Look,” he turned to Buck, “you want to build this yourself?”
“Well, then. . .play on your disability to get all those people who don’t really care about you to help you.”
“You think they will?”
“Anything to get you outa their hair. Besides. They’ll consider it fulfilling a debt to society.”
Buck hobbled off into town.
“What have you got up your sleeve, Hellecchino?”
“Buck owns that strip of land and the road running through it. He’s going to have to control traffic if he’s going to live a quiet life. So. . .once Yabu starts building his wall, Buck sets up a traffic gate and charges toll to get past.”
“So not only does he create a problem for Yabu, he makes a livin’ on his own.” Harriet smiled broadly and then kissed her hero. “My! You’re amazing, Hellecchino. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because you were looking at the wall as a problem for you when, in fact, it’s a problem for Yabu. When people are the centre of attraction, they tend not to be paying attention to the periphery of life.”
“So, what happens next?”
“I think we outa get outa this heat and into some place more private and. . . comfortable.”
Some days later, there was a town meeting held out in the worker’s part of town. To be exact, in the minority meeting hall. Buck and McTortle organized it. Hellecchino was the featured speaker. It was all kind of hush-hush but that really didn’t matter as Yabu and his men stayed out of this section of town. It was considered not a good section of town. Especially not one to get into at night. Even the law stayed out. Although most people saw this as a slap in the face by a big three-fingered prejudiced hand, it was actually a very empowering situation. Hellecchino had a plan.
“Because certain people don’t like you and look down on you and could care less about you, you have power,” Hellecchino began. He was shouted and hooted but he held his place, held up his hand in time and continued on. “Y’all can organize. Y’see. . .these certain kinds of people don’t do the work themselves.” Murmurings of agreement on that, for sure. And then Hellecchino laid out the plan. It was very simple.
First, they hired themselves out, the unemployed or under-employed, which was close to 25% of these kinds of people, to build the wall. Being as there were always rabble rousers and unruly teenagers who liked to destroy things, they were to be enlisted in dismantling part of the wall every night, carefully restacking the blocks and whatnot alongside the wall. This way, it would take literally forever to finish the job. Yabu’d be terribly frustrated and would turn his energies to stopping the delinquency while the workers would be employed and making some kind of living, albeit, if everything when as per usual, not much of a one. But, then, something is better than nothing. . .and there was more to come. When the heat got up, the devilish social reprobate teenagers would cool it down and leave the wall building alone until vigilance became relaxed in the face of no threat and calm–and then they’d strike again. Only this time, they’d dismantle the beginning of the wall. There’d be enough work for everybody.
The next move was to move the shopkeepers’ families up to of their shops if their shops were going to be on the good side of the fence. This would force Yabu into rerouting his wall to exclude those particular shops–or buy them. In this latter instance, the shopkeepers were to bargain for the best price possible and then take the money and run, never to work in that shop again.
A few of the old boys began chuckling over this.
“Soon,” one of them said, “he gonna be needin’ what we got.”
“Exactly,” said Hellecchino. “If you’re on the wrong side of the wall, he isn’t going to get what he wants–”
“Or he gonna hafta rebuild his wall,” said another worker.
“An’ we ain’t gotta work if’n we been bought out,” said another faceless worker.
“An’ he ain’t got no bizniss sense,” shouted out a worker woman in the back of the hall.
“Shit! He kin jest import it,” countered another.
“Buck’s got a tollgate out on the Chisholm Trail. He owns a great stretch of land that the road runs through,” offered Hellecchino.
“Damn man! We set.”
There was a chorus of approval at this point and the evening was brought to an end.
Sometimes, all a hero’s got to do is kind of look at things a little askew.