Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Interlude Stories: Larry Strattner


Elmer and Sylvia visited the place two or three times before they made an offer. Elmer low-balled the owners. The downside; a house only three hundred feet back off County Trunk Q. The upside; forty acres out back. He sensed the old couple had no money and fewer prospects. He figured he could snare the place for a song.

He hated his name; Elmer. He told everyone in his old neighborhood his name was Buzz; as in the astronaut. His wife Sylvia; Sil. Buzz and Sil. Mysterious. Sexual. Inaccessible. Adventurous.

In reality Sylvia would balk like some stupid horse at the sun reflecting off a discarded gum wrapper. She didn’t like the dark and incessantly read Sylvia Brown books. She wondered, were their identical first names fate? Elmer told her 273,000 other women in the United States were named Sylvia. Even so she was spooked by her connection with Sylvia Brown. Elmer felt the need to get out of their current neighborhood before someone outed them. His solution; forty acres off County Q.

One acre abutted Q on either side of his new house. No one lived across the road. No house on either side was close. He might not ever have to deal with a neighbor. None looked like he’d have to go through any Buzz bullshit with them either.

Since no neighbor was close by Elmer hadn’t really studied the neighbors before he made his offer. All except one lived east, down the road; downwind. He knew at least one downwind person raised pigs but he couldn’t smell any pig odors up at his place.

After the sale closed he found out the pig guy, named Kade Neusteader, three houses down, part of a big local family, had some trouble with Child Services after chaining his son Ivan to a ring cemented into his cellar floor.

When County Child Services caught up to Neusteader he claimed, “I’m not the asshole here. You try having a kid drooling around and muttering behind you all day every day and see what you do. I would have put him in the attic but we don’t have an attic and the cellar is cooler in the summer. He throws a fit down there now and then but the pig pens are close to the house. They drown him out.”

Pig fits and kid fits, apparently, sound a lot alike. Even so the son, Ivan, scared Neusteader about having another kid. He was quoted as saying, “There’s no more room in the cellar.”

Neusteader also noted, “I picked my wife, Lily, to marry because she wasn’t a drooler or a mouth breather. Then we have one kid and I get Ivan.

“Lily’s father had a brother like Ivan. His father tripped him inside the pig pens one day and the pigs ate him. I think they filed a missing persons report. A chicken moved into the house to fill his spot.”

Fortunately for Lily’s dad, he had passed away the year before the County officials talked with Kade.

Elmer began to worry maybe an acre didn’t give him enough separation. The back forty went on forever and was bordered by a swamp. But Sylvia didn’t have all her marbles anyway. She mostly watched daytime television, stayed inside. Elmer guessed she hadn’t caught wind of the shenanigans down the road.

Down at the Seven Eleven buying beer, Elmer heard a conversation between two guys in dirty Carhart bib overalls leading him to believe pigs would eat anything. One manure spattered guy confided to the other, “Heard a rumor Clevis Starling caught a Fuller Brush guy with his wife. When Clevis got done the pigs ate what was left of the brush-bastard along with his sample case. Don’t know if it’s true. Big price for the brush fellow to pay if it is. Clevis’ wife would fit right in out in the pens. A real oinker. I never have seen a Fuller Brush man around here. I ran off the Mary Kay bitch. She wanted a lot of money for face paint. If I wanted someone with paint all over their face I would’ve married fucking Rembrandt.”

Elmer instituted a new policy. No friendly waves at anybody dressed in Carharts. No conversation with anybody in a neighboring yard. He kept his head down. Kept to himself. Decided to get a few horses to ride on his forty acres. Never said a word of his Buzz bullshit to anyone either.

While cutting out some brush behind the house to make a corral for his horse program Elmer discovered his first hunk of scrap metal. Hunk probably calls up a picture of something a bit smaller than what he dug up. The twisted sheets were more the size of a wall from those metal sheds you use to store equipment out in the yard. It was all crushed, like a herd of cows and a few tractors had run it over. Elmer hauled it out of the ground using a heavy chain hooked to his pickup truck.

Hard on the heels of the mangled shed he struck and hauled out crushed cars, broken farm machinery, sheet metal, rebar, windmill blades and a few TV antennas. Soon Elmer had a pile of scrap metal big enough to call the junkyard down in Atlanta. This Atlanta, by the way, is not that Atlanta. This Atlanta has a population of 300, is on a rusty rail line and a train runs once a week, maybe, and nobody in this Atlanta knows anything about peaches.

The old guy from the junkyard gave Elmer a low bid, he said because of the dirt all over everything. Even so, Elmer made a good dollar on his buried treasure. He used the cash to sink a new well. The old well was running slow and he felt he needed to step it up for the horses. The well driller went down a long way before water sprung clear. The well guy also said something about leaching Elmer didn’t understand. He fenced off the corral and bought three horses. One horse was white, one brown, one black; so he could tell them apart.

One day, after a couple of months as a country gentleman, Elmer decided to soak his weary feet in warm water. Sylvia boiled some up and Elmer sat back to relax. In exactly one hour all his toes were gone. There was no blood, no nothing. Toes were gone, stubs cauterized over. It’s difficult to walk with no toes. The EMTs who came to the house said he was lucky he took his feet out of the hot water when he did.

The County came over and tested his well. More shit in the water than a Mumbai restroom. Metal finishing chemicals from the big manufacturing plant a half mile over, liquid manure, weird growth hormones and god knew what else from Neusteader’s pig farm, salt and asphalt tracings from the highway and whatever the previous owners left. all leached into the water. The previous owners didn’t look quite so stupid anymore.
Down at the Seven Eleven they said, “Elmer should have known the goddamn place was a Superfund site. Supposed to have a disclosure on the property.” Elmer had never seen one.

He would’ve liked to blame the manufacturing plant. They put a restraining order on him and wouldn’t let him on the property. His lawyer said Elmer could look forward to about ten years of motions, if anything happened at all. Elmer found some special shoes to help him walk without toes.

Elmer got really pissed off at Kade Neusteader as well. He cornered Kade one day down at Seven Eleven. “You goddamn redneck, pig fucking, child beating asshole. Your goddamn pig shit, growth hormone, antibiotic runoff did this to me. You’re going to regret this for a long time.” He stumped off, laboriously got into his van and drove away in a spray of gravel.

Kade Neusteader never said a word during the whole thing. Stood there. Took it. Later a couple guys in dirty Carharts were talking. One said, “Some people get all upset about what they call our conditions out on County Q. But you know what? I see all this bullshit on the TV about the economy and taxes and free lunches and I’ll tell you one thing. You don’t see any of that out here on County Q. There’s no drag on the tax base out here. Anybody gives us any shit out here it’s into the pig pen with the fucker. All done. All through. It doesn’t matter how much of an asshole a person is. Pigs’ll eat anything.”

This last Seven Eleven conversation took place after Elmer Mallard had been missing for two weeks. Sylvia didn’t report him gone for the first week. She got wrapped up in a few soap operas and didn’t notice. State Patrol caught wind of the pigs comment at the Seven Eleven. Two Troopers drove by and visited Kade Neusteader. Nothing came of it. There wasn’t one shred of evidence.

Elmer’s place was condemned; the well plugged. Sylvia took the television and her Sylvia Brown books and moved back to live with her mother in Eustaceville.

BIO: Larry Strattner formerly wrote out of a small room in northern Wisconsin. He has relocated to a small room in Eureka, California and released a good, shoot-em-up book on Kindle ebooks in January "The Geek Assassin". Since he’s not famous, it is a thirty dollar story for only four bucks. Currently it is only available on Kindle.

1 comment:

AJ Hayes said...

This one for me ws like a ride in an airliner with weather ahead. There were a few sort of gentle bumpity-bumps to alert me, but I didn't reach down and tight strap my seatbelt until that damn chicken moved into the cellar kid's room. I'm sure glad I did strap down, because from then on it was sideways, upside down and backwards -- all at once. I'm double glad I put my coffee down too, because it's a painful thing to squirt caffiene out of your nose and this sure as Jesus was a rabbi would have made me do that. thanks for the laughs, Larry. And for the chicken warining too.