January 28, 2011


This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So I added some imaginary elements and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.

“You’re just gonna make Freddie do the barn all by himself?”

Charlie laughed, “What, you wanna help him, gimp?”

Tommy Hastings scowled. Charlie went into the house and came out a few minutes later with a rifle grasped in one hand. He gave it to Tommy, saying, “Know how to use one of these?”

Tommy held up his hands, saying, “No! Why would I?”

Charlie’s narrowed his eyes said, “What are you, a girl?” Tommy lunged forward, making a grab for the rifle. Charlie yanked it out of his way, laughing. “Why’d I give you a gun if’n you don’t know how to use it?”

“I know how to use a gun!”

“It’s a rifle. And you said you didn’t…”

Tommy reached for the rifle again, saying, “Just give it to me. I know how to shoot rats.” Charlie didn’t move this time and Tommy yanked the rifle from his hand. Charlie’s laughter followed Tommy as he stalked deeper into the barn.

The rafters arched high overhead. As he stepped in, there was a rush of movement, as some things seemed to ripple out from him. He froze. A soft voice behind him said, “Ready to shoot ‘em up, little man?”

“I can shoot rats.”

Charlie waved at him as he turned, “Then have at it, little man. Here’s some more ammo – if you can use the ones I gave you!” He tossed a handful of shells to the floor then turned to leave. He was gone.

Tommy turned slowly, looking at the stacks of bales of hay that reached the rafters of the barn. It smelled sweet and grassy, almost as good as fresh-mowed lawn in Loring Park after the grounds keepers had swept through in the early morning. He cocked the rifle, rested the butt on his shoulder, pointing the muzzle high in the air at the roof and called out. He didn’t see any rats. He shouted, “"Come out and take it, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!" The line was from his favorite movie, “Taxi!” just before James Cagney kills a thug.

It really wasn’t that hard and after his first two, Tommy went hunting and surprised a half-dozen more before he stopped, sweating pouring from his face, to look down the ledge of hay bales. He’d nearly reached the rafters and was panting. He laid down the rifle then laid down himself, head hanging over the distant floor.

He saw a few more rats slink out a moment later, taking the rifle and popping off two more, though he missed three – shooting from his belly was harder than he’d expected. He waited for the next rat and his thoughts wandered, then froze when they came to the mobsters and his uncle, the socialist. He wondered why Charlie’s dad hated them so much? Why did he think of mobsters and socialists together? What if they were the same thing?

He rolled on to his back, stared at the ceiling for a while then got up, satisfied. He’d go have a talk with Charlie – about rats, mobsters and socialists.

image: http://www.leninimports.com/andy_warhol_james_cagney_1964.jpg

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