Mr. Peanut Gets Unshelled

[Mr. Peanut aka “Pee”. Source: Google search]

On a recent road trip, I was driving through Georgia and noticed that peaches were a big item in most roadside food stands. But there was also billions of peanuts: salted, unsalted, boiled, plain, shelled and unshelled to satisfy any taste. It was outside the Peanut Emporium in Lumpkin when I noticed a swanky peanut walking back and forth, wearing an Emporium sandwich board.

I knew Mr. Peanut back in the day when we, the kids in the ‘hood, called him ‘Pee’. We all shied away from calling him Peanut because one fellow in our gang was…well, vertically challenged. Dooley was to go on and make a nice living as a circus clown. He was a midget. It was so many years ago, many details are lost in the fog of distant memories. Pee didn’t sport a cane, a monocle, a top hat and white gloves that matched his spats. Putting it simply: he was your basic peanut. No, all those accoutrements came from me after months of grooming and then reinventing him as Mr. Peanut. I quite liked the ‘pee’. And changing his style was the least I could do for a friend and convicted felon. I’m not totally sure but I do believe he is still wanted in three states out west for alleged mail fraud. Once he was transformed into a gentle peanut, he made a fair living parading up and down Court Street in Binghamton, New York. He was responsible for selling a mountain of peanuts in the Mr. Peanut Shop. The kids of that fair city (and a number of adults) certainly got their protein from all those stained paper bags of peanuts. The fact that they also had episodes of high blood pressure from the salt, but no one really cared about those things…back in the day.

But I digress.

A little about me. I’m just a washed-up scribbler. I wrote one novel about twenty-seven years ago that sold about thirty-one copies. I last saw a copy on the remainder shelf at a small independent bookstore in Macon, Georgia. I was a bummed out failed novelist but I was never alone. I’ve been to many Starbucks and everyone except the barista’s grandmother is a failed novelist. Successful novelists eat at the Plaza Hotel. So I moved on and roamed the south.

Let’s just say that I was born a ramblin’ man.

I write pieces for the local rag, the Del Rio Times, in Texas. I only write bits about topics that interest. So, I got a call from my editor, Oscar “Twinks” Rowbottom, to drive up to Marfa and check out a lead about someone called Peanut-something who was barricaded in a bungalow. Apparently, he was surrounded by SWAT teams and refused to come out until he had his shell back. No one knew where to find a six foot peanut shell…so it looked like it was going to be a long siege. I had nothing on my plate that couldn’t wait. My bottle of Rebel Yell was empty and I needed a new ribbon for my Underwood. Besides, I could use a break and a breath of fresh air. This room at the Hi-Ho Motel can get stuffy at times. The ceiling fan broke two weeks ago and the A/C was on the blink.

I have a certain degree of power over Mr. Rowbottom ever since I informed him that I had seen his wife duck under the boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey with her paddle-board instructor, a Mr. J. Farrington Tipton. “J” had a graduate degree in Particle Physics from Yale. After I became his mate he told me that his Yale degree didn’t allow him much scoring with women. The paddle-board gig, he confided, was a real chick magnet. What I was doing under the boardwalk is the stuff of another blog. Suffice it to say that I was with my new girlfriend, Dola, a carwash receptionist from Horn, Texas.

After Rowbottom heard my story, he collected a few friends and chased Tipton to the train station. He was last seen boarding the midnight train to Georgia.

So, here I am leaning against a digital parking meter in the rain. A large drop from a storm gutter high on the third floor of the Potter Savings and Loan building managed to find its way to the end of my Lucky Strike, dousing the red glow. I flicked the butt into the gutter and patted my jacket for a pack of smokes.

I heard a cop on a bull horn but failed to catch what was said because a truck passed by. I did hear a reply shouted from the surrounded house: “And, besides that, everyone is allergic to me!” I recognized Pee’s voice.

Just as my cigarette hit the pavement, I noticed the toe of a red stiletto crush out the butt. I followed the sight line from the foot, to the ankle, up the leg and finally settled on the wrinkled face of an old friend. It was Moxie Thornton, she has my job but with the competition, the Del Rio Gazette. Her once seductive size 6 figure had matured slightly into a size 12. Her dress still had a sale tag on the back collar. Moxie and I went way back. She sure was a looker back when I first met her…a real feast for the eyes. She was holding a torn gray umbrella with a smiley face, faded but still grinning. She invited me to join her under her umber-shoot. I moved next to her. I could smell the distinct scent of her favorite perfume, Sweet Addict.

“Moxie,” I said. “What a sight for tired old eyes.”

“You always say that, even to the nice girls.”

“Mox, this is a blog. You’re in my blog.”

“Cool”, she said during a yawn. “This is the first time I was ever allowed into your blogs. Gosh, I remember our first time so well. The plastic back seat of your ’59 Studebaker…”

“Let me tell you all about how to be in a blog,” I said. “But let’s do it over a drink at Sam’s Bar and Grill. It’s on me.”

I fingered my last twenty in my pocket.

“You always knew how to charm the ladies big guy.”

She slipped her arm through mine and we started to make our way, through the rain, to Sam’s.

“What about Mr. Peanut?” she asked. “You and I have deadlines.”

“I’ll decide how it all turns out with Pee,” I said. “After all, it’s my blog. And when I’m done, I won’t have any Jackassery to put up with from Rowbottom.”

In the end, it all turned out fine. The police talked Pee down and somehow located a shell for him. From where, I’ll never know. I haven’t written that part of the blog yet.

I do know that in the last scene, he was walking on the tarmac, in the fog, and left on a jet plane.

Of Time, Thomas Wolfe & Me

[The Thomas Wolfe House, Asheville, NC. Photo is mine]

“Each of us is all the sums he has not counted; subtract us into the nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas,”…

You, my readers, have no idea how long I’ve waited to use that quote in a blog or short story. Now, I sit in the 9th floor room of the Marriott Renaissance in Asheville, North Carolina. Just steps away from the hotel front door is Thomas Wolfe’s House. I can feel his presence. The quote puts into clarity the feelings I’ve always had about everyone’s shared history and the unbroken continuity of human relationships. I must be careful. I must be wary. Something I say or do, however small, will set in motion a chain of events that may not be apparent for a hundred centuries.

I grew up in Owego, New York, a small town in the south-central part of New York State. I am not ashamed to admit that I’ve had a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that that is not my home anymore. I’ve grown up and I’ve moved away. But something deep inside me tugs away and whispers in my ear: “You want to go home, don’t you?”

“A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.”

The spare, nearly naked choice of words…the sentiment…I’ve felt this too.

Many years ago Bob Dylan wrote these words:

“…she opened up a book of poems

And handed it to me

Written by an Italian poet

From the thirteenth century

And every one of them words rang true

And glowed like burning coal

Pouring off of every page

Like it was written in my soul…”

–“Tangled Up in Blue”

That’s the way the writing of Thomas Wolfe strikes me. The man knows me. He understands me. He has seen into my heart and he writes words that are usually just out of the touch of my fingers, on the tip of my tongue or just behind my eyes, or only in my dreams…on the rare midnight hours when I do dream. Dylan, of course, has the same effect. But this post is not about Bob. It’s about how Wolfe’s books reflect my take on life. The titles of his most popular novels are ones I would have chosen.

-Of Time And The River

-You Can’t Go Home Again

-Look Homeword, Angel

[The Angel. The inspiration for Wolfe. Now located on a private plot (not Wolfe’s) in Oakdale Cemetery in Hendersonville, NC. Source: Photo is mine]

I’ve read a fair number of books on the craft of writing and I’ve learned how the story arc is supposed to play out in fiction. The secret to almost all stories is the “Hero’s Journey”. Most, if not all, great tales use the common archetype: The protagonist sets out on a journey, he/she must overcome challenges (conflict)…the ultimate goal? To Go Home. Everyone wants to go home.

[Cover of a new edition. Source: Google search]

Examples abound: Dorothy wants to go back to Kansas, Odysseus wants to return to Penelope in Ithaca and most of the characters in Game of Thrones want to go home, wherever that is. For many years, Owego, NY, was that lodestone. And to some extent, it still is. I was happy growing up in that small river town. The cemetery on the hill. The river. The backyards. The children attending St. Patrick’s playing in the school yard. Standing on the Court Street Bridge and looking down at the Susquehanna River ice floes crash against the abutments. The autumn leaves that covered the Bluestone sidewalks. The smell of the burning leaves, back in the day. The snow piles. The smell of newly mown lawns.

It’s been said many times: “You can’t go home again”. In my late middle age years I went home again, to live. It was an act born of necessity. But, I found the adage true. You really can’t go home again.

But the urge surfaces every so often, when I’m not looking, when I’m not listening. The urge to go home.

In the end, though, where is home for me? I don’t know. Perhaps that’s the root cause of my restlessness…and my loneliness.

The Peanut

[Source: Wikipedia]
[source: Photo is mine]

Georgia, Georgia

The whole day through (The whole day through)

Just an old sweet song

Keeps Georgia on my mind.

—Hoagy Carmichael (1930) (Source: LyricFind)

Yes, we’ve left Florida and are now trying to survive in the oppressive heat of Macon, Georgia. For the last 100 miles or so I’ve had peanuts on my mind. I happen to enjoy a good peanut now and then. And who doesn’t like the taste of some organic peanut butter, spread unevenly on a piece of miniature pancake from Costco?

[Source: Wikipedia]

The simple legume, the peanut (Arachis hypogaea), has a complex nature. It can be very good for you (as a source of proteins) and at the same time be the death of you (high saturated fat). It took George Washington Carver (1864-1943), (the first African-American to earn a B.S.) to discover the varieties of products that can be derived from a peanut.

[Source: Wikipedia]

It all reminds me of a song we used to sing at Camp Barton, near Ithaca, when I was a Boy Scout:

“Found a peanut, found a peanut…

It was bad, it was bad…

Ate it anyway, ate it anyway…

I died.

Those Boy Scout leaders sure knew how to get an adolescent male’s juices flowing. But the song does highlight the fact there is a shelf-life for peanuts (1 month at room temperature).

The peanut goes by several different names: Groundnut, Goober, Pindar and Monkey Nut. I prefer the simple moniker of peanut. I know some places in New York City where if you asked the person behind the counter for some Monkey’s Nuts, you’ll get a small bag of something…I’d rather not go there.

As we made our way north on I-75 from Fort Meyers, Florida, I had my mind set on buying a small quantity of boiled peanuts, but all the billboards kept pushing were Pecans. I’m reminded of the time when I went to college in Louisiana in the 1960’s. I was talking to my roommate about how much I liked Pecan Pie. I was a Yank and I pronounced the word: pee-can. My room mate lost no time in correcting me: ”It’s pick-on”, he said. He went on describe what a pee-can was. I’ll leave it at that.

So, I see the temperature has dropped into the upper 80’s. I can bear going to our car to get something. In a few minutes I intend to venture out and retrieve a heating pad. All those hours in the car has made my back feel as though Ethel Merman just spent an hour dancing on my L2 and L3 region of my lower back while singing ”Everything’s Coming Up Roses”.

I’ll sit with the heating pad and watch another episode of The Blacklist on Netflix. I will rest assured that all is well in the world (it really isn’t) because in nearby Atlanta is the location of the National Peanut Board.

[Source: Photo taken by Mariam at 73 miles per hour]