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Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005 06:26 pm

Christmas stories

Wishes, cards, photographs, trees, stress, and memories

The last Christmas cards
Annie finds uncommon strength and changes her family forever

Annie was a small woman — some would even say slight — yet she was more than adequate in a mother’s determination to care for her family and run a proper household. She was clean, neat, smart, and had some style about her. However, Annie deserved a better situation. She had married well enough, but the stress of running a home and raising three boys on her husband’s limited income and endless empty promises was taking its toll. They had turned down the heat to save a few bucks, but there were times when she just wanted to be warm at least for a little while. Andy was not lazy. He had a steady job. The problem was, he just couldn’t get home with all he was paid. He meant well, but something in a man makes him want to be the hero, to strut into the house and hand his woman more than enough dollars, more than just the bacon. He wants to present the whole hog. Andy wanted to do that very much. He knew he could, if only the cards would fall his way. It became an obsession with him. Unfortunately, his card-playing buddies were more skilled than he was. Part of Andy’s paycheck was diluted in the dim and smoky card rooms and ended up going home in other men’s pockets. He ached at his failures, making promises to himself every time to never get caught up in a card game again. Winter was nudging in. Rain had come, then froze, followed by sleet and, on that day, a dusting of snow, all reminders that weeks and weeks of winter, with their extra expenses, were just ahead. Annie was angry and distressed at the shortage of cash. She prayed for an improvement in the situation. She put the supper on the table and all sat down. After the eating was over and the boys had gone to do their own things, Annie said to Andy, “There has to be a change here. We can’t go on this way. Our expenses are mounting. Christmas is coming closer, and we don’t have a spare dime. Those boys deserve a decent Christmas. Please stay away from the cards.”
Andy agreed, leaned back in his chair and said, “Don’t worry your pretty little head. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be getting my Christmas bonus. We’ll be on easy street. You can go to the IGA and fill a grocery cart, maybe two. Get whatever you want for the boys. And I want you to spend some money on yourself, too — get your hair done; buy some shoes, new pajamas. You wait and see. We’ll have a dandy Christmas.”
Like a good wife, Annie wanted to believe it, though she had heard it before. Their small tree was decorated with strings of popcorn, paper chains, and cranberries. Red-and-green cellophane wreaths hung in the windows. There was a coziness in the small house. The winter days passed. It was late in the week just before Christmas. Darkness came early. A cold, blustery wind made the tree limbs rattle and the streetlights sway. Eerie shadows moved on the frosted window glass. The furnace murmured and rumbled, driving cold from the room to add a measure of comfort. Annie was growing tense. “Andy should be home by now with the bonus money,” she thought. All day she had been thinking about it, hoping against hope that he would do as promised and come straight home with all the money. Annie told the boys to go ahead and help themselves to the soup, that she had an errand to tend to. She put a long coat on over her apron, a scarf on her head, and thrust her hands deep into her pockets as she went out. Most of the shops were closed and dark. Only a few cars could be seen. Annie went down the south alley looking for what she did not want to find — Andy’s car and a broken promise. Still she searched with uneasy steps. The rough ice and cold went through the thin soles of her shoes. No one else moved about. Annie was alone. She crossed Main Street, turned north up the east alley and walked past the old livery stable, past the rear of an empty hotel, past trash cans and barking dogs. A dim light showed through the rear window of the pool hall. The sound of the men’s voices distilled out into the night. A few paces farther, and she saw Andy’s car. Frost covered the surfaces, proving to Annie that it had been there for some time. Anger and disappointment began to rise up in her. Her slim body quaked from the cold and anxiety. With halting steps and light breaths, she approached the door. Looking through the dirty glass and past a window shade, she saw the circle of men, sitting like monks in meditation, each with a hand of cards. Andy was there, and there was no joy on his face. There was a pile of money on the table. “Andy’s bonus money,” she thought. The sight was too much for her. With the strength that only women know about, coming from some other source, she turned the knob and gave the door a mighty kick. It flew open with a sound like a clap of thunder. The men froze, wondering what was coming next. For a brief moment, there was a terrible silence like a burning fuse. Annie looked around and spotted the only weapon she knew: a strong-handled broom. She grabbed it and put every ounce of her strength into a magnificent swing. Broomstraw, hats, playing cards, and greenbacks scattered in every direction. Big men showed fear. She swung again, and again, and again, till there was not a straw left in the broom nor a man left in the room — save for Andy, cowering, petrified, and disheveled in a darkened corner. Annie gave him a withering look of disgust, then looked at all the money. Sobbing quietly in the now-still room, she began picking up the bills without hurry, ironing them with her hand, turning each one so that all the denominations were upright and neatly in place. When no more could be found, she stood up, dried her eyes, and put the money in her apron pocket. She closed her coat over the winnings and stepping out into the night. The sky was crisp and clear. The stars were bright and beautiful. She saw in them the promise of new direction, with no more cards. “Thank you, Lord,” she whispered.
There was honor among the circle of card players present on the cold winter night Annie emptied the room. None of them ever claimed or asked for any of the money. It was a long, long time before they even talked about it. Andy played no more cards. In the spring, Annie and her family did find a new direction. They moved closer to Andy’s work and farther from the influences that played on his weaknesses. The boys adjusted to the new location, actually thrived on it. By fall, they were ready to march off to a new school where education and social opportunities were greater than the one left behind. A few years later, I was shopping in a department store near where the family had moved. As I passed the women’s department, I noticed a clerk who looked familiar. With a bit of recall, I realized that it was Annie. “Unbelievable!” I thought. Her frown and stress lines were gone. Her hair was beautiful. Annie was no longer thin; she had rounded out till curves and contours made her a striking model. She moved with the confidence and composure of a happy lady. I felt immense admiration for her, felt good that she had the strength and determination to get where she wanted to be. She deserved no less.

Roy L. French has written a Christmas story for Illinois Times for many years. He is a writer, photographer, and man of many hats. He lives with his wife, Barbara, in Virginia, Ill.

Something magical
People here seem to have a special passion for the holiday

Because it’s a Christian celebration, Christmas follows some basic rules by tradition, yet this celebration varies from country to country. This has been my first Christmas season that I have spent away from my home country of Brazil, and it has been very interesting to notice these cultural differences. Here in the United States, there is something magical in the air during this season. The way people decorate their houses and buy a lot of presents, the Christmas music that is played all the time on the radio and in the stores, the clothing with holiday themes and designs, all create a different atmosphere, one of adoration for Christmas. When it snows, the effect is magnified. In my country, it does not snow, and I have noticed that here snow gives a special touch to the Christmas spirit, and everyone seems a little happier during this season. That’s not to say there isn’t a Christmas tradition in Brazil. We decorate our houses, we buy presents, and we believe in Santa Claus, too. But here, people have a special passion for this time of year; they give themselves up wholly to this special holiday.

Camila Blumenschein is a Brazilian journalism graduate and intern at Illinois Times. Contact her at camila.blue@ig.com.br.

"Logan points at tree"
Or how a 4-foot-tall spruce saved Christmas

The parade of cars and vans pulled away, taking my family and friends with it. Logan and I were alone for the first time. Surrounded by more friends than we could handle, I had sometimes longed for the days of anonymity in a city — but now, as the caravan rolled off down South Grand Avenue, I realized that my husband and I were newlyweds, living in a new place. The months went by quickly — plenty of movies, board (bored?)-game nights, trips to Hunan restaurant. When Christmas reared its head, we debated whether to buy and decorate a tree. “We’ll be the only ones to see it,” we said, a statement that wasn’t completely false. Three people, other than us, have laid eyes on our beautiful mess of a tree. Our rather large, and rather empty, apartment didn’t feel like home. Without a kitchen table, we spent most evenings eating at the coffee table. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, after a long weekend with family and friends, we came back to our apartment, which now looked that much emptier. After returning to Springfield with a tree in tow — the thought that Logan and I wouldn’t have a Christmas spruce was too sad for my mother to bear — we decided to give the tree idea a go, cranked up the Los Straitjackets Christmas album, and went to work. We hung gold lights, gold tinsel, red ball ornaments, and a blue station-wagon ornament (a tribute to Logan’s ’87 station wagon). The real vehicle sits stationary in our parking lot, inert since the front passenger window was busted out recently.
Whenever one of us has a bad day, Logan flicks on the Christmas-tree lights. Last week I found a disposable camera with a few exposures left on it. We needed some physical proof of our first Christmas together. We don’t know anyone here quite well enough to get them to drag themselves through the snow, over to our place, to take a picture of us together in our pajamas, dwarfing a 4-foot Christmas tree, and so the photos will have such titles as “Logan lies in front of tree,” “Marissa hides behind tree,” and “Logan points at tree.”
The silly pictures will always remind me of our first Christmas together and the little tree that finally made Springfield and our apartment feel like home. Maybe we’ll never take it down.

Contact Marissa Monson at mmonson@illinoistimes.com.

A working holiday
Christmas is hell on a young man trying to find steady work

If the average college graduate is supposed to earn about $28,000, in December 2000 somebody owed me $10,008. I made $8.65 an hour for the most humdrum, exhausting labor in a college-textbook warehouse. The irony alone was worth an extra buck-thirty-five. Graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia also signaled the time when I could no longer, as far as my grandmother was concerned, skate by with putting my name on the Christmas gifts my parents passed out. “Riiiiine,” she said, stretching out my name in her high-pitched Arkansas accent, “you grown now. Next Christmas, I want you come through that door with presents for me and all these children” (my cousins). The subject inevitably turned to my lack of a “real job.”
“Riiiiine, where you workin’?” she asked. I told her; she disapproved. “You need to go on down to Shop ’n Save and put in an application. You a grown man now. You need to be workin’.”
Technically, I did work — as a freelance writer, intermittent intern, and part-time employee, living out some romanticized bohemian existence in St. Louis. My hope was that one of the start-up publications I wrote for would “blow up” or that I’d land a staff position at the local alternative newspaper — and I loved hustling. But year after year, Christmas rolled around and I found myself in no better position than I had been in on the previous holiday — and, as my granny was not at all reluctant to point out, I hadn’t grown up, either. In fact, I was a boomerang kid, spending my twenties, my adulthood, not terribly differently from how I had lived as a child. That thought depressed and scared the hell out of me.
I was even more terrified when I took a job with a shipping company and found not only that several of the supervisors had college degrees but also that one of my homeboys from school had been loading trucks there since graduation. What if I never get a job? I wondered. Worse, what if I have to settle for just being regular? According to my grandmother, the only way out of that rut was through a strong work ethic, no matter what the job entailed. I doubt she was suggesting that Christmas is about presents. As the oldest child and youngest adult in my family, I have a bird’s-eye view of what should be my future, in which adults work hard to give the kids the best life and Christmas they possibly can, as well as the past. It wasn’t long ago that, like my younger siblings and cousins, I looked forward to Christmas because of what I thought the holiday was about. Like a child’s holiday wish list that includes a few reasonable requests and a Hail Mary or two, Christmas provides hope that maybe one day there really will be peace on Earth — or, at the very least, I hoped, the Flipside’s advertising revenues would increase enough to provide a steady paycheck. That hope, nevertheless, seemed to last only until about Jan. 2, when I found myself in a bear suit and lab coat, flourishing a toothbrush to toddlers in rural Missouri for a health-care company or scaling a 12-foot ladder to retrieve 94 copies of Biology.

Contact staff writer R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.

Christmas 1954
Photograph brings back memory of forgotten tractor

As the son of a professional photographer, I spent most of my first 18 years looking into cameras from the front and the rest of my life looking into them from the back. Before Mom retired to Florida in 1979, she gave me a small Bressmer’s Department Store gift box full of snapshots taken of me before high school. This year, remembering Christmases past. I opened that box for the first time in years and found my heart captured by a smiling 5-year-old boy, seated on a brand-new yellow pedal-power tractor in front of the Christmas tree. The 5-year-old was me. He still is. My 2-years-younger brother, Bill, and I knew that Christmas was coming by the “Santa clues” that came our way after Thanksgiving. The true harbinger of the season was the thick catalog from Sears, Roebuck and Co. Sears had just opened a big store at Second Street and South Grand Avenue. For many years during the Christmas season, the store displayed a magnificent Lionel-train setup that could be seen from the street, from the northeast corner window, as well as from the inside. While Mom shopped in the women’s-wear department, Bill and I hung out by the trains. Even in my kindergarten days, the store, on the south-central side of Springfield, was taking trade from downtown. Sears was the store we visited most often with Mom at Christmas and the rest of the year. It was closer to where we lived on Whittier Avenue, and the parking was free. What a combination!
Though it seems strange today, even though we could see the toys at the stores, nothing held my interest as much as the Sears Christmas catalog.
We lived in a great neighborhood, and it was obvious that our family was doing OK, yet I knew that Mom and Dad weren’t made of money. When the catalogs came, we had a period of negotiation with my parents who clearly had the inside track with Santa Claus. One year, circa 1954, I spent part of a cozy November evening hunched over the toy section with a tablet, writing down everything I wanted for Christmas and its price. At the end of the effort, I added the prices and knew that I was in for a horrible holiday. There must have been 30 items on the list, from a play gas-station garage to an Erector Set, Lincoln Logs (the square ones were easier to work with, but the new cylindrical ones looked a lot neater), a Mr. Potato Head (potato supplied by Mom and Dad and the noses, mustaches, lips, and the rest of the features in the box) and a giant metal DC-6 airliner with propellers that moved when you pushed it. The total came to $82.50 — about the cost of a used Nash Rambler, if I remember correctly. I felt as if I was asking Mom and Dad to rob the bank, and I apologized when I gave them my list. Yes, I knew I couldn’t have everything, but it would be so incredibly wonderful if most of it showed up under the tree. I saw the big yellow tractor at Sears: the answer to a dream. It was the best single present I ever had. The aroma of fresh yellow enamel when I put my nose on it and inhaled was as good as any fragrance I would ever encounter with the lights on. The feel of cold steel when I put my hand on the steering wheel portended power and adventure. It was a time when the temperature outside didn’t matter, and I rode it relentlessly for about three months, from our house up to Ash Street and back. This tractor was my move to the top of the tri-wheeled mountain! But it didn’t last; when the weather began to warm, I graduated to my first bicycle, a 20-inch Huffy, and Bill inherited my hand-me-down steed. My pride of 1954 had disappeared by fall. I think Mom gave it to the friend of a friend. I didn’t even miss it until I saw the picture again this year. I’m glad Dad was a picture-taker. He showed his kids that they were important when he took out his Rolleiflex. I would carry that connection to a semicareer as a photographer in my own right. Pictures, especially Christmas pictures, are great. Christmas pictures mean that you never have to say, “I don’t remember.”

Job Conger, a Springfield poet and writer, is a regular contributor to Illinois Times.

Secret Christmas
A birthday party in the old Soviet Union

A young man walked slowly on the crunchy snow. The bright stars made the fluffy drifts shine, and for a moment he admired the calm night scene. But he couldn’t afford to relax: The young man was on duty. He was the Christmas guardian. Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. He could barely hear the words of the well-known carol though the tightly closed door of the house. There, instead of church, the descendants of German immigrants had gathered. More than 200 years earlier, their people had come to Russia, but during World War II Josef Stalin sent them to the very ends of the Soviet empire. Stalin was afraid that these people would help the fascist invaders. Many “enemies of Soviet people” (what Germans were called, almost officially) found themselves in strange new places, such as Kyrgyzstan. They were not prisoners in the full meaning of the word but could not leave the place of deportation and had to report regularly to a militia station. They lost all of their rights and could be punished severely for the smallest misdeed. In the old Soviet Union, people could lose their jobs just for visiting a church or professing a belief in God, but the German diaspora in this small mountain village didn’t even have that privilege. There was no church; there were no priests. But it didn’t stop them from celebrating Christmas in 1959. The guardian saw a skinny figure, wearing a militia uniform, in the distance. The guardian rushed inside the house. “Militia!” he warned, his face red from the cold outside and fear inside. A few kept singing for a few seconds, then everyone fell silent. “Everyone sit at the table!” ordered Henrik, one of the group’s leaders. “Quickly!”
People knew what they supposed to do, for they had discussed this scenario many times before. They were risking a great deal by celebrating Christmas — they could have been prosecuted for involving minors in a religious organization, which would mean years of prison. So now they would pretend to be having a late supper together. “Good evening, dear comrade!” Henrik greeted Ashat as he stepped into the room, looking suspiciously at everyone. “Sit down! Drink with us for a birthday girl!”
“Hmm, and whose birthday is that?” the militiaman asked. “Here is Linda, our honored milk girl,” Henrik said, pointing at a middle-aged woman with thin, tightly closed lips. “This year she milked . . .”
But Henrik could not tell how many liters of milk had Linda taken from the cows. Ashat parked himself on the wooden stool by the door and pulled a notebook from his shabby briefcase. “It is strange, but Linda Schwartz’s birthday is in February, by official documents,” he said. The Germans said nothing. “Who does not make mistakes, dear comrade!” Henrik said, trying hard to smile, as he suggested the official documents could be wrong. “They just forgot to put digit ‘1’ in front of ‘2,’ so, instead of December, her birthday became February in the official papers.”
“But you know what it means?” Henrik continued. “It means we all will have another reason to get together one more time in February! Dear comrade, drink for the health of Linda!”
Henrik jumped to the table and picked up a bottle of vodka. He started to take off the metal cap, but his hands didn’t obey. “Hmmm, you are celebrating a birthday but didn’t open vodka yet? There is something strange!” Ashat said. “So, citizen Germans, why exactly have you gathered here at night on Dec. 24? Answer my question!”
No response. A woman sobbed. Henrik screwed up his courage: “Dear comrade Ashat, we are here, indeed, to celebrate a birthday. Join us. Share our food, and feel free to take some to your family, your beautiful wife, and your two children.”
The militiaman was still suspicious, but, he figured, he couldn’t prove anything. Once he spotted the German sausages, all of sudden that didn’t seem important. “At least I will eat well,” he said to himself. “My wife likes your pastry, too,” he said to Henrik. The Germans started to smile, and, following Henrik’s lead, they began to share their food with the militiaman.  That’s how they paid for their right to celebrate Christmas in the Soviet Union in 1959.

Mila Dvoretskaya-Lemme, a frequent contributor to Illinois Times, emigrated to the United States from Kazakhstan. She says that she was inspired to write the story, based on the memories of a Catholic monk she interviewed there, three years ago.

Christmas wishes
Things didn't turn out as expected, but that's OK

When I say that I grew up in a home without a television, it sounds like the preamble to some yarn about how I walked 6 miles to school every day, barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways. The truth has more to do with My Mother’s child-rearing eccentricities than poverty or (as my children might guess) my birth’s predating the advent of electricity. Still, for my first couple of decades on earth, I just knew that I had been criminally deprived of some sacred necessity, as though TV ranked among other inalienable rights such as Popsicles in the summer and getting to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Looking back, well, maybe I was onto something. See, without television, you don’t get commercials. And without commercials, you lack the basic pop-culture landmarks that brainwash you into asking for all the appropriate toys from Santa. Like the Christmas I was 5. A suitable wish list might have included Malibu Barbie, an Easy-Bake Oven, a Twister game and a Spirograph. Having never heard of such stuff (did I mention that My Mother wouldn’t let me attend kindergarten, and therefore I had no friends?), I asked for a typewriter and a cowboy outfit. Don’t ask me why. I couldn’t read then (remember, no kindergarten), so I can’t imagine what inspired my yearning for a typewriter. As for the cowboy outfit, I can only assume that at some point I caught an episode of Bonanza on somebody else’s TV. But all these years later, I can still say this for sure: When I asked for a typewriter, I was envisioning something like the IBM Selectric on my dad’s secretary’s desk. And when I asked for a cowboy outfit, I meant a cowboy outfit — dungarees, a Western shirt, maybe even boots, and a cap pistol of my very own. On Christmas morning, it took all the grace I could muster to disguise the depth of my disappointment. I got a typewriter, all right, but it was a worn-out antique, housed in a case that reeked of ink, gritty gray eraser dust, and mold. The cowboy outfit was an even bigger bummer: Instead of blue jeans and a snappy shirt, I got a cute little skirt with fringe and an embroidered vest. It was perfectly precious; I was totally horrified. My brother let me borrow his six-shooter just long enough to pose for a snapshot in front of the family Christmas tree. I aimed the gun at Dad’s Brownie camera and squeezed out a halfhearted smile. Turns out I was totally wrong about the typewriter. Even though the keys tended to stick together and the cloth ribbon was pocked with a few e-shaped holes, that miniature manual Corona became my best friend. When I used it to copy from a book, it taught me to read. By the time I entered first grade, I was using it to create a complete list of every word I knew how to spell — a hobby not unlike knitting a scarf that never came to an end. It would be fair to say that I’m still playing with typewriters today. As for the cowgirl outfit, the Christmas snapshot captured one of the few times I donned that god-awful get-up. Now that I’m older than My Mother was when she gave it to me, I have a wardrobe built on denim and a nice collection of Western shirts. Oh, and one more thing: I’ve tried TV. There are infinitely more choices now than there were when I was a kid, but I seem to spend more time channel-surfing than I do watching anything at all. The television has, though, influenced my Christmas wish list. This year, I’m asking Santa for fewer reality shows, more actresses with a bit of meat on their bones, and for all the kids fighting in Iraq to arrive safely home.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.

Yes, Ann, there is a Santa Claus
The last true believer finds someone new with all the answers

Hank Mibble grew up in an orphanage, expected life to be rough, and selected his hero accordingly. He latched onto the John Wayne he saw in the out-of-date Friday-night movies shown as the orphanage’s only entertainment, latched on with both hands. Hank vowed never to let the Duke down, to always guide his life by asking himself, “What would John do?”
At 18, Hank did his duty as he knew John Wayne would do his duty — and joined the Army. Hank served well. He was no hero with medals, only because no event calling for heroism crossed his path. But he did participate in a firefight, evidenced by a small shrapnel wound high on his left cheek, near his eye. A year into his service, Hank and four buddies, drunk on youth and Jack Daniel’s, stumbled into a tattoo parlor. The other four, more accustomed to drink than Hank, each ended up with a one-inch American flag on his shoulder, Hank covered over his cheek scar with the same one-inch flag — held aloft by a two-inch John Wayne. All told, it measured half a cheek and completely surrounded half an eye.
His tattoo raised him a notch in fighting-man stature. Before, he was considered steady but dull, but he was now considered a bit wild — and tough. Better yet, everyone started calling him “Duke.”
Hank was discharged to Southern California, liked the weather, and decided to stay put. He was willing to take most any job, but no jobs were willing to take a man with an eye and half-cheek full of John Wayne. Hard times. But Hank would no more abandon the tattoo than he’d abandon the Duke himself. Eventually low on cash and hungry, Hank migrated to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, where the Love-Everyone, Tolerate-Everyone Flower Children of the early ’70s mocked John Wayne, called Hank a warmonger, and kicked him to the street. “What would John do?” No specific answer, but Hank knew that the Duke would never desert a principle. The tattoo would stay. Years passed, with no change in Hank’s fortune. Then one day, as Hank hid in the shadow of his favorite Dumpster, a gust of wind wrapped a newspaper around his head. On the open page was a short paragraph announcing the time and place of his old Army unit’s reunion, in San Diego. A harbinger of better times? And what were the odds that page blew his way? He did not discount the possibility that the Duke himself somehow had had a hand in it. Dressed in not much more than the dirty red bathrobe he’d found in the Dumpster and sporting prematurely white hair and a full white beard, Hank Mibble walked the 100 miles to the reunion, arriving just as his former comrades were pounding down their sixth keg of Budweiser. They took a quick look, snarled, and repeated the flower children’s reaction years before: They called him a longhaired peacenik traitor and bum-rushed him to the street. “What would John do?” No specific answer, but Hank knew that the Duke would never desert a principle. The tattoo would stay. It was more years of hard times and Dumpsters before Hank garnered the courage to seek specific answers. It was time — time to go to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the place of movie stars’ foot and hand imprints. Time to stand in John Wayne’s footprints, place his hand in John Wayne’s handprint, and bond completely with his hero. Time for the Duke to tell him specifics, to lead Hank away from troubles — to absolute truth. Once he was there, there was no hesitation. Hank rushed to the Duke’s footprint, and found . . . if you’ve been there, you know . . . John Wayne had a size 5AAA shoe! A childlike fist! A man of average size, Hank found that his foot was twice as big as John Wayne’s and his fist half again as large as John Wayne’s. John Wayne was apparently a tiny little man or a woman — or both! John Wayne was a lie!
Unfortunately, Hank had been worshipping his hero so long that he needed another, someone who knew all things absolutely — no more unspecified answers. His world had been gray long enough; he needed black-and-white. And he knew, from other newspapers blown his way over the years, that there lived only two such people: Al Franken and Ann Coulter. He selected Coulter only because she was the less expensive modification to his tattoo, requiring just a slight lengthening of the nose and a hair touch-up. John Wayne became Ann Coulter.
“What would Ann do?” The urge was uncontrollable: Hank Mibble — white beard, white hair, and knapsack over his shoulder — would head for Iraq this Christmas Day, to blow up “something.”
Or was it Iran? Iowa? He knew it started with an “I” and had four letters. He wondered: Which was closer?  

Doug Bybee Sr. is a frequent contributor. Contact him at DRRJBYBEE@aol.com.
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