By: Steve Erdmann
The humid, limp summer breeze stalked them amidst the body sweat and flamboyant teenage talk. It was the St. Louis summer of a magical 1960: A time and place marked by historical and personal events that permeated Moriarty Wild’s every fiber of flesh and bone and also sank deep into his life-giving soul………..
The USSR had recently launched Sputnik 5, successfully retrieving two dogs, 40 rodents and two rats; the U.S had launched the Tiros 1 weather satellite, while America’s Mercury-Atlas 1 suborbital flight failed. Three thousand, five hundred American soldiers had been sent to fight in Vietnam. Gary Power’s U-2 spy plane was shot down by Russian Mach 3 surface-to-air SA-2 missiles; Nikita Khrushchev authorized a Soviet military base built in Cuba. The Federal Reserve voted to cut margin requirements from 90% to 70% allowing easier market investment. Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Penthouse was playing every week on TV, advertising his modern lifestyle of sleek sex and entertainment. The U.S Democratic convention nominated John Fitzgerald Kennedy as its presidential candidate; Vice-President Richard Nixon was nominated for the Republican nominee. Fidel Castro, Cuba, nationalized all U.S owned sugar factories. The Cern particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland became operational. France detonated its first atomic bomb. Presidential candidate John Kennedy spoke of America and the world as “entering a New Frontier” of existence.
It was, also. one of Moriarty Wild’s most exciting and vibrant evenings in a long time; walking from up-town St. Louis theaters to south-town Carondelet, Four buddies had been to see a Steve Reeve’s HERCULES UNCHAINED movie at the “fabulous” FOX Theater, amidst a metropolis of “The Great White Way” of thousand-seat fetes: The St. Louis, The Orpheum, The Pageant, The Missouri.; the Theater District, canopied with the magic music and trumpet sounds of nearby “World Famous” Gaslight Square. Moriarty recalled that it was from this very spot that he stood and watched the myriad floats celebrating the yearly Veiled Prophet Falstafian-style parade.
That might have been, at least, a five mile hike; talking about sundry things like big-time ‘wise guys’: sex, politics and school tripe: big, burly ex-Marine, and algebra instructor, Mr. Julius, barreled down the school hallway and single-handedly pinned an armed high school student against the corridor wall in an excellent judo-hold. Patricia Bowen, they swore, had the biggest and the best breasts they had ever seen; and she was relentless in advertising the fact. They debated as to what was the best part of a female’s anatomy; was it the calves or the butt? How fast could you recite your phone number without stammering: FL-1-3446, FL-1-34…? Should they divulge the secret ending of the Alfred Hitchcock summer-smash-thriller Psycho? Which was a bigger hit: Puppy Love by Paul Anka, or the Percy Faith orchestra’s Theme From A Summer Place? Was it true what they heard: that some kid got avalanched and smothered playing in the sand dune at the Sand Company by the edge of the Mississippi River at the foot of Davis Street? Did “you guys” watch the recent Twilight Zone episode “A Stop At Willoughby” where “this character steps off a train into a 1880- fantasy world?” A very unhappy 38-year-old ad agency executive enters a netherworld “in a desperate search for survival”: “You’re travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind, a journey into a wondrous land….”, so on and on, in rapid-fire fashion, awash in adolescent adrenaline…..…..
One bus came by; they let it go on; another and another, the boys eventually zigzagging from Grand avenue onto Michigan; soon the boys were passing the small business district west of the St. Anthony of Padua Church and passing favorite hang-outs and business sites such as Schaefer’s Hobby Shop and Winkelmann’s Drug store, and encountering the last of a chain of small neighborhood ‘shows’ that doted the community, many on Michigan Avenue: The Dakota, The Michigan, The Virginia. Unrelenting, their healthy teenage skeletal frames hardly seemed phased by robust walking. Two of the boys trailed down Krause Street to their homes. Moriarty began to note the customary fear, the sickening twist and cramps in the pit of his stomach as he neared his destination, but he forbade it from taking control of his attention and he drove himself back into the spasm of jumping about in play-acting and dervish-like flamboyant camaraderie. The time was well after midnight.
Moriarty eventually said “good night” to his next-door pal and suddenly stopped dead in his steps as other thoughts came cascading into his brain and he almost surprisingly found himself facing from across the street the Siamese duplex hidden away from street lamps in the dark of night. Like a brooding giant bull dog resting in the black night on dog’s paws, the front windows as menacing, starring eyes, the house challenged Moriarty’s demeanor and his ambiance changed from friendly excitement into the reality that stood before him; a heavy dark fog like apparition of thought psychically enveloped him; the terror, the fear, the hurt. He allowed his Adams-apple to grip his neck and it squeezed and pained his throat. Would it be different tonight, the screaming, the hysteria, and the threats? The Bowers, who lived in the south duplex, contributed their share of family turbulence when their daughter, the sweetheart of Moriarty’s brother, announced she was pregnant. And how could they have tolerated: the firing of a German Luger gun into the bedroom floor, the routine deep thuds and bangs of bodies slamming against furniture; or the sickening sound of the blunt blow of a human skull of a living-being violently smashed onto the sturdy boards of a kitchen floor; the incessant and weekly alcoholic brawls just a thin wall away?
Behind him were the mesmerizing clickety-clacks of the folding apparatus and the crank linkages of the cardboard folding machines in a nearby “box factory”; almost as entrenching and hypnotic as some thousand crickets of a dense forest. Taking his chances, Moriarty stepped off into the darkness, mustering what courage and foolish heroism he could, heading across the cobblestone bricks into the ancient street and into the deeper darkness of the front lawn, his mind racing over past events of the last ten years or so. “Maybe you’d like to jump me?” the drunken swaying image of his mother invaded his thoughts as she stood in the doorway of his room; or it was: “Maybe we should beat you till you die! How about that!? You want to die?” Moriarty wanted to scream at the images: “Stop it Mom, stop it, for God’s sakes – stop it!” But it was too late: he had nowhere to go, and it was far too late to dillydally outside the house. It was not the first time that unusual political hauntings ravished his thinking. I mean, it was not like it was actually taking place then and there. It may not happen again, maybe not this night. And thoughts are just thoughts, right?
He entered the front of the gangway leading to the back of the house. To Moriarty it was as if Ichabod Crane was slinking into the thicket of Sleepy Hollow on some macabre Halloween night; the low, rote cricket-chanting of the not-too-distant box assembling devices having become second-nature to him. But there was no real Sleepy Hollow forest sounds this time. It was deadlier than dead. Not a dog barking; not the neighbors’ animals. Sparky surely would be whimpering in happiness on the other side of the gate at the end of the gangway to welcome his master. But nothing came from the family dog; or any noise from inside the house, and this was a Saturday night, thought Moriarty, a tavern night, and how he had hoped the routine sadism and fear would not appear again on cue. But this night something possibly sardonic —- something —- was trying to appear but was purposefully, though nebulously, being somehow warded off. Once or twice, someone’s drunken laughter peaked loud enough from the corner tavern to stab the black night, but it would instantaneously disappear and the lake of life would be completely sullen and still again. As a courage-builder, Moriarty accompanied the soft squall of the box factory crank rocker linkage ‘crickets’ and began to sing in his head the Walt Disney weekend TV favorite and theme song by Jiminy Cricket, “When you wish upon a Star, makes no difference who you are…..”
Half way down the gangway, at its darkest, pitch black point of possible night light between the walls of houses, Moriarty looked towards the tree just about three feet on the east side of the gangway gate: the defined, yet almost brilliant light of the moon shining through the branches of the tree. It certainly and stentoriously added to the bizarre atmosphere. Not being an astronomy student, Moriarty had not analyzed that this was not a night scheduled for a full moon, nor was he studied enough to account for the fact that the moon would have been higher in the sky at that time, almost directly above.
Oh well, here goes, thought Moriarty, unlatching and then quickly latching the gate and dutifully striding towards the back steps. “One look at the moon,” he thought to himself and he turned to examine the light in the open area of sky…………………
Moriarty became gripped with what he could only later describe as Tremendum Mysterium …. Miraculum Keuthonymos …….
His heart seemed to fall into his stomach …….
He stood transfixed to the bright, blue-white glowing manifestation that appeared slightly sweptback in appearance, completely silent and motionless. He could not be sure how long he was paralyzed in a somewhat hypnotic stare; seconds, couldn’t have been a minute? A sense of time disappeared. And the light began to move picking up speed with every millisecond. It moved too fast for Moriarty to assimilate the reality of the moment: A huge snow-white ‘dove’? Was this a gigantic white dove? But it was illuminated! And then it began to change shape, a spinning blue-white mass of energy as it became oval and ascending up into the clear night sky until it was far out of visibility.
Moriarty sat on the back porch steps; stunned. He listened for sound, any noise to snap him out of the stupor that possessed him. No noise from within the house. No noise from without. After almost an hour of curiously blissful but eerie silence, Moriarty used his back door key and quietly slipped into bed in his room without interruption, harassment or waylay. That lack of parental attack seemed awfully mysterious. It continued to be mysterious the following day, on the same back steps; he explained to his mother what had happened. His mother only casually and equally mysterious gave a “My poor problem child” expression and went on her way without being on the attack in her full battle agglomeration.
He seemed to float as if out-of-the-body for the rest of the day, Sunday. And then he heard the jukebox playing from the corner tavern – that very tavern, drenched insistently in the smell of fermented beer, hops and barley and Loretta Lynn’s wail about the Honky Tonk Girl - in that horror-hall-of-mirrors place laced with metaphorical, societal clown paraphernalia, outfits. Suddenly someone played Ferlin Husky’s recording of Wings of a Dove and Moriarty’s mind raced back to the apparition of the night earlier and he quivered and thought about how coincidental situations could appear. Author and originator Robert Bruce Ferguson, alias Eli Possumtrot, not unlike Moriarty’s imagined gangway Ichabod Crane’s Sleepy Hollow, was born in a rustic Ozark commune of Willow Springs, not far from a Thick Hollow; the Ozark Mountains rift with stories of hauntings, even in nearby Mountain View and West Plains. Events continued to be surrealistic when he discovered the diary notes he had hidden in his desk telling of his heavenly apparition, notes that also included telling of the barbaric fist fights that mother and step-father conducted in the past week – fights that almost resulted in death – were mysteriously missing — but no threats or reprimands came from their discovery. Was the apparition, he thought to himself again and again in those subsequent hours, somehow connected with his grandmother’s passing at the start of this weekend that last Friday? They had all stood about her death-bed at the hospital and watched her slowly and peacefully sink into the netherworld. Did her death intervene as a nighttime apparition allowing a peaceful night?
And then it struck him how synchronistic and miraculous life was at times; those little interconnected ‘ins’ and ‘outs’. The invigorating dinner aromas from roast beef and butter and mashed potatoes had filled the house earlier, fallout from a family gathering of aunts, uncles, children, brothers and family; mom, despite her crimes, was always an old-fashioned chef educated in classic Scrubby-Dutch lifestyle, ihrhaus ist sehr sauber und gemutlichkeit; unfortunately, a lie and illusory at times, this Germanic-style was not a normal, natural or pleasant trait taught her, rather she felt it as the searing and sadomasochistic beauty of a branding mark on some heifer by a rugged cow-poke, as taunt as a German sieg heil, or Kommen Sie hier!, such cloaked, lonely, forlorn and frustrating emotions would be passed down for many generations. But she came through ‘big time’ this weekend. The Honeymooners and Jackie Gleason played on TV in a syndicated rerun the night before, unrealized and unaware, almost in Rod Serling fashion, of the actual and historical story of paranormal-hobbyist Gleason’s yet-to-happen 1973 midnight adventure with friend Richard Nixon, and their trek to a mysterious morgue at Homestead Air Force Base containing alleged frozen alien creatures. But this was a Sunday in 1960; Moriarty, curled into a fetal position, had quietly lain on the freshly laundered and aromatically sweet and clean bed coverings on his bed in his room hugging himself as if lying in the uterine fluid of prenatal comfort, all stress disappearing as ripples on a pond. Moriarty thankfully listened to Gleason’s forlornly haunting orchestration of the Melancholy Serenade…….
He then realized that Life, as was concerning everyone, was a mixed bag of good and evil; of endless, Jungian-coincidental events. People were an inured itinerary of love and hate; and he took that insight as a curious comfort in that singular moment and slept peacefully for the first time in weeks.No tags for this post.