Dallas Dave

Frank Hight turned the key in the tenth box, the last one on his once every hour tour in the Ragan Mill.  Frank had been hired as the night watchman there two months earlier.  His brother-in-law, Will Fraley, had gotten the job for Frank.  Will was a supervisor on the second shift so he had a little pull.  Will had almost had to talk Frank into taking the menial job; this after Frank had not brought a dime into his house in over three years. 

Will had told his wife Mildred, “Ya know, Frank is smart as a whip, but I swear he is so lazy he wouldn’t hit a lick at a snake.”  Mildred nodded understandingly.  “I know, Will,” she said,” maybe this will help him get on track.”  “We’ll see, we’ll see,” lamented Will.

Frank walked back to the little 6-foot square glass enclosure that served as the watchman’s office.  He could do anything in between his duties, except drink or dope, and he usually read.  Frank was a voracious reader, at least two books a week.  Of course he did have a lot of time on his hands, and this watchman job was not going to infringe on his schedule too much. 

He had leaned toward Kant and Nietzsche lately, being in a bit of a philosophical mood.  But his moods changed, and he had trouble finding like-minded people to discuss his reading and theories with.  He remembered one year at a Marley family reunion when he had attempted to engage his wife’s brother, Wilbur Marley, in a conversation about A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce.  Hadn’t gone too well.  Wilbur had listened for about three minutes as Frank talked non-stop, then spit some tobacco juice on Frank’s left shoe, gave him a disdainful stare and walked off.  Frank remembered thinking, “Hmm, probably a Hemingway man.”

As Frank sat down in his tiny office he reached into the bottom drawer of the worn desk and pulled out a diploma.  It was from Wake Forest College in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and decreed that Frank Albert Hight had been awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in European History.  It was dated May 23, 1922.  Frank was born in 1900, so was a prime candidate for the World War I draft, but when he went in for the examination he immediately asked to speak to a psychologist.  Frank explored every nutty concept he had ever thought of in his life, and an hour later he was heading home with a 4F deferment.  He told everybody the doctor had discovered a heart murmur, not too serious but bad enough to keep him out.

Because Frank had plans.  He had graduated from high school in Lincolnton as valedictorian and had received a scholarship to Wake Forest College.  Frank had done well in college and he smiled as he thought back to those wonderful days.  He had minored in Philosophy and had spent many hours debating and theorizing with the Philosophy students and professors.  Of course some religion courses were in the Philosophy curriculum. 

Frank smiled again as he remembered his favorite religious professor, Dr. O’Hyun Park.  Dr. Park was Korean and had a thick accent, but a brilliant mind.  Frank’s class with him covered Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism.  Frank loved the class but the quotation from Dr. Park that he remembered the most was one about women.  There was some discussion that day about male/female relationships, and Dr. Park had paused for a good thirty seconds.  When he did this you knew something good was in the pipeline.

“Every guy want to find girl with purty stuff, purty body, purty hair, purty face – but need to think ‘bout purty heart,” he said, tapping his chest lightly.  “Somehow his heavy accent made his commentary sound ever more pithy,” thought Frank.

Frank had loved his college days, the unbridled days of learning, getting “lost in the stacks” in the well- equipped college library.  Then he had met Grace Marley.  It was at a corn shucking at her daddy’s barn.  Her pop, Big Ed Marley, was a stringy tough rascal, lean from hard-ass work.  He had red hair and light skin; his tiny teeth looked like miniature corn kernels, but they were even and he appeared to have retained all of them.  Rumor had it that he could get mean with his boys; they said he cared more about his two red mules than he did about his wife Etta.

Frank had heard all this stuff before and he decided to not pay much attention to it; Frank had adopted a credo, a special way of reflecting on things, some years back.  Anytime he had an experience that turned out less than pleasant, he made it a point to ask himself the following question: “What have I learned from this?”  Frank found that many times asking this of himself would give him an insight into his mind, and how it worked. 

He thought back to the first time he had tried out his introspective approach; Frank had been at the shack at Shady Rest one Saturday night.  Bessie Smith was closing up when Frank was walking toward his old 1912 Ford; walking down the road was a young girl from the colored settlement, a little enclave of ramshackle shotgun houses between Bessie’s and Robinson Music Co. there on 321 North.  Frank had struck up a conversation and before you know it a deal had been done and Lila Dean Dubose was bent over a log and Frank was getting his money’s worth.  He remembered how he had jewed her down to twenty cents, and he also remembered quite more vividly how he had awakened two mornings later to a very nasty discharge and a painful burning sensation when he peed.

Frank had embarrassedly approached his father with his dilemma.  Harold Hight was a tall slim easy-going man who was not in love with work but did enough to get by.  When Frank told his daddy what had happened Harold Hight had laughed long and hard.  “Now son, you gotta realize something; ‘bout all them colored girls will give it up for a quarter, but you gotta be careful with ‘em.”  Having issued his son this cryptic warning he packed six brown hen eggs in a poke and and sent his boy over to old Dr. Hoover in Stanley. 

Dr. Hoover quickly sucked penicillin into a syringe, had Frank drop his pants, and stuck him square in the ass.  Frank then handed Dr. Hoover the bag with the half dozen eggs and the doctor accepted it without even looking in the poke.  “Maybe that’s the standard fee for curing the clap,” thought Frank on his way home. He wondered how his daddy knew.  Frank decided to leave that question alone, for he had a more important contemplation to consider. 

“What have I learned from this occurrence?” he had questioned himself.  He thought about it for a few moments then decided he needed to use rubbers on the colored gals.  This revelation satisfied him and he congratulated himself on having learned something.

Frank thought back to that corn shucking at Big Ed Marley’s, how he had met Grace, the oldest of the Marley kids.  Frank had just graduated from college and had landed a teaching job at the little one-room school at Kettle Shoals, which was nearby Bessie’s store over near the old Hester home place.  Frank and Grace had been introduced by her cousin Aletha Kiser. Aletha was a distant cousin of Frank’s and was his age, being four years older than Grace.

Frank and Grace hit it off right away; he could spin yarns, funny ones too, and the stern Big Ed was not too jovial around the house – it made Frank’s light-hearted personality very appealing to Grace.  She laughed and laughed as Frank told one story after another.  As Frank had told her early in the evening, “If I don’t remember what happened all the time I just make it up.” 

Grace was overwhelmed with Frank’s wit, humor, and particularly his History degree in Fine Arts from Wake Forest College, for Big Ed had forced her out of Costner Elementary School after the fifth grade, saying, “It’s time to go to work girl.”

And go to work she did, picking cotton in the late fall, planting in the spring, hoeing all summer until harvest time.  Then during the winter when most farm people would get a chance to rest for a spell, Big Ed would clear new land for people, which meant he would come in after land had been clear cut and pull up the stumps and burn them, making the land tillable. 

He had two very important resources that allowed him to accomplish this:  two fine red mules and a bunch of young’uns.  Big Ed was tough and he worked everybody very hard, mules and kids.  Grace remembered that when Big Ed thought the older boys were not putting out like they should, he would holler and cuss at them and tell them that if they did not straighten up, “You’ll wind up on the chain gang.”  Big Ed was not quite as strict with the girls, but none of them liked the work, and for a very good reason – it was just hard-assed work.  Big Ed worked the dog shit out of them, but he kept the kids fed and clothed and the mules ate well.

Grace was entranced with Frank that Saturday night at the corn shucking, as Frank courted and regaled her with stories even as he shucked corn along with the others.  Grace was a rather plain girl and had not really been out with boys much.  All this attention from a man, and him being a college man, was a bit overwhelming.  But it certainly did not keep her from enjoying the evening.

At the end of the night Frank stole a quick kiss “while nobody was looking” and bid Grace adieu.  He actually said, “Grace, I bid you adieu.”  Grace waved goodbye as Frank hand cranked his 1912 Ford, thinking “that college man sure does talk purty.” 

Frank had returned the next day in the afternoon and had formally asked Big Ed if he could court Grace.  Big Ed looked Frank Hight over from top to bottom, realizing that being a schoolteacher he ought to be able to support Grace and solemnly gave his blessing.

Frank thought about all of these things as he fingered his diploma.  He put his fingers on the signature of the President of the College, John Peter Broughton.  President Broughton’s grandfather had been governor of North Carolina in the 1830’s.  Frank admired the tight, precise script in the president’s signature, then pulled the diploma to his chest and held it tightly.  He so wished he could time travel back to those college days; they were truly the happiest days of his life – nothing even came close.

Frank drifted back in time again as he sat in his little cubicle, back to when he and Grace were engaged and he was teaching at Kettle Shoals.  Grace wanted their engagement to last for a year; Frank agreed to this timetable but through persistence convinced Grace that it would be okay to have sex.  “After all,” he said, “we are engaged.”  Additionally Frank told Grace that he had read about this new contraceptive process in a magazine in Dr. Hoover’s office.  It was called the rhythm method, and according to Frank’s interpretation it was essentially impossible to get pregnant if you followed the plan.  When Grace asked why Frank was in Dr. Hoover’s office he told her it was two years previous and he was getting his tonsils out.

So with Grace’s acquiescence and Frank’s faith in the rhythm method, they coupled at every available moment.  Things went swimmingly for two months until Grace’s delayed cycle prompted a visit to Dr. Hoover in Stanley.  Frank accompanied her to the doctor’s office.  “Why hey Frank,” Dr. Hoover called when Frank walked in.  “Is everything alright?” he asked with a discerning look, not seeing Grace behind Frank.  “Oh, I’m fine Doctor, it’s Grace here that wants to be checked out; we are engaged and Grace thinks she may be pregnant.”  “We’ll find out,” voiced Dr. Hoover, and told Frank to wait outside.

Thirty minutes later Grace came out of the doctor’s office beaming.  “Oh Frank,” she caroled, “we are going to have a baby.”  Frank Hight felt gut shot, literally wanting to bend over and howl.  He had not bargained for all this; in fact, he hadn’t even been sure he would go through with the marriage.  But Frank recovered quickly, and Grace did not seem to notice his chagrin. 

On the way to Big Ed Marley’s house Frank reflected on this latest testing situation.  He asked himself, “Now what have I learned from this mistake?”  Frank very quickly concluded that the only rhythm he would employ in the future would be on the dance floor.

When they arrived at Big Ed Marley’s, Grace told her momma that she and Frank had decided to go ahead and get married – the sooner the better.  Grace and Frank had talked about it coming home, and considering that Dr. Hoover said the baby was really early on, they figured if they got married right away they could kind of float or fudge a little when the baby did come and say that it was a little “premature.” 

Etta Marley was thrilled; she was so delighted to see her oldest child so happy.  Big Ed Marley appeared a bit more circumspect, and Frank thought he saw a suspicious glance cast his way, but thought maybe it was just his imagination.  So the small wedding was quickly set up for the following Saturday at Antioch Lutheran Church, up near Costner School where the Marley clan went to church.

It was decided that the newlyweds would stay at Big Ed Marley’s place until they were able to get out on their own.  Harold Hight’s small house where Frank presently lived would just be too small for another person; Frank was the eldest of four and the home, right on the Stanley Highway halfway between Dallas and Stanley, was indeed tiny.

The wedding was cute; Grace wore a white frock ad picked her baby sister, Sarah, to be her maid of honor.  After the short service the young married couple set to getting settled in their new quarters, in the back room that Big Ed Marley had used for storage.  “Ain’t no problem,” he had told the newlyweds, “I can move this stuff out to the barn.”

That being settled Big Ed did just that, noting that Frank “made himself scare” while the moving work was going on.  When Big Ed inquired as to the groom’s whereabouts Grace told her daddy that her man was out on the porch working on his lesson plan for Monday.  In actuality Frank had slipped off down the hill to smoke a cigarette.  “Just looking at all that stuff makes my back hurt,” he said to himself as he took a draw on the Pall Mall. 

Frank waited until he figured Big Ed and his boy Alfred had gotten the moving done.  As Frank went back to his new quarters he saw Grace’s brother Alfred for the first time today, and what a sight he was to see.  Both of his eyes were black ad his nose had been given a decided turn to the right.  “What in the world happened to you, Alfred?” Frank asked.  “Decided to try a little boxing over at the armory in Bessemer City – didn’t go too well,” said Alfred, grinning, and as he did Frank Hight noticed an incisor missing.

The little room was now replete with a small bed, a side table, and another table where a basin and a water pitcher resided.  Frank thanked Big Ed and Alfred, mentioning that his lesson plan had taken longer than he thought it would.  Alfred smiled at him while Big Ed Marley looked at him kind of hard and said nothing, just walking out the door.

It was time for the hourly rounds, so Frank moved through the ten stations, turning the key in the apparatus that catalogued the time the watchman checked in.  Frank brought in sixty dollars a week, which he primarily spent on himself; county welfare gave him fifty dollars a month for each child and he and Grace had brought eight of them into the world. 

Most of them, especially the boys, were OK, but two of the girls had “bad nerves” and had to take sedatives.  One of them, Viola, had required electro-shock therapy up at the Morganton Mental Health Center.  Many of the mothers in the community invoked the name of the mental health center, as in saying, “I swear you young’uns are gonna drive me to Morganton.”  Of course in Viola’s case, her daddy drove her to Morganton, literally, to get the shock treatment.

Then there was the youngest child, a girl named Kay.  Kay had never been right since birth; they all could tell she was not normal, and extremely slow to learn to walk and talk.  They tried sending her to first grade at Stanley Elementary, but she was still wearing diapers at age seven and after a meeting with Principal Kiser, it was decided that it would benefit all concerned if Kay stayed home.  She had lasted four days. 

When Frank got back to his little office, he sat down and started thinking about poor Kay.  She was seventeen now, and fat and crazy.  Sometimes she acted halfway okay and other times she would launch into a fury for no apparent reason.  During one of these not infrequent spells last winter she had pushed her mother to the floor and when Frank came to Grace’s rescue had hit him up side the head with a sock full of nickels, her life savings that she had a habit of carrying around with her.  The blow had damn near knocked Frank out, but he recovered enough to talk Kay down and after a few minutes Frank was holding her and hugging her and telling her how much he loved her. 

He wondered if maybe Kay had been born under a bad sign, so to speak; he did remember that it was a terrible night of thunder and lightning when Dr. Hoover had come to deliver the baby. Frank didn’t figure there was much of a connection between thunder and lightning and craziness, but continued to think about Kay while he looked at the horoscope in the Gastonia Gazette.

Kay’s birthday was October 24, which made her a Scorpio.  He had read, for he read a lot, that Scorpios tended to be mysterious, volatile, and very thorough.  Frank wondered if there were anything to this horoscope stuff; Kay could be mysterious, most definitely volatile, but as far as thorough went she could not even wipe her ass clean after taking a shit – Grace had to help her every time.

Then Frank looked at his sign, Libra, for his birthday was September 26.  Frank read, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.  Education is more than knowing what you must do; it also is knowing what you can’t and perhaps should not do.” 

Frank thought back to one of his moments of education that had occurred when he and Grace were still staying at Big Ed Marley’s place.  It had been on Easter Sunday, early in the morning, and Grace had gone outside and picked a dogwood blossom and brought it back in and presented it to Frank.  She did this fairly frequently and she always had such a little girlish look on her face when she would give the little offering to Frank. 

Frank indeed considered these things offerings, for he was satisfied that, at least in Grace’s eyes, he was deified.  When Frank looked at the dogwood blossom he felt a power surge through his body, and simultaneously had a vision of Jesus on the cross.  These things were all well and good; for it was not uncommon for Frank Hight, learned and mystical man that he was, to experience a vision.  The only problem was that he forgot that he was in someone else’s home now when he started screaming, “I see the wounds in his side, and his precious head hanging down from the cross limply, and the blood flowing from his hands, just like these marks on the dogwood.  Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” 

Grace nearly fell into a swoon as she watched the seer she had married; however, Big Ed Marley, who was shaving next door in the kitchen in preparation to going to Antioch Lutheran Church for sunrise service, was not as impressed.  Big Ed Marley ran into the room with shaving cream slathered on his face, a straight razor clutched in his right hand.  “What in the world is goin’ on in here?” he shouted.

Frank was still standing in the middle of the bedroom, eyes cast upward, tears rolling down his cheeks.  Grace had taken a seat on the bed, still gazing dreamily at her college man.  Grace looked at her daddy and proclaimed, “Pop, Frank is having a vision, he has them from time to time, usually on religious holidays; I guess it being Easter and him lookin’ at that dogwood blossom it gave him the inspiration.”

Frank had now come down from his ethereal perch enough to realize that he was standing in front of a man who did not look very happy with him; moreover, said man was clutching a straight razor tightly and scowling at him.  Frank froze; Big Ed gave him a look that could curdle milk and walked out of the room. 

The next week it was decided by Big Ed Marley that it was time for the young couple to move over to the Hight house, one of the teenage boys having moved out on his own and created a little space.

After Frank and Grace got settled in at their new place Frank figured that maybe it was time to do a little reflection on what had happened.  So one afternoon he sat out on the porch and started re-creating the circumstances that had precipitated their move. Frank realized that what had happened had not been a pleasant thing; in fact, the moving had been a pain in the ass.  Fortunately, another very important lesson plan for school had kept Frank from any heavy lifting, or for that matter, any involvement in the moving process at all.  So he began to contemplate; “now what did I learn from this occurrence?”

Frank pondered long and hard, for at least twenty minutes, and came up with what he considered a plausible answer.  “What happened here was a wide chasm of intellectual capacity,” he thought to himself.  Frank felt like he was getting things into a reasonable perspective.  “Now Big Ed Marley is not a bad man,” he ruminated, “but at the end of the day he is at best an ill educated dirt farmer who can barely read and makes an X mark for his signature.” 

Frank juxtaposed Big Ed’s education, or lack thereof, to his own Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in European History.  “Plain as the nose on your face.” Frank said aloud.  “Big Ed did just not have the ability to understand the metaphysical gravity of my vision,” Frank smiled when he thought this, realizing that he should forgive Big Ed Marley for being bereft of intellectual curiosity and adventure.  “He is to be pitied,” Frank thought, using a time-honored phrase of his mother’s.

Frank glanced at the clock in the little cubicle and set out to make his ten stops.  It took him only about ten minutes and soon he was back at his desk.  Frank thought back on the early days of his marriage to Grace, back when they were averaging a baby every year and a half.  That’s when Grace had asked Big Ed if Sarah could come stay with them to help out with things.  There really was a lot to do, with two always in diapers. 

Big Ed Marley agreed to allow Sarah to go stay with them to help out.  What he actually did was tell Sarah that was what she was going to do.  All of the kids were a little beaten down by Big Ed, and Sarah was no exception.  In fact, she probably resented her father the most, what with him making her leave school after the fifth grade and letting her sister Ida Mae go to high school.  Sarah never forgot it and never forgave her father.  Years later when Sarah would have her own family she would tell her youngest son, “I respected my pop, but I didn’t love him.”

Of course, these feelings were totally hidden and when Big Ed gave the command Sarah “packed up her rags” and moved over to the little Hight house on the Stanley highway.  Sarah hated it but did it without speaking a word to her father.  But when she said goodbye to her mother, Etta, both of them cried, and told each other how much they loved each other. 

Sarah had to sleep on a little cot in the hall of the Hight house, and the work was horrendous, changing shitty diapers, cleaning shitty diapers, boiling the diapers in lye soap.  Then on top of that Frank would order her around to do whatever he wanted.  “Sarah, take this quarter and get me two packs of cigarettes,” Frank would say, and Sarah would dutifully walk the half mile to the little store and get them.  Not once in the six months she was there did he ever offer to give her even a nickel for her trouble.  As she told her mother, “Frank just treated me like his little nigger.”

And he did, and with impunity, for his love slave, Grace, who literally worshipped her brilliant college man, was not about to rock the boat.  Sarah knew this, so she never said the first word, continuing the drudgery until she just could not stand it any more.  She had been talking to her friend Annie Mae Lynch each Sunday at church and telling her how things were.  Anne Mae was older, 22, and was married to a superintendent at the Mariposa Mill over near the Tryon community.  Her husband’s name was Polie, and he was in his late twenties and a well-respected man.

Having listened to Sarah’s lament for several months, Annie Mae talked to Polie and before you knew it Sarah was offered a job at the Mariposa as a cloth grader.  The big bonus was that Polie and Annie Mae would give her a room in their house at no charge. 

On the Sunday that Annie Mae gave Sarah the news, Sarah went home and performed the usual chores, but as soon as it got dark she collected her few rags and slipped out the back door to the waiting car down the road.  Sarah had never felt so free in her life – free from Big Ed Marley, free from Frank Hight, and free from countless shitty diapers.  She started work at the mill at two o’clock the next day, grading cloth on the second shift.

Frank recalled that he did not see Sarah Marley for a long time after she disappeared; she seemed to avoid him.  Frank did not care.  The longer that Frank worked at this piss-ass job the worse he felt about everything.  Lately he had even begun to doubt his own intellectualism. 

Frank had traced the advent of his doubts to one Sunday about six weeks ago, when Reverend Forbush at Antioch Church had been preaching.a sermon on original sin.  The Reverend was obviously of the opinion that not only did original sin exist, but that it most assuredly was affixed to every living human being.  Frank had listened for quite a while, for Reverend Forbush tended toward being more than a little long winded.  But after thirty minutes of what Frank considered totally unfounded drivel, he could take no more. 

Frank rose from the pew and marched up the aisle and faced the Reverend, stopping mere feet away from the lectern.  Frank then launched into what he considered to be a well thought out rebuttal of Reverend Forbush’s assertions.  Frank went on for a good fifteen minutes and even included some choice quotations from his Hinayana Buddhism textbook, the one from his religion class at Wake Forest College.

When Frank concluded he turned on his heel, quite elegantly he thought, and returned to his seat in the pew beside Grace and crazy Kay.  There was absolutely total silence for a full minute, then Kay stood and clapped her hands for a good thirty seconds.  She then sat down, and Reverend Forbush resumed the service as if nothing had ever happened. 

It was customary at the conclusion of preaching that the men would stand around outside in the churchyard while the kids played and the women gossiped.  Prior to this day Frank had been if not a welcome member of this group, at least a tolerated one.  But today things had changed; each time Frank attempted to engage one of the other men in conversation he was greeted with a quickly turned back.  More than once he thought he heard “what a nut” muttered under their breath.  The only person who spoke to him at all was Burton Payseur.  In fact, he approached Frank and pulled him aside.  Frank went willingly, hoping to gain some insight into the others’ behavior.

When they were alone Burton said, “Frank, I understood what you said, and I want to ask you a question.  Do you ever have visions?”

“Why yes, I do,” said Frank, wondering where this was going and if he should be having this conversation with a man who was considered to be “very, very eccentric” by most of the parishioners.

“Well, I just wanted to let you know that you have someone who understands the workings of your mind.  I could tell that we were kindred spirits by the way you dressed down Reverend Forbush.  But remember this – just because you are right doesn’t mean you should say anything,” said Burton, looking gravely at a rather confused Frank Hight.  After delivering this short yet cryptic speech, Burton walked over to his wife, collected his kids and went home.

Frank thought about this conversation all afternoon.  He was flummoxed.  On one hand he sort of felt that he had an intellectual ally in Burton Payseur.  Frank considered this a positive.  On the other hand there seemed to be a few negatives.  For example, almost everyone at Antioch Church thought Burton Payseur strange, if not a nut; additionally, if what Frank had said when he confronted Reverend Forbush was so right on, why did everyone else shun Frank?

Frank pondered these things all afternoon, and was not sure how good he felt about this purported alliance with Burton.  His mood became a bit dark.  It worsened considerably when he received a handwritten note in the mail on Thursday from Reverend Forbush.  Frank had opened it quickly, curious as to why the Reverend would be writing to him.

“Dear Mr. Hight,” it had begun.  “In the future if you should care to have a philosophical conversation, I would appreciate it if you did not use the venue of the sanctuary of Antioch Lutheran Church during a service; furthermore, I considered your behavior abrupt and brusque.  If you are able to maintain a sense of decorum and gentlemanly conduct you are still welcome at Antioch.”  It was signed, “Your servant in Christ, Reverend Forbush.”

Frank remembered how devastated he was.  He had felt like his intellectualism had been attacked, and he never had felt that horrid empty feeling before.  Sure, there were a few times when he had “lost” intellectual spars while debating philosophical points at Wake Forest College, but his defeats had been few and far between.

Frank pondered at length as he sat in his chair in the little cubicle in the Ragan Mill in Bessemer City.  For the first time in his life he thought he might be a little depressed.  This thought caused Frank to do something he had never before done in his life – evaluate his success.  He carefully drew a vertical line down the middle of a piece of paper, and then a horizontal one near the top of the page.  Then on the left side he wrote the word NEGATIVES, and on the right side he wrote, POSITIVES.  Just outlining this exercise made Frank feel better immediately.  “How many people give such close introspection to themselves, ever?” he asked out loud.  “Certainly none of these ill educated dirt farmers and mill hands.”

Then Frank looked at the NEGATIVES side and wrote down, “Preacher Forbush’s note.”  Then on the POSITIVES side he wrote, “Kay’s Standing Ovation.”  Frank had to think about this for a minute; Kay’s outburst had made him feel good at that moment, but realistically Frank did not think his retarded daughter knew the difference between original sin and wiping her ass, or trying to.  Plus all of the people in the church had really looked funny at Crazy Kay.  Frank scratched the “Ovation” from the POSITIVES side and entered it in the NEGATIVES SIDE.  THEN HE WROTE IN THE POSITIVES side, “My rebuttal in church to Reverend Forbush’s Ideas on Original Sin.”

Frank ruminated on this one also.  Although his diatribe at Reverend Forbush had made Frank feel powerful, he could not help but wonder why none of the other bright people in the church had not come forward in his support.  Or maybe there were no bright people.  But Frank knew that some were smart, and a few were somewhat educated.  This bothered Frank more than a little, and he slowly scratched his “rebuttal” from the POSITIVES side and entered it under the NEGATIVES. 

“But wait,” thought Frank, and quickly entered “Support of Burton Payseur” under the POSITIVES.  But the more he considered Burton’s overture toward him, the more clearly he realized that Burton was pretty much considered beyond eccentric and headed toward Nut Land.” 

Frank marked through what he had just written and entered it under the NEGATIVES.  Finally Frank pulled out his big gun, writing under the POSITIVES “Bachelors of Fine Arts in European History.”  As soon as he wrote this Frank reached into the drawer and held his cherished diploma, held it close to his chest, and rocked back and forth slowly.  As he thought about his college experience Frank began weeping.

He sat there for a long time holding the sheepskin and rocking.  Proudly he thought, “This is my big accomplishment,” and he actually felt pretty good for a while.  But when he considered to what heights it had taken him he sat stock-still at the desk, as if frozen.  He said out loud, “I am fifty years old, I have eight children supported by county welfare, and I rarely work, and when I do, it is a nothing job, like this one.” 

For a brief moment Frank had a feeling of elation, perhaps from being honest with himself, but it quickly evaporated, and he scratched through the diploma entry and re-entered it under the NEGATIVES column.

It was time to ponder his situation, to be introspective.  “Now what have I learned from this?”  Frank said out loud.  Frank sat there for fifteen minutes and re-read the entries under NEGATIVES, then forlornly moved his eyes to the vacant POSITIVES side.  Then Frank reached into his coat pocket and retrieved a 32 caliber snub-nosed pistol, placed it gently under his chin, and firmly squeezed the trigger, his blood covering his beloved diploma.

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