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It all started in í86.
Not 1986, mind you, when all the punks were putting safety pins through their noses, dyeing their hair blue, and fancying themselves some kind of special. They swam through that decade in a chemical stupor and most woke up around 1991 and said to themselves, ďDear Lord, whatíve I done? Iíd better get myself a computer science degree.Ē And thus the dot.com run began. But no, itís not those eighties or those nineties to which Iím referring, not at all.
But before I go on, I suppose I should give you a little about myself or else you may find yourself loath to swallow the rest of this. My name is Everett Gladstone of the Idaho Gladstones, you may rest assured. This year marks my seventy-eighth year as a sailor, as I was born on board a ship, and I would imagine you must be wondering how someone from Idaho comes to that sort of happenstance.
But thatís another story.
Iíve never married, although there was a girl who died when I was thirteen. Iíd have asked her, I think, given time, instead of running away to sea. Spent most of my life there, merchant marines mainly, although I have done some stints on board passenger ships. My first brush with fame occurred at the age of fourteen; I brought dinner to Andrť Gide en route to Tunis. He was a strange man, given to fits of feverish activity. The crewmen aboard that ship all suspected him of being a little mad. But then, as we are given to know, most writers are. And he was, indeed, a fellow that enjoyed the company of boysóthatís all Iím going to say about that. For the rest of that voyage, I kept myself to the galleys and scrubbed everything Ďtil it shone.
About eight years ago, I retired. There seemed no help for it but to return to Idaho then. And let my bones join the other Gladstone bones that are nourishing the big trees. Itís a sad thing when a manís made to feel like heís good for nothing, like heís simply waiting to die. But as T.S. Eliot wrote: ďWhat we call the beginning is often the end/And to make an end is to make a beginning./The end is where we start from.Ē
He was a good chap, that Mr. Eliot. I met him in a coffeehouse in England. I was perhaps seventeen years of age and trying to stay out of trouble because my shipís captain suspected I wasnít eighteen, despite all the good lies I told. Then I didnít know I had asked to bum a cigarette from a Nobel Prize Winner, not that it wouldíve mattered. I wanted the cigarette, and that was that.
My third and final brush with fame occurred right here. I was eating my crŤme broulee, as I do, every Saturday without fail, when the doors burst wide open. It was a windy night, stormy, the heavens lit up with lightning like God was in fact some Norse fellow all enraged that heíd taken a nap and awoke to find the world awash in Christianity and that the only pagans left were silly little fidgets that liked to dance and chant, light candles and wear hemp clothing.
It was that rock and roller, Elvis Presley. No, maíam, I wouldnít kid you about a thing like that. The truly odd thing about it, well, the newspapers said he was deceased as of August 16, 1977. Well, this was a good two years later, if my memory doesnít fail me, and I trow it does not. He strode into the place like he owned it, and for all I know he does. Death didnít do anything to improve his disposition, though. In dying, heíd become something of a misanthrope. The snarl that used to make all the ladies squeal and faint didnít do nearly as much for anybody in the diner that night. His face looked sallow and his jowls hung like teabags from his jaw, his pouched eyes stared at us, beady, suspicious; I donít know what the man had been doing for the last two years, didnít want to know, really. Death wasnít kind to him, and thatís all Iím going to say about that.
He ordered two slices of cherry pie, two hamburgers with the works, and took it all back out into the storm in a greasy brown paper bag. I couldnít make out the car that was waiting for him for sure, but it looked like a white Cadillac hardtop. There was a woman sitting in the passenger side; she wore a pillbox hat like you see in old movies. Nobody spoke for the longest time after the King left, and as we looked at each other, we knew it was the kind of story that would get us marked as crazy. So we said not a word and went back to our coffee and dessert. You, youíre the first person Iíve told, and it doesnít matter anymore how people think of me because Iím going to tell it all. Iím too old for secrets. I donít want to take them to my grave.
So, as I already said, it all started in í86, 1886, to be exact. It was fall, or so my granddad led me believe. Everything gleamed goldenóah, Iíve heard this story so oft I could tell it in my sleep, but Iíd better hasten to the good bits, lest I tell it in yourín.
There was a patch of land that once belonged to the natives who lived in that area. It was sacred or some such thing; they held tribal celebrations there until Colonel Thadeus T. Rutherford brought them a load of blankets and four crates of whiskey. Ceremonial lands then changed hands, property first of the U.S. government, as a Federal territory and later, once again, courtesy of the Timber and Stone Act of 1878, which permitted individuals to buy up to 160 acres of timber or stone at $2.50 an acre provided the land was solely for their own use and they had made no prior agreement to convey the title to another person.
I know, I know, history is boring.
But itís important, and if youíll bear with me, Iím coming up on my point, anytime now. Due to the way events fell out prior, the stage was then set in the autumn of í86 that there should come to pass a card game between two gentlemen, one of whom was an honest man and the other, who was not. To hear granddad tell it, he was there, and he saw the whole thing, saw the marked cards with the painted lady on the back, a Spanish harlot peeking playfully from behind her black mantilla, the corners ever so slightly dog-eared.
In that card game, a patch of land changed hands, once more.
And that is where our story begins.