The Square Peg - Who’s The Tallest?
© S. Bradley Stoner
The gang was all gathered at the park, and by gang, I mean neighborhood, not criminals, although some of the tales being told bordered on the criminal. Yes sir, it was our first annual Tell Your Story meeting. I’m pretty sure it was the last annual Tell Your Story meeting too, but time will tell.
I think what the organizers had in mind was that we’d all get together and learn about each other. You know... a kind of a mass get to know your neighbor sort of thing. It might have worked too if somebody hadn’t suggested we all bring our own favorite beverage. That right there was a recipe for disaster. There just weren’t enough burgers and hot dogs to absorb all that beer and wine. It didn’t take long for the liberal libations to do their work. Once folks were wined up, well, they began to wind up.
I don’t know if anybody else has noticed, but when groups get together, particularly neighborhood groups, a sort of natural segregation starts to take place. By that I mean the ladies tend to drift off into one group while the men drift off into another. Then little subgroups start to form. You know, the ones interested in domestic activities like cooking and gardening, those interested in talking shop (business, not mechanics), those interested in shared hobbies, the save the Earthers, and then there’s always the general bullsh*tters. Turns out, a lot of men fit into the latter category, which brings me to the real Texas part of the story.
It started out innocently enough. Duncan, Colonel Duffer, Charlie and me talking about the places we’d traveled. Then Bingo Bob had to join the group and add his two cents. Now, you have to understand the Colonel, Duncan and I have traveled extensively, the Colonel probably more than the rest of us, but we all have a pretty good track record that covers some five decades each of roving about. Charlie has done a lot of RV-ing since he retired, but he still has a long way to go to catch up to us. Bingo Bob? Well, he’s traveled from New Jersey to Texas and then pretty much just gone between San Antonio and the Gulf coast with a couple of trips to Houston and Dallas thrown in. In other words, he isn’t exactly a world traveler.
This fact, however, does not stop Bob from imparting his wisdom on coping with harrowing expeditions to Port Aransas. “Yep, I stayed in one of those old flea-bag hotels,” he boasted. “It was quite an ordeal. Smelled like three-day-old fish...”
Duncan interjected at this point. “Are you sure that wasn’t you?”
Bob ignored him. “And you wanna talk about bugs... holy crap... the room was alive with ‘em. There was a gap under the door you could throw a cat through. Worst night I ever spent. Yuck!” he ended with a little shudder.
Charlie snorted. “You want to talk bugs? We took the RV over to Lake Texoma. Skeeters were unbelievable. I’m tellin’ you, that’s where ol’ Pecos Bill musta been carried off after hammerin’ their beaks over in that iron pot his ma put over him. I swear, I had to patch holes in the RV after they got through with it.
Duffer rubbed his shiny dome. “That’s nothin’,” he said barely audibly. “You haven’t seen bugs until you’ve been in the Philippines. I took a side trip when I was stationed there and spent a night in a local inn. It might more properly have been called a local out. Man the bugs there are big...”
None of us could resist the old gag line, so we chorused, “How big were they?”
“Let’s put it this way, I went to bed in the bedroom that night and woke up the next morning in the jungle. Damn things lifted me in my bed and just carted me out.”
“That’s pretty big,” Duncan agreed, but not to be outdone, said, “Ever been around McAllen? I had to go down there to pick up a prisoner one time in the summer. Ever see the palmetto bugs down there? Things are as big as a small car and they fly straight at you. Get hit with one and you’ll wish you were wearin’ a helmet/ I heard one guy even got knocked out by one of those critters.”
Bob kind of showed his ignorance there. “What’s a palmetto bug?”
We all just stared at him.
Duncan was the first to break. “It’s a big damn cockroach is what it is. And down to McAllen they don’t scurry... they attack... from the air!”
Finally they looked at me.
“Well, aren’t you going to say anything? Yer always ready with some story that’ll top all the others,” Bob challenged.
“I’m not sure I can top those whoppers,” I replied, “but I have stayed in some pretty sketchy places in my time.”
“Tell us the worst one,” Duffer urged.
“Well, some might think it was south of the border or some exotic place, but in reality, it was right here in the good old USA. Matter of fact, it was in eastern Montana.”
“I s’pose you’re going to tell us it had bigger bugs that we got right here in Texas,” Duncan shot with an expression of disbelief on his face.
“Nope, but they were older. I stayed in this old motel... that was when I worked for the State and their per diem just doesn’t pay for much in the way of decent accommodations. Guess they just figure everybody is tougher up there. Anyway, this place was so old my room had Kid Curry’s initials carved in the doorway.”
“Who’s Kid Curry?” Bob should really learn to keep his mouth shut and how to use Google. He wouldn’t look like such an ignoramus.
Duncan, Charlie and Duffer all said at the same time, “Outlaw who rode with the Wild Bunch. Shut up, Bob!”
“Yep. You talk about gaps under the door? This place had gaps in the door. Windows? Heck, they might as well not have been there. If I hadn’t left that single bare bulb burning, the bats would have taken up residence in the morning.”
“Geez, wouldn’t that attract bugs?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah, I suppose so, but I wasn’t too worried about that.”
“Well, like I said, the place was old. So were the bugs. I saw a cricket with a long gray beard, a grounded mosquito with a cane, and there was an Alzheimer’s ward set up in one corner of the bathroom for the cockroaches, but they kept wandering off and couldn’t find their way back. Kind of sad actually.”
Somehow we didn’t notice Patti Peersall had sneaked up to eavesdrop on us. “Men!” she snorted.
Duncan eyed her balefully. “What’s that crawlin’ up your skirt, there, Patti?”
Patti started to make a retort, but looked down and saw the rather robust Praying Mantis slowly making its way toward her waist, let out a scream, and ran off, frantically flailing at the beast.
“You know,” Duffer said, “I got a feeling Patti’s going to take the tall tale prize next year.”
“Well,” Duncan returned, “she does subscribe to that old cowboy adage.”
Jersey Bob allowed his ignorance to show once again. “What adage?”
“You wanna tell ‘im or should I?” Duncan said.
I took the honors. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good tale.”