Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Art Mooney “I’m Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover”
 Janet Jackson “Black Cat”
 Frank Sinatra “Strangers In The Night”
 Eddie Cochran “C’mon Everybody”
 Clint Black “A Good Run Of Bad Luck”
 Bruce Springsteen “My Lucky Day”
Do farts come in lumps? Really? Curses, I’ll be back in a minute. Help yourselves to the custard creams but try not to polish them off as I’ll have nothing left to dip in my tea. By the way, apologies for the odor, I’ve had something of a dicky tummy of late and always get nervous around company. I’ve got an oscillating fan if that would help? Making it worse huh? Never mind, it’s the thought that counts. Tell you what, if you have no objections, I’ve got a flannel here and could give myself a quick clean up while we get better acquainted. Pass me that bucket of water if you’d be so kind and I’ll wring it out as we go. You see, I’ve thought of everything. The management have ever-so-kindly provided me with a fifteen minute slot to make friends and influence people and I’m not about to squander such an exclusive opportunity to mingle. I just hope I don’t make a mess of things as it’s most important that I use this time wisely and wisdom isn’t exactly my strong suit. You wanna know what is? Making a complete fool of myself from the meagre of resources at my disposal. It would appear that I’m something of an expert in that field.
Anyway, I say we get cracking with the whole getting to know you phase and, as your host for the next quarter of an hour, I’m only too happy to go first. My name is Shame and yes that is my birth name. Don’t blame me, my parents came up with it, it was either that or Keith and that just seemed so dreadfully uninspired. When was the last time you met a Keith with anything even remotely interesting to say? Precisely. I’d rather be a designer original and reckon I classify as one of those. While we’re sharing, I guess it would be only civil of me to keep the momentum going, and let you know a little more about myself. I warn you in advance, misfortune tends to follow me around like a store detective, and it may appear that I’m something of a loser when we get down to the nuts and bolts of it. My advice would be to trust your gut, label me as you will, and feel free to lavish me with sympathy as I don’t get much of that and could do with a little pep up after a run of wretched fortune stretching way back to the very moment the midwife severed my umbilical cord. My first clue that lady luck would not be smiling down on me was when I was mistaken as afterbirth and tossed in the trash. You should have seen my mother’s face as she attempted in vain to get her bundle of joy to latch on. I would have found it mildly amusing had it not been for the half-eaten apple core digging in my ribs at the time.
I guess I should have just accepted then that I was heading for a lifetime of uttermost disappointment but valiantly I soldiered on and, within approximately five years, I turned five and things appeared to be looking up for me. Granted, my constant bedwetting was a concern, all the other kids called me Fartypants, and my own mother refused to meet me outside the school gates. Instead, I would stumble out excitedly, and spot her waving uncomfortably from behind the mulberry bush down the road, trying her level best to remain inconspicuous. All the other kids were greeted with a kiss on the forehead or “how was your day sweetie?” but mom prefered to slide a burlap sack over my head and bundle me into the trunk of her Honda Civic before any of the other parents grew suspicious. Once back on home turf, she would lock me straight in my room, deadbolt it, and slide half a yard of cheese string under the door. Needless to say, it hardly made me feel all special, although I admittedly never went short on calcium. When my father came home from work, he made a point of stopping off just to see how his little trooper was getting on. The problem is, I could never quite make out what he was saying through the glass partition. It sounded suspiciously like “My God Jean it’s hideous!” but I put it down to something getting lost in translation.
Life carried on like this until I turned thirteen and suddenly things started to change rather drastically, much to my bemusement. Other kids in school bragged of being given “the talk” but my folks weren’t what you’d call great conversationalists. Don’t get me wrong, they were never short of company, and regularly hosted strange soirées whereby all car keys were left in a tray by the front door. Indeed, I would often hear them laughing down there, living it up while I festered in my poky little chamber feeling nothing whatsoever less than hard done by. It’s fruitless attempting not to develop a complex when you’re hidden away like a dirty little secret and this is effectively what happened as puberty came a knocking. My hormones were all out of whack, hair was sprouting in areas I wasn’t altogether at ease with, and I soon found myself positively riddled with acne. Of course, this made me something of a sitting duck at school, and nary a cruel joke was made that I wasn’t the butt of. I was desperate to fit in and even joined the after school clarinet club in an attempt to make new some friends to add to my tally of zero.
That lasted all of one session as Mrs. Muldoon pulled me aside at the end of practise and softly uttered the words “no offence Shame but you’re shit” before showing me the door, suggesting I walk through it and never look back, then waiting until I was just far enough away to still hear the whole group further ridicule me collectively. All I really wanted was to feel a part of something and continued to try and make in-roads with my fellow students wherever possible. Every recess I would skulk about the yard looking for anything I could become a part of but, the very moment I showed up on the scene, things would fall eerily silent and all the other kids would start edging away in a dubious manner. It didn’t seem to matter what I tried as they’d already made their minds up about me and weren’t about to involve me in their affairs. Consequently I ate my lunch alone, sat alone in class, walked home from school alone, and fled straight upstairs to my room before my mother could get her slipper off. Indeed, the closest I came to a companion was a sparrow who decided to perch on my window ledge one afternoon and listen intently as I reeled off my laundry list of daily woes. For the record, our friendship only lasted thirty seconds as he mysteriously clutched his chest with his wing and nose-dived to the ground below before I could finish introducing myself. I’m sure it was just natural causes.
While our association had been callously cut short before we could truly bond, this brief union did provide me a smidgen of hope, as it felt good to mingle and I just had to get me some more of that post-haste. The next day I arrived at the school gates revitalized, dodged the obligatory acorns tossed at my head with intent to maim, laughed off the chants of “Here comes Fartypants, run for your lives!” and made a B-line straight for the girl I had designs on making my future wife. Romance is a vital component in the growing up process apparently and this particular young lady appeared custom-made to rock my world.
Her name was Miranda Milton-White and she was kind of pretty albeit in a way not entirely conventional. As far as timid wall flowers go, Miranda was right up there with the most reserved, and barely possessed the confidence to look anywhere but into her study books which she hugged close to her chest at all times. I’d heard some of the nasty things the other kids said about her when she passed in the hallway right up to the moment when they realized I was present and then said even nastier things about me instead. Just like me she was considered an outcast, a zero, a blight on the landscape. It simply had to be Miranda, we were hand-made to be together. And here’s how our friendship blossomed.
“Beat it Fartypants!”
It seemed forever before I reached young adulthood but, with college looming, finally had a chance to reinvent myself and find the modicum of acceptance that had so cunningly eluded me to this point. Better yet, things were starting to improve on the home front also, and I was now allowed to split my time between my bedroom and the pantry. With things so evidently on the up, I decided to seize the initiative, and make my entrance by way of inviting everyone I came into contact with to what was being hailed as The House Party of The Century. Suddenly my fortunes started to change and nobody was so quick to dismiss me out of hand as I was the ringleader of something; the master of ceremonies for a jamboree to end all others. Dare I say, I was actually becoming somebody. Granted, I still got pelted by nuts and berries at every turn (mostly nuts because they bounce better), but at least the guilty parties now had the decency to duck behind the bushes after lobbing them so as not to make me feel bad. This popularity gig was compulsive, thing were looking up in a major way, and the only potential snag was that I now had to come good on the whole house party pledge. This would mean puffing out my chest, exhaling a long breath, and requesting that mom and dad supply me the one break I needed to make something of my life. It seemed like the least they could do as they brought me into this world in the first place. Here’s how that played out.
“Get to bed! Frank, grab the rifle!”
I took that as a maybe and scurried upstairs to pick the shrapnel out of my shin. Word travels like wildfire in college and, with the big night fast approaching, the guest list was sitting at around 200 and still rising. I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do for the best as I was only too aware that I couldn’t come good on my oath and this proposed to devastate my new-found social standing, leaving me even more of a pariah than previously, if that’s even possible. However, I kept the charade up right until last knockings, before crying off with stomach flu and locking myself down until which time as my new acquaintances forgot the crushing disappointment and found something else to feel crushingly disappointed about. Three weeks passed and this seemed more than long enough for memories to fade so I ventured out with my head held high and prepared to make any apologies necessary to move past this whole sorry episode and get back to being pals. Here, allow me to paint you a picture of that transaction.
“There he is guys. GET HIM!”
College isn’t for everyone by the way. Meanwhile, my twentysomethings were even more insipid by all accounts. Global recession had hit hard by this point and finding employment was proving tougher than I’d envisaged. It’s not easy when the cost of living keeps increasing and things were growing increasingly desperate so I took to a life of petty crime to make ends meet. Of course, I’d received absolutely no training on the art of thug life, and had no idea how to excel in my new role as scoundrel. However, I’d once witnessed a bag theft while on my way home from the benefits office and remembered the incident all to clearly. Turned out that this good-for-nothing only snatched the little old lady’s purse because he’d seen me coming and was so incensed that I was walking the same street as him that he grabbed the closest item handy to beat me round the head repeatedly with. Once he’d broken the skin sufficiently, he then sheepishly returned the purse to its rightful owner, apologized profusely, and compensated her for any inconvenience. Doesn’t sound much like a reprobate right? Perhaps not, but this is the face he wore as he pounded me senseless.
Now that I had a chosen snarl, I was ready to embark on my new career as a fully fledged scumbag. Interestingly, I was never required to play hard ball as folk had a habit of offering me money the moment I approached them, in exchange for not taking a solitary step further towards their personal space. This was a real turn up for the books, finally a dash of prosperity, and all I had to do to pocket a profit was show up. Naturally I felt bad for taking such dastardly measures but, the way I figured it, life wasn’t tossing me much in the way of scraps so I may as well go hunting for them myself. Within six weeks I had amassed enough riches to buy myself a second-hand guitar and jacked in my life of crime for a career as a busker. Actually I prefer the term street musician although it doesn’t matter now as that ended up amounting to precious little, which I’m sure won’t be coming as much of a surprise by this point. Granted, I may not have been fated to become the next Bruce Springsteen but felt that I had the basics pretty much licked. Regrettably others didn’t see it that way.
At what point do you begin to suspect that somebody up there has it in for you? I mean, let’s take a look at the cold hard facts shall we? I’m in my late-forties, have never been kissed, never held down a job in my life, never once been complimented on how I look, never had a kind word said about me, been downtrodden more times than I can tally, battered enough to have become pretty much oblivious to pain, and my only true friend since that short-lived sparrow romance was a hernia and even that burst within a week. Indeed, I believe I have become the poster boy for misery, the go-to-guy for despair, and the arch bishop of melancholia. Tell you what, I’ll try my level best to raise a smile and you decide for yourself whether I’m the most woeful wayfarer you ever laid eyes on.
And that one almost broke the bank. You should see me when I’m having a bad day. Nevertheless, I refuse to concede that my path is destined always to be littered with angst, regardless of the fact that it has been nothing short of catawampus thus far. I’ve read about how things have a tendency to balance out over time and it seems pre-destined that I’m due a reversal of fortunes soon if I just keep on doing what I’m doing. Indeed, things are already staring to look up as, after over thirty-years, I’ve just spotted an old face from my past and reckon it would be a good time to try my luck again with the one and only Miranda Milton-White. By the looks of it, life hasn’t treated her kindly either, so perhaps we can pool our collective misery and find that dash of happiness we’ve both spent our whole lives craving. It’s a hot day so I just hope that she doesn’t get a waft of my body odor or the lumpy fart I was talking about earlier. Here goes, if things go well I’ll be sure to send you a wedding invite. Nothing fancy, just a small intimate affair. Don’t suppose you’re a licensed minister are you?
“What a coincidence. Remember me?”
Is that a yes? Miranda? Miranda? But we haven’t exchanged numbers yet. Guess she had somewhere to be although I highly doubt that place was directly into incoming traffic. Now what am I supposed to do? My one true shot at happiness is being zipped up by the paramedics as we speak, I have no money, no friends, no real future to speak of, and my dashing good looks aren’t going to stick around forever. To add a dash of insult to my numerous injuries, it would appear that our fifteen minutes is now up. I’m ever so sorry we couldn’t get better acquainted and can see by your face that you’re deeply gutted that we didn’t get to hang out more. Try and put on a brave face just for me as it saddens me to see another so gripped by sorrow. I’ll be alright, things will pick up soon, and I’ll turn my life around in the end no doubt. Please don’t spare me another thought, just give me one last mock-up smile and I’ll be on my way. Bye bye now.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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