The Line Between Going Nuts and Only Maybe Going Nuts

The older I get, the more I think I notice things out of the corner of my eye. Then I turn to look at what flickered or flashed, and nothing is moving. The longer I live, the more I enjoy people who are a bit skewed. I look for the people whose heads are at a tilt because the world doesn’t look quite right to them. I feel joy at finding someone running for County Supervisor whose name is Sharmalista Marblesto. It makes my day to find a town in Illinois name Gratiot and then find out they pronounce it “Grash it.”

Okay, so maybe some of this is fiction, but then again, maybe not. Perhaps my real name is Yanska Slabos, and I’m married to a guy named Zoltan Stepeshi. Perhaps Yanska is a middle-aged famous but ex-tightrope walker on disability because of her sciatica. Perhaps Zoltan now has to support the family. The circus can no longer afford to carry them, since Zoltan’s dancing emu act has never been all that popular.

My question for you is, how is Zoltan going to make enough money for their annual holiday trip to their cabin in Upper Sanduski, especially now that the circus has left them stranded near the Okefenokee Swamp?

35 responses to “The Line Between Going Nuts and Only Maybe Going Nuts

  1. On the Emu Trail

    Georgia State Route 15 cuts through Blackshear at US 84 in a more northerly direction, and is a road less traveled by business men in their El Dorados and families in their Country Squire wagons, rushing to and from important meetings and family summer vacation spots.

    Zoltan and his family huddle under a tarp seeking protection from the Southern heat and Georgia humidity, as their wagon creaks across the dirt, adjacent to the pavement. Cars honk and occupants point and jeer as they pass, doing fifty, maybe fifty-five. For most post-war motorists this is the first time for them to see an emu, much less a wagon being pulled by a team of four.

    Zoltan’s wife, Yanska, winces as a wheel hits a rut which send a painful jolt up her leg to her hip. She curses in a Slavik tongue and stretches her leg across the wagon’s dash. Zolton mutters a sincere apology and the wagon continues its slow pace.

    “Hold on, my Yanska,” Zolton urges as he spots a roadside fruit stand a hundred meters ahead. Yanska stifles a tear and grips her husband’s arm.

    Zolton steers his wagon to the front of the fruit stand and gives a nod to the dark man behind the tables. The fruit vendor shakes his head in disbelief about what he is seeing. Yanska stands to dismount from the wagon, and the black man rushes to her as he notes her painful discomfort.

    “Thank you so much,” she offers as her feet seek the wagon steps. “We are so tired and have such a long way to go.”

    Zolton’s children climb from the wagon and rush to the tables of peaches and melons and vegetables. Peaches are two for a nickel. The daughter looks to her father. “May we, Father? May we?” Zolton nods yes, and pulls a nickel from his pocket. Peach juice dribbles down his kid’s chins.

    Zolton leads his team of emus and his wagon to the side and tethers them to a tree. From a bucket in the back of the wagon Zolton dips a can of grain and tends to his birds.

    The fruit man looks to Zolton and remarks, “Mistah, thems the biggest chickens I’s ever seen.” Zolton smiles. He is used to such reactions, and tells the vendor about the birds.

    Zolton asks the fruit man how is business is doing.

    “Well, sir, rather poorly. Not too much traffic on this route, and most of that don’t stop.”

    Zolton and the fruit peddler turn to the sound of a braking car which pulls in front of the stand. The kids inside point with glee at the large, strange birds. “Can we see them, Daddy? Please? Pleeeeaase?

    Without waiting for an answer, they clamor out of the back seat and rush to the birds. Mom and dad emerge from their car. Mom takes a look at the fruit and vegetables and begins to shop.

    “What do they eat, mister?” the kids ask Zolton. He gives the black man a smile and a wink and replies, “Vell, they love peaches.”

    “Buy some peaches, Daddy,” they beg, and their father nods.

    Emus are not polite or dainty birds, and they snatch each peach as it is offered. Soon another passing car does a U-turn and pulls to the stand. Then another. By day’s end the fruit vendor has sold more that day than the entire previous week.

    Zolton and his family huddle under the shade as the sun begins to set. The vendor approaches Zolton with a handful of nickels, dimes and a few quarters.

    “Mistah. I want to thank you for stopping today. I want you to have this.” Zolton looks to his wife who nods her approval. Zolton pockets his day’s wages.

    Zolton and his family say goodbye to the vendor as he packs his inventory into the bed of his truck and begins his drive home.

    The next morning the vendor drives to his usual spot. To his amazement Zolton and his family are still there. A small tent sets pitched to the back of the lot, attached to Zolton’s wagon. Near the front, close to the road, four emus with golden bridles and saddles are tethered to a rope strung between two trees. Zolton and his wife, dressed in their circus attire, wave to him as he pulls in. A colorful sign painted in red and blue and gold offer emu rides for five cents.

    Zolton and his family begin unloading the fruit vendor’s truck as a new chapter in their career and lives begins.

  2. Cheryl aka Shaddy

    You sure can write and you do it so very, very well.

  3. Cheryl aka Shaddy

    A swamp is no place for any living critters other than mud turtles. Now that’s coming from a person who really isn’t familiar with swamps and their inhabitants. I can only say that I have no use for muckiness of any kind and I suspect most other people and animals feel likewise.
    Where am I going with this, you may ask? On a recent vacation with my wife, I passed Okefenokee Swamp. In a field along its western edge, we observed an unusual group loitering under a scraggly yet substantial tree. A woman with a limp was wringing her hands and shaking her head as she walked in circles, apparently unaware of her surroundings. A man, wearing an elaborately decorated cape, was trying to control a number of large squawking birds that were raising quite a fuss over, well, I don’t have a clue what had riled them.
    My wife and I are retired and have more time on our hands than we can tolerate without occasional diversions. Sticking our noses into the business of others has offered us diversions beyond our wildest dreams. My wife looked over at me and without saying a word, I knew we were both seeing a golden opportunity for action, ours for the taking.
    My wife and I pulled off the road and walked toward the activity beneath the misshapen tree. “I know you’re hungry. So am I,” the man with the cape shouted at his noisy flock.
    For fear of catching them off guard, I called out before we got too close, “May we be of assistance? We were driving by and noticed that you seemed to be in a predicament, er…or two.” Six heads snapped to stare at us.
    To make a long story short, my wife and I responded compassionately when we learned of the misfortunate that had befallen this couple and their four companions which I learned were officially emus. While my wife sat in the shade with our six new acquaintances, I drove in search of supper for all, that is, a sack of corn meal and a dozen burgers. We weren’t capable of solving their problems, but after sitting and eating with them, we stood to take leave. I reached in my billfold and pulled out ten one-hundred-dollar bills. I thrust them into the hands of new acquaintances and hurried to our car before they could object.
    We waved out the windows as we pulled back on the road. My wife was already reaching in the glovebox for a postcard and pen to send to our daughter in Phoenix, sharing our latest joy.

    (I’m naughty, writing this at work. Oh, no! I haven’t written fiction for quite some time so cut me lots of slack, please).

  4. Shaddy, this is hysterical. It makes me want to come across a similar grouping. Love the cape! I’m delighted you’re having such a good time at work! –Ann

  5. One of my refrigerator philosophy magnets: Blessed are the cracked for they shall let in the light.

  6. The day I met Zoltan Stepeshi is seared into my memory like…. like…. Well, I was going to say like the grill marks on shrimp cooked on the barbie, but you’d probably just groan and shake your head. That simile—or is it a metaphor, never could keep the darn things straight—is pretty apropos as you’ll soon find out.

    Anyway, that day I was making my oval around Uluru. It was late afternoon and there weren’t many tourists there because all the tour buses were parked on that overlook on the other side of the rock, where the tourists are served orange juice and champagne and cheese and crackers while they watch the rock change color during the sunset.

    I come around a big pile of boulders and I see this guy with a butterfly net and he’s dipping it into the little watering hole—you know the one I mean—in and out, in and out. Well, this looked interesting so I decide to watch him for a while. Eventually he looks up and says, “Oh, hello. You must be an emu.”

    I take a deep breath and let it out slowly before I move a little closer. “No, actually I’m an ostrich,” I say.

    “But this is Australia. You MUST be an emu.”

    “Nope. Ostrich.” And I stick my foot out so he can see, only all I get is this blank look. Okay. I do my patter. “Ostrich—two toes, emu—three toes.” He gets it, so I ask him what he’s doing with the butterfly net.

    “I’m trying to catch some shrimp to cook on the barbie,” he says.

    Oh, boy, another one. Ever since that movie Crocodile Dundee, everybody thinks Australia is awash in shrimp. I explain to him that there aren’t any shrimp here in the Outback and certainly not in a tiny watering hole ten feet across on the back side of Uluru. He asks me, “What’s oo-oo-oo?”

    “Uluru. Eww-lah-ROO. Name of this rock. You folks know it as Ayer’s Rock. The Aboriginals call it Uluru.” He gets it.

    “So, what’s an ostrich like you doing in a place like this?” he says.

    “I work here. I’m the local color. I wander around and the tourists think I’m an emu and they take lots of pictures.”

    “What’s a job like that pay? If you don’t mind me asking,” he says.

    Now it’s my turn to look dumb. “Pay?”

    “Yeah, like your wages. You know, money, moolah, dinero. How much they pay you to be the local color?”

    “Nothing,” I say, “I get to stay here. Plenty to eat, lots of funny tourists, nice weather.” He says his wife is climbing the rock today and I say I hope she has a good sense of balance, like, people die up there. He laughs and asks, “You ever heard of the Flying Wallendas?” Of course, I have, I say. My uncle got around a lot and told me about them.

    So Zoltan tells me his wife is the great-great-grandchild of Karl Wallenda, and that explains a lot. He says she’s terrific on the high wire in the circus they’re with, but lately she’s been having some back trouble.

    He invites me to join him and his wife in the campground, so we wander over that way and there’s this beautiful lady sitting in a camp chair outside a dome tent. I mean, hubba hubba. She’s an eyeful and I have big eyes, let me tell you.

    “Ostrich, this is my wife Yanska. Yanska, Ostrich.” She looks at me and she has this gleam in her eyes that I’ve seen before. I mean, I’m a darn good looking specimen, but that gleam means something else. I know that look. She thinks I’m an emu.

    “Well, hello there, Emu,” she says. “Sorry, I’d get up if I could but my sciatica is killing me today.”

    Uh, huh. I KNEW that look. So I say nice to meet you and all that, and then I add that I really am an ostrich and not an emu.

    She says ostriches are in Africa, not Australia, and I say my great-great-great-granddaddy was one of the first ostriches on an ostrich farm here and when he found out why they were brought here from Africa, well, a bunch of them lit out for the Outback and now we’re feral. I see that light in her eyes dim by a few lumens, but not many. I tell her I know what she’s thinking, but it isn’t true about emu oil being an anti-inflammatory agent. Just an old wives tale. Won’t help her sciatica a bit and she should stick to Advil. A few lesser lumens, but she’s still skeptical, so I hold out a foot and do the old two-toe/three-toe thing.

    Then I add, “You do know that to get emu oil, you have to render the emu, don’t you? It’s a one way street for the emu. The oil isn’t something they excrete.” The light of hope dies, and I feel kind of sorry for her. She says it didn’t bother her until the stupid clowns had her join them in the clown car to start her act one night and with her making 25 in that little car, well, her back hasn’t been right since.

    Long story short, Zoltan and Yanska talk me into going with them to the United States. I insist he buy me a business class ticket, ‘cuz there was no way my legs would fit in a coach seat.

    We make up an act where I’m a tap-dancing emu, and I can really pound the boards with the one nail on each foot I have. Works out pretty nice, as long as no one notices I have only two toes on each foot.

    Summers we spend touring with the circus and winters we spend in Gibsonton, Florida, where all the circus and carny folk hang out. This was no Flea Bay show. We are a real Sunday School Show, on the up and up, no shills, no dirty girl shows, nothing illicit. Even the carny games were legit, which is another one of the reasons disaster happened.

    The Big Top fell, figuratively speaking. Yanska’s sciatica got so bad she had trouble walking and there was no way she can get on the rope again. Attendance fell off horribly and the take was pitiful. The lady who did the Iron Jaw—hanging by her teeth—got an abscessed wisdom tooth and couldn’t work.

    The pitchman was laid off first, then two of the three Ringmasters. They sold off all but one of the elephants, the trapeze lady got pregnant and went on maternity leave. A lot of the carnies cried when they said their goodbyes, but they had to make a living, too.

    As for Zoltan and me, well, they couldn’t carry a dancing emu show anymore. The whole thing fell apart on a back road near the Okefenokee Swamp when a gator panicked the horses and they bolted for who-knows-where. Zoltan called a Boss Hostler he knew and by the next afternoon we were safe and sound in Gib-town.

    Zoltan and Yanska were heartbroken. They didn’t even have enough money to make their annual holiday trip to Upper Sanduski. They brood and mope about for a few days until I finally can’t take any more of it.

    “Zoltan, look at me. What do you see?”

    “I see my dearest friend,” he says immediately. I swallow and blink my eyes to clear the mistiness.

    “No, look at me. What do you see?”

    “I see a fine ostrich with a long neck, gorgeous feathers, and two long legs.” Yanska nodded in agreement.

    “Zoltan. Yanska. Has it never occurred to you that I have the gift of speech?” Yanska got it first. The light kindles in her eyes and it wasn’t for rending emu oil out of this ostrich body. Then Zoltan grinned. He got it, too.

    The next winter we roll into Gib-town in a brand new 44 foot long diesel pusher motorhome with three slide-outs. All our friends show up and the Boss Hostler says, “Well, lookie here. Ain’t you sitting pretty? Win a jackpot in Vegas?”

    “No,” Zoltan says. “We earned this money the hard way. We worked for it.”

    Well, they all hoot and cackle and say sure we did, and all that. Then they get serious and ask us how we really made it.

    So, Yanska steps up and reminds everyone how much Zoltan likes gambling and jokes and everyone nods and says yeah and all.

    Then she says, “A man and an ostrich go into a bar. The man says to the barkeep, ‘I’ll bet you a hundred bucks I can make this ostrich talk.’ And of course the barkeep tells them to get lost. So then Zoltan says, double-or nothing, I can make this ostrich talk….”

    And the rest is history.

    • Gullie – your stories are always a delightful romp. Jeff

    • Gully. your are so creative, so imaginative, so easy to read , so… so…so… well, enough. Beautiful and funny story.

    • to Gully and Cheryl: the only two ladies in the group that know about the convertible I bought in 2009.
      I sold it yesterday with 19700 miles on the odometer, still with the smell of a new car.
      The buyer gave me a rock bottom price for it. However, he paid very well for the Panama hat I wore when driving it, for the pipe I used to smoked and for the false mustache I put on to look like David Niven. At the end, it turned to be a good deal.

    • aWW, only from the mind of Gully….wonderful

    • So your muse came out from under the bed (or wherever you keep her) and lit a fire under your fingers. Gullie’s travels via ostrich narrator. I bet you’ve even been to all these places. Good to see your muse is in such supple shape. Quite wonderful.

  7. Ooopsies: “no Flea Bag…” and “rendering emu oil out of this ostrich body…” And a few tense changes I didn’t catch.

  8. “Yanska, what shall we do?” asked Zoltan, once Zoltan the Magnificent, now Zoltan the Downhearted. “No job, no money, after all these circus years, just emu’s, just two stinking emu’s.”

    “Let’s go to the cabin,” Yanska said just above a whisper, “Let’s get there somehow.”

    Zoltan closed his eyes, the cabin, sitting on the land his granddad’s grandpa cleared. He could hear the stream bubbling as it ran by, he could smell the clean air, no phone, no tv, no one to bother them. It would be a wonderful place for Yanska to let her sciatica mend, to let him clear his mind of these problems. “Yes, to the cabin we will go.”

    Zoltan put together a yard sale and sold all they had except for the basics and his two emu’s. After packing what was left, the saddled up the emu’s for their journey to Upper Sanduski and the cabin they loved. The trip was uneventful except for getting pulled over by a patrolman for speeding through his speed trap. Zoltan didn’t know an emu could run 35 in a 25.

    Zoltan and Yanska sat on the porch and watch the emu’s picking at the grass near the stream. Zoltan could hear Yanska’s stomach growl and knew the knot in his was also lack of eating for the last couple of days.

    Zoltan looked at the emu’s, one emu would feed them for many days if not weeks. He loved his emu’s, but he loved Yanska more and easing her discomfort was his priorty. He stood and walked to the old shed, there he found his grandpa’s corn knife, the edge still sharp as if it was sharpened just yesterday. Zoltan did what he had to do, as he brought the butchered emu to the cabin, Yanska cried, both for joy to have something to eat, and sadness for having to sacrifice the emu. As they cleaned the carcass of the feathers, they started telling stories of the past and their mood improved to where they were having a pucking good time.

  9. I loved the visual of emus in a speed trap. I am curious over the word pucking – I went to Mr. Google and came up with two definitions that cant be repeated here, regardless of how funny. Jeff

  10. I was happy to read that emus can be ridden. That is a new fact for me. There should be emu races, since watching a jockey hanging onto an emu at 35 MPH would be quite entertaining. However, I beg you to rethink that ending. Too creepy. Let them eat cake.

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  12. A reunion! That’s something to consider. All you writers could deduct the travel expenses as a business expense, and we could take turns teaching what we’ve learned and reading our stuff. I’ll have to give this some thought. Who would actually think of coming if there were a reasonable date, place, and plan?

  13. I’d be compelled to sign up for that. I once attended a writing workshop on a cruise to Alaska.

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