Chapter Six

The Fiasco

They’re both laughing while Eli agrees, “That was a great story, Mayme and I can see why you keep it a secret.” After a few moments and their laughter has diminished he adds, “It reminds me of something that happened to me where one event leads to another and it also involves a big lady.”

“Is this your secret?”

“Well, no it’s definitely not a secret,” Eli confesses then boasts, “Most everyone in Fayette knows this story.”

“Great, I’m in the mood for another story, Eli. Please, tell me,” Mayme implores. “This has been fun. I want it to be a magnificent story.”

“After I graduated from high school I went to work in the shoe store. Now normally the store closed at five o’clock. But this Friday the owner of the shoe store, Mr. Thomas, decided he wanted to keep the store open later and of course it was going to be my job to stay late. Now, whenever I was working Mr. Thomas always made me keep a pencil over my ear. That was his style.” Eli changes to a deeper voice as he does his impression of his boss. “You must conform so you don’t waste time looking for a pencil when it comes time to fill out the bill of

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sale. Give the customer extra time and they might change their mind.” Eli resumes his normal voice, “Now my friend Jerry and I like the Amos and Andy show and we never missed it. Because I had to work on this evening Jerry came to the shoe store to listen to the show with me. Mr. Thomas had a radio in the store just to listen to the Cubs games and wouldn’t have liked it if he knew we were listening to Amos and Andy. We were about two minutes into the show when Mrs. Hanson came in and wanted to know if the shoes that were in the window came in her size. Now Mrs. Hanson is a nice lady but really large and I don’t mean tall. She had been in before and when she sat in the chair her hips ended up resting on top of the arm rests. In other words she is much wider than the chair. The chairs are the metal kind where the seats are upholstered but the sides are open under the tubular metal arm rests. Do you know the kind I am talking about?” Mayme, now wide eyed with intense interest, nods in the affirmative. “OK, so I went into the back and came out with the shoes and asked her if they were the ones she wanted. Mrs. Hanson said ‘yes they are the ones’ as she started to back up to the chair. Right at that moment Andy had said something that really set Jerry laughing and he slapped me on the back. That knocked the pencil off its perch over my ear and I watched it fall to the floor as if in slow motion. It landed right in front of the chair just as Mrs. Hanson’s left toe came down on it. She had these cork soled shoes on that had no separate heel so there was nothing to stop the rolling action of the pencil under her foot. Now this is still playing in slow motion in my mind to this day. Mrs. Hanson’s right foot was still forward as she had just stepped back with her left. The left foot then went sailing forward, rolling on the pencil which shifted her center of gravity way behind her feet. That left her enormous weight to fall

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unfettered into that chair full force. The momentum of those parts that would have normally rested on top of the arm rests carried right on through to underneath the arm rests. I looked at her, I’m sure with my mouth agape, and she looked at me as her expression went from surprise to shock. Then as soon as it reached anger she started drawing a deep breath for what I could tell was going to be an unrestrained tongue lashing for me. Right at that moment the right leg tubing folded under the chair as simultaneously the left tube collapsed outward. She hit the floor with a bounce, legs straight out. Her expression then progressed to horror. There she was sitting on the floor unable to get up with her butt securely clamped in that tangled mess of steel tubing that used to be a chair. She began rocking side to side, flailing her arms and screaming at Jerry and me to get her up. When she rocked back to the side with the chair leg folded under she rolled onto her side. Now she’s trapped to the floor with her legs kicking, her arms flailing and her screaming. It looked like some Spanish Inquisition torture device with that one big metal loop that used to be the left leg stuck straight up in the air. Now remember that Jerry and I are experienced at wrestling old ladies so with no discussion we both grabbed her right hand and pulled until we got her rolled upright again. Then Jerry moved to grab her left hand and we both pulled with all our might. We finally moved our grip to her armpits and we did get her up. However the chair was still securely fastened to Mrs. Hanson because her hips and thighs were squished under the arm rests. The back rest of the chair was keeping her half bent over but she started running around anyway. Jerry and I were pulling on the chair in futility while she was dragging us all over the store. This whole time she was screaming at the top of her lungs.” Mayme has tears rolling down her face and her

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infectious laugh is causing Eli to embellish his story. “There she was swinging Jerry and me around the store like we were rag dolls, slamming us into every shelf and table until they were all destroyed with shoes flying everywhere. By now she’s turning fast enough to make a figure skater envious. I was hanging on to that chair tubing for dear life but the futility became apparent and she flung me off like a catapult crashing me into the desk holding the cash register. The desk took a beeline to the wall allowing the cash register to free fall to the floor narrowly missing me. With me gone her mighty swing gained momentum and I watched Jerry’s feet touch the floor less and less until he sailed into the wall and ricocheted like a perfect bank shot into the window display. She stopped spinning and eyeballed her exit. She bolted full speed for the doorway but when she got there she was wider than the door because those parts of Mrs. Hanson that normally stuck out the back were now squeezed under the arm rests with those parts that normally stuck out the side. Her full momentum as she entered the doorway jammed her in there like a cork in a wine bottle. So there she was stuck solidly in the doorway, screaming while her feet are running but not going anywhere.” Eli ends his story and joins Mayme, both laughing uncontrollably.

She begs haltingly between laughs, “Eli… Please… Stop…I hurt.” Finally she gets her breath and protests, “Wow, my side hurts!” As her laughing subsides she looks at the pharmacist counter. Eli turns to see what has her attention. Two customers are staring at them, one of them an older lady with an expression of disgust. Eli turns back in time to see Mayme giving them a scowl as if to say ‘what are you looking at?’ She looks back to Eli and complains, “They are ruining the moment, Eli.”

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Based on Mayme’s laughter, Eli congratulates himself on a story that has achieved ‘magnificent’ status. However it is essentially done and he feels compelled to erase her melancholy. Eli assures, “Don’t worry Mayme, I will restore the moment. There is more. It isn’t over.” He glances around and sees that he has gained the attention of everyone within hearing range. His only concern is Mayme so he ignores them. Although he doesn’t know what he’s going to say, he is emboldened by the belief that he is now capable of spinning a good yarn so he continues, “Now remember Mrs. Hanson is stuck in the doorway. All this ruckus had attracted the attention of everyone outside listening to the Friday evening high school band concert. Her screaming at full volume was evidently much louder than the band playing Sousa’s Stars and Stripes. Men from the outside took hold of each of Mrs. Hanson’s arms. Two on each arm so there were four of them pulling from the outside. Jerry and I hurriedly regained our grips on the tangled tubes and pulled the other way ‘cause we could plainly see from our vantage point that Mrs. Hanson is not getting out that door unless her hips and butt were let loose. All of a sudden the chair let go of Mrs. Hanson and Jerry and I let go of the chair. We ran backwards a few steps before landing on our butts on the floor. Landing where I did gave me a ringside seat to the resulting calamity. The large tubular steel pretzel went flying over our heads thus destroying the only thing in the store so far unscathed which was the ceiling fan. The ceiling fan narrowly missed us by landing between Jerry and me. The combination of Mrs. Hanson’s running feet and the four guys pulling created an unstoppable force the effects of which would rival a locomotive going downhill with a full head of steam. The four men galloping backwards, still ahold of Mrs. Hanson charging

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forward made a direct assault on the Fayette County Quilting Club display stand outside the shoe store.” Eli was quite proud of himself being able to fabricate this tale on the fly. “The quilts and the stand, which could now be classified as kindling, went flying and landed at the base of the cattle trough full of sweet corn which of course had a glorious fire going at its base. Within seconds, fueled by the quilts and wooden sticks the fire grew immensely. All the members of the band were leaping off the hay wagons. A bunch of men went running the other way trying to put out the fire by using their hats to bail the boiling water from the cattle troughs onto the fire. This was probably the only hat and cob fire brigade in history. They got the fire out but not before about thirty people were scalded from being hit with flying boiling ears of corn. All the corn was ruined by getting dumped out on the road. That brought an immediate end to what is now known as the last annual Fayette Corn Festival. I got blamed for the whole thing. The townsfolk were ready to tar and feather me. I told Mr. Thomas the next day that the burden of responsibility for the whole mess should lie on Amos & Andy and the stupid pencil he made me put over my ear but he fired me anyway. I will never forget that day as long as I live. I am sure it will live on in Iowa folklore as the Great Amos & Andy Pencil Fiasco.” Eli stops and laughs with Mayme who has fully regained her cheerful mood. Eli looks around and realizes he has the attention of everyone in Kessler’s. They are all laughing now. They must have overheard the last part of his story or it’s simply due to contagious laughter. After a few moments Mayme’s laugh is just starting to taper off then Eli says with a straight face, “But then again they may choose to forget it.” As innocuous as that statement was, it sets Mayme off in an uncontrollable roar. She has reached a point

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where anything will make her laugh. Now Eli has caught the contagion so he is laughing. Everyone in Kessler’s is still laughing.

Finally, between gasps she gets out, “What a…. horrible…. but funny…. episode! My side is killing me. That is a true tragicomedy.” Mayme laughingly quips, “Wow, I guess you are right. You probably are infamous in Fayette.”

After Eli has regained his composure he announces, “Well, until today I thought that day was the worst day of my life.”

This remark immediately sobers Mayme. She has a look of bewilderment. “Oh no, you mean you think today has been worse than that?!”

“Not at all Mayme. I just realized that had it not been for the Great Amos & Andy Pencil Fiasco I wouldn’t be here right now. Ever since Pearl Harbor I had been wanting to sign up but Mr. Thomas insisted I stay because with both sons gone he really needed me there. This had bothered me because when I would go to West Union or someplace people didn’t know me, strangers would give me funny looks like why is this young guy not enlisted. But anyway his wife became ill right after his sons joined up. He said he couldn’t run the store by himself because he had to stay with her more. So I felt sorry for him and promised I would stay and help him at least until I finished college. I figured I wouldn’t have to wait too long because eventually the draft would free me from that promise. The Fiasco released me instead. That was Friday and on Monday morning Jerry and I went to Des Moines to enlist. So, as of today, what had been the worst day of my life has become the second best day of my life because it led to us being together. Now I firmly believe it was fate that made that pencil fall from my ear.” Eli has just realized this next point and continues on

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as if Mayme knows what he is talking about. “I can see the Pencil Fiasco was exactly what my father was talking about. Today has been, by far, the best day of my life but would have never happened without the Fiasco.”

“Oh, Eli,” Mayme gushes, “you go from upsetting me to saying the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. But now you said something puzzling about your father. You said your father tried to tell you the Fiasco was a good day?”

“Oh, no, I am referring to another thing about life my father had told me. All he said about the Fiasco was c’est la vie. What he had told me in one of his big father-son speeches was that fate steers people’s lives by usually unnoticed little events. He told me to be observant and not to resist the obvious turns presented by those events. To do so might have a negative impact on my life. If an event leaves multiple choices none of which are clear I must use my common sense to go with the safest choice and if that fails use intuition. It just occurred to me that applying his theory to the Fiasco meant it was a marker set in my path of life by destiny and it makes perfect sense now. A pencil falling at a precise moment in time had released me to do what I had wanted to do which then brought me to you at this moment. This was all engineered by Fate, Mayme.”

“Wow, your father is profound. You said ‘father-son speeches’. How many speeches have there been? ”

“Well, let’s see,” Eli ponders. “The first one was about God, my soul and my conscience. Then there was the one that I just mentioned about little events caused by fate. Then there was one about girls that he told me after Sharon. Then there was one about how to find my

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mate and how to maintain a marriage for life. Those were just the big ones. He had a few small talks too.”

“How to maintain a marriage for life,” Mayme repeats. “Now that is one you are going to have to share with me.

“But first I will have to make a confession to you.”

“What is that, Eli?”

“Well, the story I told you was true. But when you said you needed a magnificent story I felt the need to embellish the end a little,” Eli admits. “And that was right after I made a promise to you that I would always be truthful.”

“My father always says every good story needs to be seasoned with just a little exaggeration to make it a great story,” Mayme quotes. “Leave the story in my mind with no corrections, please. But anyway you still owe me a secret. I need it to be something no one knows, not even Jerry. I want it to be a part of you that is only known to me.”

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