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George, Isolde, and the Brass Ring Polka Band

As soon as she did, she would feel guilty; she had committed another mortal sin and was going to bur

This dedication is long and necessarily so. The book has taken me three decades to write, mostly because I didn’t start actually putting pen to paper, so to speak, until I had all my background ducks in a row. Putting ducks in a row is like herding cats; patience becomes the primary virtue.

This book is Tom Woolfolk’s fault. Well, actually, Tom’s and Sheila’s jointly. We three commuted to work together for a few years in the early eighties, and during those long and boring rides, more than once talked about the characters and some of the craziness in this entire book. Most of the limericks were written during those commutes, and I must admit, not by me so much as by Sheila and Tom. Tom or I would throw out a beginning, and we’d all collaborate on the middle, but more often than not, it was they who supplied the punch line. So thanks have to go out to them first. Second, I have to thank David, Susan, and Michelle. None of this would have been possible without them, and besides, I owe them a thank you for some of the happiest years of my life. No doubt, they will each see something of themselves in this missive, and if I have misinterpreted, or misstated their feelings I trust they will forgive me. I remember a quote from Woody Guthrie we had on the refrigerator at Brisbane Road “ …if I had longer arms, I’d push the clouds away…” Words cannot begin to convey my indebetness . . .

In the recent past there have been other people, to whom I also owe a huge debt of gratitude. First, let me mention “the little people.” Dennis Barnes, Barbara DeCeasere, and Bruce Waldron – thanks for inadvertently giving me the courage to tackle this, by doing your own first. Anne Poissant, thanks for eating all those M &M,s, and all those hours you spent telling me what and how you felt. You showed me, perhaps more than anyone, the value of accepting, looking at, and voicing feelings. Most of all, you showed me the legitimacy of them. Jeri, thank you for explaining mortal sin, in ways that even I, a non-believer could understand. After I realized I was just as committed to Hell for one as for many, it became easier to continue sinning. But I still do not understand why confession is necessary, if God knows and sees all. Because all is all, including what is in our hearts and heads. And I still think confession is for the priests’ prurient pleasure.

Edie Ann – I know you think you left me out of love – I hope you still think so. Yes, music is my first love, and yes you are right, I can live without you. But not a week passes that I wish I didn’t have to.

Last, but furthest from least, I want to thank Lynn Karr, who did the transcriptions. I once said I would be beholden to you, Lynn, and I indeed am.

Any mistakes that remain are purely my own, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly intentional, so, if the shoe fits, wear it proudly.

Chapter I

The nuns had said it was a mortal sin. She thought about that sometimes, but it didn’t stop her. If it felt so good, why did God make it a mortal sin, she wondered. And what else was it for, except to feel good? She didn’t use it to pee through, like she’d seen her older brother do out back behind the barn. And it wasn’t for having babies, or it would have been on the diagrams in the booklet her mother had given her. It wasn’t even mentioned at all. She wondered if she was different. That was how the nuns found out. They heard her asking the other girls in her class when they all thought they were alone in the lavatory. So when she was eighteen, she stopped confessing it. Besides, she reasoned, if I’m going to die, I can confess it and be absolved of all the times. It never occurred to her that God might not buy into a last minute change of heart. Hers was the New Testament God of love and forgiveness; not the Old Testament Yahweh of vengeance, sending locusts and floods and extracting retribution unto the seventh generation.

So, when her brother was out playing ball with his friends, she would sneak into his room and get the Playboy magazines he had hidden under the mattress. She didn’t like the centerfolds; they always looked fake to her, as if someone had felt the need to airbrush away every flaw. But she liked to look at the other girls with their beautiful breasts and perfect nipples and shaved pussies. She would close her bedroom door and disrobe in front of her mirror and look at herself alongside of the girls in the magazine and wonder if they sometimes touched themselves there, too. As she gazed and wondered, her fingers idly touching first her nipples and then that place, she would soon build herself to a sharp breathless climax. As soon as she did, she would feel guilty; she had committed another mortal sin and was going to burn in Hell forever. One day, when she was putting the magazines back in their hiding place, she saw little black pieces of dirt under the bed. She instantly realized they were mouse droppings and was repulsed. She went into the bathroom and washed her hands for a long time, letting the water run until it was almost too hot to stand. After that, she never “borrowed” her brother’s magazines again. Many years later, when she had a “mother-daughter talk” with her little girl, she told her that it was okay to do what feels good, but to do it to herself and not with boys unless she was ready to have babies.

Chapter II

Jeff was a normal baby. He chased his tail, just like his siblings. He scampered about in the walls just like his brothers and sisters. When he had to pee or poop, he did it wherever he was, so long as he was outside the den. (Even mice don’t shit where they live.) So, over the course of a warming spring, and even warmer summer, he had the run of the farmhouse they all called home. One day, while searching for new routes through the kitchen, he stumbled into the drawer where the kitchen knives were kept. Now, you should understand, Mr. Stoltzfuss was very particular about some things. Normally, a disorganized (some would say messy) man, he had a penchant for organization in some areas. He had coffee cans, for example, with the lids labeled in magic marker, “4d galvfin”, or “8d com” or “1” RSSR”. Each can had only those nails in it described on the lid. He had a cabinet of 64 drawers, with each labeled from 0 – 80 to ¼ - 20 for all his machine screws and nuts. He even had washers and lock washers sorted by type and size. He was also a fanatic about keeping things sharp. He firmly believed, and would happily tell anyone who would listen, that edged tools should have an EDGE. He was also fond of saying that the only time he ever cut himself was because a dull knife had slipped off the work and into his finger.

So the knives among which Jeff found himself were razor sharp. (That, in fact, was how Mr. Stoltzfuss checked them. He shaved with them. When Mrs. Stoltzfuss caught him in the bathroom one morning, all lathered up with her favorite paring knife poised over his chin, she threw a fit. But that’s another story.)

So Jeff was in really dangerous territory wondering around the knife drawer in the kitchen that night. And, sure enough, he had just stepped off the butcher knife onto a filleting knife when it happened. His foot slipped. Instinctively, his tail shot out for balance, and the top of it was cut off on the edge of that same paring knife Mr. Stoltzfuss had been shaving with when his wife caught him.

So, you see, the legend of the Three Blind Mice, like most legends, has some basis in fact, although it has become highly embellished over the years.

But to continue our story….

Jeff, realizing too late the error of his ways, got the Hell out of Dodge. He was so traumatized that he left the farmhouse altogether.

The next day, Mrs. Stoltzfuss used the paring knife to slice tomatoes for everyone’s salad. They all got salmonella poisoning. The doctor called the FDA, and they put out a big news story, warning against eating tomatoes from either Mexico or California, they weren’t sure which. A couple of days later, Mrs. Stoltzfuss noticed the mouse droppings in the knife drawer. She called the doctor, who called the FDA, who made a formal retraction. It was run as a very minor news item. Because Mrs. Stoltzfuss ran all the knives through the dishwasher, Mr. Stoltzfuss decided they needed to be resharpened.

Chapter III

George was a musician. Like most musicians, he had sense enough not to quit his day job, but (also like most musicians) he did not have enough business sense to have a high-paying day job. He worked as a mechanic. But he earned enough twisting wrenches to make the rent on his doublewide in Pasadena. “The yard has sand and sun, and the Magothy River is only ten minutes away,” he would say when asked why he did not move nearer the water. He had a 1967 VW Beetle (“The ONLY year VW to own,” he would point out whenever anyone cast aspersions at its age. It has the most power of all the VW’s, and no emission junk to deal with, and they got the heat problems solved in 1967,” he always added proudly, as if he had designed the improvements himself.) In fact, it was pretty marginal. It had a lot of miles on it; the motor had been rebuilt twice, and the transaxle once. Winter salt had taken its toll on the floor pans and rocker panels. But it ran, and was easy on gas, and did not use a lot of oil, so George was happy with it. Besides, he reasoned, the space behind the rear seat is a perfect fit for the accordion and amp. It also had the advantage (for George, at least) of being about as mechanically complicated as a Model A Ford, but was capable of highway speeds of 60 to 70 miles per hour. In short, it was an ideal car for someone who was handier at fixing things than at earning enough cash to pay someone else to fix them, which George was.

George was also, as his musician friends said, “too smart by half”. Consequently, when he was driving, his mind was rarely on the task at hand. He would let his mind wander as he drove. Thinking about changes in the scenery would remind him about chord changes, which would remind him that he needed new cord for his string trimmer, and that a chord of the circle on the power hacksaw he wanted to build would determine the stroke, unless he used a cam, in which case the cam would become a theoretical circle… and so on.

This penchant of his for thinking about things, and not about driving, is why Isolde refused to ride in the front seat with him. She loved him, she guessed. At least she stayed with him, and had been for about ten years. She had come into the shop with the tow driver and her Toyota hanging off the back of his rig. When George told her the motor was “nothing more than a fond memory” and that a new one would be two thousand dollars, plus the labor to install it, she burst into tears. She started blubbering something about a pregnant daughter and how she told her and told her to masturbate and that this was the wages of sin and her husband had run off two weeks ago with a bimbo temp secretary, and she just KNEW it was all her fault for wanting to feel good as a kid. Well, it was all too much for George, so he said, “You wanna go with me to get a glass of wine or something?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he felt stupid, because it was no time to be thinking about wine, but when she had said, “pregnant daughter” he was only half listening and somehow heard “piquant water”, which reminded him of “decant” and that led to a sudden thirst for Cabernet. Much to his surprise, she stopped crying and looked up at him, and said, “I know this really great place with a good wine list. Can you have the tow guy take my Toyota to the junkyard? What do you drive? Can I put my stuff in your car? It’s just my backpack and a few things I carry around. You know. Just in case.”

It turned out the “few things” were a tent, cook stove, air mattress, cooking and eating utensils, sleeping bag, a small folding shovel, a folding campstool, and an umbrella. They packed it all into the backseat of the VW, except for the tent. George put that up front on top of the gas tank and his old Navy blanket.

She went home with him to his doublewide that night, after they had both consumed much more wine than the legal limit for driving, and had stayed ever since.

On Friday, George had a gig. It was on the Eastern Shore, between Easton and Cambridge. It was a polka shindig outdoors with crabs and grilled corn on the cob and all the accoutrements. It didn’t pay much, but they had promised to feel the musicians, and “significant others” were invited too. Besides, George loved playing all those old European dances. Polkas, and schottisches and tarantellas. So he arranged with his boss to get off early, and headed into Annapolis to pick up Isolde. She was working as a temp for an outfit on Riva Road.

She got in the back seat on the passenger side and after leaning across the middle to give George a perfunctory kiss hello, settled back to ignore the traffic and road ahead. She refused to sit up front. She said George drove too close to the edge of the road, and when he hit a tree or mailbox, which she just KNEW he was bound to do sooner or later, she wanted to be able to cushion herself against the back of the passenger seat. “No flying windshield glass for her, no sir.” Was what she had said. Watching the road scared her, so she watched the scenery out the side window, or, if that was too boring, occupied her mind by making up limericks. She liked to make up dirty ones; she said it was more fun that way. When they first started living together, she used to make them up in bed, while she and George were having sex. But it always gave her the giggles, which ruined the moment for both of them, so she stopped doing that.

So George was driving along on Route 50, trying to remember if daisies have five petals or seven (they had just passed a billboard advertising Daisy yogurt) when Isolde said,
“There once was a girl in London

Who cried out, “Oh, my God, Sir! I am undone!”

George snapped out of his reverie, steered left back into the center of his lane, and listened for the rest. He had learned over the years not to suggest additional lines because all it ever did was make Isolde frustrated with him. She said it “derailed her train of thought” and “dried up the creative juices”. George figured it must have dried up other juices as well, because she refused to have sex with him for days afterward.

So he patiently (or not) listened as she searched for the ending lines:


“bad pun”

“cute bun”

“quite fun”

“THAT’S IT!” she exclaimed.

“What’s it?” asked George.

“No, no, just listen,” she said.

“There once was a maid of London

Who cried out, “Oh my God, Sir! I’m undone!”

Replied he, “Do not fret, for I’m willing to bet

That someday you’ll think it’s quite fun.”

George and Isolde broke into gales of laughter, and the VW did, too. At least that’s what George thought at first. He soon realized it was the motor coughing as it ran out of gas. He rapped the gas gauge with the back of his knuckle, but the needle stayed where it was; three quarters of a tank. He pulled off onto the shoulder just as the motor died. George got out of the car and went around front to check the gas tank.

He was particularly proud of his job on that tank. When he first got the car, the original tank was badly rusted on the bottom, so he had replaced it with a tank from a 1953 Beetle. The fill hole was about six inches in diameter on the early VWs, and George liked being able to check the gas level with a stick. He also used to get gas for his lawn mower from the car by immersing a Coke bottle in it. He had modified the ’53 tank by cutting a hole in it to mount the fuel gauge sending unit, but left the reserve valve from the old tank operable. So he felt like he had the best of both the old and the new.

He couldn’t find a stick, so he stuck his hand in the filler hole. Gasoline was up to his wrist. That was plenty. He looked under the car to see if the line had rusted, but saw no telltale wet spots on the rusty under pan, so he went around to the back of his car and opened the hood to the motor compartment.

He took off the air cleaner and tried to peer into the top of the carburetor, but couldn’t get his head directly above it, so couldn’t tell if gas was in the carb or not. He disconnected the fuel line to the carb, but being higher than the tank, it was dry. Then he hit upon a plan. He asked Isolde to get in the driver’s seat and crank the engine. Being used as she was to newer vehicles, the first thing she did as press the gas pedal to the floor once.

“Don’t do that!” exclaimed George.

“Just turn the key and let me play gas from back here,” he said more patiently.

Isolde did as she was told, fully expecting to hear the motor come to life, but she was disappointed. After a few seconds, “Hang on,” George shouted up to her.

And then, “Okay, try it again.”

She did, and again was disappointed when it did not start. What she did not know was that George had disconnected the fuel line to the carburetor the first time, and got no gas. He had then disconnected the line from the tank to the fuel pump and blown in it until he felt air bubbles going into the tank at the other end. He had then reconnected that line, and had her crank the engine to see if the fuel pump was working, which, he ascertained, it most definitely was not.

The VW mechanical fuel pump consists of a neoprene diaphragm sandwiched between two metal disks, with a flap valve to allow the fuel to pass in only one direction. The whole shebang is bolted to the motor case. It is relatively easy to get to, either to disassemble or to replace it; the first requiring undoing a ring of screws securing the disks. As we said, VWs were only slightly more complicated than the old Model A Fords.

At this point maybe a word or two about Isolde is in order. Having many years earlier exhibited her independency by sexually rebelling against the Catholic Church, as she matured she found more socially acceptable ways of maintaining her independent nature. Probably that is, as Martha Stewart would say, “a good thing.” One can hardly go around masturbating in public without raising a few eyebrows. What she learned was this: a lady can appear to be as helpless as she chooses, provided she is prepared to be resourceful when necessary. Isolde’s approach to resourcefulness was to carry a variety of items in her backpack. She almost never carried merely a purse. On those social occasions when a purse was called for, she had her trusty backpack in her car. When she was dating, some men had a problem with her appearing at the door wearing an evening gown, and carrying both a small clutch and her backpack, but she always laughed it off, saying, “A girl never knows what she might get into (or out of) during a night on the town.” Most men took that to mean the backpack contained a change of clothing and that they were going to score that night. She thought most men were idiots. They were also sadly mistaken. The ones who did score were the ones who just offered to carry her backpack for her. She always thought of it as a test. If they simply offered to carry her pack for her, without questioning looks or surprise, they were flexible enough in their world outlook to be potential mates. She hardly ever carried a change of clothes in her backpack. What she did carry was this:

3 canned sodas – usually Coke for the caffeine

1 pack of 3 condoms – lubricated (just in case she got lucky)

1 flashlight with spare batteries and bulb

1 small vibrator with spare batteries (in case she got lucky but her partner passed out)

1 adjustable wrench

1 small pair locking pliers

1 pair wire cutters

1 piece (about 2 feet) of baling wire

1 piece (12” X 12”) aluminum foil, folded up

1 leatherman pocket tool (she called it her geek tool)

1 corkscrew

4 large band aids and a small container of iodine

1 pair of cotton panties

1 pack of three tampons

1 pack of chewing gum – the real kind, not sugarless

1 small magnifying glass

2 packs of matches

1 small sewing kit into which she had added a double-edged razor blade

1 length (about 3 feet) of clothes line rope

1 roll of electrical tape

1 roll of duct tape

1 small can of 3-in-1 oil

2 sheets of newspaper

1 folding garden trowel

1 pair of rubber gloves (the kitchen kind, not surgical ones)

1 “throwaway” camera

And whatever paperback book she had going on at the time.

She felt certain that, provided she was not killed or badly injured, she could survive any car, plane, or train accident and manage for up to three days if need be. Of course, it is readily apparent that she did not consider clothing; one presumes she must have dressed seasonally at all times.

So, having concluded the problem was with the fuel pump, George began fishing in his pockets for his pocket knife. He planned to use the back of the blade as a screwdriver. Isolde, having grown impatient with waiting, stuck her head around the side of the car, just as George was fishing around in his pockets.

“George!” she said petulantly. “This is no time to be playing pocket pool. Leave that thing alone.”

George, surprised by her voice and sudden appearance, immediately snatched both hands out of his pockets.

“I was looking for a screwdriver,” he said sheepishly.

“Don’t try to make up a story,” she replied. “You know you never carry a screwdriver in your pocket.”

“Well, not a screwdriver, exactly,” a startled George replied.

“I should hope not. More like a surrogate screw, I’d say,” interjected Isolde, with a twinkle in her eye.

By now George realized she was just messing with him and regained his composure enough to explain.

“Well, I was going to use my pocket knife to undo the screws on this durned fuel pump…”

“If you need a screw DRIVER, just ask,” Isolde chuckled as she turned. “I have one in my backpack.”

George watched her sashay around to the passenger door. “God, I love her,” he thought. “Who else but Isolde would laugh at our predicament AND be able to supply the tool to fix it?”

With Isolde’s Leatherman tool, George soon had the recalcitrant pump apart.

“Uh-oh. The flap valve is broken,” he said.

“Can you fix it?” she asked.

“Not without a piece of sheet metal,” was his reply.

“Oh, gee. That’s too bad. No… wait a minute,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

She went back into the car and soon reappeared. “Here,” she said. “Drink this.” She thrust an opened can of Coke into his hand.

“This isn’t Alice in Wonderland, with bottles labeled ‘Drink Me’ that solve all our problems,” George said a little edgily.

”No, silly. Drink the Coke and use the Leatherman knife to cut a valve out of the can.”

George dropped the can and grabbed her in a big bear hug. “I just LOVE you!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, yeah. You just want some,” she said as she kissed his cheek. “You’re spilling the Coke.”

George could not understand why she would never say she loved him except when they were in bed together, but he just picked up the can, took another swig, and said, “I really do, you know. You are good for me.”

“Love me, or want some?”

“Both, Silly. But right now I just meant I love you.”

“I love you, too. Now fix the fucking pump before we’re late for the gig.”

George smiled happily as he repaired the pump. “She really does love me,” he thought.

Isolde sat in the back seat of the car, watching the flat fields of soybeans roll by, and wondered if that was what love is: being able to laugh together in the face of adversity. “I can’t believe I actually said it,” she mused.

to be continued ............................

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