Wednesday, December 12, 2012


How quickly some things plummet to the murky depths of oblivion. How easily can last year’s shining stars become dead debris floating in space – destined to burn up entering the Earth’s atmosphere (in route to those murky depths of oblivion).

Take for example the bicycle handlebar ashtray and spittoon. Last year, suppliers could not keep these items on the shelves and the mail order houses were months behind in filling back orders. This holiday season, not one of either of these items has been purchased. Okay – sure – a few tandem bike Captains went up in flames when their Stokers’ aim with their cigarette butts wasn't quite up to par. And, yes, there were those petitions started by a handful of elementary school principles complaining about the number of little BMX bikes in their bike racks out front that had the handlebar ashtray accessories installed on them. The American public – especially the American cycling public – can be a fickle lot!

And that fickleness can darn sure make it hard for the loved ones of the American cycling public to figure out what to get them for Christmas! How are they going to know what the hot cycling-specific stocking stuffers are for this year? Well – once again – thank goodness for…

Bertha’s Christmas Gift Guide for the Cyclist in Your Life

Here’s a small sampling of letters received during the last few weeks wherein the loved ones of cycling fanatics, quite similar to the loved ones that you yourself may very well have at your home, write in to get guidance and advice for that perfect cycling-specific gift. (You will probably want to make a copy of this article and leave it laying around, sort of semi-conspicuously, for them to discover.)

Dear Bertha,
My son is a cycling nut. He gets out of bed three hours before sun up, straps his little headlight on his bike, dons his reflective gear, and then heads out for his normal 45-mile ride. Naturally, as his mother, I can’t help but worry about him while he is riding. What is the best thing I can get him for Christmas that shows I love him and support his sport but at the same time shows that I am concerned for his safety.
A Dear Son’s Mom – Sioux Falls, Iowa

Dear Mommy Dearest,
Sometimes a gift is more than a package sitting under a tree waiting to be unwrapped on Christmas morning. Many times a gift is an action or something that you actually do to show your love. I think in your circumstance, something along these lines would be a perfect gift – a gift to make his morning ride safer. And, this can be relatively inexpensive since most of what you will need can be found at your local hardware or home improvement store.

Right after your son goes to bed, take his bike out in the back yard (or other well-ventilated area) and spray paint it with fluorescent / reflective paint. This paint can also be brushed on if you are ecologically concerned about using an aerosol spray paint. I would suggest using two or three different colors to make the bike more visible. After the paint has dried just a bit, place several strips of red and silver reflective tape along all of the frame tubes. You can cut thin strips to stick to the sides of the tires and even wrap around the spokes. This whole procedure can be done in about thirty minutes. There is no need to waste any time masking off any surfaces. Don’t worry about covering up any wording on the frame – such as Colnago or Pinarello or Cervelo. A good rule of thumb: The more haphazard the paint job, the more hazard-free the ride. You might even want to think about doing this same treatment to his helmet and cycling shoes.

Believe me, when your son wakes up in the morning and sees your gift… let’s just say, I’m sure you’ll see faint traces of tears of joy in his eyes!

Dear Bertha,
Let me come right to the point – I’m beginning to not trust your advice. For three years now I have written you and asked about gift-giving ideas for my wife who is a cycling nut. Granted, I made the mistake the first year and bought her a vacuum cleaner but, after several surgeries, I somewhat recovered from that and the doctors reassure me that the few small skull fragments still embedded in parts of my brain will not cause too much long-term damage. Who would have guessed that the carpet cleaning attachment for the vacuum cleaner hose could have been hurled with so much force?

Other gift ideas you’ve suggested included leaving my spouse stuck in a vat of goop for 48 hours while a mold could be made of her riding a bicycle. Oh yes – I can see that idea racking up lots of points for husbands around the world. Thirdly – the handlebar ashtray? I don’t think you even want to know what my thoughts are on that ridiculous suggestion. I even saw where you suggested that some guy buy his wife a garbage disposal for Christmas. How, in heaven’s name, does a garbage disposal even come close to being a cycling related gift?

This year, I have decided that I’m getting my wife the 132-piece Craftsman mechanic tool set and 7-drawer toolbox – regardless of what you have to suggest differently.
Boris Jones – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

My Dear Boris,
Oddly enough, this is exactly what I was going to suggest for you this year. However, you might want to possibly consider making that the pink toolbox.

Dear Bertha,
I had a wonderful idea for a cycling accessory that would make a wonderful gift idea. I was hoping that with your connections and fabulous marketing skills, you could make this available to the masses within the foreseeable future.

I’m sure that I’m not the only woman in the universe whose husband insists on bringing his bicycle to bed with him. Sure this was fine when he was single and living alone, but even with our king-sized bed, it’s really beginning to get on my nerves just a little bit. I am thankful that he finally moved the bike from the middle of the bed but, since he insists that he absolutely must sleep on the right edge of the bed, this leaves me as the one that ends up sleeping next to the bike.

Now, what I’m thinking – and you’re probably already reading my mind here – padded bicycle pajamas. What do you think?
Gladys from Gladysville, Texas

Dear Gladys,
And people questioned my sanity over the handlebar ashtray!

Dear Bertha,
Okay. I’ll go out on a limb and trust you just one last time. Pink it is.

Merry Christmas Everyone - 

Enjoy the Ride!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Rebirth

OWWW! SON OF A GUN THAT HURT!” …came the outburst prompted by an abrupt penetration in her side. Before those words, or even those thoughts, could be completed the pain repeated itself. Again. Again. Again. “WHAT THE--???”

Even the thicker, protective rubber shell that covered seventy-five percent of her body and kept her from directly rubbing up against the destructive road surface had proven unable to halt the violation of sharp, aggressive end of a thumbtack. With the point firmly embedded in her tender skin as well as the outer shell, there was no escaping the rhythmic, recurring jab, jab jab, jab. All she could do was to bear the pain, slowly but decisively exhale, and wait for the rotation to slow to a stop.

Still cloaked in her normal darkness, she could hear the muted sounds of a frantic rescue effort underway. As she was jolted and jerked and tossed around, she was reassured that help was on the way and this horrible pain would soon come to an end. She heard the exclamation from the other side, “Here it is!”

OHHHHHMYYYYYGOSHHHHH! she screamed, as the force of the object being pulled from her skin was just as brutal as it was going in. In a futile attempt to ease the excruciating pain, she pushed all the remaining air from her body – leaving her body completely limp inside the protective shell. On the verge of passing out, she could still hear the muffled, fragmented sentences amongst the members of the rescue crew. “We need to hurry, we’re losing time.” … “Anyone got any CO2?” …“Here. Use these to get that tire off the rim.”  All of the sudden – daylight. Blinding daylight.

She felt a firm grip around her waist- (She thought to herself… “Waist?  Why did I say waist? How do I know that’s not my shoulders… or my hips? No… waist kinda makes sense. I have a valve stem and… other than that… I’m just one long continuous waist…. I guess.") … (It was obvious that she was delirious.) And in an instant, she was yanked from her cocoon. At last, someone will finally attend to her wound.

But instead of the anticipated first aid and urgent attention, she was flung to the roadside while the rescue team focused all of the energy to caring for the outer shell. “Hey! What the heck is going on here? Hey! Down here! What are you all doing?” She watched as they meticulously inspected every inch of the outer shell – inside and out. After giving it a clean bill of health, the rescue team mounted the outer shell back to the inner disc and brought out a brand new 700C and – of all things – installed it nice and cozy into her old place! Right there in front of her – while she watched! The nerve!

The rescue crew tucked the new 700C neatly into the outer shell, hooked her up to some oxygen and brought her to life. “HEY!! I’M THE INJURED ONE HERE – CAN NONE OF YOU HEAR? WHAT ABOUT ME?

Then, as if her plea had finally been heard, one of the rescue crew-members reached down and picked her up. “Well it’s about time!” But, instead of the TLC that she had expected, she was wadded up, shoved into a stinky back pocket of a sweaty jersey, and jostled around for another hour or so – until she was retrieved and tossed in a box in the back of an SUV.

She finally passed out.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“OHHHHHMYYYYYGOSHHHHH!” she screamed, and then quickly held her breath as she was forced under the surface of the water. What a way to be woke from a deep, deep coma-like sleep. How long had she been out? Where is she? And what the heck is happening now?

Then, as she feels the bubbling sensation near her side, she remembers. It slowly starts to come back to her…. the ride… the pain… the rescue and then the abandonment. How many months or even years ago had that been? Seemed like an eternity.

She feels pressure on her skin as someone makes a chalky mark on her body. (“Gross!”) Then, she is yanked from the tank of water and laid out on a bench to dry. In a few moments a sticky substance is slathered (Again, “Gross!”) across her skin where the tack had once violated her, followed by the application of a small patch of rubber and then an almost unbearable amount of pressure on the wound area. After a few minutes, the pressure is relieved and she is tossed in a pile.

She looks around the pile… there are five or six other 700C’s lying next to her – a couple of pretty good looking ones – a few a little worse for wear. There’s also a few 26ers, two little beefy 20ers and, of all things, a 27er! (Where the heck has he been hiding all these years?)  – all sporting bright, shiny new patches of rubber on their sides (or their waists – whatever).

Rebirth is good.

Enjoy the ride!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bugtussle's Bike Bags (Part 12.5)

Intermission II (Poetic Interlude the Sequel)

My Dear, Sweet Da-duh, Da-da-duh… Margaret,

(A week or two from now)
We opened at five as usual today -
Young Jimmy, here first, had unlocked the door.
Carl staggering in, unkempt, par for course,
Over two hours late - seven-o-four.

Of course Uptown Max, was eager to start,
With pastries stacked neatly in the display
In the nick of time as in through the door,
Morning’s first customers, the Rook and Jay.

Then Two Fish accompanied by Miss D;
Some long lost leftover child of the flower;
Young couple whose eyes kept each other’s gaze;
Place was a-hoppin' within the first hour.

Coroner popped in for his usual brew;
Uptown Max looked up, said, “Hey mornin’ Mel!”
Then from the deli, the delivery boy;
An Asian lady with nothing to tell.

Olra rambled on in singing a tune;
A guy from the train went into the Men’s.
But atmospheres changed one-eighty degrees
The very instant the Young Man walked in.

Your best friend forever and ever and ever,
Ma-muh, Ma-ma-muh…. Donald


On the southeast side of town, the sagging, wooden leaves of the double-wide garage door started creakily moving in the upward direction with the aid of the automatic opener. The door, as well as the unbearable noise, came to a stop – exposing the gorgeous tail end of a white on white 1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible – suicide doors and all. Within seconds of the garage door halting its motion, the white cloth top of the Lincoln started its routine of lifting loose from the windshield, whirring, folding, grinding, and tucking until it was completely hidden from view beneath the beautiful expanses of meticulously polished and shined sheet metal. Behind the wheel sat Emma. Emma took a scarf out of her purse and wrapped it around her hair – tied it in a knot beneath her chin and backed out of the garage.

As Emma backed the half-a-century old mechanical marvel and stylish masterpiece down the driveway, she stopped when she reached the sidewalk and pushed the button on the remote control to close the garage door. She then tapped lightly on the horn three times. Before the sound of the third tap had even subsided, the Dwarf emerged from the house next door and, at dwarf-speed, ran across the lawn and jumped in on the passenger side. Emma let her foot off the brake and backed on out into the street. Putting it drive, she drove one block west to the corner and then turned north onto Forest Hill Drive.

Shortly before reaching I-20, Emma pulled into the convenience store parking lot where a woman dressed in a cow suit and a man wearing a big diaper and a Nixon mask were waiting. Emma stopped long enough for them to climb in the back seat of the convertible then she pulled back out onto the street and headed in the direction of the Interstate.

(Back: Part 12  -  Scribbles on the Desk Blotter)

(Next: Part 13  -  Thirteen)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 12)

-    Scribbles on the Desk Blotter    -

Dolores entered the gate to the Riverside Cemetery and took the first foot path to the right – through the original section of the cemetery opened in 1907 according to the weathered plaque on the stone wall encompassing it. In this section, the monuments were tall and majestic – much like the rows of oak trees that formed an umbrella over them. Beyond the original section were several other areas opened in subsequent decades. Their ages measured primarily by the heights of the stone markers on the grave-sites. As the cemetery grew, the markers seemed to shrink in size until, as in the newest sections, the markers were flush with the tips of the surrounding lawn. It was so much easier for the yard crew to merely ride their massive  mowers over them without the need for a helper to follow along behind with a weed eater.

Dolores walked over to Section 8A. Most of the markers there were one foot or less in height. She walked along the second row and then stopped at the fifth marker from the pathway. It was definitely the tallest marker in this section and exceeded the regulation height of one foot by half again that amount – not even counting the two metal flower vases built in to the top edge. Dolores stopped and knelt down at the marker’s edge.  As she had done so many times during the last twenty-six years, she closed her eyes and ran her hands across the face of the stone – her mind’s eye reading the lettering sent from the tips of her fingers: ALPHONSE BAROOVRA  1938 - 1986.

As she spruced up the flowers in the two vases, she whispered, “Hey, it’s me again Alfie— I mean, Dr B. How’s everything going with you? Me? I’m not doing too well right now.”

Meanwhile, back over at the police station:

Detective Salamander, carrying a police regulation cardboard evidence box, walked into office he shared with Detective Bass and two other detectives.  He sat the box down on the table in the center of the room and opened the top. He started removing the clear plastic zip-locked bags of personal belongings that they had gathered from JP Bugtussle’s bike bags – the items that were in the panniers on the bike itself as well as the items that were in the bag that Jimmy had discovered under the coffee shop hedges. Just as Detective Bass entered the office with a couple of cups of black coffee, Sal pulled out the bag with the ballpoint pen.

“Good, you’ve got it,” exclaimed Arnold when he saw Sal with the ballpoint pen. He sat the cups of coffee on the table as Sal took the pen out of the bag and handed it to him. Arnold clicked the button exposing the pen tip and said, “Now, let’s see what we’ve got here…” He walked to his desk, leaned over and he started drawing circular scribbles on the blotter pad – continuous circular scribbles – blue continuous circular scribbles.

After making about twenty loops of scribbles on the blotter, Arnold put the pen down and walked over to the table to get his cup of coffee. Returning to his desk, he sat down, put his feet up and started sipping on his coffee – all the while keeping his eyes glued to the blue scribbles on his desk blotter.

Sal grabbed the other cup of coffee and walked over to his desk and leaned against it, halfway sitting on the desk top. He blew on his coffee, took a couple of sips and said, “How long do you plan on staring at that desk blotter?”

Arnold just sat there, feet on his desk, coffee cup cradled in both hands and pressed against his lips - slowly shaking his head – staring. Five minutes went by. Ten minutes. Fifteen. And at the exact moment that Sal was about to tell Arnold how stupid this whole thing was, Arnold sat up straight in his chair, sloshing a little coffee onto his pants before he could get the cup set down on his desk. He promptly pointed at the newly drawn blue scribbles and shouted to Sal, “Look at this!”

Sal took the couple of steps over to Arnold’s desk and looked at the blotter. The blue scribbles, drawn right next to the black scribbles from his pen just the day before, were starting to fade in sections. As both detectives watched, eyes steadily trained on the desk blotter, the sides of the scribbles started disappearing.  In a matter of moments, only the heavier thickness of the lines forming the top and bottom loops of the scribbles were still visible.  Within a minute after that – the blue scribbles were nowhere to be seen.

Arnold looked at Sal, “Get on the internet. Look up disappearing.” He then went to the evidence box and started digging for JP Bugtussle’s blank notebooks. 

-( 1997 )----------

“Louise, please – just let me explain,” pleaded Sherry. “I knew you wouldn’t want to talk to me but I—“

“Darn right I don’t want to talk to you. In fact, I’m ready to hang up right now.”

“Wait – Louise! Don’t hang up! I’ve got this good friend that needs some help and I think we can help him.”

“How can we help him? I don’t even know you any more – I don’t want to know you!”

“Please! Just listen to me Louise. Do you know about the power of the blood of the Madagascar Panther Chameleon?” asked Sherry - speaking as quickly as she could to try and pique Louise's curiosity.

The only reply that Sherry got to her question was the sound of the dial tone.

(Back: Part 11  -  Fortune Cookies)

(Next: Part 12.5  -  Intermission II - Poetic Interlude the Sequel)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 11)

-    Fortune Cookies    -

Dolores hadn’t had a cigarette since right before she walked into the hospital to identify her son’s body. She hadn’t really even thought about it. That had been three days ago – almost to the hour. She thought to herself how odd that was. She probably could have convinced herself she had more reasons to smoke a cigarette now than she had ever had before – the stress of the last three days; the loss of a son; having to identify the body; the search for the killer – with pretty much no clues as to who he or she or they were. Any truly dedicated smoker would have worked their way through the better part of a carton in thirty-six hours under those kinds of circumstances.

Once again, Dolores found herself walking towards the Riverside Cemetery – a journey she makes any time she needs the comfort of an old friend. The same journey she made a little more than thirty-six hours ago when she got the phone call from the police that her son had been killed and they needed her to come to identify the body. Riverside Cemetery is located on the bank of the West Fork Trinity River – just shy of two miles from Dolores’ house. But whenever she found herself in one of these moods, she didn’t mind the walk. It was comforting.

At about the half-way point, rows of family residences make way for about eight blocks of commercial establishments along each side of the road – mostly little Mom and Pop stores, the bulk of which are antique shops; a Laundromat; a donut shop; two nail salons; a barber shop; Jackson’s Pawn and Jewelry; half-a-dozen empty spaces for rent; and Qingzhao the Fortune Teller – Palms, Cards and Tea Leaves.

As Dolores crossed the intersection and was headed in the direction of the fortune teller’s shop, she could see the owner taking her signs and displays, which usually line the sidewalk outside her shop, inside for the evening. Qingzhao, a little Chinese woman barely four foot eight if she could stand up straight, was on the plus side of eighty and still operated her shop by herself five days a week. She was lucky to see two or three customers a day. She always had a smile for Dolores when she saw her walk by – as she did for everyone. And, as she also did for everyone that passed by, she would cheerfully chant, “Fortune for you. Fortune for you.  Good fortune for you today.”  And Dolores would always return her smile and reply, “No thank you. Not today.”

But today, Dolores thought differently, and then said, “Sure. Why not? But aren’t you about to close?”

Qingzhao excitedly replied, “Your special day. I do quickly. You see. Good fortune to you,” as she disappeared inside the front door to her shop – only to quickly reappear with a cookie jar. She opened the top and said to Dolores, “Take one. Quickly.”

Dolores stood there for a second or two and then peered into the cookie jar. A cookie jar full of - Chinese fortune cookies?

“Take one quickly,” repeated Qingzhao while she insistently shook the jar in front of Dolores.

Dolores reached in and selected a fortune cookie. “Open! Open!” instructed Qingzhao.

Dolores peeled the wrapping off of the fortune cookie, cracked it open and pulled out her fortune: EYES ARE THE HEART OF THE SOUL.

“Eyes are the heart of the soul. What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

“You see? Good fortune for you today!” and the fortune teller grabbed the last of her fortune telling stuff and went inside and locked the door.

“Wait!” shouted Dolores, “Don’t you want me to pay you?”

Dolores stood there for a few moments, waiting to see if the fortune teller was going to return. Nope. She looked back down at the piece of paper in her hand, shook her head and silently chuckled to herself, “Crazy lady!” She opened her purse, dropped the fortune inside, pulled out a cigarette and lit it as she continued her walk to the cemetery.

-( 1997 )----------

You’ve got a lot of nerve calling me out of the clear blue after seven years!” shouted Louise into her telephone.  “And, in addition, you want to ask me a favor? Are you for real?”

Sherry could almost feel the heat coming out of the receiver. She had expected no less.

Sherry and Louise had known each other since they were four years old – when Sherry’s family moved in across the street. Sherry was born in March of 1972 and Louise was born in May the same year. Sherry had a brother, Kyle, who was two years older than she. Louise also had a brother, Winston, who was also two years older. Sherry’s father, Don, worked as a custodian for the Hotel Monteleone. Louise’s father, Larry, worked at the Ford dealership on the west side of town – actually in Metairie. Neither Sherry’s mother, Alice, nor Louise’s mother, Marie, had jobs outside of taking care of their respective households. Sherry and Louise became friends almost immediately – the very same day that the moving truck pulled up in front of the house that Don and Alice had just leased (with an option to buy) directly across from Larry and Marie. And almost as quick as immediately, the two girls began sharing every aspect of their lives together – from dolls and crayons in their younger years all the way to hopes and dreams as they neared the end of their teenage years. Along the way there were all the usual girl issues and traumas and heartbreaks and secrets and boys this and boys that and – all the things that “best friends forever and ever and ever” share with each other. Somewhere in the early teens, Louise and Sherry discovered the world of Voodoo. At first glance, it might have appeared as the normal curiosity of two young girls just falling in with the novelty of the idea – like kids bringing out the Ouija board at a party. Just some harmless fun. But for Sherry and Louise, it rapidly rose to a level beyond novelty.  Sherry and Louise were excellent students – both in school and in the world of New Orleans Voodoo. They had the knack. The calling.

Kyle died in a car wreck in 1988 during his senior year in high school. Winston died the day after the girls graduated from high school – freak accident at the furniture warehouse where he worked involving a fork lift and case of beer. Louise’s mom and dad got a divorce within a year after Winston died – Marie ended up moving back to Chicago to live with her parents and was killed when she stepped out in front of a taxi while crossing Michigan Avenue; Larry ended up marrying one of the dancers at a bar in the French Quarter and they had three more kids together within four years but then one evening, as he walked in the door after coming home from work, he slipped on one of the kids’ toys and crashed into the coffee table and broke his neck. Don and Alice went to Nashville and recorded a Country and Western album and were in a bus on their way to the first stop on a fifty-five city tour to promote the new album when the landing gear fell off of a plane flying 35,000 feet overhead and crushed them to death. A month after graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Louise walked across the street to Sherry’s house, went in the front door without knocking, as usual, and headed to Sherry’s bedroom. As Louise opened the door – there was Sherry – and there was Louise’s steady boyfriend (hoping to be fiancĂ© at some point in the very near future) – in bed together!

Forever and ever and ever came to an abrupt end that day.

-( 1986 )----------

The front page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram – Monday, June 16, 1986


Antananarivo, Madagascar – Longtime Fort Worth resident and well known physician, Dr Alphonse Baroovra has been missing for over four weeks now and is presumed to be dead. While on a cycling tour of Madagascar, Dr Baroovra went missing within the first week of his planned, two-week tour of this island republic off the southeastern coast of Africa…

(Back: Part 10  -  Folklore, Myths and Legends)

(Next: Part 12  -  Scribbles on the Desk Blotter)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 10)

-    Folklore, Myths and Legends    -

-( 1997 )----------

A block and a half west of Elysian Fields Ave on Burgundy Street, just slightly removed from the touristy French Quarter district of New Orleans, sits a typical wooden framed, two story structure with faded buckskin-colored clapboard siding. Next to the gate at the base of the wooden steps that lead up to the porch and front door to the house is a hand-painted, oval metal sign reading La Ficelle House of Voodoo   – and, at the bottom of the sign, an arrow pointing towards the right with the instructions: ENTER THOUGH SIDE DOOR. On the inside of the gate, a pathway of stepping stones pave the way across the front of the house and around the side to a small gabled overhang sheltering a recessed alcove housing a single half-glass door. Hand-painted on the glass, in the same style as the metal sign out front: Mam’zelle Louise La Ficelle – Readings and Rituals.

The decorating style on the inside of the La Ficelle House of Voodoo might adequately be described as – typical Voodooshoppian: a little jingly jangly bell above the door to announce the entrance (or departure) of a customer into (or out of) the dimly lit quarters; narrow walkways between rows and rows of cabinets, all with tiny cubby hole shelves containing a wide assortment of oils, perfumes, waters, washes and incenses; bin after bin of various roots and herbs and plants; racks of talismans, holy cards, Tarot cards, beads and ritual supplies; shelves of skulls and skeletal  figurines - both serious and whimsical;  and an entire wall dedicated to masks, Voodoo dolls and other Voodoo curios. In the middle of it all, tucked in between two racks of CD’s (presumably the latest and greatest sounds of Voodoo), sits a gray metal desk with an old-fashioned cash register on one end. Behind the desk, in a well-worn, wooden pedestal desk chair, sat Mam’zelle Louise La Ficelle filling out a supply order form.

At first glance, Louise La Ficelle could have been mistaken for a leftover from the Woodstock Music and Art Fair (3 Days of Peace & Music) – her late 60’s / early 70’s Hippie fashion well-defining that assumption. Upon a closer look, one could easily tell that Louise was barely in her twenties – twenty-five tops. Her waist-length, brunette curls flowed over a tie-dyed peasant blouse accented by an assortment of beaded necklaces and bracelets – clanging against the desktop as she jotted down numbers on the forms.

She stopped writing for a moment and glanced at the phone next to the cash register.

Three seconds later – the phone rang.

-( 1986 )----------

Dr Alphonse Baroovra climbed aboard his touring bike, rolled out of the parking lot of the Hotel La Ribaudiere onto Rue Paul Dussac and started making his way across town heading west.  His bike was a modified-for-touring, late 70’s Schwinn Paramount ten-speed - Campagnolo Chorus componentry, Brook's leather saddle, headlamp and tail lamp powered by a generator mounted to engage the front tire when needed, front and rear clamp-on racks with panniers,  handlebar and rear rack bags packed for two weeks of exploring on the roadways of Madagascar. He would make use of his tent and sleeping bags for the bulk of the nights as the towns with adequate hotel accommodations along the route were few and far between – the two better towns being the ones where he planned to take a two-night stop and rest up. His food and on-the-road-cooking was planned for accordingly also. 

His travel plans commenced with navigating the crowded city roads of Antananarivo for about seven miles until he intersected Route 4, at which point he would travel predominately north to the city of Antisirnana – approximately 680 miles away on the northern tip of Madagascar. Allowing himself two weeks to make the journey with twelve days of riding and two days of rest, he figured he would have no problem at all as long as he could maintain a 50- to 60-mile per day average. Afterwards, he would take a bus back to Antananarivo and then a flight back to the states – a "Tour of a Lifetime!"

But experiencing a bicycle tour of Madagascar solely for the sake of experiencing a bicycle tour of Madagascar was not the predominant motivation driving Dr Alphonse Baroovra. That motivation came after years of studying resources and references outside the normal accepted medical practice. A study that lead Dr B into the darkest corridors of alternative medicines – alternatives based on absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever. Folklore, myths, legends, witchcraft, voodoo, hoodoo – Dr B left no stone unturned in his quest to right a terrible wrong that he had committed nine years before.

The most recent stone turned – the stone that for some unknown reason seemed to make the most sense to Dr B – the stone that lead him to seek out the blood of the Madagascar Panther Chameleon. 

-( 1997 )----------

Ben Franklin High School in New Orleans was started in 1957 and originally housed in the old Carrollton Avenue Courthouse. As the school attendance grew, so did the need for larger accommodations – resulting in a move in 1990 to buildings over on Leon C Simon Drive – on the campus of the University of New Orleans. Part of that first graduating class after the move – the 31st graduating class of Ben Franklin High – were two girls who had shared over a decade-and-a-half together as best friends and neighbors. Two girls who swore that they would remain "best friends forever and ever and ever" but who went completely different directions within a month after graduating from Ben Franklin High School. Two girls who hadn't spoken a word to each other in nearly seven years until...

“La Ficelle House of Voodoo,” greeted Mam’zelle La Ficelle as she answered the phone.

“Louise? Louise, is that you?” asked Sherry.

“This is Louise La Ficelle. Who am I speaking to?”

“It’s Sherry – Sherry Castle. Louise, I need to ask you a big favor.” 


“I’m telling you, Sal – it was right here!” insisted Albert as he repeatedly jabbed his index finger into the lower right-hand corner of his desk blotter – the exact same spot where now appeared only black scribbles – scribbles from the pen Sal had taken out of his jacket pocket a few minutes earlier. “I took JP’s pen out of the bike bag yesterday, scribbled a few circles right here. It was blue ink. You wrote it down – blue ink ballpoint pen. Check your notes.”

-( 1986 )----------

On Day Four of his journey, Dr B had cycled into the town of Antanambazaha. He had found a hotel – showered and shaved and was enjoying dinner at a little cafĂ© across the street. His journey so far had been nothing short of marvelous. The first day had been the slowest and he fell short of his goal by only cycling 46 miles. He blamed that mostly on the traffic in Antananarivo – it had taken him a little over two hours to get out of town. However the next couple of days more than made up for lost time – both of them right at 70 miles each – topped off with a 65-mile Day Four.  Dr B finished his dinner, ordered a cup of coffee and then spent the rest of the evening engaged in his favorite pastime of people-watching.

Dr B’s itinerary included spending two nights in Antanambazaha – the one-third point in his cycling trek. He would wash his clothes in his hotel room sink, do some shopping in the morning after breakfast, maybe a little site-seeing in the afternoon, followed by an early dinner and prepare for an early start the next day.  He would then tour another four-day stretch followed by another one-day break.  The final segment should put him into Sadjoavato on Day Thirteen – and a rendezvous with a Sadjoavato resident who had replied to his letters and promised him a good supply of panther chameleon blood.

On Day Six of his journey, Dr B awoke early, ate a good breakfast – not too heavy, not too light – packed his bags, aired his tires and hit the road – all as planned. He turned off of Route 4 onto Route 6 and began the day’s journey to the north.

It was the last time anyone ever saw Dr Alphonse Baroovra.

(Back: Part 9  -  Tinker Toys and Fireplace Pokers)

(Next: Part 11 -  Fortune Cookies)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 9)

-    Tinker Toys and Fireplace Pokers    -

-( 1997 )----------

In the front office of Clevenger’s Skate and Ball Bearing, Sherry Castle returned the telephone handset to the cradle – the bizarre conversation still spinning 'round and 'round in her head. A conversation that had started out with a need to speak to Nathan Clevenger Junior and then somehow ended up recounting a childhood trauma that became the catalyst for abruptly steering it in the direction of the Island of Madagascar and the need for some blood from a panther chameleon.  She thought to herself, “Sure makes answering the phone to take an order for six hundred gross containers of 5/16" diameter ball bearings seem drastically bland.”

Sherry had barely even finished thinking that thought before she counter-thought to herself, “What the hell am I thinking? Anything makes taking an order for six hundred gross containers of 5/16” diameter ball bearings seem drastically bland!”

JP had explained to her how he had suffered a horrible accident when he was five years old which had resulted in the loss of his right eye. He had gone on to tell her, including the preface, “as unbelievable and crazy as this may sound,” of a procedure he had quite recently read about wherein it might be possible to regain the sight in the affected eye. He admitted to her that the procedure appeared to be quite unorthodox and questionable to say the least. But when you’ve lived the last twenty years with half your normal sight and you hear of news that may return your vision to normal, no matter how far south of “alternative” the procedure may be, it’s a road you owe to yourself to explore.

Sherry leaned back in her office chair and raised her hands up to the sides of her head. As she closed her eyes, she rubbed the tips of her fingers hard into her temples in an attempt to massage the thought process into adequately interpreting the feasibility of JP’s fantastic tale. She leaned further back in her chair – her fingers continuing along the sides of her head until they met and interlocked with each other behind her neck. She sat there, motionless – staring out the front window – not focusing on anything. Thinking.

After a few moments, Sherry sat upright, reached across her desk and picked up the phone. She punched in the number for New Orleans directory assistance.

“Directory assistance – what city please?”

“Yes,” answered Sherry, "New Orleans please. I need a number for La Ficelle - Mam'zelle Louise Ficelle. 

-( 1986 )----------

Dr B sat at the terminal at DFW Airport waiting for his trans-Atlantic flight. Looking at his watch, he noted that he still had nearly an hour before the plane would start to board. Once on board, and once they wait for what always seems like ten times longer than it needs to be while other passengers take their sweet time at finding a place to stuff their carry-on luggage and refuse to promptly find their seats and properly buckle themselves in – and then once they wait a little while longer while the flight attendants go up and down the aisle asking those same people (all of whom know darn good and well that they need to keep their seats upright and table trays in the locked position until the flight is well underway) to put their seats upright and to return their trays to the locked position – then and only then will the captain pull away from the gate. After that ordeal,  it will be a simple matter of spending the next twenty-four and a half hours on the plane – stopping briefly in Atlanta and then De Gaulle in Paris – before landing at Ivata Airport just outside of Antananarivo, Madagascar.

So there Dr B sat, in the DFW terminal, running the next twenty-six or so hours of his life through his head. He had brought a book to read on the plane – which he had started to read while he sat there waiting to board – but then put it back in his carry-on after reading half-way down the first page. He decided people-watching would be more entertaining for the time being.

While in the process of people-watching, he noticed a young boy walking with his father.  A boy – probably about five years old – walking along side and holding his dad’s hand. The boy had a white gauze bandage held in place with surgical tape over his right eye. As Dr B watched them walk by, his memory wandered back in time – back to the living room of Dolores Bugtussle’s home in the winter of ’77.

The first big snow had just fallen and it was a perfect evening for the winter's first fire in the fireplace and for Dolores to invite Dr B over for dinner. Since they lived only three houses apart, he was a frequent dinner guest in the Bugtussle home. JP was playing nearby, running his little toy trucks up and down the roads he had outlined using bits and pieces of his Tinker Toy sticks. The series of images ran through Dr B's head - just like they had time after time again since the day it happened: Getting up from the chair to go over and adjust the logs with the fireplace poker; Moving them around until he got the biggest blaze possible going in the firebox; Turning around to get Dolores' approval of his fire-building skills; The memory of her face as it changed from a face of laughter to one of shear panic; The sound of JP's scream; The realization that JP had been running to see what he was doing at the fireplace at the exact same moment that he had turned with the hot fireplace poker pointing outward in his hand.

Alphonse had never been able to fully forgive himself for that accident nine years ago. By every rational thought, he knew that it was just that, an accident. But that didn’t relieve the pain he felt or the deep sense of responsibility for his careless actions of that night. For the last nine years, he had searched the vast resources available in the medical field for information – fully knowing that nothing existed that could help young JP. At some point in time, that guilt – that deep sense of responsibility – really starts eating at a person. When you’ve lived with that unbearable amount of guilt for the last nine years and then you hear of a procedure that may return a young boy’s vision to normal – no matter how far south of “alternative” that procedure may be, it’s a road you owe to yourself to explore.


“Just set the tray down on this desk here,” instructed Detective Bass to Randy, the delivery boy from the deli two blocks over. Randy set the tray down the pulled the ticket loose from the top Styrofoam box and handed it to Arnold.

“I’ll need you to sign this one please, sir,” said Randy.

Arnold reached up to his shirt pocket – patted it – no pen. Sal reached into his jacket pocket and handed his pen to Arnold. Leaning over the desk, Arnold took the ticket, set it on the desk and started to sign it. No ink came from the pen. He immediately moved his hand over to the edge of the desk blotter and scribbled little circles on the blotter until the pen started writing. He signed the ticket and handed it back to Randy – gave Sal back his pen.

Sal and Arnold sat at the desk eating their lunch – not saying anything to each other - just enjoying their sandwiches and chips. Arnold was halfway through with his sandwich when he glanced down and noticed the scribbles that he had just made with Sal's pen - the black circular scribbles. The blotter was the same blotter that had been on his desk for a couple of months or so - displaying all the same doodles that had been doodled over the course of those same couple of months or so - with the exception of the blue scribbles made with the pen from J Bugtussle's bike bag just the day before. Those blue scribbles were nowhere to be seen.

(Back: Part 8  -  Madagascar Chameleon)

(Next: Part 10  -  Folklore, Myths and Legends)