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The big dreamers weren’t anywhere to be found in my bar that day. You know the kind, if you’ve ever been in a saloon. The big talkers who like to think they have life by the throat. If they were just a little luckier, or if fate was a little pluckier, they could improve their lot in life in a minute.

But you hear all those dreams, those half-lit ambitions, and you know they’re not going anywhere but from the bar stool to the privy, and back to their bar stool. And the drunker they get, the loftier the dreams.

Old Walt Zuckerman, who used to manage the Red & White, he always had the dream of buying himself a house boat. Said if he had one, he’d float on the lake all day, drink beer, and enjoy the fruits of his labor. What particular fruits, and what particular labor, he never said, but he was keen on buying that boat. And on what lake, I don’t have any idea. Wasn’t a lake within 200 miles of Handsome. I guess if you’re going to dream something up, the matter of a lake shouldn’t have no bearing.

Then he decided he was going to build that boat. He studied diagrams in Popular Mechanics, and even bought a garage-full of lumber. He said he sent away for blueprints from a company in Pennsylvania.

Walt spent endless weeks talking about that boat, and how he would name it “The Marie” after his high school sweetheart, and how he’d paint it green and stencil her name on it with bright orange paint. He would have a fully stocked kitchen, which he called the galley, and eat pork and beans and put ketchup on his eggs and leave a bottle of bourbon on his bedside table at night because no one could tell him he couldn’t because he would be the goddamned captain of The Marie.

Of course, the lumber gathered termites, and his hammer and nails turned rusty, and it came to pass you couldn’t buy Walt a drink if you mentioned The Marie. He was done with it, and he never spoke of her again.

Time slipped away, like it always does, and life got in the way. And so it is with everyone who leaves a crumpled dollar bill on the counter of my bar. For every “trade her in for a new Cadillac, maybe next summer,” there’s another greasy sawbuck in my cash drawer.


Excerpt from Ordinary Handsome, available here. Thanks for reading!



I dreamed of that ballroom we saw in that movie, you know the one, with the old-timey music that flooded the air, Glenn Miller I think, or maybe Jimmy Dorsey, and those tiny tables that could only fit napkins and two martini glasses (at least our TV trays can fit a Hungry Man Dinner and a biscuit). The couples danced in rhythmic seizures, the war was over or maybe not begun, bright colors and balloons, sweaty but not in a smelly way, and everyone was crazy alive, and they looked like Blondie and Dagwood. Yeah, I dreamed we were dancing, really moving, and we danced the Charleston, hands and grins all over the place, and people watched and they envied our sway, and I looked up and saw elegant chandeliers, and I remember you said we should get one of those for the cabin, and I promised you I would look. And now it’s 4 a.m., I’m online, and honey, I don’t think it would fit in the living room. But I did find a nice set of candles and a Big Band CD collection, and we can dance like stink in the backyard if we want, and maybe drink wine coolers from our much bigger TV trays.

The tourist

Wait. Maybe I’ve been telling you wrong, trying to add more gravity than I mean. Ghosts, yes. But this town had good people. Simple and solid. Those who were dealt a unjust hand and were still first in line to set out a dinner plate for you. Listen. They lived hard lives and didn’t know any other way but raw hand-to-mouth. They held on through the Dust Bowl, they sank deep in the Depression, but it did not bury them. Not all of them moved away, not if they could stay. The realness of hunger and deprivation and heart-sickness emptied a lot of houses. Some found comfort in their faith, some were just plain stubborn, and they all held to family as tight as they could. They stayed. And they built what they could. Hard, hard work, but they shored up their walls and planted their lean fields. Their hands were grimed but their hearts stayed clean. And when they died, what was left of the town mourned hard. That was life back then.

So what became of Henry Wasson and his hotel broke a lot of spirits. I know there are stories about the man. How he was a drunkard who burned down his damned tavern, then himself, but I think they’re mostly lies. Henry was a drunkard, but a good man. I knew him. He loved his boy more than anything. But stories always build from the lie on up and a lot of people considered him a part of this down’s demise. That’s foolishness. He was a good man, and I’ll carry that with me wherever you want. He was a drunk, but he was not cruel. He did not kill this town. No sir.

Take a look at this empty lot. On a clear night I can still smell the embers. I know it’s only in my head, but I still smell them. The spot is still pitch, it burned so hard. People tried to turn it into a communal garden, but nothing ever took. No geraniums, no daisies, not even witch grass. And no fool was going rebuild it into something worthwhile. So there it sits, as good a symbol of this town as anything. The iron benches in front are rusted to ribbons now. No one ever sat in them, because that would make them accomplices to the deed, or so they thought. So now it’s a place where only the dirt collects, and the phantom smell of smoke hangs like rags.

But never mind, never mind. That story is done.

There’s another one I want to tell you. I’ll warrant you haven’t heard it, because most of the folks who lived here never did. It’s a darker secret than all the midnight burials you may have caught hold of. Those who heard those stories are all gone. All but me.

Walk me over to the Memorial Park – it’s just over on Colborne Street – and I’ll tell you. It’s about a man named Charles Clowe. There was a man with secrets. The darkest secrets you ever heard.

Are you ready? Are you sure? Then pick up your boots and walk slow. I’ll tell you….

Ordinary Handsome available here