pat-dennis-63.jpg  

  It wasn’t exactly a Citizen Kane kind of moment: the last word of a dying, enigmatic man. Mr. Hoymle wasn’t dying when he uttered the word hotdog in his Religious Expression class, although he may have wished he were. It was high school, it was 1971, and the moment had more of a Charlie Brown ring to it. Holyme, as he was best known at school, didn’t even know what it meant – to the twins, that is. They simply took over. He didn’t have a prayer.
    To everyone in class, it was as if anyone but Charlie Brown could make a better kite. But that comparison was much too secular. To Mr. Hoymle, it was as if Pat and Dennis were the forbidden tree in his garden of eden, the tree that eats the kite. And, to make it worse, he had specifically asked the administration that twins not be put in his garden. His grievance amounted almost to a religious principle; twins always seem to have the same goddamn soul. And these twins –
    If only he could summon cherubim of his own who could draw up their flaming swords and smite these two in two or, at least, skewer them like the hotdog. Instead he laughed as if he were telling a joke; then he cast a long, so very often repeated look at the door in a Charlie Brown kind of “Why me, Lord?”
    Mr. Ed Hoymle even had a slight Charlie Brown look to him. It wasn’t that he only seemed out of place and irreparably frustrated whenever he attempted to take a stand in his Religious Expression class; he had a big ruddy bald head that was at least one size too large for his stumpy body. Befitting his status as teacher, he wore big brown-rimmed, rectangular-shaped eyeglasses that concealed his white eyebrows. Salt and pepper patches of short, thin curly hair grew around the sides and back of his head. He could have been 54 years old, and, as if to prove it, some of his curly hair was beginning to grow out of his ears and nose. Otherwise, he looked quite ordinary, and no one seemed to notice. When he laughed at the jokes he told to his class, which he did now and then, he would laugh through his nose in a way that sounded like flatulence. No one seemed to notice that either.
    He would nearly always be a devoted teacher, but, in November 1971, Mr. Hoymle’s name appeared on the ballot for Maricopa County’s Office of School Superintendent. He’d been a high school teacher for more than twenty-five years, and had lived in Phoenix just a little more than six. His opponent labeled Mr. Hoymle a carpetbagger; Mr. Hoymle countered in his New England twang that at least he “isn’t a Democrate.” He made all the local papers, even made mention in one of Ray Thompson’s “And finally . . .” segments on Channel 12’s ten o’clock evening news.
    The day after the election, it was back to teaching freshman Algebra and Religious Expression for the Male Adolescent, which he understood to be only temporary, for Gerard Catholic High School. Even though Mr. Hoymle wasn’t Catholic or a winner, Fr. Brunco, the principal, refused to view him negatively and, indeed, recognized the look and benefit of notoriety. Mr. Hoymle would stay several more years at Gerard until the election was far behind him and the look had waned.
    During his campaign, Mr. Hoymle liked to wear his Goldwater “Go” glasses in class, never missing an opportunity to boast to his students the chance meeting he’d had with the senator back in ‘64. He had just moved to Phoenix from Milford, New Hampshire, when, he liked to say, “A momentous moment happened.”
    He is sitting in a Mexican restaurant with his wife. All of the sudden, the senator appears at his table to shake his hand and ask him for his support. Mr. Hoymle is about to bite into his dinner, but laughs instead, a surprised kind of laugh, and offers what he holds in his hand to the senator. Goldwater, Mr. Hoymle beamed proudly, grimaces in a heartfelt show of emotion for the kindness, but declines, saying, “I’m not about to start taking the food out of the hands of the American people. I’m not about to become a Democrat.” He laughs again and Goldwater disappears.
    Mr. Hoymle expressed a special fondness for southwestern food ever since, especially delighting in the eating of the item he offered to share with the man who should have won his election, too.
    “Maybe had he accepted my take-o,” Mr. Hoymle reminisced.
    The class laughed and Mr. Hoymle wriggled.
    “We’ve got to move on,” he warned. “The American dream includes a take-o as much as a hotdog.”
    And that was Mr. Ed Hoymle’s last word, his transgression.
    “Yeah!” the twins snap, as though a gong has rung.
    Without meaning to, certainly without trying, Mr. Hoymle’s last word had conveyed a signal to his least favorite kind of student. The twins sat in opposite corners of the seating arrangement Mr. Hoymle had devised. He had supposed to mitigate the singularity of the two, planting his kite-eating tree in distinctly opposite and out-of-the-way places. Like the Moses in the “supposes his toeses are roses” song, Mr. Holyme supposéd wrong. In one electric, thunderous instant, the twins had arced like lightning across the room and for his supposed brilliance, his beaming reminiscence, shook their teacher in a proverbial kind of way, leaving him, to say the least, crucifiably forsaken.
    The first twin cries out in the raised and resolute voice of fervor: “In the beginning was the word.”
    “And the word was good,” the other twin fires back from his far away corner of the room. They are in step, a drum and a symbol in the ear of one beating back a loud tent revival.
    “And the word was –” Pat bellows on cue, hands raising loftily, fingers twitching. He pauses with an abrupt, heightened edge of anticipation until at last the two brothers shout in the communion of obvious rehearsal, “HotDOG!” It lands with a thud, satisfying no one.
    Bread was creeping close to becoming a dollar loaf. Gasoline was now almost 40¢ a gallon. Gerard H.S. had lost its homecoming game. Thanksgiving vacation was coming. Days were getting shorter. Jack-in-the-Box had a secret sauce. And Religious Expression was the last period of the day. Naturally, a common shrug of indifference swept the class in response first to Mr. Hoymle’s American dream and then without hesitation to the twins’ performance. Finally, there was something akin to revulsion. The crowd moaned. Pat and Dennis had been heard enough. Like Mr. Hoymle, the twins were recycling material from earlier in the campaign. If that is all they had by now, the crowd had collectively agreed, “Please, Mr. Hoymle, stop talking about Goldwater, stop saying take-o; most of all, stop using the word hotdog – until, at least, after the bell rings.”
    The hotdog bit had been virtually stolen from Firesign Theatre, a group of L.A. DJs that had put together a variety of hallucinogenic comedy shtick aired now and then late at night on KCAC AM radio – FM not having come into its own yet. Pat and Dennis might have actually stolen the hotdog bit from Firesign had they gotten it right. Their version was not exactly what played on the radio. If ever challenged on the authenticity, the twins merely responded, “So what? Our way is more religious.” And it was for them: the most religious 16 words in the English language; at least, for the first couple hundred times in sixth period.
    You had to say it with special emphasis on the dog part: “HotDOG!” Otherwise, it wasn’t as religious. Besides, Firesign had gotten their version from the Bible and gotten it wrong. And who knew where the Bible got its version – right or wrong. So Pat and Dennis never gave a second thought to the faithlessness of their rendition. They were in Religious Expression, where even Goldwater has a voice. It was after all not the Bible or Firesign Theatre that inspired them. It was hotdog. Hotdog was for them religious even before Firesign and even, well, maybe not before the Bible. But it was religious for a very long time, a god-awful long time.
    It went back to when they were kids and when their mother had decided to serve a breakfast of something other than oatmeal. It was the first full summer the family would spend in the desert. Their father was dead. The rain in Gunter, Oregon, was very wet. The youngest was sick and needed dryness. Phoenix it was. Pat and Dennis were six years old, and in addition to a dry climate their mother decided they could all do with a change in diet, not to mention that hot oatmeal on a hot stove during a hellishly hot Arizona summer gave hot new meaning and intensity for Oregon transplants. So every morning that first summer, while the day was still below 100 degrees Celsius outside, all eight kids would get up and with the instinct of clerics – certainly not lay people – step in line to the familyroom where they’d converge silently in their usual places at the table, which was, conveniently, a picnic table. They’d sit four to a bench and say grace. The lone chair at the head of the table was reserved for the mother, but she rarely sat to breakfast with them. She instead busied herself with serving up the meal. On each of their plates she deposited one refrigerated hard-boiled egg (which she had cooked the night before when it was cooler) and one refrigerated, cold, stiff, slightly rectangular and slightly perspiring hotdog.
    It was this hotdog that the twins thought about whenever they thought about religion. Not the Firesign hotdog or their hotdog performance to unreceptive peers or even the Bible hotdog. They thought about this hotdog in the way naked, potbellied cherubim of hunger salivate over breaking fast. And they thought about how as kids Dennis had gotten up during the night craving hotdog. Perhaps it wasn’t hotdog he was after, just an overpowering urge to wake up from an otherwise peaceful slumber so that he could go looking for something, anything, to satisfy his craving for more. Perhaps he was dreaming that he was hungry. A cannibal would have smote religion and simply rolled over in bed and consumed his twin brother. But Dennis had no desire to go back to sleep without ever getting out of bed. So he quietly rolled himself onto the floor and measured the night for its darkness and silence, heard nothing, saw nothing, and set out on his quest: those cold, rectangular hotdogs that their mother kept in the refrigerator.
    Hotdog was all he could think about now. Maybe just one would do. He could suck on it like a popcicle extracting its juices and it wouldn’t melt – like a miracle. When he was ready to take a bite, it wouldn’t crunch noisily; it would tear softly, easily, between his teeth, and he could chew on it like a taffy to make it last a very long time before he’d have to swallow and take another bite – another miracle. Or he could down it whole, as he’d seen their little dog do, and get it over with in a hurry should he hear someone stir from his mother’s bedroom and find him out. He could take it back to bed and enjoy it there, lying comfortably between the sheets with his back to his twin so as not to disturb him or be disturbed – religiously, you know.
    These were his thoughts as he pulled on the latch and opened the refrigerator door. Like the glow of a Magi’s treasure, the light brushed effortlessly and warmly over Dennis, who for a moment stood motionless, as if a snapshot for the miracle. He had closed his eyes until they adjusted from the dark. One would have thought he was praying, that is, giving thanks. Soon he was able to see what he was looking for, and snagged for himself the coveted hotdog. On second thought, he took two and closed the door. Darkness overwhelmed him, but it was the clap of the latch snapping back into place that worried him.
    There he stood listening for sounds of detection, having already consumed one of the hotdogs and about to start the other, when his mother’s bedroom, strategically located next to the kitchen, signaled that the miracles were over. A light appeared from under the door.
    Dennis needed another miracle to clear his way back to his bedroom. A divine intervention to escort him would have done the trick. But all he had was uncertain stealth, foreboding dread, and a hotdog. Into a darkened livingroom he ran. His mother was already there. Like the good mother guardian angel she was, her other bedroom door opened into the hallway, and she now stood at the other end of the living room waiting for her prodigal to stumble into her clutches. Dennis crouched and rolled in excellent defensive form to what he hoped would be a sanctuary behind the sofa. Never once did the hotdog touch the floor. Soon his mother was peering down at him, not like a guiding Seraph now, but like the angel of death. And Dennis knew he could not hide. He could have used some Firesign Theatre right about then. He could have used a Bible. Dennis was on the floor on his hands and knees, looking up at doom and wishing he’d taken only one. He was wanting something to say, but unable to speak – the remaining hotdog in his mouth.
    It must have been quite a religious movement, an epiphany in the very bowels of one’s soul. Perhaps Pat stirred, too, and had brought Dennis a Bible – thee Bible. Perhaps they drew a crowd that night. The entire family rouses and files toward them. First, the oldest, then the baby, then all the others settle in a hush on the sofa, the chairs, and available floor space. Dennis swallows; Pat lifts his hands and eyes to the unknown. It is the beginning of indifference:
    “Thou shall not get up in the middle of the night,” he begins the homily, “sneakest into the kitchen all by thyself, lest you be forever one and clumsily open the refrigerator door, rustle through packages of food, and hastily retreat alone to the bedroom fully convincéd no one, especially thy light sleeper, wouldst find thee. For should thou doest such acts, Thouest Mother shallest most emphatically and easiestly catchest Thou hiding in the living room behind the couch chewing in thy little mouth a big fat, cold –”
    He pauses.
    The mother fixes an icy stare.
    Not another word is spoken.

4 Responses to “Story 006 – And the Word Was . . .”

  1. Mr. Dennis Says:

    Dear Preacher Pat,

    I don’t mean to brag, but I think I could have done it; I think I could’ve got past Mom. After all, I did get past her hallway door, and remember on more then one occasion I had snuck out and back in the house for my early morning big-city walks.

    I could have done it; I could have made it back to bed with that second hot dog; I could have been somebody. It could have been another one of those family mysteries — you know, like who scratched the word “hell” in the bathroom door or why I always seemed to come up short on my donut sales.

    But it was too much: the visions of hot dogs dancing in my head and, now, the taste in my mouth, another dog in my one hand, and the handle of that ol’ ’54 Frigidaire in the other; I wasn’t myself; I wasn’t thinking rationally. I LET GO OF THE HANDLE, allowing the door of that ol’ clunker to do what it always did: clang shut like, and as loud as the jaws of bear trap — a sound which at least that time sounded more like a burglar alarm.

    The jig was up!!! I panicked. The next thing I knew, with my only option surrender to the circular high-stepping stick dance, I found myself on my hands and knees; yes, hot dog still in hand, behind the sofa. Where and when you used your soul shaken homily (which was great by the way ) to deflect whatever it was that happened next.

    You see the strain of the moment must have been more then I could bear. I must have blacked out, or maybe I blocked it out. I don’t remember what happened next.

    Did I get that other hot dog or not!!!??

    MR. DENNIS

  2. Debbie King Jeter Says:

    Cousins Pat and Dennis,

    you should take your act on the road!

    Love it!

    Debbie

    • pkingwp Says:

      Thanks, Debbie, for your vote of confidence. Mom thought we should take our act on the road, too. In fact, she insisted upon it more than once.

  3. Margaret Says:

    Jeez, I wish I was a King–or at least that I had witty relatives.

    Annnnnnddddd . . . the thought of a cold hotdog in the middle of the night makes me gag. Why WOULD Dennis risk his immortal soul (or mother’s wrath) for THAT?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: