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Location: marengo, il, United States

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Joker

“His name is Clifton, but we call him Willy.”

And that, my friends, is how I first introduced the new man to my older sister. Why she thought it so amusing, I never understood, but than again, she always tried to act a lot smarter than me.

I mean, the term made perfect sense. Plus he asked me to call him that, and since his last name matched it lyrically, well, there I was.

And so to me, he became Willy Williams.

Dad hired Willy to help us out over the summer. He managed to get a huge contract with the high school to service scores of typewriters belonging to the typing class, along with several other schools from near-by towns, so we were going to need him.

In his early twenties, he acted more like a big clown when dad wasn’t around, so him and me got on pretty well most all of the time.

But right off the bat, he started messing with me and telling tall tales. We each sat at our separate workbenches, stripping down typewriters to ready for cleaning, when I asked him where he lived, and he said over in Lockney.

“You know where that’s at?” And he gave me a quizzical look.

“Yeah,” I said. It was just a little no-amount town not far from here.

“Well, I am famous over there.”

“What for?” He reached for the radio to turn the volume up a little, right as a song ended. He always kept it loud after dad left on his morning service calls, but he motioned toward the song as it trailed off.

“For that song. That’s me that sang it.”

I never liked country music till Willy come around. All he listened to, after dad took off, was KLLL down in Lubbock, so after hearing it awhile it grew on me.

“I never heard that one before.”

“What? You never heard of Hank Williams?”

I couldn’t stand Hank Williams. I listened to him yodel over dad’s car radio for as long as I could remember, and I always hated the nasal sounds he made, but I had never seen the man before either.

“I thought your real name was Clifton.”

Willy shook his head like I was retarded, and he reached for his long screwdriver.

“That’s me alright.” He said, and he gave the screwdriver a twist to pop off a side plate of a Royal, one of the school machines him and me unloaded out of dad’s panel truck an hour ago.

“Can’t use my real name when making records, you know. But the word got out in Lockney somehow.”

I undid the set screws in a platen on my machine and cut him a look of doubt.

He kept a studied eye on the machine, and then looked over at me.

“You don’t believe me, do you?”

I didn’t say anything. He laid the tool down, leaned over and took out his billfold.

“Look, take your bicycle and ride down to Pete’s and ask him for a copy of Honky Tonk Blues.”

He handed me a dollar so I took off flying, glad to get out of the shop.

A half-hour later I handed him a .45 record with the name Hank Williams on both sides, so I believed what he said, even if he wouldn’t sing either one of the songs out loud right then.

“Got to have my band to back me up, don’t you know.”

A milk truck came by every day at eleven, and Willy loved chocolate milk even more than I did. He’d buy a quart, so I would too, but he would always finish his before I was half-done. One day he pitched the empty carton in the trash and looked over at me to where I was chugging away, trying to keep up. When I threw my carton in on top of his, he squinted his eyes.

“You full?”

I burped and nodded.

“Think you could drink another?”

I just shook my head.

“I tell you what.”

He reached for his wallet again, pulled out another dollar, and then handed me a large empty tumbler.

“Go back there and fill this up with water.”

“What for?”

“Go head and you’ll see.”

I returned from the bathroom and set it on his desk. He laid the dollar beside it and looked up at me, all serious.

“If you can drink that glass full of water, I’ll give you this dollar.”

Well, I did it. It took a while, but I managed to choke down the last swallow, and after I did, I reached for the dollar bill. Willy grabbed it, stuck it in his pocket and grinned.

“You drank it empty, so you lose.”

12 Comments:

Blogger Harvey Young said...

Great story Harry. Somehow being the first to comment is an honor. There is no point is saying what everyone else might say.

Typing this now I wonder about how different the world that you grew up in was. If we still had typewriters, this would be a letter, and if you were lucky you would receive this in about a week or more. Of course in a different time your wonderful story would probably not have been written. We are all better off for the change.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

As if I needed another excuse not to like country music!

11:56 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

Sometimes I wonder, Harvey. A friend of mine back then had one of the first cars with power windows. Then they all went on the fritz after a month. Today, I am told that to replace ours now costs over $400, so that one aspect of progress I could do without.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Oh, come on, Jay, and let's me and you get up and two-step to Jim Reeves or Don Gibson, or even fast-dance to old George Jones.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Gone Away said...

I think Harry was a character magnet; he seems to have attracted every character in Georgia at one time or another. Or maybe Otho was spreading the word: "There's this kid, a nephew of mine, go on over and spin him a yarn or two..." Yet another winner, Harry.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Ain't it the truth, Gone. But wait till you meet Blackie, who's from Texas. And then there is Eyeball over in South Carolina...

4:57 PM  
Blogger Keeefer said...

Ahhhh i have finally stumbled across your site!

Good story Harry....I had no idea people stripped down typewriters in the past.....the joys of a disposable lifestyle i guess.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

I do try to keep a low profile here at the cave, Keeefer, what with the authorities and all that, but glad you managed to find the trail. Dad used to gaze off to the horizon and tell me he didn’t know exactly what, but he could see something mysterious coming down the road someday which would put his job along side that of blacksmiths.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Keeefer said...

I take it when you say 'he could see something mysterious coming down the road someday which would put his job along side that of blacksmiths' you mean that the demand would dwindle, and not that he would one day be 'maintaining' typewriters with the use of an anvil and large hammer.
Though after a lifetime of maintaining typewriters i guess that would appeal :)

7:05 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Exactly. And had I listened to him, I'd be working on computers now, instead of typing wiff two fingers like I'm doing at the moment. :D

7:09 PM  
Blogger Ned said...

Harry, electric windows are deadly if you drive into water. No, wait, Harvey said to stop worrying. Never mind.

As always you weave a fine tale, with brilliantly drawn and captivating homespun characters that even Frank Capra would envy.

This is a wonderful place to visit, this blog of yours.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

So are electric eels, Ned. or so I hear. Heck, I hear all sorts of things, so maybe that's just a rumor.

8:05 PM  

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