The Vinegarroon Poetry Workshop met in a room in the basement of the County Lost Files Building. It was a week before their big event—the annual “Poetry Read-Off” at the summer fair.
Around the table sat Rex “Chilly” Peppers, Myrtle Beets, Fredrick Tatum, Gramper “Grasshopper” Elbert, new recruit Albina Periwinkle, Karnaisie Smith, and Ron Pulaski, AKA Ipso d’Facto.
This year they were scheduled to ride the “Poetry Choo-choo” on the old V&O (Vinegarroon and Ohio) train line.
The tracks of the V&O had been laid in 1874 to transport bat guano from the caves near the top of “Old Whitecap.” Unused for several decades, the line had been revived as a tourist attraction after protracted legal wrangling with several landowners. A few folks were hanged, but that’s another story.
The Poetry Workshop had agreed to ride the train down the mountainside, stopping along the way to encourage folks to attend the fair. The meeting was enlivened by the rivalry growing between Karnaisie Smith and Ipso for the attentions of the fair Albina, who had recently moved to town.
“If we’ve completed old business,” said Myrtle Beets, a retired executive who enjoyed “dabbling in the arts.” “I brought the videotape of our Christmas show.”
—Ah, thought Ipso. He looked at his rival slyly from the corner of his eye. Now Albina would see who was THE MAN!
He waited impatiently as they watched Workshop members read while someone in the audience pelted them with rude comments. Funny, he didn’t remember any hecklers.
Then the camera panned to reveal that the loud idiot was none other than, you guessed it, Ipso d’Facto!
With horror he watched himself lurch onto the stage and begin reciting pure gibberish, like a monkey caught in a light socket. The audience loved it all right. They never stopped laughing. He had always used some alcohol before a performance to take the hair off his nerves but this time, it seems, he’d shaved the dog clean.
Karnaisie Smith, wearing a Santa suit, followed him onstage. After a couple of Yuletide poems he asked the children to join him and soon the auditorium rang with Christmas carols. It was so beautiful you could cry, which was what Ipso did when Albina let Karnaisie walk her home.
He vowed never to drink before a performance again.
Which is why he stood backstage at the Poetry Choo-choo’s first stop, sober, quivering with fear. He looked out over his audience, a herd of dyspeptic llamas and one skeptical herder.
“Um, ah, um,” he croaked, aware of the sound of laughter from behind the stage where Karnasie was standing with the fair-haired Albina. “This is a poem about Buckyballs,” he mumbled. A llama snorted.
The ride down the mountain was sheer hell. Each stop was an added humiliation as he muttered through his poems. Meanwhile, Smith read short vignettes about baseball and fatherhood, love, death, and redemption.
At the fairgrounds they encountered their first real crowd. As Lenore Glottlespeil began reciting her “Chilbirth Poems” (“Yeow-wow-wow! Wow-wow-wow-wow!”) Ipso crept around the back of the stage before breaking into a dead run into Nedville. At “Ye Olde Strippe Malle” he bought a pint of rye whiskey and then hurried back where the “Vinegarroon Players” acted out a scene from the hit Broadway musical, Robocop.
Hands shaking, he choked down the powerful liquor, gasping and gurgling horribly. He steadied himself as the crew mopped 16 gallons of fake blood from the stage.
The whiskey hit him just as he stepped on stage. He stood there swaying like a pussy willow in front of the microphone before exclaiming: “The Blowfish!”
The audience laughed, they cried, they demanded poem after poem until Ipso’s voice croaked like a highway patrolman after a three day weekend. He took a final bow.
Then woke the next morning in a ditch behind the mule barn with a stolen, half eaten cherry pie, and a blue ribbon for poetry around his neck.