Clyde Hoomper was in town and on the first halfway warm day of the pre-spring he made his way to the Liars Bunch’s Bench along the main drag in downtown Nedville. Clyde had retired to the Florida panhandle and hadn’t been around town for awhile. He was shocked by what he saw. A second bench had been added behind the first and offset by a couple of feet.
“We call it `The Back Bench™'”, Harry Whelp, the one eyed dentist, told him. “It was getting so crowded up here that we needed something for the overflow.”
Naturally the pecking order was for longest “setters” and honored guests to get the good spots on the front bench. Tourists and newbies fought it out for the second. It was so bad that new “setters” (10 years or less) often had to show up in the middle of the night or during a thunderstorm to get a shot at the prime positions.
Over the years a third and even a fourth bench were added until, by 2020, the town square looked like an outdoor church and some of the “back benchers™” lived their whole lives without knowing the exquisite feel of the front bench, “Where the big boys play.”
He’s the kind of person who has to shout to be heard.
—Farmer Ooka Brown
Hoomper was an artist best known for his “Moocow” series of paintings. It was often said by somebody that the only part of the cow Clyde couldn’t render was the “moo.” But after three decades of pursuing old bossy Hoomper decided to retire, opening a small art gallery in Ft. Walnut Beach, Florida, near the water’s edge. He tried featuring his old pals of the Vinegarroon School of art but they failed to meet the expectations of the seaside tourist industry and he had to display the very popular work of a local artist Cas Greetwell to make ends meet. Greetwell specialized in beach paintings. To keep up with demands he painted two pictures at a time, one with each hand. His only regret was that he couldn’t paint with his feet, as well, “Although I’ve tried!”
Clyde was officially in Nedville to “oversee my interests,” whatever that meant, although some expected he was the money behind the new “Cottage Mall,” a “ruralesque” shopping complex south of town.
Unofficially, his gallery had been closed down by the Department of Agriculture during a show featuring his old pal Olaf Tines’s woolly worm art, which, since the worms Tines used were not native to Florida, had been flown in special refrigerated boxes from upstate Michigan.
“Then the Feds showed up and accused me of transporting harmful insects across state lines. I told them that the worms couldn’t live long outside of their natural realm, it was the salt air, or something, but they didn’t believe me.”
“And you think we do?” replied Pops McCreakle.
Quink Otis hadn’t been taking very good care of himself, he realized as he gazed down at the split callus on the third finger of his chording hand. He should have noticed it sooner and sanded the thickening skin before it cracked. A little oil would have helped, too, to moisten the skin, but now it was too late and all he could do was dip it twice a day into a glass of hydrogen peroxide, rub a little neat’s foot oil on it, and play the harp, which wasn’t easy on a street corner five hours a day. Also, a harmonica case couldn’t hold as many donations as a guitar case and he was starting to lose weight.
But there was no sympathy for him on the Liars Bunch’s Bench where he’d been relegated to the back bench after his fourth rendition of Dixie, each one slower and sadder than the previous.
The next day Otis returned with his guitar and by the time he finished his eighth time through American Pie the front bench was his for the taking so he stretched out for a well deserved nap. When he woke his guitar case was full of dollar bills and for the first time in memory children were playing on the Liars Bunch’s Bench.