T   P   O
The Patient Ox (aka Hénock Gugsa)

G r e e t i n g s !

** TPO **
an irreligious blog
with egalitarian and individualist tendencies!

On the menu ... politics, music, poetry, and other good stuff.
There is humor, but there is blunt seriousness here as well!

Parfois, on parle français ici aussi. Soyez bienvenus!

Intelligent comments are always welcome!
Showing posts with label Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Magical Tale - by Hénock Gugsa

Hénock in Duluth in 2008
A Magical Tale *
by Hénock Gugsa

--- Part 1 of 3 ---
Zach was not sure if he was in some sort of reverie where, out of the blue, he found himself in the middle of a strange forest.  The surroundings were dark, ominous, and unfriendly.  Not too far away, and in a starkly gray panorama lay a sort of a gorge, almost a canyon --- barren, craggy, and totally devoid of life except for a tall, fat, old man.  He was waving his arms feverishly from the center of the canyon, and the tuft of yellow hair on his head was billowing wildly in rhythm to his arms.

Then came the sound of determined feet as they crushed and crumpled the fallen leaves on the forest's uneven ground.  The unsettling rustle seemed to be headed in Zach's direction.  At that moment, he was suddenly shaken loose from his frozen state.  He was now sharply alert and his ears could now make out a choir of small angelic voices singing arcane nursery songs.

Zach looked around him, but saw nothing.  He was at his usual spot in the park ... and he had not felt the need to walk around and explore the surrounding forest.  But now as the voices seemed to draw near him, his feet which moments before had seemed non-existent had miraculously materialized.  He could feel them pulsating although he wasn't yet sure he was their master.  His toes wriggled as if they had lives of their own, and his knees started to bend and then to flex .  Zach felt alive!

The singers appeared as if from empty air and floated in front of him ... a strange sight indeed!  Three little girls were dragging a little boy behind them. His hands were tied in front of him with a  coarse rope.  The children, including the boy, were all about the same age ... not older than six or seven.  Each girl had on a different color blouse, ... the leader wore blue, the second girl had on green, and the third girl wore red.  As for the little boy, he was nondescript as to clothing or general appearance, but he looked distressed and helpless.

Now face to face with Zach, the little girls began to sing a mocking song ...

     Zachary, Zachary ... where's your sanctuary?
     You're stuck, you can't move, you got feet o' lead
     What to do, what to do, poor boy without hope
     The year went by quickly, we're back to January!
     You can't jump, and you can't fall on your head
     'N to get over that rock, you gonna need some rope!

     Zachary, Zachary ... where's your sanctuary? ...

The little girls sang and cackled as they dragged the little boy along.  Soon they tired of him, dumped him in front of Zach, and scampered off ... away toward the bleak canyon and the old, fat man still waving his arms.

Zach looked at the disheveled little boy closely, and as he did so, the little boy started to dissolve into thin air right there in front of him.  But as the child started to vanish, he became recognizable to Zach.  That was Zach himself some fifteen years back!

[... to be continued ....]

  "So, then, what next?!"
*Inspired by a dream I had on 11/15/17

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Baxter and Dreyfuss - by Hénock Gugsa

Jack Lemmon and Jack Kruschen ("The Apartment")

Baxter and Dreyfuss 
~ by Hénock Gugsa ~

Dr. Dreyfuss: Why don't you grow up, Baxter? Be a mensch!
                          You know what that means?

Baxter: I'm not sure.
Dr. Dreyfuss: A mensch -- a human being!
Source: "The Apartment" (1960) ...
with Jack Lemmon as Baxter,
and Jack Kruschen as Dr. Dreyfuss

Jack Kruschen (wearing glasses) speaking to Jack Lemmon

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Kinama - by Hénock Gugsa

[a folklore from Sidamo in Southern Ethiopia]
~ by Hénock Gugsa ~
Kinama was a brave young Sidama who lived alone in the wilds with her sheep and her goats.  She lived inside a huge cave that had a big boulder right outside blocking the entrance.  Kinama was always on the lookout for her two persistent and dangerous enemies --- the mighty leopard who was lord of the jungle, and the pesky hyena who was always sneaky.  Everyday as Kinama took her charge out to the meadows to feed, she had to be extremely alert and be prepared for danger.  She had to be especially wary of the leopard because he was unpredictably dangerous.

But being human, Kinama was prone to habit ... she had gotten into a routine of sorts.  In the mornings, as she prepared to take her sheep and goats out of the cave, and she would say: My great cave, open your gate!

And when the boulder rolled back, she’d walk out with her animals.  Once outside, she would turn and say to the cave: My great cave, close your gate!

Then she’d speak up nice and loud and say, “Today, I’m going to take my goats to graze at Digarre!”  And instead of going to Digarre she’d go to Temede.  But, the next day, she’d get up and say, “Today, I’m going to Temede,” but instead she’d go to Digarre.  And although every day she’d be tricking the leopard in this fashion, she always made sure that nobody was listening to her when she was addressing the cave's entrance.

The great leopard was always lurking around not too far away, and he would be looking longingly at Kinama's goats and lambs and salivate.  He was frustrated that Kinama had been outsmarting him every-time he made a move.  He had to seriously devise a plan to outmaneuver Kinama, and so he came up with an idea.  Over the next few days, the leopard decided to learn every aspect of her routine from beginning to end. Early in the morning everyday, he would clamber to a tree just above the cave and hide.  When Kinama came out with the animals, he would make sure that she would not see him.  The leopard would then put his ears to the ground so that he would be able to hear what Kinama was whispering to the cave. 

As usual, each morning, Kinama would come out with her brood, talk to the cave in the same way that she always did.  She would also broadcast, to anybody that might listen, where she was headed, and she would go on her way.

The morning came when the leopard was totally ready and he patiently waited for his moment.  As soon as Kinama was gone, the leopard jumped down from behind the tree and ran up to the cave and said, “My great cave, open your gate.”  The boulder rolled to the side and the cave opened up for him.  The leopard went in, jumped up on a perch, and hid himself.

Later that day, Kinama and her animals returned to the cave.  She was safely home, so she says, “My great cave, close your gate,” and the boulder rolls back shut !

She sits down and starts lighting a fire. But the leopard was on the perch and he starts salivating and a drop of his saliva falls into the fire. And immediately she knows that the leopard’s in the cave. And she also smells his scent.
So she says, “I can smell the scent of my lord. He must be in this cave.”
And she continues blowing down on the fire to keep it going.  “Phoo phoo phoo ....”
Another drop of saliva falls down from above and she says, “I’m sure my lord is in the cave. I can smell his scent very strongly.”

And from his perch the leopard says, “Yes, I am in the cave. Now, what is your choice? Do you want me to jump down and kill you, or shall I jump down on your fattest kid, Warpo, and eat him whole?”

And she said, “My great lord, you know I have been rearing fat Warpo for you.  Why should you jump down and attack me?  Instead, please come and grab Warpo.”

So the leopard pounced down on poor Warpo and killed him instantly.  As the leopard slavered on the goat's blood, Kinama asked: Now, my great lord, shall I prepare the meat for you?

And he said, “Yes, do.”  So she skinned the kid, and she said, “I need some water to boil the meat in.”

The leopard sad, “Then go to the river and get it!”

So she went out, got the water and came back. But, at the river she picked up a huge white stone called chela glaka. And she brought the stone back with her, and she surreptitiously covered it completely with the white fat of Warpo the kid.   Then she put the fat-soaked rock on the fire and let it get sizzling hot.

The leopard was salivating and licking his lips.  He was indeed very hungry!  So Kinama said, “My lord, let me feed you. Please open your mouth wide.”

And he said, “Aah!” and opened his mouth very wide, and she quickly deposited the burning rock in his mouth and killed him promptly.

So now that she had gotten rid of one of her most dangerous enemies, Kinama decided to next deal with the hyena once and for all.  Kinama was ready for the challenge.  The first thing she did was to take out the bones of the kid and scatter them outside the entrance of the cave.  After that, she waited patiently.

But she didn't have to wait long; the dastardly hyena arrived on the scene as expected.

“What are all these bones?” He inquired.
"They're all for you.  Why don't you have some?  I’ve got plenty of food here for you to eat."

And of course, as you know, the hyena was a greedy lout.  “Oh, you do?”

“Yes, there are lots of yummy things for you to eat. But I’ll only feed you on one condition. That is: you must let me stitch together your tail to mine.”

The ravenous hyena was not very attentive, he was only focused on the food that was laid out on the ground in front of him.  So he said,  “OK, go ahead.”

He began eating the bones ... and, as she pierced his tail with the needle, he yelled, “Stop! That hurts!”

She said, “Then stop eating.”
He said, “No, I want to eat. I’m hungry.”
 “Well if you want to eat, I’ve got to stitch our tails together.”
He said, “OK, go ahead.”

And Kinama hurried and stitched the leopard’s tail and the hyena’s tail together while the hyena was crunching on the bones.

Then she said, “Look, hyena, what will you do if your lord, the leopard, appears?”

And he said, “No, don’t even mention his name. If he appeared, I’d dash away running for my life. I’d be so scared that I’d jump over thickets and everything, and fall into a chasm, probably.”
She said, “Are you sure?”

So she waited until he ate a few more bones.  Then she yelled, “Our lord is behind you! The leopard is behind you!”

The hyena turned and saw the leopard's spots, which scared him no end.  Coward that he was, he went running.  And because he was now permanently tethered to the leopard's tail, what he was now seeing was the leopard pouncing on him.  Almost like lightening, the terrified hyena bolted through bushes and thickets until he finally reached a cliff ... and he couldn't stop ... he fell screaming and cackling to his death!

Moral of the story:  Brawn and cunning are no match for brains and acumen!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Inspired - by Hénock Gugsa

- by Hénock Gugsa -

I woke up this morning and found myself inspired enough to think up some jokes of my own. 

Immediately, I cranked out two, and I stopped right there .... I didn't want to lose my enthusiasm, as it were!

I've worked on these jokes a little bit, polished them up some ... and here they are for your (maybe) enjoyment ....


Sam walks over to his neighbor's farm. He finds his friend pacing back and forth in his front yard like a proud rooster.

          Sam says, "Say Chester. Do you know you got no manure whatsoever? You expect to do well this year, do you?"

          Chester replies, "'That ain't my fault. Bessie there is doing her business elsewhere now."


          Again today, Alice is not on time for her shift at the diner.

          Her boss, Mel, shouts out at her, "Alice, you're late every morning, why?"

          Alice's new friend is an elderly lady with a slight hearing loss.  She speaks up for Alice.

          "Cause she's born lucky, that's why!" 

Whoa ... WTF ... WTF !!!


Monday, December 3, 2012

Ethiopia's Tom Thumb ! - by Hénock Gugsa

graphics by Henock

Ethiopia's Tom Thumb :  Sinzirro !
Hénock Gugsa

[Ethiopia is a land of fables. It is even said that the great fabulist, Aesop, was from Ethiopia.  His name is presumed to be a derivation of Aethiop. Although the following fable is from Ethiopia, it is however not attributed to Aesop …. I, as the sole author, am here simply transcribing the tale in my own words.  I beg your indulgence and forgiveness for the literary license I have taken in embellishing this story.]

Once upon a time, ... long, long ago, there lived in the land of Ethiopia an old woman and her son, Sinzirro.  The tree goddess, Adbar, had granted the lonely old woman her wish for a small child that would never grow to normal-size and would never leave his mother’s side ever. The old woman named the child “Sinzirro” because he did not grow any bigger than a thumb in size.  In Ethiopia, a sinzir is the length-measure of a thumb … and so you might say that Sinzirro was the Ethiopian equivalent of Tom Thumb!

Now, there was a strong bond between the old woman and Sinzirro, and it was reinforced daily by her feeding him fresh milk from a jar.  And Sinzirro loved the milk so much … he just could not get enough of it.  He was always following his mother around and begging for milk all the time.

One day, the old woman was feeding  Sinzirro his ration of milk from the jar.  As usual, he was laid out on his little bed with his mouth wide open and he was gulping down the milk.  He kept drinking that milk with the happiest glint in his eyes.  His mother was so enchanted by his blissful face that she forgot that maybe he had had enough milk for now.  But Sinzirro did not complain and kept on drinking and grinning.  He started filling up … his naked belly was beginning to inflate and swell … it grew like a balloon filling with air.  Sinzirro was so full he could hardly move.  Then, suddenly his mother realized her mistake and stopped feeding the impish child. 

As she was taking the milk away, one tiny droplet fell on Sinzirro’s belly button.

Sinzirro was not about to ignore that little bit of milk sitting atop the little hill of a tummy in front of him.  He slowly raised himself up, and with tongue stuck-out, he began his lunge for the tempting thing on his belly.  He arched forward and stretched … he moaned and groaned from the effort and the extreme discomfort … he still could not reach the object!  But he was a persistent (if not too bright) child that had to have milk although it had never done anything for his growth.  And now he could almost reach it ... he was close … victory was at hand ... only a little way to go!

In the other room, the old woman put the jar on a shelf … of-course Sinzirro would never be able to reach that droplet on his belly, she thought quizzically!  Then before she turned to get back to her son, she heard a small tearing sound followed by a loud pop coming from the boy's room.  She rushed over there … but alas! ... she was too late.

There before her lay the remains of Sinzirro … the balloon had finally snapped and popped.  And now there was mostly milk all over the tiny bed ...  and hardly anything left of Sinzirro!

Moral of the story: Greed is a destructive thing!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Bus Ride to Fugue (Part V - Conclusion) - by Hénock Gugsa

The Bus Ride to Fugue (**)
Part V – Conclusion
by Hénock Gugsa
She walked as if she was in a trance as she took the six or seven steps to reach the back of the bus. Carlos, Pepe, and I were for the moment all just staring at her confoundedly. Then I found myself looking at where her feet were touching the floor of the bus. Some kind of steamy, hazy cloud was floating there. It actually never rose above ankle level and just hovered there. The girl seemed to in effect be floating on air as she made her progress toward us.

“¡Ay,caramba!” Pepe almost screamed, but immediately after that he grunted in pain ... Carlos had just kicked him hard under the seats.

The girl looked keenly into my eyes for maybe five seconds. For all I know, she probably had some magical powers of divining a person’s essence to find out if it is good or evil. All the same, she seemed to be satisfied and sat down unceremoniously on the vacant seat next to mine. I was sitting by the window on the left hand side of the bus. Carlos and Pepe were on the other side of the aisle. Poor Pepe was sitting by the window there, and he was probably wishing he had his friend’s seat.

“Are you gentlemen perhaps on the wrong bus?” The girl asked all three of us in a clear and level voice.

We all looked uncertainly at her as we sat there frozen to our seats.

“You all know this bus goes to Fugue, right?  This is a company bus,
and it is not for the general public use. Waldo, the driver, should not have let you on the bus without checking first.”

I recovered from my reverie, and stammered a reply. “We all three are headed for Fugue. Don’t worry. We may look lost, but we are not.”

“All the same, this is not a bus for the general public. Why did you get on? Why are you guys going to Fugue?”

Carlos spoke up. “Señorita, I am Carlos. My friend, Pepe here, and I are going to Fugue ... to the factory, to work there. They hired us through an agency.”

“And my apologies, young lady, where are my manners? My name is Matt Howard. And I’m going to Fugue to visit a friend and stay there maybe three or four days.”  I now had my stammer under control.

She looked perplexed. “This is crazy. You guys shouldn’t be going to Fugue. You don’t know what you’re getting yourselves into. Fugue is not a place for normal people. I should know, and I only go there two or three weekends a year to visit my grandma.”

Pepe spoke up from the other side of the aisle, “I am Pepe Alejandro, señorita. Carlos and me, we are not afraid to go anywhere if we can find a job. We were without a job for almost three months before somebody told us about this place. We heard they make pianos and organs there. So, how dangerous can that be?”

“Pardon me, Pepe. But you probably never met anyone from Fugue before you got on this bus. Right? Well, the reason is right here in front of you. These passengers you see in the bus, including my cousin Wally over there, probably make up ninety-five percent of Fugue’s population.”

“But, young lady, sorry I did not catch your name. Are you from Fugue?” I apologetically cut in.

The girl with the pale green eyes and striking auburn hair blushed momentarily.

“My name is Emily Stoltz. I don’t really live in Fugue, but I have family there. My grandma, she’s ninety-two. She still lives in Fugue. She's lived there all her life, she was there before the factory was built. My dad was born there, and died there at the age of forty-three. My mom came there from Brainerd briefly. She hated Fugue, said it was an evil place and went back to Brainerd. I was born in Fugue, but my ma whisked me off to Brainerd and I lived there most of my life. I’d visit my dad and grandma once a month when my dad was still alive. Now, I live and work in Minneapolis. I probably see my grandma three or four times a year now.”

“¡Mucho gusto, Emilia!” beamed Pepe.

“Nice to meet you, Emily,” I said almost in unison with Pepe. “But please explain to me what is the danger to us in going to Fugue?”

“Well, you Matt, for example. When did your friend move to Fugue? Did you even know Fugue? Have you heard from your friend regularly before you got his invitation to come up there? And you two guys ... did anybody tell you about the living and working conditions in Fugue?”

Pepe, Carlos, and I were all of a sudden uneasy by the realization that we were headed to a place about which we knew next to nothing. We might as well have been like sheep being herded to a slaughterhouse.

It dawned on me that the invitation I got from my friend had come out of the blue. It was indeed very strange that I’d hear from him suddenly and without warning after three long years. Come to think of it ... was it really his voice on my voice-mail recorder? And why was it that he never called or wrote before that?

I made up my mind on the spot as I am wont to do in similar situations. I decided to get off the bus immediately and return home. But first, I wanted to make sure about the welfare of my new-found friends.

“But, Emily, what about you? Are you safe going to this place?” I asked, and the tremor in my voice evidently registered the level of apprehension I was feeling. Carlos and Pepe were beginning to show small signs of unease in their situation also.

“I'll be okay, don’t worry about me. I’m going to my grandma’s, she always looks after me. I’m only going to her place, and it’s only for a couple of days and they all know me there. But, you three should get off this bus right now before it is too late. We have now maybe ten miles left to go before we reach Fugue. Just get off here now, and go back to where you know you'll be safe.”

“Carlos and Pepe, I think we should listen to Emily and get off this bus now. I’m going to ask that scary driver, what’s his name, to stop the bus right now and let us off right here and right now. We can figure out a way to get back, I have my cell phone and we can call for help or something.” I started to get up from my seat, and Emily got up also to let me out from my window seat.

But strangely, Pepe and Carlos remained in their seats.

“We are not worried, Mateo. You can leave if you want to, we are staying. We need this job, and don’t worry we always watch out for each other anyway. We’re like hermanos ... like brothers.” Carlos said firmly.

Emily looked at them in disbelief. “You are, what's the word, locos. Listen to me. You are going to turn out like all these guys you see in front of you. They are only out for their monthly bus ride, chaperoned by Waldo over there. They won’t even get off this bus except in Fugue. They’re like prisoners, and they don’t even know it. My cousin, Wally there, barely recognizes me. He never utters a word, and he has practically lost his hearing. They are all in the same situation, poor souls. So, I beg you people. Please get off this bus now while you have the chance.”

“Yes, well. Thank you, Emily. I, for one, am going to take your advice. I wish we had met under better circumstances. But, call me or visit me at Metro College when you have a chance. And thank you for bringing me to my senses about this trip.” I smiled at her. “Well, good-bye and good luck, Carlos and Pepe. I hope things work out for you both.”

I took out three of my business cards from my wallet, and handed them out to these three dear people. "Let's keep in touch whatever happens," I said bravely.

I pressed the nearest button to tell the driver to stop the bus. A sudden screeching noise came out of nowhere as the bus abruptly stopped. I nearly got hurtled to the front of the bus as proof of Newton’s first physical law - A body in motion will stay in motion unless it is acted upon by another body of equal and/or opposite state. I was only stopped by the action of my grabbing the back handle bar of one of the passenger seats. Actually, I almost slid and nearly landed on my back on the floor of the bus.

Waldo, the driver, was looking back at me with furious and loathing eyes. The bus had now come to a complete stop, and the engine was barely audible. I straightened myself up with as much dignity as I could muster, and walked to the front of the bus.

I asked the evil driver how much I owed. He was now squinting at me with those hateful eyes.
As he opened the door, he hissed out one word at me: “Out!” 

I looked back once at my friends; they were all waving at me. Carlos and Pepe shouted, “¡Adios, Mateo!”

Emily simply beamed a compassionate smile at me as I practically jumped out of the bus and made my hasty exit. I had debarked safely and with all my gear in tact.

Once on the ground, I backed away from the bus and waited for it to move on. Waldo spat out the toothpick from his mouth and closed the door violently; but he seemed to linger there undecided without putting the bus into motion.

I waited to see what was going to happen next. Three or four minutes went by in this state of uncertainty. Then, without much ado, Waldo put the bus into gear at last. The behemoth heaved a strange mechanical sigh and began moving.

Carlos and Pepe had stubbornly stayed inside the bus. To his credit, Waldo had given them ample opportunity to bail out. But they wouldn’t, and I felt sad for them.

So there I was alone on a lonely highway, and it was almost noon. The overcast sky had cleared up, and the sun was actually starting to share its light and warmth again. I stood and watched as the bus disappeared from my view, but I was now feeling like I had just escaped the jaws of death or even worse ... insanity!

Ten minutes later, I had gotten lucky again. I hitched a ride back to the Cities in a cheerful, green Land Cruiser with a charming family of vacationers. In no time, life was back to normal again for me.

** "The Bus Ride to Fugue" is a work of fiction. All names and characters are purely the products of the writer's imagination. "Fugue" is also fictitious and does not represent any place from the present or the past.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Bus Ride to Fugue (Part IV) - by Hénock Gugsa

The Bus Ride to Fugue
Part IV
by Hénock Gugsa

Furtively and with a slightly tremorous hand, the girl pulled a compact out of her small red leather purse. She raised the little mirror up in front of her face as if to inspect the state of her appearance. [I suppose I was watching her somewhat more intently than I should have been.] However, her real purpose with the mirror was to get a sly glimpse of the three noisy passengers in the back of the bus, namely Pepe, Carlos, and me. Then she met my eyes in her mirror looking back at her. Needless to say, she was so unnerved that she dropped the mirror. It rolled down the aisle like an over-sized coin and stopped near the foot of a zombie sitting in the first row of seats.

But this girl was no Mata Hari. She seemed too scared or ashamed to get up and go after her property.

Pepe had been watching everything with amusement, and must have thought that now was his moment for heroism. He was going to rescue this damsel in distress. Maybe he would win her corázon or devoción, he must have thought, as he got up off his seat to go to her.

But Carlos saw that I was already getting up also, and made Pepe sit back down. Evidently, Carlos understood that I had no designs on the young lady except that of a fatherly concern. After all, she was young enough to be my daughter.

Despite the disconcerted looks I was getting from the zombies on all sides, I walked diffidently toward where the little mirror lay. I stooped quickly, picked it up, and turned back to where the girl sat. She was sitting frozen in one place, her face red with embarrassment and discomfort. It just about broke my heart seeing the distress in her face.

I smiled kindly and warmly at her to put her at ease.

“I think this belongs to you. I saw it roll down the aisle. I hope you don’t mind me getting it for you.” I said as I extended my hand with the compact mirror in it.

She raised her head the tiniest bit and showed her gratitude with a tremulous smile. However, she would not allow herself to look at me in the face as she whispered, “Thank you.” Still smiling, she accepted her compact and carefully put it back in her purse.

As I turned away and began to head back to my seat, a thought occurred to me that maybe I should invite her to come and join the merrier group in the back. And so without hesitation, I said to this young lady, “If you would like to come over to the back and join our little happy club, I’m sure we’ll be delighted to have your company. Pepe back there is quite a character and may seem wild but he’s actually harmless.”

She looked up at me for the first time, and her pale green eyes were glistening and blurry. I thought for a second that she was going to start crying, but she didn’t. Instead, she gave me a dignified smile and said, “Thank you, but I’m fine right here. Walter here is my cousin, and he won’t bother me. He has never been much of a talker anyway, and that’s alright. Thanks for the invite all the same.”

I stood frozen where I was .... Did she really speak? ... Did all those words come out of her? .... I did not know how to react or what to say. She was pleasant enough albeit in an enigmatic way. But I was so rattled by this turn of events that all I wanted was to terminate this encounter quickly and pleasantly.

I just blabbered, “My apologies. I didn’t realize he was your kin. He seems harmless enough; they all do for that matter. It’s just so unnerving their being so quiet and listless. It’s almost like they’re not human at all. Look, it’s none of my business anyways. I just thought you might want to talk to someone for a bit and make the journey less tiresome and dreary. It’s up to you anyway.”

I gave a forced smile and walked back to my seat with determined steps. When I got back to my seat, Pepe and Carlos were watching me with suppressed, expectant looks in their eyes. I just flopped myself down and looked away morosely ... at nothing.

Five minutes later, the girl got up off her seat, turned and started walking back in our direction.

... Conclusion ... in 
Part V

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Bus Ride to Fugue (Part III) - by Hénock Gugsa

The Bus Ride to Fugue
Part III
by  Hénock Gugsa

For the next hour-and-thirty-seven minutes, the gray bus kept plodding ... plodding on the invisible route to Fugue. An hour and thirty-seven minutes is a mere 97 minutes. But in the current situation, it was an excruciatingly looong 5,820 seconds!

Under any other circumstance, such a length of passive time wouldn’t produce boredom or anxiety in me. I have a simple trick ... I’d start counting the seconds as I would imaginary sheep, and before I reached a hundred, I would be dozing off into a quiet slumber and wake up at 5,815 seconds. I normally give myself five seconds to come back to the land of the living after such slumber. However, this bus ride to Fugue was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the most ideal setting for a cozy nap.

The sense of dread that I and my two new friends were feeling was real and palpable. But even more alarming was my fear that
... that soon I would be losing my grip on reality and normalcy unless I got off this bus real soon. I was resisting the picture that was forming in my mind ... that we were actually in a boat on a body of water engulfed by a thick, misty darkness. This was very much like that final journey in old mythology. We were on the river Styx, this unknown highway to Fugue. Our boat was this dreary bus, and our Charon was the demonic driver with a twirling toothpick in his mouth.

Farther on, the bus stopped one more time to quickly pick up its last passenger. Our new fellow rider was a shy female who never once looked at anybody. Instead she kept her head bowed and walked briskly to the first available aisle seat. It was almost in the middle row, and she quietly sat down next to one of the zombies. He showed no reaction to the disruption of his solitary state, and like the other zombies maintained his listlessness.

“¡Dios mio! Una mujer, que bueno!” Pepe said excitedly.

“Calma te, Pepe,” exhorted Carlos. They both looked at me expectantly, hoping to get my reaction to the new development. But, I had nothing to say. What was there to say, anyway? I resumed counting my imaginary seconds (sheep?) as I had been rudely interrupted at 484. I had to recalibrate the clock in my head, and start counting again. I had to get to the safety of a nap post haste before I turned into one of the zombies.

However, my scheme was doomed from the start for two reasons. And they both concerned the new passenger. I began to get distress-fully worried for the shy girl sitting next to the morose zombie. And as if that nagging anxiety was not enough, Pepe’s spirits had now become freshly enlivened by the arrival of this girl in our midst. He just would not stop chattering. Carlos could do nothing but throw up his hands and roll his eyes heavenward in utter capitulation.

… Continues … in Part IV

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Bus Ride to Fugue (Part II) - by Hénock Gugsa

The Bus Ride to Fugue (Part II)
by Hénock Gugsa
The door opened again with a hiss, but this time the noise was somewhat different. Inside the bus, what I heard was eerily similar to the sound of a lung ravaged by tuberculosis. It was a labored whistle, and it sent a chill up my spine. I was seized by an urge to get up and make an expeditious exit from this dark place. But, something else happened to distract and dissuade me from such a normal, instinctive impulse … laughter!

Two rambunctious Hispanic youths boarded the bus. The first one to come aboard appeared to be the older of the pair. He seemed good-humored enough although his compadre was definitely jollier and more animated. He was also the one who was laughing the loudest as he told his jokes. They were speaking neither English nor Spanish. I believe it must have been Spanglish, because I could pick up the English words interspersed with Spanish.

The two amigos were headed toward the back of the bus … they must have had the same notion as I had earlier. Halfway down the aisle, the younger fellow stopped, turned, and hollered at the bus driver, “Hey, señor driver, are we going to Fugg?”

The silence in the bus now was even more deafening than before. The older compadre quickly said, “It is fee-you-guh, pendejo.”

Fuh-guh, few-guh ... what’s the difference, Carlos? There are no mamasitas where we’re headed anyway!”

“Enough, Pepe. Sometimes you joke más que necesario.”

Pepe again looked back at the bus driver who showed no sign of giving these two guys the time of day. Shaking his head in mock disbelief, Pepe followed his friend to a pair of seats near where I was sitting.

“¡Hola! hombre.” Carlos said to me. Pepe shot a friendly nod in my direction, and the friends sat down quietly.

I kept looking out the window at a gray nothingness as my mind started to revert to its previous state of unease and even dread. This went on for maybe the next ten minutes or so. But then thankfully, the spell was broken by the wonderful Pepe. It was even surprising that he could keep quiet for that length of time.

Pepe turned toward where I sat, smiled and said, “Are you going to phuh-guh too?”

That certainly came out of left field. I was so floored that I had no immediate response. Carlos, fortunately, came to the rescue.

“Forgive my friend, señor. He likes to joke too much. I am Carlos, by the way. My friend, the payaso here, is Pepe.”

“Nice to meet you both, I’m Matt.” I said, happy to find some friendly companions on this trip.

“Are you going to the factory too, Matt?” Carlos asked without much preamble.

Before, I could respond, Pepe cut in and said, “No, Carlos. I don’t think Mateo here is a factory hand like us. He look more like a professor to me. Am I right, Mateo?”

“Actually yes, Pepe. I teach English at a community college here in the Twin Cities. How did you guess?” I asked somewhat nonplussed.

“Ah, señor. Pepe here jokes a lot, but he’s very observant too. He saw that you are quiet, well-mannered, and maybe too much into thinking. You are also a serious type, but you are friendly too. Otherwise, we would not talk to you.”

“Si. You are not like that zombie bus driver over there. ¿He’s muy malo, non?” Pepe said and he started to chuckle.

“I’m visiting a friend up in Fugue. He just got hired at the piano factory up there. He used to teach music, but he got laid off a year ago.” I explained.

“Carlos and me ... we got laid off too. We used to work for a construction company. I’m the best roofer in the world, ask Carlos.”

“You are good, Pepito. But you are not the best.” Carlos chimed in.

Pepe was looking somewhat pensive as he blurted out what was on his mind. “So, Mateo. Do you know anything about the factory? Carlos and me, we’re going up there because they hired us thru an agency without too many questions or explanations.”

“Actually, I had never heard of Fugue until two weeks ago when I got the invite from my friend.” I said with a slight tremor in my voice.

Pepe looked at his friend, and groaned. “Ooohhh, we are so fuhgged!”

However, that running joke was now sadly getting stale. At this point, I was only beginning to grapple with the realization that we three were the only normal and natural beings on this bus. Everything around us had already been emitting that  ominous atmosphere of doom and gloom.  We were in serious trouble here!

… Continues … in Part III

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Bus Ride to Fugue - by Hénock Gugsa

The Bus Ride to Fugue
by Hénock Gugsa


I am sure of it ... I must have been brainless that foggy Thursday morning last fall when I stood at a curbside, a few blocks from my house. I was waiting for the bus that would take me north to Fugue, Minnesota. Of-course, like most people, I had never heard of it before. You can’t find it in any listing or on any map anywhere. But, I was going there because an old friend of mine whom I hadn’t heard from in three years had moved to a cottage not far from there. He had kindly invited me to come up for a weekend and visit at my convenience. I had just returned home from Baja California where I had spent a few vacation days of glorious sun and fun. But, I still had a few more free days left, and so I decided to go up to Fugue and visit my friend. And yes … in spite of the lateness of the season, I was hoping to do a little bit of fishing and maybe some duck hunting. And if nothing panned out, I could hopefully still do some hiking and take in the season’s wondrous nature sights.

Fugue? Who would name a town “Fugue”? It must have been a music lover extraordinaire, very possibly a Bach devotee. Actually, I’m told, there is a factory up there that hand-builds these huge church organs that bring tears to a priest’s eyes. But all the same … if it hadn’t been for my friend, I would never have heard of such a place.

The charcoal grey bus arrived at the curbside, and its doors opened with a menacing hiss. I stepped up and got in … but before I took a seat, I approached the bus driver to ask if I was on the right bus and what the fare was. This man was an exact replica of the prison guard from the movie, Cool Hand Luke. The tall guard with the reflector sunglasses, the imperceptible limp, the cane, and the telescoped rifle at his beck and call … the man who never uttered a word but spoke volumes with his menacing silence.

Well, so there I was in the presence of another menace … but this one was twirling a tooth pick at the corner of his mouth. At first, he looked up at me uncomprehendingly. Then he said gruffly, “You pay when you get there. Take a seat.”

Obviously, service with a smile was not his cup of tea, but I swallowed my indignation. I  nodded that I understood, but still demanded to know where the bus was headed.

The bus driver put the behemoth in first gear and got it rolling again. He looked up again, scowled at my favorite, lucky green shirt and whispered, “Fugue.”

I walked to the back of the bus to be close to the little restroom. As I was bee-lining to an ideal-looking location, I noticed that the few passengers already on the bus were very, very quiet. They were nondescript in appearance, no flashy colors anywhere. More depressing, the theme and decor inside the bus was just as dark and gray as it was on the outside. The windows on both sides and the rear were grainy and non-transparent. And earlier, I had noticed that the windshield was tinted black inside and outside except for a small rectangular area directly in-front of the bus driver. 'That ought to help the driver some,' I'd thought sardonically at the time. But now, I was beginning to realize that I was inside a dark, gloomy, and ominous place. Jonah probably had felt more comfortable inside the whale's belly.

Two miles down the road, the bus stopped again to pick up more passengers.

… Continues in …
Part II

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wonder of Wonders - by Hénock Gugsa

Wonder of Wonders *
by Hénock Gugsa


Wonder of wonders, folks. I ran into Donald the other day at Lake Calhoun.

The "Duck" is well, by the way ... a bit exhausted from all that politicking he did recently in America's bounteous ponds. He's gained quite a bit of weight what with every one of his constituents pushing seeds, grasses, bugs, and little yummy snails in front of him all the time.

However, his run for the Presidency came to naught. We all knew that would be the outcome going in, but poor Donald of-course didn't. He told me that he is now totally cured of politics and plans to spend the rest of his duck days doing the things he is best at ... waddling, musing, and from time to time quacking just for the hell of it.

I asked Donald what he ponders about most.

He fluttered his wings once, and without missing a beat, said, "Why the American psyche of-course. What else?"

I said, "What do you mean, Donnie Boy? What about the American psyche?"

"Sheesh," he said, " You're the only one that calls me that! I ain't no damn Irish. I'm an American thru and thru. And I live and breathe America, don't you know that?"

I apologized and offered him a piece of aquatic delicacy to calm his nerves. Then, I pressed on with my interview of the great man, er duck.

He sat on his rump and stretched out his old legs and let them dangle in the water.

"I am worried about the American psyche," he began, "The recent financial debacle on Wall Street is sending tremors of fear and unease all thru the land."

I asked, "Do you think that Obama is up to the challenge?"

"Well, he seems to have a good team behind him. They'll be shovel-ready, don't worry."

"So what is worrying you?"

"My friend, it is them so-called experts that are messing with our heads, telling us this and that about where we are and where we are headed. What do they know? And some of them, they call themselves, 'financial advisers'. They mess with the American psyche telling us about the 'right' investment strategies. They talk about credit cycles and, get this, about solid data-driven financial analyses that will ensure success in our investment ventures. First, they assure us, then they caution us.It's enough to make your head spin."

I nodded in agreement, and he was emboldened to continue.

"I ask you, how much can the American psyche take? They tell you to access your brain, a new fangled way of telling you to think. These advisers guarantee that they are hard-wired to the raw data out there, but the prognostications depend on the behavior of us Americans. They say our future depends on our core values, yours and mine. True enough. But, what if our values-based behavior is affected by the fear factor emanating from the pit of our stomachs? Should we make decisions by proxy, or should we just adhere to the herd mentality? Should we hedge our funds, and should we continue being free to be greedy? And what about our x,y,z expectations? Should we not buy into the crisis of confidence in the market? Should we keep holding on to losing positions? And yet, thru all of this, the financial advisers fail to mention that they themselves have vested interests in the things they are pushing.They also neglect to tell you one very important detail: The system has no fail-safe mechanism."

"Whoa, this is all doom and gloom," I said with worry in my voice.

Donald thought for a moment before he replied. Then, with a glint in his eyes, he said, "Well, pal. We shouldn't let those dastards and fools sway us this way and that. We Americans know what is a useful activity and what is not.  Financial positions? pfftt! There are only three positions you can have with your money.You can spend it, you can save it, or you can invest it. Now, for spending you have checking accounts and credit cards. You can still save your money the old-fashioned way in a savings account. Your social security funds and pension plans (401Ks) can be considered savings ... but it is a stretch, I know. Then, you can invest in stocks and bonds. I heard one old geezer say that the best investment strategy these days is 'insured guaranteed bonds' or certificates of deposits."

"Wow, that is a lot to digest, Donald. But tell me what is your own investment strategy?"

A small quack escaped from his orange beak. But he managed to reply, "Easy. I invest in bird seeds. What else?!"


* Originally posted at politico.com  in April, 2009

The Pachyderms’ Demise - by Hénock Gugsa

The Pachyderms' Demise
by Hénock Gugsa

The pachyderm

Thirty years! Has it been that long? Thirty long years! I’ve been gone ... and I've been hibernating for thirty years!  And now I’ve awoken, and I’m back down here visiting my cousin Sam. This neighborhood sure has changed a lot, and the humans that used to run it have undergone some kind of morphosis. It seems that, for some obscure reason, the Pachydermean party is now insanely committed to self-destruction. Their total downfall is without doubt imminent and irreversible.

Sam finds a lot to worry about, especially about his neighborhood. But it all suits him just fine. Always scowly and cantankerous, he has hardly changed at all except for a few new facial tics, mostly around his mouth.  His whiskers now have an unfamiliar jitter, and I find them quite disconcerting.

When I walked into his living room, Sam did not even bother to get up off his rocking chair and shake my paw. He merely nodded and said, “Hello, Rupert. Whatcha up to? Been drinking from a Van Winkle well, eh? You’ve outdone the old dutchman though, haven’t you?!”

But, this ribbing didn’t bother me too much. He was never very well-mannered anyways. And besides, all the folks down here act kind of crazy one way or another, not like us up north where the long winters have made us more temperate and considerate.

After a while, I was sitting by Sam’s side and chewing the fat with him. I asked how he was doing in the never-ending task of food-hoarding. He said that there was no problem there, Mother Nature has always been very generous. It was the humans that were worrying him. He said that he was deathly afraid of the pachyderms in particular. They are getting more and more rabid, he further proclaimed. Then, he began to give a detailed account of the state of things in Samlandia ....

Barely two weeks ago, Doug, the pachyderm who lived two blocks away, had shot and killed two of Sam’s friends, Peetie and Pearl. The reason – It seems Doug was upset when he found out they had made their domicile under the hood of his old Ford pickup truck. He flew into a rage at what he considered an unforgivable encroachment on his property. It did not matter that the old truck had been sitting in his driveway for the last three years … out of commission and just rusting away. But Sam knew the real cause for Doug’s psychotic episode.

Now, to be sure, my cousin Sam's home was on a sturdy, well-hidden tree limb a safe distance away from the aforementioned tragic site. But all the same, Sam had always been leery of Doug, and watched the old curmudgeon very closely but from afar.  He observed that Doug constantly
listened to and watched the raving pachyderm lunatics on the radio and the television. Doug worshiped Annie C, Rush, Hannity, O'Reilly, and Savage.  

Strangely, the lies, the hate, and the anger that were being avidly received in Doug’s house were actually the norm in many households in the neighborhood. That may explain why the pachyderms, although recently dethroned, still have considerable clout in  Samlandia. They are peerless and tireless in distorting and denying truth and fairness. Their negativity knows no bounds, and they seem to always be in a huffy state of anger and disaffection. In short, they are a depressing lot.

What riles and intrigues Sam the most is that he cannot fathom the sense or motivating force behind the pachyderms’ behavior in all matters politique. How long can they subvert and circumvent long-term measures for the common good with obvious lies about laissez-faire, go-it-alone, individual rapaciousness? And yet, Sam observed, the pachyderms were never satisfied even when they were in power. And when they brag about their former leader, Ronaldo, they conveniently forget that he started a trend for reckless spending and military adventures. Fortunately, soon after that, the mordicant Guillermo ascended to power and straightened out all of that mess. But, that did not last long. Jorge, one of the worst pachyderms in Samlandia’s history, took over for the next eight years. He had this thing for compassion ... er, compassion for the rich and greedy, that is.  During his reign, everything that could go wrong did, and the pachyderms suddenly started burying their heads under the sand. They claimed everything was hunky-dory and whatever went wrong was Guillermo’s and the mordicants’ fault. And now at long last, the pachyderms have easily achieved the unimaginable … they have started to believe their own lies!

As Sam recounted all of this, my head was reeling with disbelief and despair. Although my home is Mooselandia, I have always had a lot of fondness for Samlandia. Also I have a lot of kinfolk down here. However, unlike Sam, most of them, I’m sad to say, are pachyderm cheerleaders. Too bad.  They must not have heard about Peetie and Pearl!

Zounds! I've had enough of this melancholia. So I quickly get up off the wicker chair and gather up my knapsack. “I’m going back to my beloved Mooselandia,” I declare with indignation in my voice. 

“I think you should come up north with me, Sam. You can make as good a living there if you want.  Civilized society up there for sure.”

“No, thanks,” says Sam. “I’m not giving these jerks that satisfaction. I’m gonna stick it out to the end! They’re gonna sink from their own weight soon, mark my words.  And, I'm sure glad they haven't yet taken a contract out on Samlandia like they did back in '94!” He winces and sighs undramatically.

Anon, he gets up off his chair and gives me a warm hug. No real surprise there. I’ve always known that, deep down, Sam was always a softie!