Archives for June 2014

Skigger Me Home — Maple Syrup Blues (from “Tales for Boys”)

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‘Course I’m serious. I coulda made a fortune on the space program and saved the government a pot of money to boot. Why? Because I…Hey, Al, how about a couple more beers here? Now, where was I? Oh, yeah…
See, I was with CNN at the time, covering Washington politics and NASA. I was waiting for General Wharpol to give a prepared statement at the Pentagon, and while I stood in the hall with my coffee, I saw this eighteen-year-old kid staring at me kinda wistful-like. Right off the farm – you know the type.
So I struck up a conversation just to pass the time.
“You waiting for General Wharpol, too?”
“No sir. I was sposed to see Captain A.R. McCrea, but it’s been two weeks now and…”
The usual story in D.C., trying to see someone in NASA, but everybody is out, or has a scheduled meeting. As the kid rambled on about the urgency of his mission and how he was out of money, I began to tune out.
I checked my tape recorder while he talked. A buzzer sounded, and I made apologies to the kid, wished him well, and sprinted into the meeting.
A full write-up was handed out as I entered the press conference, so I didn’t need my tape recorder. The General was dull as 3-year-old razor blades as usual.
I yawned as I reached the military police check point after the conference. The guard’s wand beeped.
“What’s that in your pocket, sir?”
My hand dug deep. “Oh, my cigarette lighter. See?”
“Jacket pocket, Mac,” he said.
“Tape recorder. It’s empty…”
“Sorry, have to play it, sir,” he said. He pushed ‘play’ and the boy’s voice whined forth.
“…out of money. If only they’d listen. I could save the government billions if only…”
The guard turned off the tape and handed the recorder back.
“Been bugging you, too, huh? He’s dogged every office in the five points last few weeks. Gets here at first light and don’t leave till after six. Real shame, way they give him the run around. He’s like a tennis ball going from player to player.” He laughed.
I walked away, looked at the recorder, scratched my head and ran for my car. I thought about the boy’s statement – save the government billions…The kind of crackpot statement you’re likely to hear around Washington. Still, his story just might have a human interest angle. Curious, I flopped down in the car and played the tape.
“…have to skigger home soon. I’m almost broke. Folks in Wayne’s Crossing got up the money for me because they’re patriotic, too. After I got here, I saw what I was up against. I haven’t talked to a single soul in all the while I been here. And I can’t just skigger into somebody’s office without an invite, can I? The folks wouldn’t approve…and I’m their representative. Gosh. In no time I could teach folks to skigger and we wouldn’t be needin’ all those space stations and such. Heck, I could skigger clear to Mars on one spoonful of…” Click.
That was where I had turned off the recorder.
Now I’m not the kind to buy a Brooklyn Bridge or shares in the Washington Monument…but this was different. I pictured that sincere, blond, blue-eyed boy as he told his story.
Skiggering…
He’d used the word several times in the context of travel, hadn’t he? Could it be…?
Early next morning, the guard turned me away. No pass, no entry. Simple. Nuts. With forty possible exits I’d never find the kid. As I described him to the guard, the boy appeared at the checkpoint. I hadn’t seen him approach down the hall. He was just…suddenly there.
I took him by the arm, explained that as a CNN newsman, I could help him. Of course, if he had what I thought he had, he could help me, too…to the scoop of the century.
“I’m Cal Parker,” I said, “CNN political correspondent.
“Hi, sir. I’m Harold Pelley. You think you could help me, Mr. Parker?”
I assured him of my connections in high places, but made it clear that before I’d raise a finger, he’d have to show me his money-saving gift to the nation. In my head I could hear trumpets blaring and red, white, and blue banners waving in the breeze.
“I can show you right here if…”
“No, no, Harold. Not here. Let’s go to my place. Come on.”
Huntleigh Arms Apartments was not high class by any stretch, but I was always close to action on the Hill.
As we entered, Harold nudged me at the elevator.
“What floor do you live on, Mr. Parker?”
“Eight. Why?”
“I’ll give you a demonstration right now. I’ll just skigger up there.” I started to disagree, but he disappeared. Yeah, that’s right, he disappeared.
I willed the elevator to rise quicker, but the eighth floor came into view as usual…well, not quite as usual. Harold waited in front of the door with a big toothy grin.
“See? I skiggered up here, Mr. Parker, Easy as wiggling my big toe,” he giggled.
I glanced toward his big toe, then at Harold. I closed my mouth and looked around. No one in the hall. I grabbed his arm and hurried him to my apartment. As I unlocked my door, I heard voices approaching. It was young Anna Kalankhov, one of the Russian interpreters at the White House. I pulled Harold inside and leaned against the door with a sigh. Phew!
“Harold, you’ve got to promise you won’t…skigger…without fair warning. If you want my help, you’ve got to do things my way.”
His head nodded as I talked. “I will, Mr. Parker. I will.”
“Suppose you tell me your story; how you – skigger, where you learned it, how far you can go…everything.”
While I put on the coffee, he talked and I listened in fascination.
He came from a family of eight children, but his mother taught only him to skigger. One in every generation she told him. As Harold would eat his pancakes with lots of syrup, she warned him to use the power in private.
Skiggering was easy according to Harold. All you had to do was take a spoonful of Maple Syrup before dinner, and after about two months you could skigger. The syrup must open new avenues in the brain or something. Of course, it was a thought process where you thought yourself moved, but it helped to know where you were going. You could be off a ways if you didn’t know the place.
Harold said he could go as far as his eye could see. He’d look at a star in the midnight sky and – skigger, he was there. So he reasoned that he could easily go planet skiggering. He could see no limits to the power.
“Can you teach others to skigger, Harold?” I asked with anticipation.
“Sure. It’s not a rigorous program. The Maple Syrup is the main thing –before dinner, not breakfast or lunch. Takes a little longer with grownups, but I’ve done it in Wayne’s Crossing.”
This was better than my wildest dreams. Possibilities were unlimited. I could start slowly, invest in Maple Syrup, maybe even branch out into some other syrup once we knew they worked. Then…buy into seed companies – they’d need seeds to grow food when colonization of the planets began. And space suits…and…
“Do you think you can help me, Mr. Parker?”
He jolted me back to the present, and I nodded my assurance. As proof of my faith, I asked him to move in with me, all expenses paid. He accepted. When I asked him for a controlled demo here in the room, he appeared at the front window before I could take a breath.
“Harold, not so fast; I wasn’t prepared.”
“Want me to do it again, Mr. Parker?”
I shook my head. What’s the use? “Forget it for now, Harold.”
I called my broker, told him to sell all my blue chips and put it all into Maple Syrup. Ten minutes of heated argument ensued in which I finally convinced him I was not on heroin, and had not received a severe blow on the head. I checked my bank balance. Tomorrow I’d stick all my savings in Syrup.
Now to get the ball rolling. I called Cliff Stevens, a Project Manager at NASA and asked for a meeting with him and my protégé. Then I threw him the clincher.
“This could make you famous, Cliff. You’ll save the government money, and make space travel a reality years ahead of current opinion…”
The loud CLICK was a surprise, but I’d been there before. Strike one.
As I stood there and considered who to call next, I heard the television blaring in the next room. I shook my head. Harold, of course. I walked in, a little curious about the hubbub.
The Russians had just completed the Rhostov Space Station, and eight cosmonauts were now in orbit in the tinker toy complex. Here was an opportunity, I thought. I could send Harold up…
I told Harold my idea. At first he was against it, but finally reconsidered. We joined a press conference in front of the White House where the President planned to honor the eight cosmonauts. As we stood in the little group of newspeople, someone grabbed Harold.
“Hey, who’re you? You’re not press.”
I pushed the guy and he pushed me back as I tried to explain. That’s when I hit him. As he fell, an FBI badge fell out of his pocket. Before I knew it I was in jail. Of all the…
I pleaded with the guard. “Come on. One phone call. I have a right…”
“You’re free to go as soon as your bail is paid. The feebees said you might hurt yourself. Hey, want to make a phone call? Come on.”
Not like the movies at all. Nice cop, nice quarters, lets me make a phone call…
My boss, Ed Kline, at CNN raved for five minutes, told me to go to hell, would pay no bail. I slumped down on the bunk wondering what to do next – when the cop unlocked the door.
“Okay, you’re free to go. Looks like you have a friend. And what a friend! Wow!”
Outside I found Anna Kalankhov who stood with Harold.
“I was right behind you when you tried to explain something about Harold,” she said with a shy smile at the boy. “Obviously a misunderstanding. Let’s get out of here. You can pay me back later. Now, don’t you think you at least owe me an explanation after I saved your bacon?”
I relented and poured out the whole story – except for my investments, of course.
“Dumb, Cal. I don’t think everyone is ready for this yet. Let the government play with it awhile.”
She was right, of course. The man on the street wasn’t yet prepared for skiggering big time. I apologized to her and Harold as we headed back to my apartment. The phone was ringing as we entered.
Ed Kline had had a change of heart. Would I take an assignment at the Democratic rally on the South side? I couldn’t kiss him over the phone, but I think he got the idea. I dashed from the apartment and headed south.
At two in the morning, I staggered into the apartment. My head thumped and my mouth tasted like Ice Age turnips. I tiptoed into the bedroom and undressed. I stopped as I approached the bed and snapped on the light. The beds were empty! Where was Harold? A search revealed an empty apartment. His stuff was gone, too. That’s when I spotted the note on the dresser. I snatched it open and read.

Dear Cal:
When you read this I will be gone. Anna and I are in love. Can you believe it? Just like that. Anyway, Anna convinced me that skiggering doesn’t belong to one country but to the world. Obviously, the U.S. Government is too complex when its officials won’t stop long enough to hear our plan for giving teleportation to everyone.
So Anna and I are going to give it a try in another country where there isn’t so much red tape. I’ll teach her to skigger, and if I’m lucky, maybe Anna and I will get…Oops. She said not to rush things.
Anyway, I appreciate your attempt to help. Sorry it didn’t work out.
Your friend, Harold Pelley

Well, you probably saw on TV where the Teleport Colony captain and his wife made a return skigger from Mars to Moscow amid a huge celebration by the Russians. Boris Yeltsen shook both their hands. Yeah, Captain Harold Pellikov and his wife, Anna.
And that’s not the worst of it. Maple Syrup stock is down again today.