Tea Bags for Mr. Henry
As my town continued to deal with evil events, Mr. Henry stepped forth. He has seen evil before.
Mr. Henry is partly fictional, but entirely too much real.
Well, things are startin' to get back to normal around here.
Not much has really changed, except there's a lot more American flags to be seen. And Miss Yvonne down at the pharmacy did take the "We Don't Care How You Did It Up North" bumper sticker off her Pontiac.
It was reassuring, though, when a familiar American flag made its usual Saturday morning appearance. Mr. Henry pedals downtown every week and holds forth in the little park across from City Hall.
Mr. Henry still stands straight and tall, despite his years. He wears a straw hat from some long ago political campaign; it still has the red, white and blue stripes around it. He carries a small American flag on a stick, and he uses it for punctuation and emphasis.
He held then flag straight out, pointing down toward the fire station.
"First thing we do, we take all the politicians an' put 'em in jail. Most of 'em deserve it anyway, and this way we won't miss any."
Nobody seems to know whether "Henry" is his first name or his last name, but after all this time "Mr. Henry" seems to work OK. Well, now that I think about it, though, Mrs. Wilkes must know his real name. She lets him live in a room above her garage, and makes sure his disability check gets cashed every month. She charges him $10 a month rent so as not to hurt his pride, but she puts it in a little savings account she set up in his name.
He'd made a quick about face now, and the flag was pointing south toward the feed store.
"And then, to make room in the jails, we put all the convicts in the government!
Can't do no worse!
Can't do no worse!
Can't do no worse!"
The little crowd that had gathered clapped and cheered, but it was more out of anticipation than surprise, 'cause he's used the exact same opening lines for the last fifty years or so. Mr. Henry has a plastic box from the Liberty Bell Dairy tied to the handlebars of his bicycle, and folks often drop food and even a little money in it. The dairy used to be the Siegfreid Dairy, but Mr. and Mrs. Siegfreid had to change the name back in 1914. There's a little "HENRY" license plate wired to the front of the box.
Once he was sure he had an audience, Mr. Henry pretended they didn't exist. He gazed into the sky, with the flag making slow little circles in his outstretched hand. This is the cue for questions.
Leroy was in town buying another can of spray paint, still trying to de-pink his truck. The process is a bit slow since he can only afford one can a week.
He tried to get things started.
"Mr. Henry, how about them terrorists?"
The crowd quieted down, and waited for the answer.
I'm not sure why we listen to Mr. Henry. When he joined the Army in 1944 he was just a wild crazy teenager. When he came back, though, he wasn't a teenager anymore, and he wasn't really wild anymore, but he was ..... different. My Dad told me that the day after the hospital people brought Mr. Henry home, he went out behind the train station and built a fire, and threw all his Army clothes in it. He just stood there looking at the fire, in nothin' but his shorts. My Dad said there were two baseball sized dimples in his chest, and a big patch of hair missing on the side of his head. I don't know myself, I've never in my life seen Mr. Henry without a shirt and a hat.
The flag stopped its orbit and swung around to point straight at the sun.
This brought a bit of nervous laughter from the crowd, but then silence. Everybody looked at Leroy. He had started this, so it was his responsibility to work it out.
But Leroy doesn't really work well under pressure. "Mr. Henry, Republicans is gun fearing, God carrying patriots, they ain't terrorists!"
Mr. Henry gave Leroy a look like you give a dog that barks all night but ain't smart enough to learn to fetch.
"I didn't say Republicans is terrorists, I said them terrorists is Republicans. Leastways, they might as well be."
Mr. Henry lived with his parents after the war, until they passed on and Mrs. Wilkes kind of took him on. Her son Danny told me one time he went to see Mr. Henry out back and Mr. Henry was looking through a cigar box with a whole bunch of pins and medals and ribbons. From what Danny told me then and what I learned later, I think there was a set of lieutenant's bars, a combat infantryman's badge, a purple heart and a silver star and a whole bunch of other stuff. Danny tried to talk to him about it back then, but Mr. Henry just said "That was a long time ago." and put the box away.
In the park, Mr. Henry started winding up.
"That Osamer guy says God punished us for our wicked ways.
Them Republican TV preachers said mostly the same thing.
What's the difference?
What's the difference?
What's the difference?"
The flag was now making figure eights as Mr. Henry moved in a tight circle, his white rubber boots kicking up dust.
The deeper he gets in his rants, the more obscure he gets.
"Folks said he didn't really win!
They said he was a dunce!
But now the polls are outa sight!
The shrub has grown a bunch!
The shrub has grown a bunch!
The shrub has grown a bunch!"
Mr. Miggles from the paper usually drops by to watch Mr. Henry, and sometimes he translates.
"Well, a national crisis always helps any president as folks rally 'round. And the things we were worried about before do seem a bit trivial."
Mr. Henry had roared into his choo-choo mode, circlin' the crowd and huffin' and puffin'. In between whistles, he went on shoutin'.
"The lock ain't locked, the box is bent!
The surplus is forlorn!
Osamer broke the barnyard gate!
The pigs is in the corn!
The pigs is in the corn!
The pigs is in the corn!"
Mr. Miggles explained to the crowd.
"In August we were in a budget battle. But now it's the Washington Soup Kitchen: Bring a bowl by and Congress will fill it up."
On the home stretch, Mr. Henry slowed down a bit, and the flag rode on his right shoulder like a red white and blue parrot.
"We're poor, we're poor, we're poor, but it ain't his fault no more!
We're poor, we're poor, we're poor, but it ain't his fault no more!
We're poor, we're poor, we're poor, but it ain't his fault no more!"
But this pretty much wore him out, and he went and sat down on the grass, close enough to his bicycle he could see who dropped anything in the box, but not close enough to make 'em nervous. He left the stage to Mr. Miggles.
"Presidents always get more credit or blame than they deserve for the economy, and it sure is convenient to have an evil external source to take the blame for any problems. It was getting harder as each day passed to blame the recession on Bill Clinton, but now the pressure's off."
The show was over, and the crowd wandered off, leavin' just me and Mr. Miggles standing in the park.
You know," he said, "We've taken quite a hit. But after the shock wears off a bit, we always somehow manage to muddle through."
Mr. Henry had come up to us by then. "Muddlin' is what we do best!" he proudly proclaimed. Mr. Miggles said his good-byes and I brought out the jug of tea I always bring for Mr. Henry.
"Mr. Henry," I said, "Do you really think the Republicans are trying to take advantage of the situation?"
"Of course not! Don't be silly!"
"I think EVERYBODY is trying to take advantage. They's one Democratic congressman trying to increase the tax deduction for business entertainment. And they's a Democratic senator wantin' to have a tax credit for anybody who'll take a trip this year. And some guy whose flavor I forget wants to raise the price support level for peanuts."
"And they ALL say it's to combat terrorism and rescue the economy!."
I said, "Then why'd you say all those nasty things about Republicans?"
"Marketing.", said Mr. Henry.
"You ever tried to get money out of a Republican?. All I ever get from 'em is Gospel tracts and brochures for mutual funds."
"But Democrats is suckers for crazy men with a good story. I saw six Democrats in the crowd, and made a strategic demographic adjustment. Let's see how I did."
First he checked out the Mason jar.
"27 dollars and 55 cents - up twelve percent from last week."
Then he checked out the rest of the dairy box.
"One Sunnyland Kielbasa"
"Two cans of beans"
"Box of Pop-Tarts"
"One copy of the Wall Street Journal - Musta' been a Republican out there after all."
"Peanut butter - always handy"
"Can of green spray paint - that's a bit strange."
"Two cans of peaches. Heavy Syrup. Heavy Syrup. Heavy Syrup."
"AOL CD-ROM - Here, you can have it."
"And a Moon Pie! Luncheon is now being served in the main salon!"
Mr. Henry carefully opened the Moon Pie package. He folded the plastic bag precisely in half, then into fourths, and gently put it in his pocket. "Might need it some day.", he said.
With the accounting done, he started in on the Moon Pie and turned back to me.
"But how about those people that live in your computer?
What do they think about this stuff?"
"Well", I said, "Some want to drop nuclear bombs, some want to use poison gas, some want to use radioactive fairy dust, and other suggestions include using combat dogs, pigs and malaria laden mosquitos."
Mr. Henry said "Kill as many people as possible in a country because we don't like their government? That seems a strange way to make a statement against terrorism!"
"And for airline security," I said, "they all want better doors and locks, of course. But some guys want for as many passengers as possible to bring guns on board. Make it kind of a BYOG party."
"Guns?" said Mr. Henry.
And he got quiet and looked off into the distance a while.
"I really don't like guns. I used to. But I don't no more."
"And", I said, "How about this one? If an airliner is hijacked, a small jet pod flies up and attaches to the plane, and pierces the skin, and blows gas into the plane, and then Spiderman jumps in and spins his web on the bad guys, and .... well, that's not actually what they said, but close."
"Or", I continued, "If a plane is in danger the pilot puts his finger in a hole, and it reads his fingerprints and a computer on the ground takes over and searches for the best hotel rates in range and automatically calculates the best combination of frequent flyer miles and .... well I'm exaggerating, but not much. One guy, who claims to be an engineer, thinks we don't need pilots at all. I guess the last passenger in just closes the door and hits CNTRL-ALT-DEL and the plane goes on its own from there......."
I was getting louder and louder, but Mr. Henry put his hand on my arm.
"Just calm down." said Mr. Henry. "Bad things have happened, real bad things. But we have good people to take care of it. And I don't think those silly people in your computer are a problem, they're just noise."
Mr. Henry got on his bike and started off.
"Wait!", I called after him. "I need to ask you something!"
He turned the bike around, stopped, and looked at me.
"Every Saturday, you come down here and act the complete fool for a solid hour. Then after everybody leaves, you come over to talk to me and make perfect sense. What IS that?"
He said, "You're the onliest person in this town that don't talk to me like I'm crazy. An' now I know why - compared to those people in your computer, I'm a paragon of sanity."
And he went on down the road.