Tea Bag Truth Serum

Mr. Henry sets some things straight.

November 2001

Well, Saturday morning was a little different this week. This time of year we put up the crosses and the flags in the park, and Mr. Henry generally tries to be less conspicuous, and he leaves his flag and straw hat at home Since it's getting' a bit cooler now he wears a big plaid coat with lots of pockets and a fertilizer company cap.

Flags and crosses

This week was extra special since we had a visitor. Phil Slawman came through and set up his little cargo trailer in the park, with some folding chairs behind it and a table off to one side. He bills himself as the "American War Hero", and sells books about his exploits along with T-shirts, coffee cups and such.

He got up on a box and started workin' the crowd, tellin' war stories and takin' questions from the crowd. Naturally, everybody was polite and listened, and after a while a few people got caught up in it all. You could tell Mr. Slawman had done this before.

Leroy asked, "Some of your stories talk about SEALs and some about Green Berets. Which was you?"

"Well, son", said Mr. Slawman, "I was actually a Green Beret, but the SEALs sometimes asked me along on special missions where they needed my help."

Andrew chimed in, "What kind of missions?" Mr. Slawman replied, "Sorry, but I can't talk about those. They're still classified."

Somebody else yelled out, "What was your favorite weapon?"

Mr. Slawman made a fierce face and showed his biceps, and strutted around in a little circle, and said, "MY BARE HANDS!"

I was standin' next to Mr. Miggles in the back, and I whispered to him, "He's good." He nodded, and said, "Maybe just a bit TOO good." Then he kinda pointed over to the other side of the crowd. Mr. Henry was standing there, like a duck hunter watchin' the flock headin' for his pond.

Leroy piped up again, "Was you ever scared?"


Well, that brought out a little wave of applause, but it also brought the ducks right overhead. Mr. Henry called out, in a weak, wavering little voice, "I.., I.., I got a question, sir".

"Sure, old timer!", said the Hero, "Come on down front so we can hear you!"

Mr. Henry shuffled and tottered down toward center stage, lookin' so frail he might not make it.

Mr. Miggles whispered to me, "Show time!"

The Hero tried to keep things going during the delay, not wanting to lose the crowd.

"You know", he said, "I got a two dollar senior citizen discount on T-shirts, today only!"

When Mr. Henry finally got down front, the Hero said, "OK, old fella, what's on your mind?"

"Well", said Mr. Henry, "I'm just a little curious about......" His voice trailed off and the Hero leaned toward him to get every word.

And then Mr. Henry suddenly popped back to his usual Saturday self. He seemed to grow about two feet as he straightened up. He pointed his finger right between the American War Hero's eyes, and a voice clear and strong enough to shake the leaves from the trees sang out.

"Does your Momma know you're a fraud and a liar?!"

The Hero stepped back, and his well practiced eloquence deserted him.

"What! You can't say that! I'm the American War Hero! You can read my book!"

Mr. Henry turned just a bit to make sure the crowd could hear good.

"I don't need no book, I can read your ugly ass self! You ain't no combat soldier! You prob'ly ain't no kind of soldier at all. You just want to use these good people's patriotism to get into their pockets.

And you damn sure ain't no hero - the real heroes didn't come back!"

The Hero backed up a few steps, and tried to appeal to the crowd.

"I've been insulted!", he said. "In a nice town like this, I don't have to pay attention to some crazy old man!"

"Yes you do!", said the Jones boys in unison. The Jones boys is twins, but some of us call 'em the Quads, since each of 'em is about big enough to make up two regular people plus a medium sized dog. They growed up knowin' Mr. Henry, an' they look out for him.

The rest of the crowd murmured pretty much the same sort of thing, and the Hero realized he'd have to deal with the old man.

"Well", he said to Mr. Henry, "If you're gonna make such a wild accusation, you'd better have evidence!"

"Don't need no evidence.", said Mr. Henry. "I got Truth Serum". And he pulled a flask out of that big old coat. "Just have a drink, and then we'll see if you're tellin' the truth."

"I ain't gonna let you poison me! You gotta drink some too!"

"Fair enough", said Mr. Henry. "I'll even use your cups.!"

Mr. Henry marched over to the sales table and picked out two plastic cups. They had pictures of the Hero all over, with flags and other stuff. He made a big fuss over the cups, holdin' em up and carefully pouring from the flask while the crowd watched. He acted like a stage magician, with great flourishes and ceremony.

The Hero was clearly wantin' this little episode to go away, but he had to play it through. When Mr. Henry brought the two cups over, he quickly picked one up and said to Mr. Henry, "You first."

Mr. Henry took the other cup and treated it like a fine wine. He sniffed it, gazed at it, and then finally drank it down, apparently relishing every drop. He put the cup upside down over his head to show he'd finished it, and did a little dance around the Hero, much to the delight of the crowd.

"Truth Serum, Truth Serum, friend of mine
Truth Serum, Truth Serum, tastes mighty fine
Drink it down Hero, then we'll see
Who's been a liar, you or me!"

Well, things got real quiet then, as everybody looked at the Hero, as he stood all alone, holdin' a plastic cup with his picture on it. I guess he didn't really believe in truth serum, but he did want to get back to sellin' T-shirts, so he tossed the cup down in one gulp.

Then his face twitched a bit.
And his eyes got real big.
And then he started to choke.
And then he sprayed truth serum all over the back of his trailer.
And then he deposited his breakfast and probably some of last night's dinner on the ground next to the left wheel.

Mr. Henry said gently, "I guess we got our answer."

But the Hero did not have gentle on his mind. He staggered over to Mr. Henry and took a wild roundhouse swing at him. Mr. Henry dodged a bit, and the blow went way wide. But it did bring the Jones boys into the aisle, ready to handle the situation their way.

Mr. Henry held up his hand, and said, "I don't think this here fake soldier will be a problem." The Jones boys held up, but they was ready.

The Hero came back at him again, this time aiming for a body blow. Mr. Henry didn't dodge at all, he just stood straight and tall as the hero swung at his belly. The crowd flinched a bit, but all was well. The Hero connected, but instantly regretted it, as the sound of flesh against metal resounded through the park.

Phil commenced to rollin' on the ground and grabbin' his hand and loudly complainin' that it was broke and that the old man had crippled him and he needed help and it wasn't fair and on and on.

Mr. Henry opened up his plaid coat and took out the old griddle he had stuck in his belt.
He said, "I guess he didn't see the movie."

After the applause died down Miss Maybelle announced, "Mr. Slawman appears to be indisposed. I guess I'll take over running his customer service desk."

Everybody lined up real polite like and Miss Maybelle issued refunds from Phil's cash box to everybody who had bought things. Phil didn't seem too happy about this, but the Jones boys were at each end of the table so he decided to exercise a little discretion and didn't push it.

The crowd drifted away after that, and Phil tried to pack up what was left of his stuff one-handed. Nobody offered any help.

Later on, as usual, Mr. Henry came over to my truck for some tea. I was a bit confused.

"Mr. Henry, I always thought truth serum was a myth. What was IN that flask?"

"Just tea, with a little peach syrup for sweetnin'."

"But then why......", I stammered.

Mr. Henry replied, "Well, I slipped a cockroach into Phil's cup. I think that might of had a bit to do with it."

"But you let him pick the cup. How did you know he'd get the right one?"

Mr. Henry looked at me like I was an idiot child and carefully explained, "Now if you knew you was a liar, but you had to take truth serum, wouldn't you pick the cup that was only half full?"

I was thinking about it all as he left, and then I called after him, "So since he knew he was a liar and a fake, he picked the half full cup and proved what he was. It really WAS truth serum!"

Mr. Henry looked back and just smiled a bit.

And then he went on down the road.

Author's note: When I wrote this, phony veterans and imposters were all over the news. Phil Slawman is not much of an exaggeration.